Legislature’s return draws some criticism

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Legislature returned to work Tuesday with strict limits on public access, a move that has drawn criticism from some quarters because it allows lawmakers to act in relative secrecy.

Lawmakers closed down business Friday and Monday in response to the coronavirus but returned with a vow to complete the state’s business, including approving a state budget, prior to the April 15 deadline to adjourn.

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But both the state’s teacher group and the ACLU criticized the closed-door nature of the proceedings.

“New safety measures announced Monday limit public access to the State Capitol and the committee hearing process, yet lawmakers plan to continue legislative business. These actions ignore the rights of Kentuckians to fully participate in the legislative process,” ACLU-KY executive director Michael Aldridge said.

“Legislators have asked people to use email, the legislative message line, and written letters to participate in the lawmaking process. These suggested actions fall far short of what is required for Kentuckians to be fully engaged in decisions that will impact their communities and families.

“Kentucky’s small businesses, hourly workers, parents, and others are making significant sacrifices to protect the most vulnerable among us and give our healthcare system the best chance at success. As we all think creatively about ways to keep moving forward and completing necessary work, we ask the Kentucky General Assembly to do the same. Lawmakers have the opportunity to pass a budget and work on other legislative matters at a later date. Continuing the legislative session behind closed doors exposes essential LRC employees to the novel coronavirus, endangers the safety of communities where legislators will return after working in close quarters at the Capitol, and violates Kentuckians’ right to participate in their Government,” Aldridge concluded

“Our General Assembly has determined they will continue business as usual through the end of the legislative session, with one significant exception—they will operate on an ‘invitation only’ basis. Only they and selected others will be allowed to take part in the Commonwealth’s legislative process. No ‘unauthorized’ personnel may enter the Annex, per the order of the Senate President and Speaker of the House. They want to operate our democracy in the dark,” added Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell.

“While the citizens these ‘leaders’ represent are struggling to manage our homes and work and families and bills for the greater good, legislators choose to avoid the messy work of democracy by insulating themselves from the germ of a vocal opposition. Legislators were sent to Frankfort to pass a budget for our Commonwealth and have had ample time to do so. Instead of finishing that essential work and sacrificing like everyone else, our elected representatives can now take up many divisive issues without any meaningful, direct opposition.  They will do this while collecting their full legislative pay on the very same day that many Kentuckians are forced to apply for unemployment benefits.  Their actions will pull Kentuckians apart at the very time we should be pulling together,” Campbell continued.

“It’s time legislators also face this crisis we all are waking up to each day. Pass a budget that helps students, parents, educators, and their communities. Provide temporary relief to our school districts by suspending instructional day requirements and extending emergency leave for all school employees. Then go home.

“Democracy does not work ‘virtually’ or in the dark. Bills and policies that would otherwise receive vocal outrage and opposition will pop up like mushrooms in that darkness. Educators have seen this before. In 2018, the ‘sewer bill”’was passed in the dark of night to undercut pensions and gut the education budget,” Campbell concluded.