The General Assembly has passed a measure that would allow Kentuckians to file lawsuits against state government in the county of their residence, a move that would diminish the longstanding role Franklin Circuit Court has played in deciding those types of cases.
After amending it in committee, the Senate approved the measure, known as House Bill 3, by a 28-6 vote yesterday evening. The House later concurred with the change by a 72-20 vote. The governor now has 10 days to either sign the bill into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said HB 3 was designed “to eliminate the super circuit that Franklin County has right now.” He said that circuit has an oversized influence on policies that affect the entire state.
“(HB 3) allows the people, the plaintiffs, to file an action from where they are instead of traveling from the far corners of the commonwealth to Franklin Circuit Court,” said Westerfield, who carried HB 3 in the Senate.
HB 3 would establish legal challenges to the constitutionality of state statutes, executive orders, administrative regulations or cabinet orders be filed in the county of the plaintiff's residence, Westerfield said. A second provision of HB 3 would establish that non-residents of Kentucky making such claims would continue to file in Franklin Circuit Court. A third would allow a complaint to be filed in any county where a plaintiff resides if there were multiple plaintiffs.
The original House version of the bill would have achieved the same goal, Westerfield said, but with a three-judge panel to hear such cases.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he couldn’t support HB 3, in part, because it would enable forum shopping. That’s the practice of choosing the court in which to bring an action based on which judge is likely to provide the most favorable outcome.
“That is not the way our judicial system ought to be run,” Thomas said. “We should not now pervert the judicial system.”
Westerfield said HB 3 wasn’t a rebuke of the two sitting Franklin Circuit Court judges. Westerfield added that he is more concerned about what would happen when those judges retire and the races for those positions “become a super-political process” because everyone realizes the statewide impact of the rulings coming out of that court.
“We need to spread that love around a little bit,” Westerfield said.
Sen. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, said HB 3 would remove the unnecessary burden on plaintiffs in rural, mountainous regions having to travel to Franklin County.
“I’m glad that we have removed it from the swamp,” he said. “Send it home now.”