While the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly has had its share of party-line votes, some policies designed to make government more transparent and accountable have garnered bipartisan support.
The decision by House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Senate President Robert Stivers to direct the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) to publish committee votes online within 24 hours is being hailed by policymakers across the political spectrum.
The decision resulted from a letter spearheaded by the United Kentucky Tea Party and signed by groups as diverse in their political views as Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer are concerning immigration policy – from Take Back Kentucky to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Apart from the most controversial bills, which usually result in the filing of floor amendments, most legislation’s heavy lifting occurs in committee hearings.
“Because the House and Senate committees have great influence on the consideration of bills by the full body, it is imperative that this critical process is similarly visible to the citizens of Kentucky,” the jointly signed letter.
Your humble correspondent enthusiastically signed as president of the Bluegrass Institute, which led the effort in 2005 to give citizens prompt access to votes on bills taken on the state House and Senate floors.
While that certainly was a giant step forward, making committee roll-call votes available in real time will, as Speaker Pro-Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, observed, give constituents “access to every move we make on their behalf.”
It should also change the practice of legislators passing on votes to avoid tough politically fraught decisions.
Committee-vote results for the remainder of this legislative session can be found on the “Committee Votes” link at the bottom of a list of links under both “In Senate” and “In House” on the LRC’s front page.
It’s temporarily clunky. However, the information will become more meaningful once committee votes are included on bills’ vote history, which will be added later.
Senate Bill 3, which passed with a 95-1 vote during the session’s first week, is proving not only to make taxpayer dollars more transparent but also to have great impact as taxpayers get a full view of 400 current and retired lawmakers’ pension benefits.
Such transparency has made it possible for reporters and media outlets statewide to report on politicians who reap a six-figure pension by gaming the legislative retirement system for a lifetime while also double-dipping via collecting a second fat check from other state benefit plans.
Space doesn’t permit me to give you the lowdown on several other retired politicians collecting more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded pension benefits nor on the sexual harassers, felons, even murderers who receive a lifetime of public-retirement checks courtesy of we, the taxpayers.
But you can see it for yourself now.
Another policy that deserves the same type of overwhelming bipartisan support is Louisville Rep. Ken Fleming’s proposal to conduct an inventory of state government with the goal of cutting wasteful duplication and costs of services.
Fleming’s House Joint Resolution 35 directs the Finance and Administration Cabinet to determine what services currently are provided by each department or agency, the price tag of those services and “the feasibility of privatizing, consolidating, or otherwise changing those functions and services to achieve costs savings.”
Based on his experience as a small-business owner and former Louisville Metro Council member, Fleming told me he believes there’s a “silo mentality approach to government operations” which too often results in “a lack of truly understanding the cost of delivering services,” as well as duplication of delivery of services – some of which government should not even be doing.
“Government cannot be run as a business, but it sure can embrace a lot of business applications,” Fleming said.
That’s an idea both sides of the political aisle can – and should – embrace.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read his weekly Bluegrass Beacon column at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at email@example.com and @bipps on Twitter.