Bill which regulates constitutional officers' contracts with outside counsel passed by House

02/15/2018 05:55 PM

FRANKFORT – A bill which would regulate contracts the attorney general or other constitutional officers could enter into for outside counsel on a contingency fee basis was passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives by a 52-40 vote.

House Bill 198, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, requires the Attorney General, as well as other constitutional officers, to make written finding of the need for contingency fee contracts and setting limits on the amounts of contingency fees.

In addition, the Finance and Administration Cabinet would have to post contract information on its website, as well as require the contractor to maintain certain records, and require the attorney general and Finance Cabinet to submit reports on all such contracts to the Government Contract Review Committee by September 1 each year.

The legislation also spells out the amount of money going to a law firm based on the amount awarded in a recovery.

“It ensures that when our executive branch hires outside council, that that private council is necessary,” Nemes said. “We appropriate millions of dollars to the Attorney General’s office and other executive branches, and we appropriate that money so they can represent the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This is not an attack against the attorney general.”

Many Democrats argued against the bill saying that it is designed to protect the big pharmaceutical companies from being levied with massive damage payments as a result of the state’s opioid crisis. Nemes strongly denied the argument from Democrats.

Rep. Kevin Sinette, D-Ashland, argued against the bill saying that, in fact, it is a power grab by the governor and the latest chapter of Bevin against Beshear.

“For the lack of a better term, this is nothing more than a power grab,” Sinette said. “The governor having to approve the duties and contracts of what our elected attorney general is to do. “It’s nothing more than an eroding away of his duties and giving it to the governor’s office for approval.”

A number of Democrat legislators expressed concern that there was no fiscal note tied to bill, but a motion to lay the bill on the clerks desk until a fiscal note could be obtained was defeated.

Attorney General Andy Beshear criticized the passing of HB 198 with the following statement:

“Today most House Republicans voted against their communities in favor of the drug companies that have flooded their districts with opioids. Their actions are yet another attempt to hamstring my efforts to drag these multinational drug companies into a Kentucky court to answer to our people.”

Beshear concluded by saying, “Kentucky families support my efforts to address our drug epidemic and to hold these drug companies responsible, and that’s what I will continue to do.”

The Partnership for Commonsense Justice praised the vote in following released statement:

“The Partnership for Commonsense Justice is pleased to see HB 198 heading to the Kentucky Senate and commends Rep. Jason Nemes for leading the effort to move this important legislation. TiPAC is critical to preserving a level playing field in the judicial system and to ensuring that public interest— not personal injury lawyer profit—remains at the heart of legal action pursued by the state.”

The statement concluded by saying, “transparency and accountability must be the hallmarks of any contract given by state government to private attorneys that lets them wield the full prosecutorial power of the Commonwealth.”

HB 198 now moves on to the Senate for consideration.


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