Recapping the First Week at the State Capitol

With gavel strikes at opposite ends of the State Capitol, members of the Senate and House officially started the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session on Jan. 7.

Though there are new issues and challenges at the start of each legislative session, familiar procedures are often the focus in the earliest days. New members are welcomed, the membership of each chamber is affirmed and rules are adopted that will govern activity in the Senate and House for the rest of the session. 

Through it all, there’s typically a good deal of optimism and hope at the start of the session. At the same time, big questions hang in the air. Lawmakers face the enormous task of crafting the state’s next two-year budget at a time when expenses are growing faster than revenue. Tough choices are ahead as they decide which matters should be given priority.

The state’s new governor is also sure to advocate for the issues he wants lawmakers to prioritize. With Gov. Andy Beshear saying he wants $2,000 pay raises for Kentucky’s public school teachers, Capitol observers are eager to see how a budget proposal that he will submit this month will handle teacher pay and other issues. Once lawmakers receive the governor’s spending plan, it will be up to them to make whatever changes they determine are necessary to produce a budget that best serves the state.

Though the budget will be a big issue this year, many other matters will also receive attention. By the end of the first week of activity in the Senate and House more than 300 bills had been filed on issues including immigration, gun rights, vaping, gubernatorial pardons, voting rights, and scores of other topics. Legislation introduced this week has been referred to the committees that will study the issues in depth in the days to come to determine which bills should be forwarded for consideration by a chamber’s entire membership.

Next week, the Senate and House will meet in a joint session to listen the governor’s first State of the Commonwealth Address. The speech will be broadcast to a statewide audience on Kentucky Educational Television at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Two weeks later, the governor is scheduled to return for another joint session of the Senate and House to offer his Budget Address.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to last 60 working days, with an adjournment date of April 15, the latest possible day lawmakers are allowed to meet in a regular session, according to the state constitution.

Citizens are encouraged to follow the issues lawmakers will consider in the weeks ahead and offer feedback. There are many ways to stay in touch with legislative activity. The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.legislature.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 800-372-7181.

You may also write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capital Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.

-From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington (left), speaks with Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, in the House. (LRC)