House votes to let voters decide U.S. Senate vacancies

Published 11:17 am Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Legislation ranging from one dealing with filling vacancies in the U.S. Senate to strengthening penalties for those convicted of torturing a dog or cat were among those approved on the House floor Monday afternoon.

HB 622, dealing with U.S Senate vacancies, is sponsored by House Majority Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah. He filed it a week before U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, announced that he would not seek re-election as Republican Floor Leader in November, but plans to complete his Senate term, which has two more years to run.

Rudy told his colleagues, “It will make this like all other legislative vacancies, requiring a special election to fill the unexpired term.”

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Originally, U.S. Senators were chosen by a vote of the state legislature, not the people, until the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the U.S Constitution in 1913.

Kentucky law used to allow the governor to make the appointment to fill the vacancy, but in 2021, the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly changed it so the appointee is selected from a list of three names submitted by the state executive committee of the same political party as the senator who held the vacant seat.

In his speech from the Senate floor, McConnell left open the possibility that he might seek another term in 2026, declaring at one point: “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has denounced the Senate succession bill as driven by partisanship.

“If we are just dominated by trying to create a result of what letter someone would have behind their name if appointed, then we are not performing or engaging in good government,” the governor said last week. “Last November, people said ‘knock it off. We are tired of the rank partisanship, and we don’t want a candidate or a General Assembly that just sees ‘Team R’ or ‘Team D,’ or red or blue.’”

Beshear defeated McConnell protege Daniel Cameron in last fall’s governor’s race.

HB 622 passed 88-4.

House Bill 622, sponsored by Rep. Susan Whitten, R-Louisville, makes torture of a dog or cat is a Class D felony (punishable by one to five years in prison if convicted) in every instance and that each act may constitute a separate offense. Current state law does not make it a felony until the second offense.

“The state of Kentucky needs to address the issue of torture pertaining to dogs and cats, for the sake of all pet owners and their pets,” Whitten said while presenting the bill on the House floor.

It was approved 80-9.

The House also approved HB 581, which bans local governments from adopting any measure that prohibits or restricts the ability of a retail filling station from locating in areas in which similar businesses may locate, discriminates against the use or location of a retail filling station, or treats retail filling stations differently than electric vehicle charging stations. The vote was 78-14.

HB 533 includes the payment of working capital expenditures as an allowable use for the moneys received from the sale of bonds. The 89-3 vote will send it to the Senate, along with the other three bills.