We’re not even 10 days into the 30-day General Assembly session and some lawmakers are crying foul at what they see as partisan maneuvering by the majority parties in the House and Senate.
The panel on this weekend’s Comment on Kentucky reviewed those complaints, as well as legislation moving through the two chambers.
Minority Parties Voice Concerns
Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones (D-Pikeville) accused the Republican leadership of pushing a series of bills through the chamber last week. The Senate passed measures on charter schools, medical review panels, prevailing wage, and other issues in a flurry of activity during their first week back to work.
Tom Loftus of the Louisville Courier-Journal says Senate Democrats are griping that bills are debated and approved by committee in the morning and then voted on by the full Senate that afternoon. He reports that Senate President Robert Stivers and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer say that’s how it’s always worked, and since Republicans hold 26 of the 38 seats in the chamber, the majority rules the process. Loftus reports that Democrats contend there should be at least a 24-hour delay before a floor vote so the public has an opportunity to comment on the legislation and lawmakers have a chance to propose amendments to it.
Partisan complaints also echoed through the state House last week as Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown) criticized committee assignments given to freshmen Republicans. Loftus explains that legislators are usually appointed to two or three committees, but this year, House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) only gave one committee assignment to first-time GOP representatives.
Updates on Proposed Legislation
Much of the legislation that’s advanced in the General Assembly so far reflects the priorities of the party in control of that particular chamber. Michael Gossum of WBKO-TV in Bowling Green cites the examples of the minimum wage increase that’s a priority for House Democrats, and the charter school legislation that Senate Republicans have championed. Neither issue is expected to survive once it reaches the partisan opposition in the other chamber.
Here are a few of additional issues up for discussion in the General Assembly:
- Legislation for a statewide smoking ban passed a House committee last week. But Tom Loftus says it’s uncertain whether the measure will gain a floor vote in the House. Even if it does pass that chamber, Loftus says the proposal will likely die in the Republican-controlled Senate. But Loftus reports the idea is gaining some traction on the GOP side with Sen. Ralph Alvardo, a doctor from Winchester, testifying in favor of the ban.
- Microbreweries in the state are pushing legislation to make beer distribution in the state fairer. Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader says the proposal is a response to brewing giant Anheuser-Busch gaining distribution licenses in Louisville and Owensboro. She says the craft beer makers fear having their products shut out of those markets.
Patton says Kentucky law separates those who make beer from those who distribute it and retail it. But Anheuser-Busch used a loophole in that law that allows out-of-state beer makers to own distributorships in Kentucky. Patton says House Speaker Stumbo wants to close that loophole, but is facing opposition from the Teamsters Union, which contends doing so will cost 200 union jobs.
- As gasoline tax revenues continue to fall with declining gas prices, state and local politicians fear funding for road projects will be jeopardized. Tom Loftus says Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Ernie Harris (R-Prospect) has proposed freezing the tax at the current rate to prevent any further drops in revenues.
- And the leadership committee that oversees the Legislative Research Committee took no action following the release of a draft audit showing poor morale and outdated personnel policies in the organization. Loftus says House Speaker Stumbo wants to hire a new executive director for the LRC before addressing the problems outlined in the report. But Senate President Stivers wants to see the final audit before proceeding with the new hire, according to Loftus.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.