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Bill Would Allow Judges To Authorize Louisville Citizen Review Board Subpoenas


Louisville’s new civilian review board would be able to subpoena for police records if approved by a local judge, under a bill advancing in the state legislature.

Senate Bill 247 was filed in reaction to calls for more accountability of Louisville Metro Police Department after the police killing of Breonna Taylor and other scandals.

The bill is also one of the few filed by a Democrat that has gotten a hearing in the Republican-led legislature.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, said the citizen review board can’t fire police officers or change how the department works, but it can dig for information.

“What they can do is—with transparency, with accountability, with the information that they have—make recommendations,” McGarvey said. “So there is some increased accountability there, but they’re not ultimately the ones in charge of what happens.”

The Louisville Metro Councilcreated the civilian review boardand inspector general office in November, but the board won’t have subpoena power—the authority to compel testimony or documents in investigations—unless approved by the state legislature.

Unlike a similar bill advancing in the House, the measure would not require Louisville’s mayoral elections to be nonpartisan and would not require Metro Council’s government oversight and audit committee to approve subpoenas.

Instead, the board would have to get approval from a circuit court judge.

Louisville Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal said giving the board subpoena power will help build trust “between the community and police.”

“We should remind ourselves: The community does not work for the police, the police work for the community,” Neal said.

Though the proposal would only affect Louisville’s citizen review board, Lexington Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas filed an amendment that would expand the bill’s scope to Lexington, if approved.

Paducah Republican Sen. Danny Carroll voted against it.

“I think what Louisville metro has done will lead to mass resignations, retirements. I just don’t think this is the best way to address the problem. I don’t want to be a part of making this a part of statute, which could lead to this expanding throughout the state,” Carroll said.

The measure passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday with a vote of 8-3, and it will now head 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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