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Update: In final day of legislative session, Kentucky House votes to override Gov. Beshear's veto of bill impacting public library board membership

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Louisville Free Public Library
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The Kentucky House Thursday voted 52-39 to override a veto issued by Gov. Andy Beshear of a bill giving county judge-executives the authority to appoint members to local public library boards. The result barely crossed the 51-vote threshold needed to override a veto.

The move came as a surprise, after the House initially failed to get enough support to override the veto Wednesday night.

Supporters of the measure say library boards, which have taxing authority, should have more oversight from elected officials. But many local librarians worry the bill will bring politics into libraries’ finances, hiring practices and even which books end up on the shelves.

Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, spoke against the bill, saying it’s going to change how local libraries are run.

“This one is going to be hard to put back in the bottle and you’re going to have to answer to your constituents who say ‘why did you mess up my library,’” Minter said.

Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which grants county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.

County fiscal courts would also receive more control over library finances and construction projects under Senate Bill 167. Capital spending of more than $1 million would be subject to fiscal court approval, potentially giving magistrates the ability to thwart library building projects.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville, spoke in favor of the bill, saying library boards need to be held accountable.

“This is about a special purpose government entity having insufficient oversight from elected officials,” Miller said.

In addition to the library board oversight provisions, the bill also featured language allowing libraries to let “educational institutions” lease their facilities or construct new buildings on behalf of the institutions. The inclusion of that section of the bill comes after a spat between the Pike County Public Library and the University of Pikeville, which sought to use the library’s downtown Pikeville facility as part of an expansion of the university.

Previous Version of Story

Kentucky legislators fell three votes shy in an effort to override Governor Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 167, a measure designed to give local politicians control of public library boards and funding streams.

The bill passed both the House and Senate before lawmakers left Frankfort ahead of Beshear’s veto period. The Senate successfully voted to override the SB 167 veto Wednesday, but members of the House were unable to muster the simple majority needed to secure final passage despite a 75-seat Republican majority in the chamber. Forty-eight representatives voted to override, down from the 52 members that voted to pass the bill last month.

Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which would have granted county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.

County fiscal courts would have received more control over library finances and construction projects under SB 167. Capital spending of more than $1 million would’ve been subject to fiscal court approval, potentially giving magistrates the ability to thwart library building projects.

In addition to the library board oversight provisions, the bill also featured language allowing libraries to let “educational institutions” lease their facilities or construct new buildings on behalf of the institutions. The inclusion of that section of the bill comes after a spat between the Pike County Public Library and the University of Pikeville, which sought to use the library’s downtown Pikeville facility as part of an expansion of the university.

Pike County is located in the Senate district of Wheeler, SB 167’s sponsor. In a June 2021 meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court, county Judge-Executive Ray Jones indicated he would speak to the county’s delegation in Frankfort about pursuing legislation to exert more fiscal court oversight of library boards.

Beshear took aim at the “educational institutions” section of the bill in his veto message.

“This provision may violate section 180 of the Kentucky Constitution, which provides that ‘no tax levied and collected for one purpose shall ever be devoted to another purpose,’” Beshear wrote.

The governor also agreed with some library advocates who thought the bill presented a threat to the nonpartisan mission of public libraries. Beshear said the measure could lead to micromanaging of library boards, a tightening of the reins on library spending, and censorship of library materials.

“Senate Bill 167 also threatens the space libraries occupy in our communities as places where everyone is welcome to freely access and exchange information, regardless of political viewpoint,” he said.

Mark Adler is the director of the Bourbon County Public Library and served as president of the Kentucky Library Association. He praised the governor for the veto.

“Governor Beshear’s action was the correct action to take,” Adler said. “I do think that libraries need some mechanism that helps keep politics out of library boards so that we can provide our services for everybody the way that we’re supposed to.”

SB 167 is not the legislature’s first attempt to put a leash on library boards, which have historically experienced a level of autonomy not enjoyed by other taxpayer-funded entities. This year’s iteration is the first to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Adler said he hopes legislators will reach out to library leaders to find common ground if they plan to reintroduce the measure in future sessions.

“I hope that we prevail on this, this year and in future years, because ultimately we just want to provide the best service that we can for everybody in our communities. One of our biggest concerns is that something would happen that would not enable us to do that,” Adler said.

While the bill was Republican-sponsored and passed due to Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, bipartisan resistance is ultimately what resulted in Beshear’s veto being sustained. Bowling Green Democratic Representative Patti Minter spoke from the House floor ahead of the failed override vote and said she heard from constituents from across the political spectrum expressing opposition to the bill.

“This interferes with local control and inserts politics into our libraries,” Minter said. “My community stands strong with our libraries. On their behalf, I am voting to sustain the governor’s very wise veto of this bill.”

The Kentucky House Thursday voted 52-39 to override a veto issued by Gov. Andy Beshear of a bill giving county judge-executives the authority to appoint members to local public library boards. The result barely crossed the 51-vote threshold needed to override a veto.

The move came as a surprise, after the House initially failed to get enough support to override the veto Wednesday night.

Supporters of the measure say library boards, which have taxing authority, should have more oversight from elected officials. But many local librarians worry the bill will bring politics into libraries’ finances, hiring practices and even which books end up on the shelves.

Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat from Bowling Green, spoke against the bill, saying it’s going to change how local libraries are run.

“This one is going to be hard to put back in the bottle and you’re going to have to answer to your constituents who say ‘why did you mess up my library,’” Minter said.

Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which grants county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.

County fiscal courts would also receive more control over library finances and construction projects under Senate Bill 167. Capital spending of more than $1 million would be subject to fiscal court approval, potentially giving magistrates the ability to thwart library building projects.

Rep. Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville, spoke in favor of the bill, saying library boards need to be held accountable.

“This is about a special purpose government entity having insufficient oversight from elected officials,” Miller said.

In addition to the library board oversight provisions, the bill also featured language allowing libraries to let “educational institutions” lease their facilities or construct new buildings on behalf of the institutions. The inclusion of that section of the bill comes after a spat between the Pike County Public Library and the University of Pikeville, which sought to use the library’s downtown Pikeville facility as part of an expansion of the university.

This story will be updated again.

Update:

The Kentucky House Thursday voted 52-39 to override a veto issued by Gov. Andy Beshear of a bill giving county judge-executives the authority to appoint members to local public library boards. The result barely crossed the 51-vote threshold needed to override a veto.

The move Thursday came after an override vote Wednesday only drew the support of 48 House members.

Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which grants county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.

County fiscal courts would also receive more control over library finances and construction projects under SB 167. Capital spending of more than $1 million would be subject to fiscal court approval, potentially giving magistrates the ability to thwart library building projects.

In addition to the library board oversight provisions, the bill also featured language allowing libraries to let “educational institutions” lease their facilities or construct new buildings on behalf of the institutions. The inclusion of that section of the bill comes after a spat between the Pike County Public Library and the University of Pikeville, which sought to use the library’s downtown Pikeville facility as part of an expansion of the university.

This story will be updated again.

Original story:

Kentucky legislators fell three votes shy in an effort to override Governor Andy Beshear’s veto of Senate Bill 167, a measure designed to give local politicians control of public library boards and funding streams.

The bill passed both the House and Senate before lawmakers left Frankfort ahead of Beshear’s veto period. The Senate successfully voted to override the SB 167 veto Wednesday, but members of the House were unable to muster the simple majority needed to secure final passage despite a 75-seat Republican majority in the chamber. Forty-eight representatives voted to override, down from the 52 members that voted to pass the bill last month.

Eastern Kentucky Senator Philip Wheeler sponsored the measure, which would have granted county judge-executives the ability to appoint public library board members with no oversight from the state. Currently, potential library trustees are vetted by the state librarian before the county judge makes the appointment from an approved list.

County fiscal courts would have received more control over library finances and construction projects under SB 167. Capital spending of more than $1 million would’ve been subject to fiscal court approval, potentially giving magistrates the ability to thwart library building projects.

In addition to the library board oversight provisions, the bill also featured language allowing libraries to let “educational institutions” lease their facilities or construct new buildings on behalf of the institutions. The inclusion of that section of the bill comes after a spat between the Pike County Public Library and the University of Pikeville, which sought to use the library’s downtown Pikeville facility as part of an expansion of the university.

Pike County is located in the Senate district of Wheeler, SB 167’s sponsor. In a June 2021 meeting of the Pike County Fiscal Court, county Judge-Executive Ray Jones indicated he would speak to the county’s delegation in Frankfort about pursuing legislation to exert more fiscal court oversight of library boards.

Beshear took aim at the “educational institutions” section of the bill in his veto message.

“This provision may violate section 180 of the Kentucky Constitution, which provides that ‘no tax levied and collected for one purpose shall ever be devoted to another purpose,’” Beshear wrote.

The governor also agreed with some library advocates who thought the bill presented a threat to the nonpartisan mission of public libraries. Beshear said the measure could lead to micromanaging of library boards, a tightening of the reins on library spending, and censorship of library materials.

“Senate Bill 167 also threatens the space libraries occupy in our communities as places where everyone is welcome to freely access and exchange information, regardless of political viewpoint,” he said.

Mark Adler is the director of the Bourbon County Public Library and served as president of the Kentucky Library Association. He praised the governor for the veto.

“Governor Beshear’s action was the correct action to take,” Adler said. “I do think that libraries need some mechanism that helps keep politics out of library boards so that we can provide our services for everybody the way that we’re supposed to.”

SB 167 is not the legislature’s first attempt to put a leash on library boards, which have historically experienced a level of autonomy not enjoyed by other taxpayer-funded entities. This year’s iteration is the first to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Adler said he hopes legislators will reach out to library leaders to find common ground if they plan to reintroduce the measure in future sessions.

“I hope that we prevail on this, this year and in future years, because ultimately we just want to provide the best service that we can for everybody in our communities. One of our biggest concerns is that something would happen that would not enable us to do that,” Adler said.

While the bill was Republican-sponsored and passed due to Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, bipartisan resistance is ultimately what resulted in Beshear’s veto being sustained. Bowling Green Democratic Representative Patti Minter spoke from the House floor ahead of the failed override vote and said she heard from constituents from across the political spectrum expressing opposition to the bill.

“This interferes with local control and inserts politics into our libraries,” Minter said. “My community stands strong with our libraries. On their behalf, I am voting to sustain the governor’s very wise veto of this bill.”

Lawmakers will adjourn for the final time Thursday to end the 2022 Kentucky General Assembly.

Dalton York joined WKU Public Radio in December 2021 as a reporter and host of Morning Edition. He graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in History from Murray State University, and was named MSU's Outstanding Senior Man for fall 2021. He previously served as a student reporter and All Things Considered host for WKMS, part of the Kentucky Public Radio network. He has won multiple Kentucky Associated Press Awards and Impact Broadcast Awards from the Kentucky Broadcasters Association. A native of Marshall County, Dalton is a proud product of his tight-knit community.
Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.