2014 General Assembly: What's Happening and What You Can Do About It
The 2014 Kentucky General Assembly session is almost over. Thank goodness. However, we are not out of danger/hope as far as liberty and the Kentucky Constitution go. The legislature can pass bills -- even those that have not seen the light of day all session -- up to the last minute.
This is good news for bills we want passed, dangerously bad for ones we want gone. Here's what's happening and how you can best effect the change you want to see.
How bills get passed in Kentucky:
Bills can be proposed by a legislator up through the middle of a session. A legislator sponsors the bill and seeks co-sponsors.
All bills are assigned to a committee, but nothing happens until it gets posted. Whether or not a bill gets posted is decided by the committee chair. A bill can languish all session and die by the end.
Once a bill is posted, the chair decides if and when to bring it up for a public hearing. When that is scheduled, members of the public get to speak on the bill. After discussion, the committee usually votes on the bill. Occasionally, a bill is held over for more discussion.
If the bill fails to pass the vote, it dies. Generally, a committee chair will only post, then discuss/vote on bills s/he knows will pass.
When a bill passes out of committee, it goes to the Rules Committee (or "Rules"). All bills go to Rules before going to the chamber floor.
Rules decides if there is another committee that needs to consider the bill, e.g., if there are budget considerations, it goes to A&R (Appropriations & Revenue Committee).
Each time a bill passes out of a committee, it goes back to Rules which can put it into yet another committee or send it to the chamber floor. Most bills only get heard in one committee.
Once it's on the floor, leadership still decides if the bill ever gets called for a full discussion and vote. That is a boatload of power.
As of Today 3/14/14
As of today, the legislature has two more weeks of regular meetings (till 3/31), then two weeks on break (till 4/14), then 2 final days of session (4/14-15). Kentucky's Constitution requires the session to be done on April 15. Here is a link to the calendar so you see the big picture (PDF). Veto days, during the break, are when the governor either vetoes a bill, signs it, or times out on signing it (allows a bill to become law without signing which takes 10 days). After break/veto days, session continues for a final two days. Not much time, but even so, law-making could be far from over. For starters, this is when legislators can override a governor's veto. There can also be a flurry of activity. Some years, it's quiet in the chambers those last two days, nothing happens. Other years, legislators pick right back up where they left off: holding committee meetings, passing bills left and right, suspending the rules for everything. More on that "suspending the rules" thing in the session's final days and what dangers that presents tomorrow. In the meantime, if you want to have waaaay more influence on your legislature than you can ever get by voting, here are...
The 2 Most Effective Actions You Can Take:
1. Phone calls. Every phone call generates a green slip that is put on your legislator's desk. A stack of green slips makes a statement and legislators listen. You can call the LRC Hotline at 800-372-7181 Mon-Thurs 7a-11pm, Fri 7a-6p and leave a message for any legislator(s) on any bill. A human operator takes your message. S/he will ask your name and address. You can leave the same message for multiple legislators at the same time. You can even leave a message for an entire committee or leadership. Best not to leave a message for an entire chamber: these messages do not generate green slips, but get put in a book... which the legislators may or may not see.
Yes, you can call multiple times a day and each call generates a green slip. However, rather than make 10 phone calls a day, do this: make two phone calls and use the other 8 to call friends and ask them for a personal favor. Ask them to make a phone call for you that same day. Give them the number and tell them exactly what to say. This way, with the same amount of energy, you are building a coalition rather than burning out.
2. Meet with your House and Senate legislators. Set up a meeting in their hometowns at a local restaurant for coffee (don't buy their coffee). Or a meetup in their Frankfort office. Introduce yourself and tell them what issues concern you most. If there are bills already filed, speak specifically on those bills. Or not -- the important thing is for you to meet your legislators so they become real people to you and vice versa.
Please ask in the comments. We have legislative experts watching this post to answer your questions.