Called the 21st century bill of rights, the proposal deals with hot-button issues ranging from abortion, the Ten Commandments and guns to expanded gambling and coal.
“Most people I talk to want to see us make a statement to the federal government about our rights when it comes to the 10th Amendment, abortion, gun rights, health care,” said state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who will sponsor the bill.
Senate Republicans proposed a similar measure last year, but it failed because it didn't get the 23 votes needed to put a constitutional amendment before the voters. Because of gains in the November elections, Republicans likely have enough votes to pass it in the upcoming session. Republicans will have a 22-15 majority with one Independent, Sen. Bob Leeper of Paducah, who typically votes with them.
If passed, the 160-word amendment would be placed on the ballot for voters to consider in 2012.
Political observers say the amendment is a blatantly political move designed to drive more conservative Republicans to the polls during a presidential election year, as well as boost support for Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, who is running for governor next year.
“It's politics in my opinion,” ACLU Kentucky Director Michael Aldridge said. “It's a bill that probably won't or hopefully won't get a lot of traction in the legislature that is chock full of things that have very little to do with actually governing the state of Kentucky or actually moving us forward in any real direction.”
Russ Weaver, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, said the amendment appears to be politically motivated but is fascinating.
He said it contains some good policies, such as requiring appropriations and revenue bills to be posted for public viewing 48 hours before the legislature can vote on them.
Other provisions, however, could be unconstitutional at the federal level. Weaver said, for example, the provision that says no federal or state law may compel any Kentuckian to participate in a health care system would be unconstitutional if federal courts uphold the health care reform law recently passed by Congress.
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she believes the amendment runs afoul of the state constitution, which requires legislators to restrict language in individual bills to one issue.
Republican leaders “routinely ignore (constitutional challenges) when it doesn't suit their purposes,” she said.
Thayer said he doesn't think it’s a problem to wrap all the issues into one bill.
The amendment is similar to one sponsored by state Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, last session. The latest version adds provisions barring expanded gambling without a constitutional amendment and guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish.