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General Assembly to Begin Second Week

This article comes from the Kentucky Legislative Commission and is written by Scott Payton.

Let me have audience for a word or two … about this fair Assembly.

So said the Bard, in another context but it still applies.

For the next three and a half months, there’ll be lots more than a word or two written about the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly, including more than 16,000 in coming weeks right here. A poet like Shakespeare might do it in a word or two. But lesser writers need more to tell the winter’s tale.

It’s a tale worth telling in many thousand words. Kentucky’s unfolding civic history is largely writ in the 60 working days of a full budget session in even-numbered years. And from its brutal subzero opening this week to – we can hope – its gentle springlike final adjournment in mid-April, we’ll discover what winds carry the Commonwealth, and where, and how.

It will be a journey of many hills and hurdles, tied mainly to money as a two-year budget is wrenched from stretched revenues and many declared needs. But here’s a snapshot of its prospects this first week, with 13-plus yet to come:

First, mood. The Kentucky General Assembly opened its 2014 session Tuesday, optimistic that the new bipartisan spirit in Frankfort, evinced in last year’s short session, would carry forth. And in fact, there seemed common ground between chambers and parties on some key issues.

The Republican-controlled Senate’s top policy priority — an effort to limit the governor’s power to act though executive order when the Legislature is not in session — was not dismissed out of hand by Majority Democratic House leadership.

The issue is philosophical. Call it separation of powers, legislative independence, whatever you prefer. It’s the constant tug between the legislative and executive branches envisioned by the Founders more than two centuries ago, and specifically in Kentucky governance since the 1970s. There will be friction in a system like ours.

Senate Bill 1 — the honorific number 1 usually a designation of chamber priority – is a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to overturn a governor’s executive orders though a joint committee when the Legislature isn’t in session. That discussion will be historic, on many levels.

The Democratic-led House has as its priority House Bill 1, raising the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over a three-year period, a proposal to help working families slapped and stunned economically by the Great Recession, but with a bit more push-back because of its potential impact on small business.

Beyond that, let’s concede this is a deeply politicized year. The entire House and half the Senate are up for re-election, and the majority-minority split in the House has significantly narrowed. A hot U.S .Senate race is already on TV. It’s not hard to see deep politics in play this session — politics defined as the people expressing their wishes and their will through representation and elections, not a bad thing in any sense

Other issues with front burner status, at least for debate: A statewide smoking ban, legalizing medical marijuana, regulating law-enforcement drone flights over citizens just living their lives, and extending domestic-violence protection to dating partners, a bill that in the session’s first week passed a House committee.

Mayors – especially Louisville’s mayor – are calling for a local-option sales tax that could be imposed for specific projects.

The governor is once again pushing expanded gambling. Its chances may be slightly better than in past attempts, but still in deep doubt. The last (and only) time a casino gambling bill had an up-down vote on the Senate floor, it was beat, badly.

The recent emergence of a heroin epidemic, in a state previously concerned with meth and prescribed painkillers as abuse drugs of choice, will also likely be discussed. That’s another significant issue that seems to have bipartisan, bi-chamber support.

If you live in a certain slice of the state, surely you’ve seen ‘No Eminent Domain’ signs tacked on trees. Opponents of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline will be vocal in support of a bill that restricts developers of the proposed natural gas liquid pipeline so they don’t have condemnation powers to seize the easements they need.

But, as has been drearily true for many years, the main focus will be on the budget, where many say too few dollars chase too many perceived needs. Whether dollars or needs are the true issue is a debate that will play out as it always does, in dueling perspectives and ideologies.

One plain statement is already on the table, though: The administration’s Budget Office says every dollar of new revenue growth next year – and we’re seeing some — will be eaten up by current obligations like public-employee pensions and Medicaid. News outlets are full of their usual budget clichés: Austere, bare-bones, lean. We’ll eschew those for simply: challenging.

The governor, in his State of the Commonwealth address on the session’s opening day, once again called for tax reform to raise public money more effectively. Most consider that a long shot. Many a blue-ribbon commission has proposed reforms similar to the ones on the table now, and – as the governor noted in his speech, though not with these words — all have flamed out like meteors over Russia. In this charged political and recession-gashed environment, it’s a reach at best to predict major tax reform this session.

For more information: [email protected].

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Visit lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the Commonwealth. If you need help navigating that site, call LRC Public Information at 502-564-8100. 

By going to LRC’s eNews page, eNews page, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol.

You can access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at KET.org

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:

· A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650.

· To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835.

· To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

· You can write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Ky., 40601.