As I wrote three weeks ago about Republican state lawmakers renewing their “War on Louisville,” the new offensive might be their most disgraceful yet. Since then, it’s only become more clear how callously partisan — and dangerous — their proposal is.
At issue is House Bill 309. If passed, Louisville’s new civilian review board would attain indirect subpoena power by request from — and granted through — the Metro Oversight committee. Although some critics say it doesn’t go far enough, this would still be a significant reform following the LMPD killing Breonna Taylor.
Unfortunately, everything else in 309 is just a wretched Republican power grab, including several unrelated provisions that aim to subvert the will of Louisville voters.
Any outcome will not end well for the four Republican co-sponsors from Louisville.
But Senate Democrat Morgan McGarvey might have thrown them a life raft.
On Monday, Senate Bill 247 was voted out of committee on a bipartisan vote, which included Republican Senate President Robert Stivers. If passed, this bill would deliver police oversight reform similar to the House bill, but without the unrelated partisan deadweight. And it could allow the House to abandon ship on 309.
At the time of press, HB 309 has not passed through the House. If it does, Senate Democrats should oppose it, and work to dismantle every partisan provision possible.
Here’s a look at how most of these other, non-police oversight reforms in HB 309 are purely partisan plays.
If passed, HB 309 would make Louisville’s mayoral elections nonpartisan — meaning mayoral candidates would not run, or be listed on ballots, as Democrat or Republican. A lot is wrong with this, but the Rev. David L. Snardon, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition, said it best in a Courier Journal op-ed: “That is an obvious attempt to weaken the political voice of the people of color in Louisville and make it easier for a Republican to get elected to the city’s top job. Republicans want to gain control of Louisville even to the point of using the pain and suffering of the citizens of Louisville as a bargaining chip.”
Further, while nonpartisan mayors are not uncommon in American cities, none are nonpartisan alongside a partisan council. Louisville would be the first.
If passed, mayors would be limited to two 4-year terms.
This is fine to debate, with reasonable arguments on both sides. But, to Republicans, this only increases the opportunities for them to snatch an open seat, which is much easier than defeating an incumbent.
If passed, the Metro Council would have to approve all settlements exceeding $1 million, such as the $12 million settlement reached with Breonna Taylor’s family.
I can’t imagine any Metro Council member lobbying for this provision. There is no upside to inserting oneself into a settlement agreement, which by definition is compensation for wrongdoing by the city. The only possible motive for this provision has to be to force Democrats on the Council into taking more hard votes. So, council person, either vote against the Taylor family receiving $12 million, or add $12 million to the settlement total you’ve authorized… which you can expect to see on campaign material in your next election.
If passed, Metro Council would be empowered to subpoena current and former members of Metro Government, such as the mayor or former mayor.
This is the Republican’s version of “The Hunger Games” — they’re providing the weapons for Democrats to attack one another. If that sounds cynical, consider how many council members would love to use this power to promote their own political ambitions by investigating the current (or former) mayor.
What’s worse, the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Jerry Miller, blatantly misled the public when he initially introduced the bill. “He argued it could be worth the try after ‘what Louisville’s been through over the past year,’” the CJ reported. Miller’s explanation only changed when Democratic Councilman Bill Hollander pointed out Republicans introduced a nonpartisan-mayor bill last year — before what Louisville “went through over the past year.”
The entirety of the Republican power grab is bad enough. That they’re baking it in with the one thing Democrats want desperately, in an effort to make it “bipartisan,” makes it truly disgraceful.
There’s no arguing it’s a difficult vote for Democrats — I’m not certain I could trade real police oversight for protecting mayoral elections and other items. On the other hand, our election systems are under attack by Republicans across the country. And, without the strength and integrity of our democratic systems, injustice and abuses of power will only worsen.
Lawmakers should pursue the clean, bipartisan Senate bill. If not, Democrats shouldn’t reward Republicans by supporting their fraudulent reforms.