Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 10, 2013

No time to read

Last-minute rush to enact bills a recipe for disaster

The Independent

ASHLAND — The complaints of two leading legislators about a provision added to a complex pension reform bill approved by the 3013 Kentucky General Assembly points hat can happen when legislative leaders wait until the final days or even hour of a legislative session to bring major pieces of legislation. In so doing, they force legislators to vote on bills they have not even had time to read.

 Both State Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and State Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, voted for the pension reform bill that now is law, but both say they were unaware of a provision in the bill that give the state the power to revoke the professional licenses and even the drivers licenses of people who are delinquent in paying taxes to the state. Of course, the only reason the two legislative leaders did not know the provision was in the bill is because they had not read the bill thoroughly before voting on it.

While Collins and Harris should be embarrassed to admit that they had voted in ignorance on one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the 2013 General Assembly, the fact is the hectic pace of the General Assembly in the closing days of a legislative session force many legislators to vote on bills before  they had time to read them. Collins and Harris are hardly the first legislators to be surprised by controversial provisions unknowingly placed in bills that they had supported.

In order to give legislators time to read a bill before its bought up for a final vote, proposals  have been made to require legislators to have a final version of bills ion their hands for at least 48 before the final vote on it. While that strikes us as a reasonable way to assure tha all legislators have been able to at least do a quick read if a bill before voting eon it, it has never come close to being approved by legislative leaders. Why? it could be that legislative leaders like the status quo because it increases their power and enables them to sneak pet provisions into bills.  

That being said, our objections to provision that has earned the wrath of Collins and Harris is the way that it became law, not by what it does. After all, in approving the bill that includes the provision, Kentucky joins 30 other states that have the power to revoke drivers’ and professional licenses as “a last-resort method” of collecting delinquent taxes. Used as intended, the provision can be quite effective in convincing those who owe state taxes to pay up.

In defending the provision, Pamela Trautner, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, said state will not even attempt to revoke the professional licenses of doctors, lawyers, architects, barbers, Relators and hundreds of others whose careers require a state license if they only owe a few dollars. However, if an individual owes the state a great deal in back taxes and other attempts to collect what is owed have failed, then we can think of no incentive to pay what is owed than the possibility of losing the state license needed.

However, Collins aid the measure makes little sense because it takes away people’s ability to work, leaving them unable to pay taxes. That’s nonsense. Just the threat of having their license revoke will convince most resident to pay the taxes they owe.

While we have no objections to the provision that has drawn the wrath of Collins and Harris, the mad rush in the final days and hours of a legislative session that forces legislators to vote in ignorance is a recipe for disaster. Collins and Harris are hardly the first legislators to learn after the fact of controversial provisions in bills that had helped enact.

Requiring a waiting period before a final vote on a bill is the best way to assure that all legislators have at least had time to read a bill before they vote on it. Sadly, during even number years legislators are forced to vote on a two-year budget they had not had time to read. That’s shameful.