In a move that has alarmed library supporters, a new law in Kentucky will give politicians control over local library boards in the state. According to a report in the Lexington Herald Leader, SB 167—which came back from the dead last week with a dramatic veto override—will empower local politicians to “appoint whomever they want to library boards and block major library spending.”
Last week, the bill appeared to be killed after Kentucky governor Andy Beshear vetoed it, and the Kentucky House of Representatives fell short of the necessary votes to override. But in a surprise maneuver, supporters of the bill were able to revive the bill for another override vote—and this time, four representatives who had not voted in the previous effort voted to override Beshear’s veto, carrying the measure into law. The law is scheduled to take effect in January 2023.
According to the Lexington Herald Leader, Kentucky Republicans say the issue is “accountability,” pointing out that most of Kentucky’s public library boards can levy taxes and should therefore “answer to someone elected by voters.” But critics say the bill is in fact a thinly veiled effort to “politicize” library boards, and give unprecedented control over library operations to politicians.
According to the Herald Leader piece, library directors in the state are concerned that vesting power in a single partisan political leader will lead to “partisan-skewed boards with ideological interests in the material on library shelves” as well as in terms of programs, services, and library buildings.
“Whenever you have political control, it’s going to benefit that politician and their backers,” Pike County library director Louella Allen told the Herald-Leader earlier this month. “It’s not going to be for the benefit of all the population and the needs of the entire population.”