Plenty of committee chairs have killed legislation that they didn't like, but few have done so as publicly and boldy as Kathy Stein. Despite enormous pressure to let an immigration package pass through the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee, Stein called a hearing about 10 days ago in which she talked the bill down for 20 minutes before spiking it.
"I was under a great deal of pressure, yes," Stein says in an interview. "Every state is wanting to do something."
But Stein is convinced she did the right thing by killing the bill. "When I was asked to be chair of the Judiciary Committee, I told leadership I would be more than happy to be the goat who carried bad bills out into the wilderness."
Stein was convinced that the bill was unnecessary and needlessly punitive. Kentucky jailers are already working with federal authorities to deport illegal immigrants who commit crimes, she says, while the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Kentucky is prosecuting landlords for harboring aliens, "which is a much heavier hammer than the commonwealth of Kentucky can ever bring down," Stein says.
Needless to say, not all of her colleagues agreed. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Damron, said that Kentucky needed to act because the federal government has failed to do so. The bill was a familiar mix of requirements for state and local officials to enforce federal immigration law and penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers.
Stein said the bill was not just unnecessary but too expensive -- the Legislative Research Commission was unable to determine its total cost -- and, she argued, the product of prejudice. Stein had drawn criticism last year upon assuming the chairmanship, with various groups complaining that she was too liberal to reflect mainstream Kentucky opinion.
Stein didn't have a lot of support for her latest move. Although there was a concerted push for an immigration bill, its opponents were timid, by Stein's own account. "I'd spoken with several groups and agencies who didn't want to anger any legislators," she says, "but would prefer that the bill go down."
The result of her action? Stein was the subject of a favorable editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader, but she's sensing the outrage much closer to home. "I've had extra police patrols around my house," she says.