Politics & Government

Bills filed in Frankfort cover everything from coyotes to uniforms, but few will become law

FRANKFORT — One lawmaker wants to designate the Kentucky long rifle as the state's official gun.

Another would prohibit public employers from buying uniforms made outside America for their workers. Yet another would make acupuncture a licensed profession.

So far, 195 bills — 141 in the House and 54 in the Senate — have been filed for consideration in Kentucky's 30-day 2013 General Assembly, which is four days old.

While much public and media attention has been focused on issues such as taxes and pensions, state legislators have a multitude of subjects to tackle, or ignore.

All bills are important to the legislators who file them and especially to constituents who have encouraged their lawmaker to push them. But most bills filed will not become law, as a review of past sessions shows.

Kentucky lawmakers last met in a "short" 30-day session in 2011. In even-numbered years, the General Assembly runs for 60 days.

In 2011, 70 of 494 bills — about 14 percent — filed in the House became law.

In the Senate two years ago, 28 of the 168 Senate bills became law.

Ten years ago in the "short" session of 2003, 55 of 221 Senate bills and 100 of 560 House bills made it to the law books..

In last year's 60-day session, 15 percent of the bills filed in the Senate — 33 of 220 — became law. In the House, it was 122 of 566.

It's evident that many issues matter to state lawmakers, given the large number of bills they file.

In 2000, the state legislature debated limiting the number of bills that can be introduced in a meeting of the General Assembly.

Then-Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Russell, said there were just too many bills to consider.

But some members, including then-Sen. David Karem, D-Louisville, argued that a limit would be undemocratic.

"This is the people's branch of government, and it has to be as open as is humanly possible," he said.

Kentucky is not unusual in allowing an unlimited number of bills to be filed in a session. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 13 states impose a limit on bill introductions in their legislatures.

The group notes that state legislators are faced with two conflicting pressures.

"On the one hand, lawmakers are asked to sponsor a great deal of legislation because constituents and interest groups insist 'there ought to be a law' for every public problem," it says.

"On the other hand, legal provisions specify the length of time that most legislative bodies may remain in session. The ability to consider a steadily increasing volume of bills is not necessarily compatible with restricted session time."

The number of bills filed for this year's session certainly will go up when lawmakers return to Frankfort Feb. 5.

Feb. 15 is the last day in this year's session for senators to file new bills. House members have until Feb. 19. The session is scheduled to end March 26.

The no-limit policy results in a wide range of proposed legislation. The Legislative Record, which provides summaries and activities of proposed legislation, lists almost 200 different subject matters for bills, ranging from firearms to waste management.

State Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, is pushing the Kentucky long rifle designation in House Bill 56.

Sen. Carroll Gibson, R-Leitchfield, has filed Senate Bill 7 to address uniforms bought by public employers, and Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, has the acupuncture measure in SB 44.

Other bills that underscore the diversity of legislation in the 2013 General Assembly include HB 60, filed by Rep. Fitz Steele, D-Hazard, which would allow hunters to kill an unlimited number of coyotes, and HB 93, offered by Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, which would establish guidelines for activating outdoor warning siren systems to alert the public of severe weather conditions.