Kentucky legislators have begun their 2018 session by proposing some good new laws and some bad ones. Not that anyone is paying much attention to either.
How could they? Everybody is too busy watching the soap opera swirling around House Speaker Jeff Hoover, which has fueled a civil war within the House Republican caucus and seems to have brought most other business to a halt.
Hoover announced in November that he would resign as speaker after newspapers reported that he and three other Republican lawmakers had secretly settled sexual harassment claims by a staff member. But this week Hoover changed his mind, saying he would let Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne run things for him until the Legislative Ethics Commission finishes its investigation.
Then Hoover and his colleagues headed off to a mandatory sexual harassment training session, which was closed to the media and the public because, well, there isn’t enough secrecy in state government already.
“I’m on my way to Frankfort this morning for ethics and sexual harassment training,” Rep. Wesley Morgan, a Richmond Republican, tweeted Wednesday. “I hear Jeff Hoover nominated himself as a guest speaker. Not sure he knows the training is on ‘how not to’ instead of ‘how to.’”
Eight Republican legislators have filed formal charges seeking Hoover’s expulsion. The same group joined Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in November in calling for Hoover and three other GOP lawmakers involved in the secret settlement to resign.
Now a bipartisan committee will be formed to investigate the allegations against Hoover, which include sexually harassing a Legislative Research Commission employee, paying money to induce her silence and creating a hostile work environment. That should add more political drama to the soap opera.
All of this points to a power struggle between GOP factions, some loyal to Hoover and others to Bevin. So much for “unified” Republican government.
The longer this circus drags on, the harder it will be for the General Assembly to tackle big and important issues: A two-year state budget; tax reform that brings much-needed new revenue to state government; and a plan for funding billions of dollars in future public employee pension obligations.
There are other issues that bear watching. Several proposed bills caught my eye, either because they are good ideas or bad ones.
First, the good:
▪ House Bill 86, by Republicans Phil Moffett of Louisville and Scott Wells of West Liberty, would prohibit naming publicly funded facilities and programs after elected officials and their immediate relatives until at least 20 years after they leave office or 10 years after they die. That’s a good idea. Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize the re-election efforts of incumbents, or burnish the legacy of politicians who might later embarrass themselves and everyone else.
▪ House Bill 112, by Democrats Susan Westrom of Lexington and Reginald Meeks of Louisville, strengthens state ethics laws by requiring that officials disclose paid consulting deals for themselves or their spouses. There’s too much special-interest money in politics, and more disclosure is always better.
And, the bad:
▪ House Bill 43, by Republicans Jason Nemes of Louisville and Jim Gooch of Providence, would let the governor choose Supreme Court justices and state Court of Appeals judges, who are now elected. The last thing we need are fewer checks on power. Kentucky has a history of governors who want to control everything, and Bevin has been especially blatant about it.
▪ House Bill 108, by Republican Brandon Reed of Hodgenville, would allow school board members’ aunts, uncles, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law to be hired in the school systems they oversee. The last thing school systems need is more nepotism. Kentucky has a sorry history of that, too.
▪ House Bill 103, by Republicans Joseph Fischer of Fort Thomas and Robby Mills of Henderson, is yet another anti-abortion law that would mandate more medically unnecessary harassment of doctors and their patients. If this bill becomes law, state government will have to waste a lot of money defending it in court until it is overturned.
▪ Morgan, who spent much of his first term proposing laws to help his liquor business, has filed two bad bills: House Bill 54 would make it harder for cities to take down Confederate monuments to Jim Crow-era revisionist history, and House Bill 53 would add restrictions to public protests and give some drivers a pass if they happen to run over protesters.
Kentucky lawmakers have too many important things to get done before April to waste time on junk. But that has never stopped them before.