Legislator wants committee witnesses sworn in before testifying to General Assembly

07/01/2014 05:21 PM

A freshman senator has pre-filed a bill for 2015 to require witnesses going before legislative committees to take an oath affirming their statements to be truthful — a move that his predecessor says could have unintended consequences unless its tempered.

State Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, an attorney who won a special election in 2013 to replace Kathy Stein in the Senate, said he was “surprised that people who testify don’t get sworn in.”

Thomas set out to change that with his first pre-filed bill ahead of 2015.

“I’m trying to make testifying before the Senate more accountable,” Thomas told Pure Politics in a phone interview. “I want to bring the same sort of gravity and seriousness as someone testifying before Congress.”

Thomas said that anyone found to be violating an oath could face a “range of legal options.”

A person convicted of perjury in the first degree, or lying under oath, under Kentucky law could face a Class D felony. If convicted, that carries a prison sentence of one-to-five years plus fines, according to criminal code.

“If you swear an oath you should be held accountable if it’s later discovered you given false testimony,” Thomas said.

In an op-ed to the Lexington-Hearld Leader on June 29 Thomas said he had pre-filed the bill and said it was “frightening to think that we could pass a law based on falsehoods or half truths.”

Thomas said its increasingly important before high profile and controversial legislation comes up in the next session, such as allowing medial marijuana or changing the Common Core education standards.

Former Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, whom Thomas replaced when she resigned in 2013 to become a family court judge in Lexington, said she recalled times when she would have liked to have placed someone put under oath before testifying in a committee.

On second blush though she wondered about the “chilling effect it might have on ordinary citizens.”

Stein suggested Thomas may want to “water down” the bill and not make the oath a mandatory provision. She said that when cabinet and other high ranking state officials testify the threat of perjury could turn testifying before a committee into a witch hunt.


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