Today, the first day of Kentucky’s legislative session, is a great day to harken back to that famous quote of Mark Twain, American humorist and famous author, when he said, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safle while the legislature is in session."
Once again, the Kentucky legislature will take up more than one hundred proposed bills, many of which have been written by lobbyists, lobbyists bearing gifts of over-stuffed bags of cash in the form of campaign donations directed to the bill’s sponsor, or a wink, nod and a promise to throw a fundraising event for the party’s candidate. Again, in the words of Mark Twain, “We have the best government that money can buy.”
Of course, not all legislation will come at a cost to Kentuckians. There are several well thought out, common sense bills that will be debated over the next few weeks, bills that will fight an uphill battle simply because the legislation has been written with common sense. For example, bail reform which has been proposed by John Blanton, a citizen legislature and retired Kentucky State Police trooper, from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, is one such bill. In fact, if this is the only piece of legislation that is approved during the session, Kentuckians will have been well served.
On the other hand, once again we have to face the prospect of a constitutional amendment in another back-door attempt to withdraw a citizen’s right to a jury trial. Maybe the sponsor of the bill should take just a moment to consider that famous document entitled the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms which was issued by the Second Continental Congress on July 6, 1775, one year before the Declaration of Independence. In that famous document, it was declared that one of the reasons the Thirteen Colonies had taken up arms against King George III was to the protect the “inestimable privilege of trial by jury.” Hopefully, if this ill-conceived piece of legislation makes it out of a committee as a proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature, and the sponsor, should understand that Kentuckians have no intention of giving up their right to a jury trial, and there will be a fight.
Although much more could be said and written about this year’s session even before the opening gavel, it might be time to adopt the suggestion which was recently offered by one of our elected officials that judges should have to take a competency test to serve on the bench. The same could be said of elected public officials who serve in the legislature. Maybe, just maybe, they should also be required to take a competency test, a test which would include a few simple questions about the history of America, a handful of questions from our founding documents, including the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and with a special study of the Bill of Rights.
So, with that said, it would be appropriate to consider the words of Will Rogers, another great American humorist, when he wrote, “Congress didn’t vote on the bills, they just wave at them as they go by.” The same can be said of those Kentucky legislators who sponsor legislation which will ultimately be paid for by all Kentuckians, not only today and tomorrow and all future generations.
So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place where we can look down upon the Kentucky legislature as our elected legislators work to assemble legislation which for the most part will not contribute anything to our freedom; but instead, legislation which will interfere with the rights of Kentuckians to enjoy those freedoms which have been fought for since the beginning of this great nation. In the end, maybe, just maybe, those in Frankfort will take a moment to look up at our imaginary mountaintop and realize that there are millions of Kentuckians who are watching, Kentuckians who have simply had enough!
Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky.
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