A Kentucky General Assembly session has its own rhythm and pace. It follows certain mileposts and is affected by more than the work or issues confronting lawmakers.
Friday marked the ninth day of 2014’s 60-day session, but to the casual observer not much seems to have happened.
But 2014 is also an election year, one in which Republicans have a real chance to take over control of the House from Democrats and place the legislature entirely in Republican hands. That means lawmakers are waiting even more impatiently than usual for the Jan. 28 filing deadline, reluctant to take positions on controversial issues until they know if they’ll have opposition.
Lawmakers are also waiting to hear from Gov. Steve Beshear on the budget, on any tax reform proposals and on expanded gambling. They’ll probably hear more about all of those on Tuesday night when he delivers his budget speech, but especially about how Beshear plans to pay for an increase in education funding.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said this week they had little insight into what Beshear will propose.
“I expect he’ll try to do something to provide more money for education,” Stumbo said Friday. He also expects Beshear to mention tax reform but he does not expect revenue sources from either gambling or tax reform to be included in the actual budget Beshear proposes.
That of course means to increase funding for K-12 schools, the governor will have to find the increase through cuts elsewhere.
“The only place really he can go is higher education,” Stumbo said. But the universities are also looking for more money. The difference, Stumbo said, is “we have a constitutional mandate to provide a system of public schools and that’s been interpreted to be K-12.”
Stumbo said he thinks it’s unlikely Beshear will again resort to across-the-board cuts to agencies and other constitutional offices, most of which have already been cut 32 percent over the past five years.
Stumbo said he also doesn’t think there is presently sufficient political will in the House to go along with tax reform, but he said members have committed to “keeping an open mind” on the issue as Beshear makes his case.
The budget has been cut 13 times in the past six years and most of the projected revenue growth in the next budget will be eaten up, making up for some one-time funding sources, inflationary costs or statutorily required expenditures.
Some legislation did begin to move in the second week. The Democratic House overwhelmingly passed a bill sponsored by Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, which proposes a constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of non-violent felons who complete their sentences.
The measure has passed previously in the House but died in the Republican Senate. But Crenshaw and supporters are hopeful the endorsement of the measure by Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul might push it through this time.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed one of its priority bills. Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Katie Kratz Stine, R-Southgate, cracks down on heroin traffickers while allowing small time peddlers and addicts to avoid prosecution if they agree to treatment. It also encourages increased availability of Naloxone, an antidote for heroin over doses.
Friday ended as the first day of the session began last week as schedules were driven by winter weather. An overnight snowfall left roads treacherous Friday morning and both chambers quickly adjourned so members could head home.
In fact, the Senate – which under Stivers prides itself about starting on time – gaveled in about 15 minutes late for lack of a quorum. Fortunately a couple of senators driving in from Louisville were delayed but not prevented from reaching the capitol.
Lawmakers will be off Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and won’t return until 4 p.m. Tuesday. Beshear is scheduled to deliver his budget address at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort
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