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State House committee advances bill making Louisville elections nonpartisan

Exterior view of stone building with tall clock tower
J. Tyler Franklin
House Bill 388 would change the look of Louisville's elections, along with other transforming other aspects of local governance.

House Bill 388 would remove party affiliation from the ballot for Louisville mayor and Metro Council.

The Kentucky House Committee on Local Government approved a bill Wednesday that would make Louisville’s local elections nonpartisan. It also makes changes to how emergency medical services and roads are funded throughout the metro area. House Bill 388 is sponsored by a group of Republican representatives from Jefferson County.

The bill received some pushback from Democratic and Republican members of the committee.

Rep. Matt Lockett, a Republican representing parts of Fayette and Jessamine Counties, criticized nonpartisan elections, saying it’s an issue of transparency.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with trying to have one party gain over others, because in certain parts of the state one would win, one would lose,” he said. “It’s about transparency and every voter knowing all they can about the person they’re voting for.”

Despite his concerns, Lockett ultimately voted in favor of passing the bill out of committee.

In addition to nonpartisan elections, HB 388 would also:

  • Require Louisville spend more state road money in suburban communities
  • Significantly lower the number of petition signatures required to form a new independent city in Jefferson County
  • Require the Louisville mayor and Metro Council make a “conscientious effort” to ensure the city’s various boards and commissions, which deal with everything from air pollution to zoning, have geographic and political diversity
  • Require Louisville Metro Government to reimburse suburban fire districts for EMS runs within the boundaries of the old City of Louisville, also known as the Urban Services District.

A fiscal impact statement attached to the bill says the EMS reimbursements will cost Louisville Metro $6.6 million per year.

The four Democrats on the committee did not vote in favor of the bill. Rep. Pamela Stevenson of Louisville and Rep. George Brown Jr. of Lexington voted against HB 388, while Reps. Beverly Chester-Burton of Shively and Sarah Stalker of Louisville abstained.

Many of the changes proposed in HB 388 come from recommendations made last year by the Comprehensive Review Commission. That body was created by the General Assembly to explore the successes and failures of Louisville’s 2003 city-county merger.

Stevenson, who sat on the commission, said she believed much of its work was informed by politics, rather than data.

“We were on a strict deadline to get this report out so we just said, ‘Let’s go with what we got,’ which was a whole lot of nothing,” she said.

Stevenson added that she believes Louisville residents, particularly those living in the urban core, want to keep local offices partisan. While the commission received a lot of data about tax revenue and EMS runs, they did not receive any data or polling related to nonpartisan elections.

Douglass Hills Mayor Bonnie Jung, who also served on the commission, said at Wednesday’s committee meeting that Louisville has not kept up with its peer cities in the region, like Nashville and Cincinnati, which have nonpartisan elections.

“What local government is is outside-your-door government,” Jung said. “What we are trying to do is stop that barrier that has been there of partisanship.”

HB 388 will next head to the House floor for a final vote. The bill may face tougher opposition on the floor and in the Senate, which could take up the bill if it’s passed by the House.

Since last year, top Senate Republicans have proposed bills that would institute partisan elections for the Kentucky Board of Education and make all local elections in Kentucky partisan.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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