Republicans passed new rules limiting debate on the first day of Kentucky’s legislative session, despite protests from Democratic lawmakers.
The GOP-led House already had the option to limit debate to 10 minutes “per side” when lawmakers are considering bills, but the new rules will allow debate to be totally cut off if 60 House members approve it.
House Speaker David Osborne will also have the option to limit how much time lawmakers spend explaining their votes — traditionally, it’s been three minutes offered to each legislator to try to get the final word on a proposal but Osborne can now cut it shorter or totally eliminate that time.
In the Senate, members will be limited to 15 minutes of debate on an issue instead of the previous 30-minute allotment.
House Republican Floor Leader Steven Rudy, of Paducah, said the new rules in the House are designed to speed up the debate process.
“Limiting debate has been in the rules for quite some time,” Rudy said. “They are used sparingly and cautiously, usually when debate has been exhausted but people continue to try to slow down the process and filibuster even though we don’t have that in Kentucky.”
Tuesday was the first day of this year’s 60-working-day legislative session, in which lawmakers will pass a new two-year state budget, draw new political maps as part of the redistricting process and consider issues ranging from abortion restrictions to medical marijuana.
Republicans control 75 out of 100 seats in the House and 30 out of 38 seats in the Senate.
With so few seats in the legislature, debating issues on the House or Senate Floor is one of the few ways Democrats can influence the lawmaking process in Frankfort. Very few, if any, bills sponsored by the minority party legislators pass each year.
Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat from Whitesburg, decried the move to limit debate as a “nail in the coffin of what’s left in our democracy.”
“My constituents deserve better, they did not elect me and send me down here to sit and be quiet. And where there’s something that affects them, they need me, the voice they elected, to get up and speak up about it,” Hatton said.
In the past, leaders of the legislature have limited debate on major bills that come up in the final days of the legislative session.
Rep. James Tipton, a Republican from Taylorsville, argued that the new rules are necessary to allow important measures — like the state budget — to pass in a timely manner.
“It’s not about taking away democracy or somebody’s voice for their constituents, but it is a tool that time-to-time needs to be used when the situation presents itself,” Tipton said.
Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, said lawmakers and constituents gain a lot from those long debates.
“The best moments I’ve seen on this floor have been those moments where people have those conversations on the floor, three hours of passionate debate between people who aren’t all going to be happy at the end of the day. It shows us what democracy looks like,” Minter said.