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Kentucky Legislators Dispute Courts' Jurisdiction

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Two bills that would have stripped Franklin Circuit Court of jurisdiction over certain cases died in the House at the end of the legislative session last week, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition. But, that hasn't ended the debate.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, amended three administrative cleanup bills this session to add language that would change the venue for certain kinds of court cases.

Under Williams' amendments, the cases would have been moved from Franklin Circuit Court to the court in the county where the violations occur, reports the C-J.

The first bill -- House Bill 385, dealing with the Board of Housing, Building and Construction -- caught House Democrats by surprise. It was approved and sent to Gov. Steve Beshear, who signed it.

But after that, Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the other two would meet a different fate. And they did.

Williams contends that Kentuckians shouldn't have to travel to Frankfort when they are involved in cases related to state government, the newspaper reports.

Critics contend that Williams has a vendetta against Franklin Circuit Court, after several decisions unfavorable to Republican causes.

But Williams has said the Senate has tried for 20 years to change the venue for such cases.

On the next to last day of the session, the House refused to concur with the Senate changes made to HB 508, which dealt with the Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, reports the newspaper.

The bill originally would have allowed the board to first handle administratively, instead of going directly to court, cases involving unlicensed engineers practicing illegally.

The Senate's changes would have required the cases that did end up in the legal system to be handled in the circuit court with jurisdiction over the place where the violation occurred, instead of in Franklin County.

David Cox, executive director of the board, said he was disappointed the bill failed.

"It would've been nice to have the ability to treat unlicensed practice administratively," he said. "But we certainly understand the reason the House didn't concur."

Cox said the board would not have objected to the Senate's changes.
The third bill -- House Bill 124, relating to landscape architects -- died in a House committee, the newspaper reports.

In a statement, Williams said he wasn't sure why the House didn't consider the two bills.

"I don't know whether they ran out of time or if there were other issues," he said. "No one communicated with me."

But Richards said the House killed HBs 508 and 124 because they contained the change-of-venue amendments.

"We just think that's just not a good idea," he said. "It's changing policy pretty significantly, and we think the policy as it's now practiced is good."

In the past two legislative sessions, the Senate approved measures that would have changed the venue for dozens of cases relating to state government, reports the C-J.

The measures died in the House.

Opponents of changing venue from Franklin County say it would cost the state more to send state agency attorneys, who are often based in Frankfort, to other parts of Kentucky.

Williams has said it wouldn't cost more because many state agencies already contract with outside counsel to handle court cases, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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