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Senate Committee Passes Bill To Reshape Louisville Metro Council

J. Tyler Franklin/WFPL News

Despite protests from Louisville Democrats, a state Senate committee on Thursday passed a bill that would tinker with the way the city’s Metro Council operates.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer had a mixed response to policies in the legislation, but called the process by which the bill has been negotiated an “insult to the people of Louisville.”

“There are good things with the bill, there are bad things with the bill,” Fischer said. “There’s unfunded mandates in the bill, there’s tremendously increased workloads in the bill as well. That’s not the primary issue to me, the issue is the citizens of Louisville should have a voice in any changes that takes place to their government.”

Though the measure was filed last week, major changes to the legislation were finalized last night and the new version was handed out to lawmakers at the beginning of the State and Local Government Committee hearing on Thursday morning.

The legislation is one of a handful of bills in the General Assembly that would change the way Louisville’s metro government works.

The bill would reduce the number of required Metro Council meetings from two to one meetings per month.

In cases of vacancies on the council, the bill would require the Metro Council to appoint someone from the same political party as the vacated seat. Currently, vacancies can be filled by members of either party.

The legislation also allows the two largest political caucuses on the council to hire between two and four full-time staff.

Councilman Bill Hollander called that provision an “unfunded mandate” from the state.

“The Republican caucus director is paid $87,000,” Hollander said. “If you take that times four and add benefits, you would be at $461,000 in an unfunded mandate to Louisville taxpayers for political caucus staff. I think we can do better than that.”

Caucuses would also be allowed to hire legal counsel for “advice and consultation.”

Unlike a similar version of the bill in the state House of Representatives, the legislation no longer includes a provision that would have limited Louisville mayors to two consecutive terms rather than three.

Also different, the bill creates a new position of “deputy mayor,” who would fill in for 30 days in event of the death, resignation or removal of a mayor. Metro Council would then replace the former mayor with a Louisville resident of the same political party. The governor would select the replacement if Metro Council did not within 30 days.

The legislation grants more oversight over city government to Metro Council, creating an audit committee for the body that can subpoena any officer or agency appointees.

It also requires no-bid contracts greater than $50,000 to be approved by council.

Fischer warned that the provision would increase the workload for Metro Council, estimating that the number of contracts they would have to review would go up from 50 to 800.

The bill’s primary sponsor Sen. Dan Seum, a Louisville Republican, said that the original version of the bill was “pretty partisan,” but that remaining arguments boil down to separation of powers.

“What we got there is a classic battle between the executive branch and the legislative branch,” Seum said.

The bill now heads to the full Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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