LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday giving Louisville’s new civilian review board indirect subpoena power in police investigations, but the legislation stripped a controversial provision to make the city’s mayoral races nonpartisan.
The Republican-backed House Bill 309 now heads to the Senate, which is considering a similar measure that would let the civilian board and its inspector general take subpoena requests directly to a Jefferson Circuit Court judge. The House version requires a Metro Council committee with subpoena authority to agree.
The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Jerry Miller (R-Eastwood), said the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police prefers the language in the House bill and supports it.
The Louisville Metro Council created the Civilian Review and Accountability Board in a nearly unanimous vote last year, tasking it with police oversight in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.
The bill’s approach gives the subpoena authority to elected officials on the Metro Council’s Government Oversight Committee. Backers of that plan had raised concerns with granting those abilities to an appointed – not elected – board.
“The citizens review board can then do what they need to do to hold our police officers and our officials accountable, and to improve the system,” co-sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said in remarks on the House floor.
Democrats viewed the effort to make the mayor’s race nonpartisan as a way to give Republicans an advantage in Louisville, where the GOP is heavily outnumbered by Democrats. Miller contended that nonpartisan races would produce candidates who aren’t running at the extreme edges of either party.
Under the initial version of the bill, the two candidates receiving the most votes in the mayoral primary would advance to the fall general election regardless of their party. Voters would not be told a candidate's party.
Metro Council races would remain partisan.
Miller did not oppose the amendment by Rep. Ken Fleming (R-Louisville) to let the mayor’s races continue to be partisan. The amended bill also requires the agreement of 75% of residents living in an area wishing to be annexed by another Jefferson County.
Fleming, who like Miller is a former Metro Council member, said he was concerned about the differences between council and mayor’s elections.
“You have it all partisan or you have it nonpartisan,” he said. “You don't have one or the other.”
The bill passed, 70-23, with Louisville’s Democratic members voting against.
Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville), the House minority floor leader, said she appreciated Fleming’s amendment but argued that state lawmakers were being asked to vote on Louisville issues that deserve local control.
“I think there are a lot of things in this bill that need to be decided on a local level,” she said.
Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville), would give the civilian review board and its inspector general the ability to seek a subpoena through a judge, bypassing the Metro Council.
That measure is pending in the Senate.
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