HB-397 makes needed personnel law changes

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Given the on-going personnel scandal involving Gov. Ernie Fletchers administration, it was inevitable that legislation toughening state personnel laws would be introduced in the General Assembly this year.

One bill, co-sponsored by Frankfort Rep. Derrick Graham and a part of House Democrats legislative agenda, was introduced last week.

While ordinarily that designation alone would guarantee House Bill 397s defeat in the Republican Senate, the bill contains important provisions that deserve serious consideration in both chambers.

The most controversial provision of HB-397 will be the elevation of political discrimination against Merit System employees to a felony offense rather than a misdemeanor as it is now.

Frankly, the kinds of Merit System abuses alleged by the Fletcher administration and the focus of special grand jury indictments and gubernatorial pardons are far more serious than fishing without a license, but hardly on a par with felony theft or assault.

There are, however, other provisions in the bill that make it an important piece of legislation for state employees that deserve strong backing from Republicans and Democrats alike.

It would enable Merit System employees to run for public office in non-partisan local races. That would permit state employees to run for and serve on the Frankfort City Commission, giving local government representation to the largest group of employees in the city.

It would extend to 12 months the probationary period before new employees are given Merit System job protection and serve to discourage the age-old practice of non-Merit appointees burrowing into the Merit System before the change of state administrations.

There are other worthwhile provisions to HB-397 that deserve serious consideration by legislators, and it will be truly unfortunate if the legislation as a whole gets bogged down in a partisan wrangle over making violations of the Merit System a felony.

If the Fletcher administration personnel scandal has demonstrated anything, it is that statutes governing state personnel need updating and strengthening. HB-397 does a good job of doing just that.

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