TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

February 17, 2014

Slow going so far in General Assembly

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

The 2014 General Assembly proceeds at what might best be called a cautious pace.

As of Friday around 400 bills had been filed, significantly fewer than in previous 60-day sessions. At the same time, while each chamber — controlled by opposing parties — has passed some priority legislation, much of it is assumed to be dead on arrival in the other chamber.

Part of the reason is there isn’t much money lying around in this year’s budget session.

“I think people realize we have a monumental task on the budget,” said Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow. He said he didn’t think the fact 2014 is an election year with all 100 seats in the House and half the 38 in the Senate on the ballot and a nationally watched Kentucky U.S. Senate race is affecting the pace.

Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, the budget chairman in the Republican-controlled Senate said the pace doesn’t seem slow to him. “I’ve been working on the budget and it sure doesn’t seem slow to me,” he said.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said lawmakers aren’t as likely to propose new programs because “there’s no way to fund the new programs.”

Nevertheless, politics seem to be a contributing factor. House Republicans have opposed some bills Democrats thought would have clear sailing, usually complaining the measures created “unfunded mandates” for local governments and school districts.

That might explain the lengthy floor debate Friday on House bill 332 which would use $44.3 million in federal funds from a Race to the Top education grant to create a child-care ratings system for private home day cares, state funded day care and Head Start services.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, asked the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who would fund the program after the grant money is expended in the next three years.

Several other Republicans spoke against the bill, calling it an unfunded mandate. All said they support the bill but questioned its cost to local school districts or the state after the federal money runs out.

DeCesare offered an amendment which would end the program after the grant money expires, but it was defeated on party line votes. The measure then passed 79-11 with only 11 Republicans voting no — DeCesare voted for the bill.

The vote ended a week in which little major legislation passed. Some bills made it out of one chamber or the other and some got out of committee and headed for a floor vote.

‰The House passed HB 2, sponsored by Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, 92-0. The measure makes scholarships funded by coal severance taxes available to students from all coal-producing counties. The measure expands a previous pilot program benefiting nine eastern Kentucky coal field counties to all 34 coal counties.

‰HB 199, sponsored by Keith Hall, D-Phelps, would require children younger than 9 years old and between 40 and 57 inches tall be secured in booster seats while in motor vehicles. It passed 65-32 with some Republicans saying they were concerned about passing more regulations;

‰The House Judiciary Committee sent to the floor a bill backed by the National Rifle Association and sponsored by Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, which would make it easier for victims of domestic abuse to get temporary concealed carry weapons licenses. A similar bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor;

‰Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, filed legislation this week to abolish the death penalty. Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, plans to file a similar measure in the Senate. Floyd argues the measure would save the state money;

‰The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee unanimously sent to the Senate floor another gun measure, this one to allow those with concealed carry permits to carry their weapons into bars — so long as they do not consume alcohol. The bill is sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, D-Union, and Sen. Damon Thayer, D-Georgetown. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said the bill would likely face a tough path in the House. He said the original exclusions — including bars — were carefully thought out and put into law for “obvious” reasons.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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