Kentucky Politics

A bill that would indirectly give Louisville’s new civilian review board the power to issue subpoenas as it oversees the city’s police department is advancing in the state legislature.

But House Bill 309 also includes an unrelated policy requiring Louisville to have nonpartisan mayoral elections, a provision long-sought by Republicans eying the top office in the heavily Democratic city.

Louisville Pastor Tim Findley, founder of the Justice and Freedom Coalition advocacy group, called the measure a “deeply flawed bill.”

“The way that it was crafted, filed and presented we would say is suspicious at best,” Findley said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced his support for creating a new civilian review board in May, two months after the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor. The Louisville Metro Council created the board and a new inspector general office in November.

Fischer has called for the board to have subpoena power, which would have to be granted by the state legislature.

But under House Bill 309, the civilian review board would need approval from the Metro Council’s government oversight and audit committee, which already has subpoena power.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, said the board shouldn’t have direct authority to issue subpoenas.

“The bill gives that right to the government oversight and accountability committee because they have the power to go into closed session. Many of these negotiations need to be confidential,” Miller said.

Findley, who regularly attended racial justice protests in Louisville last year, disagreed.

“Subpoena power would undoubtedly be best utilized if directly given to the CRB and the inspector general. This would ensure it retains its full independence from the executive and legislative branches as desired by the community,” Findley said.

Louisville has repeatedly created civilian review boards following police killings of Black people in recent decades, but city leaders either declined to grant or fought to prevent the panels from having subpoena power.

The measure giving the new civilian review board indirect subpoena power passed out of the House State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday, and the House can now consider it.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville, argued against the provision requiring Louisville’s mayoral races to be nonpartisan, accusing Republicans of making a power grab.

“I have not heard a big push for this bill. Maybe you have in your Republican circles, but this is non-democratic, it’s a power grab from Frankfort, it’s what people hate about government, and it’s not transparent,” Marzian said.

Most Kentucky cities hold nonpartisan mayoral and city council elections, but Louisvillians voted to have partisan races when the city became a consolidated city-county government in 2003.

Louisville hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1969.

Republicans have pushed for similar measures in recent years but haven’t gained enough support to pass out of the legislature.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.