Legislation allowing the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to set lobbying registration fees by regulation heads to House floor

03/03/2016 07:58 PM

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would allow the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to craft regulations on how much executive branch lobbyists must pay in annual registration fees, among other items pertaining to the ethics panel, passed the House State Government Committee on an 18-0 vote Thursday.

Five Republicans voted “pass” on House Bill 608, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly.

The legislation would also require state employees and officials to report suspected ethics violations, give the commission authority to tap into a restricted fund that holds lobbyists’ registration fees for administrative hearings and allow the governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer to appoint one person apiece to the ethics commission’s five-member board.

Overly, who also chairs the Kentucky Democratic Party, said she would consider an amendment to HB 608 that would give the agriculture commission an appointment to the board while maintaining an odd-numbered makeup.

Overly credited former Democratic Rep. Tonya Pullin, who accepted an appointment as an administrative law judge Dec. 15, for her work on the bill, which was pitched to the committee as a wide-ranging update to laws governing the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

“In effect what’s happening now is that they are so short on funds through their general appropriation that they don’t have the money to conduct hearings on complaints that are presented to them, and they estimate depending on the type of hearing and the length of the hearing, it can cost from $7,500 to $35,000,” said Overly, D-Paris.

“And so what that does for executive branch ethics is puts them in a position where they are forced to settle these matters because they actually don’t have the resources to properly investigate them and take them to hearing.”

Katie Gabhart, executive director of the commission, said the $125 amount has not been raised since its inception in 2006, and raising the registration fee to $275 would only offset cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin in his two-year spending plan.

But some on the committee seemed concerned with giving the ethics panel direct access to its restricted fund.

Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, said lawmakers would only have an opportunity to weigh in on the fund use if they serve on the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. He also suggested that the commission could do without General Fund appropriations in the future if HB 608 passes and the panel decides to raise the $125 registration fee for lobbyists.

“They can triple it, they can do whatever, and it would not come back to us other than by the administrative regulations committee, and that may be what we need to do,” Rudy said. “But I don’t want to hear another cry for budgetary cuts if you can just set your own fees to take care of what you need.”

Overly called the registration charge for those who lobby the executive branch of Kentucky’s government “very nominal,” and she said no lobbyist has expressed concerns to her about HB 608.

Unlike many restricted funds in the 2007 recession’s wake, appropriators did not sweep funds from the ethics commission’s registration fees.

The fund, however, has been depleted, Gabhart said.

Then-Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget office recommended the ethics panel utilize those dollars in the most recent biennium as it faced 5 percent cuts, she said.

“We have bled that dry,” she said. “There is nothing left in the restricted funds.”

The House State Government Committee also passed House Bill 271 on a 22-0 vote on Thursday.

The legislation would disclose individual pension amounts in the state retirement plans, but beneficiaries would not be identified by their names, Social Security numbers or other personal information.

Instead, a unique identification number will be assigned to those participating in state pensions.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Louisville Republican and sponsor of HB 271, said passed the legislation would help the Public Pension Oversight Board in its work.

“This is a lesson in keep it simple, stupid,” Miller said in explaining an amended version of HB 271 recommended by Rep. Brent Yonts, who chairs the committee. “We are parrying the bill down just to its essence, which is this is a data-gathering bill to collect data from the various systems, de-identify that data so it is impossible to track it back to an individual and then gather that data in a central database for use by the Public Pension Oversight Board as they see fit.”

Both bills now head to the House floor for consideration. HB 271 was placed on the lower chamber’s consent calendar.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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