I’ve been watching and covering the KY General Assembly for years, and I don’t ever remember as many “mule” bills filed as this year.
A “mule bill” is a bill that is written and filed for some innocuous reason, such as inserting gender-correct language into a statute — as if Republicans have ever cared about that — so that the bill can act as a placeholder – a “mule” to carry a much heavier load later.
Mule bills have been around for a long time. And yes, the process of using such a bill to suddenly move an entirely different bill is perfectly legal. Robert’s Rules says that an amendment to a motion (or bill) can completely rewrite the motion (or bill). So even though it sometime smells when done, it is permitted under the rules.
Mule bills can have a legitimate purpose. You’re working on a bill, but don’t have it finished by the deadline, so you file a placeholder bill while you wrap up the writing. Okay, we get that.
But in years past, the Republicans have brought up one of these bills for a first and second reading, then at the last minute substituted in the real bill. Since the bill has already had two readings, they just have to vote on the bill for final passage, even if no one has had a chance to read the new language.
Example: The infamous “sewer bill” of 2018. As noted by NPR:
On March 29, after previous versions of the legislation had stalled, the Republican majority turned what had been an 11-page sewer bill into a 291-page pension bill and passed it in just hours. Kentucky law requires a bill to be read three times over three different days; the legislature tried to claim that readings when it was still a sewer bill counted, but the judge disagreed.
As far as I know, the number of mule bills in this session of the General Assembly has hit a new high. Already I have identified at least 90, and I still have about 150 bills to go through. Yes, a few are Dem bills, but most are Republican bills. And frankly, all of us who watch what goes on in Frankfort are scared of what is coming in those bills.
“Last-minute mule bill shenanigans” is a headline that only makes sense to inveterate KYGA watchers like myself. We probably need to start educating our fellow citizens about what it means, because it looks like those last-minute shenanigans are on the way.