By John David Dyche
Kentucky's Legislative Research Commission has been in the news lately because of its handling of sex harassment charges against a former state representative and document shredding and suspicious raises by its former director. But despite this bad publicity there are a lot of really outstanding public servants in the LRC doing good and important work for Kentucky.
One example is LRC Informational Bulletin No. 242 entitled Issues Confronting the 2014 General Assembly. It is the latest in a long series of these handy, comprehensive guides to key issues facing the commonwealth that the LRC publishes shortly before a legislative session begins.
The 108-page primer is available on-line at www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/IB242.pdf, and is a great resource for interested citizens who would like to become better informed about state government. The LRC attempts to "present these issues objectively and concisely, given the complex nature of the subjects" and usually succeeds.
Broad topical sections are arranged alphabetically. Within them the specific subjects run the gamut from "bedbugs," the first one in the agriculture section, to "residential fire safety standards," the last one in veterans' affairs, military affairs, and public protection.
This is the place to go if you want an unbiased presentation of the question, "Should the General Assembly regulate the treatment of bedbug infestations in residential rental properties?" Among the many other interesting but obscure discussions are ones about drones, the classification of hard cider, and Asian carp.
Issues Confronting the 2014 General Assembly is extremely educational. For example, did you know that the rate of heroin overdose deaths in Kentucky per year are on pace to rise from about five before 2010 to 174 this year? Or that in 2011 Kentucky had 730 cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome in which a baby is born addicted to drugs?
Taxes are always a hot topic. This year's guide contains articles about Kentucky's limited liability entity tax, local occupational license taxes, property taxes on older motor vehicles, angel investor tax credits, and local option sales taxes.
There is no entry for comprehensive tax reform, however, perhaps because it appears dead before the session has even begun. Governor Beshear has done less than nothing to act on the recommendations of his much-ballyhooed tax reform task force, and Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, another Democrat, says it is too late.
Some of the other bigger and better known issues, like expanded gambling, public pensions, and Medicaid, are also not included, but many of them are the subjects of prior year's bulletins or separate LRC publications. Given the scope of publicly available LRC resources any citizen with a computer and internet access who wants to be well informed can be.
Another great resource for citizens is LRC e-news. By signing up for these short, well-written e-mail updates on legislative activity Kentuckians can keep abreast of just about everything the legislature is doing (at least in public).
The issues report and e-mail alerts are valuable reminders of the great breadth of the subject matter Kentucky's legislature addresses. No one can be an expert on all of it, and that is why it is so vital to have and retain top flight personnel at the LRC.
This requires quality leadership, decent compensation, and good working conditions. Recent revelations reveal that each of these things has been lacking to some extent, and some of them have been lacking to a very great extent.
Leadership must begin with the 16 legislators who actually comprise the commission and are ultimately responsible for its operation. A truly professional director is also essential. Bringing in the capable and respected Marcia Ford Seiler as acting director is a first step in the right direction.
Appropriately, legislative leaders have promised a performance audit of the LRC. Unfortunately, some now appear tempted to do it on the cheap instead of hiring real experts who might truly help reform the troubled agency.
It is not easy for busy folks to follow the state legislature on a day-to-day basis, but we would have better government if more did. Although the media fulfills an important function by helping citizens keep an eye on their government, there sometimes is simply no substitute for direct personal involvement.
So check out some LRC publications. And make sure your legislators actually follow through on their promises to reform the LRC.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.