Call to Order and Roll Call
The4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Kenny Imes, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Joe Bowen, Co-Chair; Representatives Jerry T. Miller, Co-Chair, and Kenny Imes, Co-Chair; Senators Ralph Alvarado, Denise Harper Angel, Stan Humphries, Christian McDaniel, Morgan McGarvey, Dorsey Ridley, Albert Robinson, Wil Schroder, and Damon Thayer; Representatives Lynn Bechler, Kevin D. Bratcher, Tom Burch, John Carney, Will Coursey, Jim DeCesare, Joseph M. Fischer, Derrick Graham, Richard Heath, Dennis Horlander, Dan Johnson, DJ Johnson, Brian Linder, Reginald Meeks, Phil Moffett, Tim Moore, C. Wesley Morgan, Jason Nemes, Sannie Overly, Jason Petrie, Rick Rand, Attica Scott, Tommy Turner, Ken Upchurch, Jim Wayne, and Scott Wells.
Guests: James Lewis, Kentucky County Clerk’s Association; Representative Robert Benvenuti; Ashlea Christiansen, M.Ed., J.D.; Pam Darnall, President/CEO of Family and Children’s Place; and Michelle Kuiper
Approval of Minutes
A motion to approve the minutes of the August 23, 2017, meeting was seconded and passed without objection.
Kentucky County Clerk’s Association
Leslie County Clerk James Lewis, representing the Kentucky County Clerk’s Association, stated the county clerks would like to see some “clean-up” legislation in the upcoming 2018 Regular Session of the General Assembly. The clerks request an amendment to KRS 132.017, which relates to recall elections. The current statute needs to be amended to accommodate the 45-day period for printing the ballots, to address the wording for the ballot, and to establish who can call the election. Revisions are necessary because of the frequency of these elections and the problems created in meeting the statutorily required time frames.
Mr. Lewis stated that while this is an off year with no elections scheduled, under KRS 117.035 the county boards are still required to meet once a month in order to purge voter registration rolls. The State Board of Elections actually purges those rolls, so there is no need for a mandated monthly meeting of the county board of elections. The clerks would like the meetings to be discretionary and held upon the call of the clerk or a majority of the members of the board. This change would save the counties money.
Mr. Lewis stated that KRS 117.343 provides the county clerks shall receive “up to” $.50 cents per registered voter for their election duties during the election cycle. This year the clerks are receiving $.34 cents per registered voter, which he said is a huge revenue drop. The clerks would like to have the wording changed to state that the clerks shall receive the full $.50 cents per registered voter for their duties regarding elections.
The clerks would also like to amend KRS 117.085 to allow them to send an application for an absentee ballot by e-mail to the requesting voter. The voter would still have to mail the application back to the clerk. Allowing the clerks to e-mail the application for an absentee ballot to the voter would provide a quicker turnaround time and eliminate some of the problems relating to ballots not getting returned on time. Mr. Lewis stated the clerks would also request the timeframes in KRS 117.075 and 117.085 be changed from seven days before the election to 14 days. This change would provide the time necessary to mail the ballot out and get the ballot back.
Mr. Lewis stated that KRS 116.055 does not define “new registrations”. On occasion the clerks have people who take their names off the voter registration roll and then come right back and re-register as a member of a different party. The current law is that the party of a person as registered on December 31st is the party in which a person will participate for their primary. Because “new registrant” has not been defined by statute, people take advantage of this. The clerks would like for the new voter registration tag to be tied to the December 31st date.
In response to a question from Senator Thayer, Mr. Lewis stated that clerks verify the identity of an absentee voter through signature cards and the integrity of the ballot through official seals and that the requested amendments would not change that verification.
Responding to a question from Representative Miller, Mr. Lewis stated that the amount clerks receive per registered voter is paid to them by the Secretary of State.
In response to a question from Representative Bechler, Mr. Lewis stated that the county clerks do review voter registration rolls after elections and send the names of individuals who should be purged to the State Board of Elections. These names are generally of deceased individuals. Representative Bechler commented that he would prefer to see local officials remaining involved in the purging of voter registrations.
In response to a second question from Representative Bechler, Mr. Lewis stated that the request to email an absentee ballot application would be an added option, not an exclusive provision.
Responding to a question from Representative Dan Johnson about the $.34 per registered voter rate as opposed to the $.50 per registered voter rate, Mr. Lewis stated that he suspected the reduced amount was due to the Secretary of State’s budget. Mr. Lewis also stated that the amount has decreased each year.
Overview of Proposed Constitutional Amendments Filed During 2017 Regular Session
Representative Robert Benvenuti presented 2017 SB 15, also known as Marsy’s Law, relating to crime victims’ rights. Representative Benvenuti stated that this proposed constitutional amendment would grant victims of crime the same level of constitutional protection as the accused. He said Kentucky currently provides for only modest statutory protections for crime victims, and statutory protections do not provide the same level of protection as constitutional protections.
Representative Benvenuti stated providing constitutional rights for crime victims is not a new concept. Kentucky is one of only 15 states that does not offer constitutional protection to victims of crime.
Ashlea Christiansen, State Director and legal counsel of Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, provided information regarding Marsy for whom Marsy’s Law is named. She stated Marsy’s Law is needed because when the accused is arrested and charged, the crime is considered to have been committed against the state and victims become merely witnesses to the crime. It is the victim, however, who has suffered emotionally, physically, psychologically and sometimes financially. Marsy’s Law will insure that victims have a voice and are involved throughout the process. These rights given to victims will not infringe upon the defendants’ rights and will not impede the court’s ability to adjudicate the case fairly. They simply insure that victims have a meaningful role in the judicial process and standing to enforce their rights if they are violated.
Pam Darnell, President and CEO of Family and Children’s Place, stated that the organization she represents has served crime victims for many years. She stated there has been an increase in child abuse, neglect, and violence across the state of Kentucky, with a 55% increase in child abuse reports over the past four years. Ms. Darnell said her organization fully supports Marsy’s Law.
Michelle Kuiper stated she had been the victim of a horrific crime in 1994. She described the ordeal she had endured and stated she supported Marsy’s Law.
Senator Thayer expressed support for this proposed amendment and stated he intended to be a co-sponsor. He expressed a desire that this matter be passed early in the 2018 Session to provide advocates as much time as possible before it is voted upon to educate the electorate regarding this matter.
Representative Bratcher also expressed support for this proposed amendment. In response to a question from Representative Bratcher, Representative Benvenuti stated that there would be some costs associated with implementation of this proposal but he believed those costs would be minimal.
In response to a question from Representative Moffett, Representative Benvenuti stated that the Commonwealth would still control all aspects of the proceedings and victims would not have the right to direct the prosecution or resolution of the case.
Responding to a question from Senator Schroder, Ms. Christiansen stated that with the cooperation of the Commonwealth attorneys and county attorneys work was still being done with regard to definitional terms and that information would be made available to the legislators as soon as it was completed.
Representative Carney stated he supported this proposed amendment.
Representative Meeks stated he had supported this proposed amendment in the past and continues to support it.
A copy of all material presented regarding Marsy’s Law was provided to the members and can be found in the Legislative Research Commission Library.
HB 353 (2017 RS) – Taking the sense of the people as to calling a convention to revise or amend the Constitution of Kentucky
Representative Phil Moffett, sponsor of 2017 HB 353, presented a history of state constitutional conventions in Kentucky and why he believed a state constitutional convention was needed at this time. There are many items addressed in the current Constitution of Kentucky that are no longer relevant in today’s world. There is a need to modernize the governmental structures and processes and the current constitutional limitations of no more than four amendments per general election cycle, with each amendment limited to a single subject limits the ability to do that. Representative Moffett offered several examples from the current Constitution that he stated supported his proposal. He then reviewed the procedure required for the convention and stated his proposal included a prohibition against changes to the Kentucky Bill or Rights as well as a requirement that any proposed new Constitution of Kentucky be ratified by the General Assembly and then be presented to the voters of the Commonwealth for approval. Representative Moffett stated that, because the process would take four to six years, he proposed passage of this initial step in the next legislative session.
In response to a question from Representative Wells, Representative Moffett stated that the current Constitution of Kentucky does not address the exclusion of certain items during a convention, but he has included the Bill of Rights exclusion in his proposed legislation and stated its inclusion in the next session should be sufficient to offer this protection.
Senator Ridley referenced a failed convention attempt in the 1960s. In response to an inquiry from Senator Ridley, Representative Moffett stated that additional information would need to be obtained as to whether there would be prohibitions against members of the General Assembly running as delegates under certain circumstances. In response to a further question from Senator Ridley, Representative Moffett stated that there is no mention of partisanship in the current Constitution with regard to delegates to a convention.
In response to an inquiry from Senator McGarvey, Representative Moffett stated that there is no limitation on the number of candidates that can seek election as a delegate. The only requirement for a delegate that is specified in the current Constitution is that the candidate have the same qualifications and be elected from House of Representatives legislative districts.
In response to another inquiry from Senator McGarvey, Representative Moffett stated that the first and second bills presented to the General Assembly regarding this issue would require a simple majority vote to pass. As the current Constitution is silent on presentation of a new Constitution to the voters for approval, Representative Moffett stated that a simple majority is all that would be required for passage.
In response to a question from Representative Dan Johnson, Representative Moffett stated that the placement on the ballot of candidates for delegates to any constitutional convention would likely be controlled by methodology currently in use.
Responding to a question from Senator Bowen, Representative Moffett stated that the current Constitution does not limit the number of topics that could be brought up or acted upon at a convention.
In response to a question from Senator Alvarado, Representative Moffett stated that delegates to a convention would be entitled to compensation and he would propose those delegates be paid the same as members of the General Assembly. There would be other costs associated with the convention.
Representative Miller stated that he applauded Representative Moffett’s undertaking to raise this issue and offered to provide assistance in reviewing the history of previous conventions. In response to a question from Representative Miller, Representative Moffett stated that he believes the public is ready for modernization of the Constitution.
Representative Moffett utilized a Power Point presentation to accompany his discussion, a paper copy of which was distributed to the members and is available in the Legislative Research Commission Library.
(Discussion Only) 2018 RS BR 28 – Appointment by Governor of appellate judges/Amend Sections 117, 118, 119 and 122
Representative Jason Nemes, sponsor of 18 RS BR 28, stated his intention in presenting this proposed legislation was to start a conversation about how we can implement the best judicial system in Kentucky. He provided a historical overview of judiciary selection in the Commonwealth. He cited issues related to the election of judges as reasons to support the appointment of appellate judges by the Governor. These issues include the amount of money being spent in judicial elections as well as the time required for a campaign and its negative impact on attracting candidates.
Representative Nemes stated there were also strong arguments that could be made against his bill. He cited fear of partisanship, fear of centralized power, and fear of lack of electoral accountability relating to judges. In further discussing his bill, Representative Nemes stated that the judicial nominating commission process established in Section 118 of the state Constitution presently would be retained with regard to judicial appointments by the Governor. To insure electoral accountability Representative Nemes referenced the Missouri Plan and stated his bill would provide for a retention election by the voters of any appellate judge or justice after his or her initial eight year appointment. He further stated that his bill contains a 16 year term limit for judges on the Court of Appeals and an additional and separate 16 year term limit for justices on the Supreme Court.
Representative Nemes said the appointment process would not start until the next regular election for Governor in an effort to remove any concerns regarding partisanship.
Senator Schroder discussed his personal experience with judicial elections and stated that he believes it is always best to let the people decide.
In response to a question from Representative Wayne, Representative Nemes stated that elections pervert our judicial system and while public financing of judicial races would be beneficial, it does not address the issue of “dark money” in judicial campaigns.
Responding to a question from Representative Wells, Representative Nemes stated that he would support appointment of judges in the district courts and circuit courts but he believes this may present some logistical concerns.
Representative Graham expressed his desire to see mechanisms in place with this proposal to protect the judicial branch of government from manipulation by the executive branch. Responding to a question from Representative Graham, Representative Nemes stated that the reason “dark money” was different in a judicial race as opposed to legislative or executive races was the requirement that judges be impartial.
Representative Graham complimented Kentucky’s elected judges from both parties as to their integrity and qualifications.
In response to a question from Senator McGarvey, Representative Nemes stated he would be in favor of setting up judicial nominating commissions for each Supreme Court district to provide more local input regarding appellate appointments. Responding to a second question from Senator McGarvey, Representative Nemes stated that he did not know how much money was spent under the Missouri Plan or similar plans in retention elections in other jurisdictions.
Responding to a question from Representative Morgan, Representative Nemes stated judges often retain their positions for several reasons, one of which is the fact that the judge is a good judge. Others remain in office simply because they have no opposition as attorneys of good quality often cannot take the time necessary to run for that position.
Senator Thayer expressed his opposition to any public financing for judicial races. He stated there are court decisions that equate campaign contributions with free speech. Senator Thayer further stated that he believes the way we currently elect judges is an abridgement of their constitutional rights, referring to restrictions on judicial elections. He would further support partisan elections of the judiciary.
(Discussion Only) 2018 RS BR 40 – Permit Member of the General Assembly to Override an Administrative Regulation/Amend Section 29
Representative Kenny Imes, Co-Chair of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government, stated that the members of the General Assembly have a responsibility to the people of Kentucky to be able to override administrative regulations, although the Constitution of Kentucky does not currently provide for that action. Chairman Imes stated that while the number of proposed administrative regulations that are found deficient is small, of that number, over the past six years, 81% of those deficient regulations were still put into effect by a cabinet or agency. Chairman Imes stated that there needed to be more oversight by the General Assembly of administrative regulations and he was proposing a constitutional amendment to provide for that oversight.
Senator Bowen expressed his support for this proposed legislation.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 3:00 p.m.