The practice of killing a bill to protect legislators from taking unpopular votes is out of control.
Voters elect representatives to take votes, regardless of how difficult they are, so they can be held accountable. The U.S. and Kentucky constitutions give the veto power to the governor, as well as prescribe a way to override that veto. But the practice of legislator veto is a manifested political power that cheats voters and the democratic process.
Legislators need to honor the process — particularly when a bill has passed the other chamber — and give bills an up or down vote or, at the very least, a committee hearing and vote. Most notable is the medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, which passed the House 65-30. The bill has been waiting to be taken up in the Senate for two weeks and only last week was assigned to the judiciary committee.
So, this is progress, right? Maybe not.
The judiciary chairman, Republican Whitney Westerfield, isn’t sure if the bill will get a hearing. “I know it won’t get a hearing until I’m OK with it and for sure I’ve still got questions right now,” he told The Courier Journal. He said he “would want to change or at least have someone explain to me why they’re in there in the first place.”
The chairman of judiciary shouldn’t need the process explained to him, but…What he apparently does not know is that bills have hearings exactly so legislators can ask questions, have the bill explained to them and, if necessary, consider changes. Maybe Westerfield’s reluctance to commit to a hearing wouldn’t be so concerning if this practice of killing a bill without a vote or hearing wasn’t so common.
Another bill that passed quickly through the House, 65-17, was HB 22, which would ban paddling and other physical discipline in Kentucky schools. It has sat in the Senate education committee for over a month while the chairman, Republican Max Wise, measures support for it, according to The CJ. Another bill waiting on a vote is the sports gambling bill, which would bring in over $22 million in new tax revenue, according to estimates. HB 137 passed out of committee unanimously. The bill also has 40 co-sponsors and the support of Gov. Andy Beshear.
Unfortunately, conservative Republican lawmakers who don’t want the bill to pass have so far derailed it from receiving even a vote in the House. They did this by filing 11 amendments to the bill that would make it unpalatable to the majority of the House. Even proposing amendments shouldn’t derail the bill from being voted on. Take votes on the amendments, up or down. Take a vote on the bill.
Between sports gambling and medical marijuana, few issues are of as much interest as these two issues and the public deserves to have their representatives vote on them — one way or the other.
Of course, this practice of protecting members from taking difficult votes is not strictly a Republican practice. Both parties and every single legislator in history has tried to negotiate their way out of votes they know will be unpopular. But this practice is far too common among Republicans.
And one can’t help but look at the leader of the Republican Party in Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, and not believe he is setting the example. McConnell, who notoriously obstructed votes on President Obama’s entire legislative agenda, has picked up the practice once again, now that Democrats control the House.
Over 400 bills passed by the U.S. House, sit on McConnell’s desk waiting to be taken up in the Senate. Fair pay, mandatory background checks on gun purchases, the future of “Dreamers,” voter protections, lower healthcare costs, pensions protections and a federal minimum wage raise — all bills passed by the House that won’t get a hearing in Republican-controlled Senate committees.
McConnell has all the time in the world for things that are politically advantageous for him and Republicans in the Senate. He’s pushed record number of federal judicial nominations through. Just last week he allowed for an open debate on abortion in the Senate. But not even a committee hearing or debate on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, because the NRA opposes it.
But if the ire of the NRA is more important than protecting women from abusive spouses, then they deserve to know that. Voters deserve to know where their representatives stand on issues. •