OPINION: Kentucky lawmakers were right to kill dangerous House Bill 322

FRANKFORT, Jan. 22 – State Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, presents legislation before a committee earlier this session. Photo: Legislative Research Commission

Sometimes lawmakers jump on an idea without fully thinking through unintended consequences. This seems to be the case with House Bill 322. This measure started out as a bill to address asset-forfeiture laws, but its contents were replaced with a committee substitute – introduced by the original sponsor – that changed it completely.
The revised HB 322 was a bad idea and a dangerous idea, and it’s a good thing it died in committee.
State Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, gutted the original language in her House Bill 322 and replaced it with language that would, among other things, allow people “adversely affected” by a governor’s emergency orders to sue the governor.
To get to the point: This is a bad bill for several reasons. Here are just a few:
First, this would be a new payday for lawyers whose clients would clog circuit courts, claiming they were “adversely affected” by elements of an emergency order. The bill also calls for “the Commonwealth” – read that as “the Taxpayers” – to cover attorney fees and court costs.
It’s a bad idea because it gives de novo review to the complainants, which pushes power to the circuit court judge to determine and define “adversely affected.”
It’s a bad because it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, in this case, the governor and the commonwealth (again, the Taxpayers).
This bill is dangerous because it would give a circuit court judge authority to vacate or modify an emergency order over the decision of a governor, who, we hope, is working with experts in dealing with whatever emergency the state faces.
It’s dangerous because it sets bad precedent for suing government officials. Who’s next? Maybe citizens will want to sue members of the General Assembly because their actions “adversely affect” them and their businesses.
It’s dangerous because it allows a judge elected in a low-turnout, district election to override gubernatorial decisions that affect the entire state – it strips power from the executive branch.
Even if these reasons seem like no big deal to some people, in the coronavirus situation we’re dealing with now, this bill is just plain mean.
It puts money over people, it values profit over people, and it assumes elected leaders are not working in good faith.
State Rep. Maddox may have her heart in the right place in wanting to provide economic relief for her constituents, but this is not the way to go about it.

~ Laura Cullen Glasscock, publisher and editor