The Republican party now has overwhelming control of both houses of the Kentucky legislature, all committees, and the ability to easily override any governor’s vetoes.

Unfortunately, that power has not come with much common sense and the number of bills coming out of committees and the legislature attest to that fact as does one of the latest bills to emerge from the State and Local Government committee, SB167.

That committee is composed of eleven members, nine Republicans and two Democrats: Alvarado(R), McDaniel(R), Nemes(R), Southworth(R), Storm(R), Thayer(R), Wheeler(R), Mills(R), Shroder(R), Angel(D),  McGarvey(D).  The committee voted eight to three to send the bill to the Senate floor, with Shroder joining the two Democrats in opposition.

SB167 is titled “AN ACT relating to library district boards” It could be more accurately labeled “AN ACT to politicize local library boards.”

The bill as proposed has several heinous, unnecessary, and definitely political segments.  Here are a few.

The very first section requires that the terms of all members of local library boards shall expire on December 31, 2022.  This is obviously an attempt to assure that all future board members are appointed according to the desires of the local county executive (as outlined further in the act).  Senator Nemes stated that he felt this section of the act was overreach and it may be deleted if an amendment is offered.

The present system of selecting local library board members is multi-tiered and has worked successfully for decades. First, a public notice is aired requesting interested individuals to fill out a form with the normal questions about residence and reasons for wanting to serve.  Those forms are all given to a board’s ad hoc committee which selects two candidates for each available position.  The list is then sent to the state library board, further vetted and, if found acceptable (which is almost always the case) sent on to the local county judge/executive who then chooses one person for each position and presents his choice to the fiscal court which has final determination.

SB167 would permit the county judge/executive to discard all proffered candidates and choose anyone of his own choosing for vacant positions, and this is where the politicization of the boards comes into play (Section (2)(b)).  This provision is stated at least four times in the act, apparently to emphasize the importance of placing all the power in the hands of a single official.

Another section of the act requires that all board members must “have a postsecondary credential that is at least the level of an associate degree, certificate, or diploma.” This is a requirement that is not even required of members of the Kentucky legislature — and it would cause potential hardship to many small and rural libraries.  It suggests that persons without a higher education degree are unsuitable or unable to fill library board positions.  This requirement displays a degree of hauteur to which legislators have no right.

The act further erodes the discretion of local boards by requiring unanimous votes of the board for certain items, whereas the current act regulating libraries has no such provision and does not purport to direct boards as to how they should vote.

Senator Wheeler, during a presentation of the act to the committee, noted — quite correctly — that most library boards in the state operate to the benefit of their constituencies and completely within the limitations of current law. But this act is tantamount to cutting down a tree to make a toothpick.  It will adversely impact every library board in the state, make their operations more difficult and create political bureaucracies where they should not exist.

Kentuckians should expect that Governor Beshear will veto this bill, but Republicans will continue to fail to see the shortsightedness of it and override his veto, and Kentucky local libraries will suffer when venal local officials exercise their newly given powers and fill boards with political appointees… if they can find a sufficient number with college degrees.