How a bill becomes law (the real story) Skip to content

How a bill becomes law (the real story)

This is how it works, folks. If our system, such as it is, sounds absurd, it is because it is.

5 min read
Sen. Max Wise indicates he had received zero requests to meet about his school “guardian” bill. The author is seated behind him. (LRC screenshot)

Near the end of this year’s legislative session, a week before lawmakers recessed for the 10-day veto period, I met with state Sen. Max Wise in his office for about 15 minutes.

We both agreed to speak off-the-record so that we could speak freely. And so we did.

I am not one of Sen. Wise’s constituents, so you could argue he had no reason to meet with me at all. But for the last month I had been writing about and actively fighting the passage of Senate Bill 2, which he was sponsoring, to allow school boards to bring unpaid, volunteer, armed “guardians” — in lieu of school resource officers that schools either could not find or could not afford — into our schools.

I wanted to meet with the senator because I wanted to understand both him and his bill. Was I missing something? Who was Max Wise, the person? Why this bill and why now? Why no funding allocation in a budget year with a surplus? Why not just fund more SROs instead? Did he understand, from a rural perspective, who might apply for these volunteer “guardian” positions? Could I, a rural citizen, help?

SB 2 was filed late, on Feb. 22, and yet it was blessed with the No. 2, indicating this special number had been saved for its “specialness.” 

Senate President Robert Stivers showed up in committee just in time for Sen. Wise’s introduction/presentation of the bill, and it has been my experience that Stivers is rarely in committee. His appearance seemed to indicate to committee members and any citizen not in favor: get on board, we are passing this bill.

And yet, I continued — still continue — to ask, why this bill? And why now?

Contrary to how it looks on paper, it is not necessarily easy for a citizen — even a citizen like me with many published columns about Kentucky policy and politics — to get meetings with lawmakers.

And getting 15 minutes of Sen. Wise’s time was not without drama.

Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) is surrounded by media on Feb. 22 as he fields questions on Senate Bill 2, legislation creating the position of school “guardian.” (LRC Public Information)

I had written about the fact that, even though Sen. Wise raised his fist in committee to indicate that zero people had asked to meet with him about SB 2, this was not true.

On Sept. 11, I had emailed Sen. Wise about gun violence prevention, closing with, “You will often see me sitting in committee meetings, even in the interim, wearing my red ‘Moms’ shirt. If there is anything I can do to help you, please ask.”

He did not ask.

On Oct. 30, I emailed Sen. Wise again. The subject line read: “On potential firearm legislation in 2024” and I closed the email with, “If you are open to discussing potential firearm legislation for 2024, I would love to talk to you. Please tell me what I can do to help.” 

He did not tell me what I could do to help.

And in his defense, we had never met and knew nothing about each other. Fair enough.

Sen. Wise and I exchanged long emails and agreed to meet. 

This seemed simple. It was not.

When I talked to his secretary — who was extraordinarily helpful, bless her — she first let me know that she had no record of me contacting the office for a meeting. This was true, I told her, I had never called the senator’s office. I had emailed him directly. 

She then said she’d been working diligently on getting together the massive amount of information I’d demanded. What information? I told her this was not true and unnecessary, that I had not asked for any records or information. That, in fact, I had no interest in any records. I simply wanted to meet with Sen. Wise to discuss his bill.

She said she could get me on his calendar for 15 minutes in about 10 days. It was end of session. He was busy. I said I would gladly come anytime that worked for him. I also indicated that I might bring someone with me, to which she said I would have to let her know in advance because the senator’s office is very, very small and, if I brought anyone, even one other person, the meeting would have to be moved.

This seemed … odd. Wise is a long-time senator. How small could his office be?

Days later a fellow gun violence prevention activist emailed the senator about SB 2 and said she looked forward to seeing him at our meeting. This prompted some hoopla, as I had not yet called his office to say I would be bringing her. When I called, I was again told about his very, very small office and that, if another person was coming, we would just have to reschedule for a time after the session was over, maybe in the summer.

Again, this made no sense to me — how small could the man’s office be? — but I agreed to come alone to keep my meeting time, even as I predicted SB 2, with all of its flaws, lack of funding, and obvious questions, would pass as is because it checked all of the right boxes of not doing nothing. 

The day of my meeting with Sen. Wise, I had no other reason to be in Frankfort, but I prepared in advance like I would for any meeting with a legislator, put on a nice suit, and drove to Frankfort and back, all to meet with a state senator for 15 minutes and share my concerns about a bill that we both knew would easily pass.

In the end, SB 2 passed minutes before midnight on the last day before the veto period, with each side given only three minutes for floor arguments.

Three whole minutes.

This is how it works, folks. If our system, such as it is, sounds absurd, it is because it is.

On May 20, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Rep. Josh Calloway “helped broker a deal regarding Senate Bill 2… “We were like — I won’t use the word ‘threatened’ — but they wanted Senate Bill 2 bad. I kept being asked, ‘please, will you not call your amendment?’ … Finally, about eight o’clock that evening I was taken off the floor and asked, ‘What would you have to get in order to not call your amendment?’ I said ‘House Bill 278.’” Both Senate Bill 2, without Calloway’s amendment, and House Bill 278 passed that night.”

After reading this story, I immediately texted Rep. Calloway. Can you tell me who kept asking you not to call your amendment? I asked. And who took you off the floor to ask what it would take to get you not to to call your amendment?

I received a “read receipt” before noon on May 20. As of this writing, Rep. Calloway has not responded.

Remember all of this next time you are told to call or write or meet with elected officials because you are concerned about a bill. 

Remember that I emailed the Education Committee and my representative about SB 2 multiple times; exchanged long emails with Sen. Wise; attended Sen. Wise’s school safety task force meetings over last summer and fall; published columns; testified in committee; met with the sponsoring senator.

None of it mattered. 

They wanted SB 2 bad.

Well. They got it. 

And Sen. Wise’s office is not remotely small.


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Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky politics for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Washington Post, and The Daily Yonder. She lives in Anderson County.