By RONNIE ELLIS
It’s the time during a General Assembly session when the clock is ticking, the nerves are fraying and the games are played.
Lawmakers are negotiating between chambers – the Senate is controlled by Republicans, the House by Democrats – on different versions of legislation and especially the budget and a road plan.
A conference committee – leaders of both parties in both chambers, 20 lawmakers in all – began meeting Wednesday and resumed Thursday morning to work out a budget compromise. But as of Thursday afternoon, there wasn’t much apparent progress.
“We’re miles apart on the road plan,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “And we’re only about halfway going through the budget.”
The state constitution limits the General Assembly to 60 days in even-numbered years and requires it to conclude its business by April 15. Lawmakers lay out a schedule in advance which uses 56 days for legislation followed by 10 days off – called the veto interim – while the governor considers which bills to sign or which to veto.
Lawmakers save four days after that to override vetoes. But in some past years when they were unable to agree on a budget before the veto interim, they used veto days to work out a deal. But that left the governor with the ability to legislation without the possibility of an override.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Wednesday he wants to complete work by Monday which would preserve the veto days. Stumbo said he doesn’t think that’s possible given how little is being accomplished in the conference committee.
“We’re either going to have to quicken the pace and make some decisions or we’re going to be here through the veto period,” Stumbo said.
The conference committee was scheduled to resume work around 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Earlier that morning, the committee was still going through line-by-line comparisons of the two budgets before they adjourned for lunch, so it’s unlikely there was a break through Thursday night.
Meanwhile on the floor of the two chambers Thursday afternoon, lawmakers voted to accept or refuse changes made by the other chamber. But there was also example of how one chamber tries to force a bill onto the other.
The Senate has passed a bill sponsored by Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, to allow nuclear facilities to store waste materials. Currently, Kentucky law requires such facilities to have a plan to permanently dispose of such wastes, which makes it nearly impossible for nuclear facilities to operate in the state.
Paducah is home to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant which the federal government is winding down. Leeper’s measure, which he’s offered in the past, would make it easier to convert the plant to commercial operations.
But it’s never succeeded in the House.
The House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, which would allow industrial facilities that won state for incentives under the Kentucky Industrial Revitalization Act to apply for additional incentives for projects which supplement the original development. That would help AK Steel, located in Ashland which employs people from Pullin’s district.
When it got to the Senate, Pullin’s bill was assigned to Leeper’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee which amended it by placing Leeper’s nuclear waste bill on it.
So Pullin amended a Senate bill before the House: Sen. Jimmy Higdon’s Senate Bill 74 to provide civil liability protection to licensed engineers and architects who volunteer their services after a natural disaster. The amendment? Pullin’s AK Steel bill.
Meanwhile, a bill to give school districts relief on missed snow days finally appears headed for passage. The Senate passed it Thursday and House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said the House will pass it Friday.
The House passed a juvenile justice bill which attempts to work with families of children committing status offenses and defer detention for the children. Status offenses are those like truancy which if committed by an adult would not be a crime.
Kentucky detains more juveniles than nearly any other state and a task force recommended actions to reduce or eliminate detention of such juveniles while working with them to see what the “root cause” of the problem might be and address it.
he bill which passed the House still allows judges to detain juveniles but creates a new system which attempts to first intervene without detention.
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.