Commonwealth Journal

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April 23, 2014

New law simplifies classifying of cities in Kentucky

Lexington & Louisville are only exceptions to new ‘Home Rule’ class

Somerset —

Voluminous House Bill 331, signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear April 10, puts all Kentucky cities except Louisville and Lexington in a “Home Rule” class and eliminates city classifications created in the 1891 Constitution of Kentucky.
Effective January 1, 2015, Somerset will no longer be a 3rd-class city; Burnside no longer a 4th-class city; Ferguson no longer a 5th-class city; and Science Hill and Eubank no longer 6th-class cities. Under current law, each class city is governed by a specific set of laws. 
HB 331 sets the same legal yardstick for all Kentucky cities except Louisville and Lexington. Home rule authority, given to cities in 1980, will be a bigger player under provisions of HB 331.
Cities in Kentucky currently have the power to govern within their boundaries without specific legislation authorizing each particular function. Before 1980, cities had to rely almost exclusively on the General Assembly to authorize various functions. With home rule, cities can function in any way that does not directly conflict with state or federal law.
Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese said HB 331 is long and complicated, alluding to hundreds of statutes that have been amended. The Kentucky League of Cities is holding an academy for city officials May 8-9 in Owensboro to explain provisions of the legislation. HB 331 is 379 pages.
Wiese said in her opinion, HB 331 won’t harm cities of any class. It apparently retains effects of positive ordinances, she noted.
J.D. Chaney, chief governmental affairs officer for the Kentucky League of Cities, said the goal of HB 331 is to get structural reform while treating cities of all sizes basically the same. The bill does not change forms of government; only voters could change mayor-council forms of government in Somerset, Burnside and Ferguson, and mayor-commission forms in Science Hill and Eubank.
Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, who supported and voted for HB 331, said the measure “levels the playing field” for small rural cities in Kentucky.

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