Can I actually influence Kentucky laws?
The short answer is “yes”. Individuals, groups and businesses can influence what laws get passed in Kentucky and it helps to understand how that happens. Laws start out as a written documents called a “bill” and, the first step in any bill becoming law is an idea. Normally, these ideas attempt to better some business condition, industry, class, fiscal matter or are solutions to what the sponsor of the bill considers to be a problem. Those ideas often come from people like you contacting your elected officials in the General Assembly.
To draft bills the Kentucky General Assembly relies upon the Legislative Research Commission (LRC), which is an agency that exist to support and help the legislature with various tasks. The bill drafters in the LRC are non-partisan. They take the idea and craft language that can make it an effective law.
After a bill is drafted and undergoes various revisions, statutory and otherwise, it can be introduced by the sponsor (a sponsor is the legislator(s) who files and pushes a bill). Once the bill is introduced, the Committee on Committees refers the Bill to a Standing Committee for consideration. The Committee on Committees derives its authority from the Rules of its respective chamber, either the House or Senate and is composed of the members of leadership. We will take a deeper dive into the role of various committees in a future post.
The Standing Committee to which a bill is referred is critical to its passage. While there are other committees (Interim Joint Committees, Statutory Committees, Special Committees) bills must move through Standing Committees if they are to be passed into law. These committees only meet during legislative sessions and have no more than 15 members who are appointed to serve by the Committee on Committees.
The Committee on Committees generally refers a bill to the Standing Committee with proper jurisdiction. Each Standing Committee has various related topics that it focuses on. For example, the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary focuses on issues such as: contracts; property conveyance; judgements; civil rights; etc. Whereas the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare focuses on issues related to: mental health; sanitation; food and drugs; etc. This is what is meant by jurisdiction. If there was a bill filed that in some way related to civil rights it would likely be referred to the Judiciary Committee. If there was a bill filed that in some way dealt with health and hospitals it would likely be referred to the Health and Welfare Committee. Sometimes a bill can overlap jurisdictions and in that case the Committee on Committees would determine the committee it is sent to. In the Kentucky legislature there are 12 Standing Committees in the Senate and 16 in the House (not including the Committee on Committees, Enrollment, and Rules Committees of each chamber).
One way that an individual, group or business can interact with and help shape how the idea becomes a drafted bill is through a lobbyist. Very simply, a lobbyist is the connection, or liaison, between individuals, groups, or businesses and the legislature. Lobbyist communicate concerns and ideas as well as educate with data, statistics, etc. One thing that is frequently overlooked is the role lobbyists play in educating legislators. Legislators can’t know everything about every business, organization, issue, policy, or industry and a lobbyist can serve as an important and effective educator to bring awareness to policies that are working well or are detrimental.