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The Bottom Line: Transparency on private attorney contracts with state moves forward

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

Lane-KyChamber-piece-300x196A bill to bring more accountability and transparency to taxpayer dollars by capping the amount of contingency fees collected by private attorneys for government work passed through the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 281, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, seeks to shine a light on contingency fee contracts entered into by the Kentucky Attorney General and ensures the Commonwealth remains in control of litigation when hiring contingency fee counsel.

Nemes said the bill establishes reasonable limits on the amount of the contingency fees paid to private attorneys and that no attorney shall receive more than $10 million in fees as a result of the legislation. Currently, there are no caps on how much a private attorney can earn off a public contract with the state.

It was noted that 22 other states have enacted legislative reforms that codify a uniform set of standards to ensure transparency no matter who is in the Attorney General’s office.

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson testified in favor of the legislation, stating that House Bill 281 would protect settlement money from being eroded by attorney’s fees and instead going back to the taxpayers.

“When the Attorney General hires private attorneys on contingency it raises the potential for the government’s work to be motivated by profit, and not the public interest,” Adkisson said.

Adkisson also noted that common sense justice reform is needed as Kentucky is ranked 39th among the states for our legal liability climate according to the most recent Institute for Legal Reform report.

Former Florida Attorney General and Congressman Bill McCollum also testified in favor of the bill which is similar to the one he authored and passed in Florida, which was the first state to pass such legislation.

McCollum stated that the bill is not meant to accuse the attorney general of any wrongdoing or restrict their power in any way. Instead, he said, it will help bring transparency to taxpayer dollars in this area.

Similar bills have been introduced and passed the state Senate in previous years on bipartisan lines, but never received a hearing in the then democratically controlled house.

House Bill 281 now moves to the full House for a floor vote.

For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.