By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg agree: The length of General Assembly sessions each year makes it difficult for those with private jobs to serve as “citizen legislators.”
But they don’t agree on a solution, which means there probably won’t be one anytime soon.
The Republican-controlled Senate Wednesday passed a measure sponsored by Stivers which would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment changing how long and when the General Assembly meets. Currently, the legislature convenes for a 60-day session in even-numbered years and for a 30-day session in odd-numbered years.
Before a constitutional amendment approved in 2000 provided for annual sessions, the legislature met every other year for 60 days.
Under Stivers’ measure the legislature would convene for a five-day session in odd-numbered years and a 45-day session in even numbered years. But the leaders of the General Assembly could call the legislature into special session for up to 10 days over the two-year period or biennium.
Presently, only the governor can call a special session and determine its agenda. Stivers’ measure wouldn’t alter the governor’s ability to do that, but any sessions called by the governor would not count against the 10 days during which the General Assembly could call itself into session.
Lawmakers would have to conclude their work during either of the annual sessions by April 15, just as they are now constitutionally required to do.
“There are people here today,” Stivers said as he explained his bill Wednesday on the Senate floor, “who are leaving or thinking about leaving because we are no longer a citizen legislature.”
He said his measure would also save money because it would reduce the maximum number of days to 60 over two years from the current 90 days over the biennium. And it would be easier for those who must earn a living to serve, Stivers said.
“It truly opens up the system, it saves money and it gives us the ability that we do not lose our (legislative) influence within the process,” he said.
The measure was approved 34-5 and now goes to the House. If it passes the House, the question would be put before voters on the November 2014 ballot and if approved it would take effect in January 2015.
But that’s not likely because Stumbo doesn’t see it passing the House.
He agrees the four months lawmaker must set aside for the annual sessions make it more difficult to recruit candidates and place burdens on lawmakers, their families and their businesses.
But he thinks a better solution is to conduct business on fewer days each week, meeting either four days or three days each week and if necessary, amending the constitution to extend the deadline for adjournment past April 15.
He said he didn’t think Stivers’ bill would succeed in the House.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.