FRANKFORT, KY (4/13/12) – Last-minute bills were printed, passed and enrolled into the evening last Thursday as the Kentucky General Assembly bid adieu to its 2012 Regular Session after passing final legislation—including a $4.5 billion two-year Road Plan—on the session’s 60th and last legislative day.
The House and Senate had worked behind the scenes since the veto recess began March 30 to reach agreement on the two-year blueprint for state roads and bridges, but striking a deal was difficult (at best) since both chambers and most members had competing ideas about which of the literally hundreds of worthy road projects should be included.
When the impasse on the Road Plan, found in House Bill 267, and House Joint Resolution 77—a piece of legislation that lists state and federal road projects for the last four “out years” of the overall projected six-year plan — was broken late Thursday, we lawmakers were relieved and satisfied we had met our duty to provide for the Commonwealth’s transportation needs until our next budget session in 2014.
The two-year Road Plan passed both chambers and was sent to the governor to be signed into law Thursday afternoon, along with the list of future projects in the six-year plan. But our work on the Road Plan was not finished.
As the two-year Road Plan and out-year plan were being signed and delivered to the governor’s office on the first floor of the Capitol, a group of lawmakers continued meeting upstairs on a Transportation Cabinet operating budget that would pay for the projects in the two-year plan. That budget, found in HB 266, was dissected and debated until late into the night. But in the end, the bill never made it back to House for final passage. The reason? Some lawmakers simply could not get the assurance they wanted from the governor that key parts of the Road Plan—which HB 266 would fund—would not be vetoed.
The result of the impasse is undesirable, but necessary: We lawmakers expect to be called by the governor into an extraordinary “special” session by the governor, as early as Monday, April 16, to approve a Transportation Cabinet budget. It is expected to be a very short session, three to five days at most, but it is unavoidable. The Commonwealth must have a two-year Road Plan and a way to fund the projects found therein.
The state’s $19.2 billion budget to operate most of state government over the next two years passed the General Assembly the day we recessed for the veto period, but it wasn’t until last Wednesday that several line items in the budget bill, House Bill 265, were actually vetoed by the governor.
Forty five provisions were vetoed in all by Gov. Beshear, including one that mandates state surplus money be used to beef up the state’s Budget Reserve Trust Fund (or “rainy day” fund) to nearly $73 million by the end of the biennium. Also vetoed was a provision that requires the governor to come up with another $80 million in savings across state government—one of many provisions that the governor said limits his day-to-day ability to manage the budget as events dictate. Lawmakers chose not to vote to override the governor’s vetoes, but instead focused on getting the Transportation budget and prescription “pill mill” legislation (found in HB 4) through both chambers.
I would like to say a final word about the special session that is now, inevitably, before us. Granted, we lawmakers would rather finish all our work in regular session than come back to Frankfort in special session and finish what we had started months before. But the legislative process does always unfold neatly. Sometimes, it is more like a crumpled ball of paper that is unwadded and pressed out dozens of times by hand but never loses its wrinkles. Imperfect, but usable.
We will, without a doubt, use the work that we did on HB 266 (and possibly HB 4, should the governor’s call include the need to resolve the state’s pill mill problem) in special session. Doing so will ensure that our work on the bill in regular session is not for naught, and that the special session is concluded quickly.
The final day of the session led to the final passage of several bills besides the Road Plan. Those include a bill that will create a state income tax check-off for contributions to local food banks, legislation to improve oral health care for nursing home residents in collaboration with the UK and UL schools of dentistry, and a resolution to create a task force to study Kentucky’s public pension funds.
We also gave final approval to a rural investment bill on the session’s last day that will allow for the creation of so-called “new generation cooperatives”, designed to bring new investors to the state’s agriculture, energy and other industries. The legislation, found in HB 441, is based on a model law now in place in Tennessee and nearly a dozen other states that allows such cooperatives to have investors rather than only patrons, its supporters explained.
And, final passage was given to HB 378, a pro-public advocacy measure that will boost the state’s legal resources for indigent defendants by creating a new division within the Department of Public Advocacy to deal exclusively with conflict services. Sometimes, an indigent client cannot be represented by the state’s Public Advocate due to various conflicts. This legislation will help broker agreements that allow such clients to be represented by the department, as required by law.
The end of the 2012 Regular Session, therefore, is a reason for celebration, reflection and preparation for what lies ahead. We accomplished most everything we set out to do in the regular session, and we will finish what there is left to be done in a short special session. And, as always, I will keep you informed of what transpires at the Capitol every step of the way.
Remember, you can also stay informed of all the action of the Kentucky General Assembly by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835 to check the status of a particular bill or resolution. For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.
Rep. Brent Yonts
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