FRANKFORT, KY (1/8/12) – Being in Frankfort on the first day of a regular legislative session is a lot like going to your favorite local diner and seeing old friends and acquaintances everywhere you look.
Smiles are on every face, handshakes join every arm, and the din of laughter fills the back of each room. In the House chamber, bills pre-filed weeks or months earlier begin to receive their bill numbers, new members and constitutional officers are sworn in, House rules are adopted, and lawmakers almost seem to have a skip in their step as they run hither and yon attending special seminars.
It seems like an idyllic place, until lawmakers stop and realize: We aren’t in Kansas, or Greenville, or Hopkinsville (fill in your city’s name) anymore. This is the 2012 Regular Session at the State Capitol, where we will be served up a cold feast of issues in coming months that most lawmakers--and state agencies--will find hard to swallow.
The proverbial “hard pills” of the session include two issues—the passage of a new two-year state budget, and the passage of new redistricting plans for state legislative and congressional seats. Both issues must be addressed by the end of this session’s 60 legislative days, and we really need to get redistricting done by this year’s election filing deadline at the end of January.
Neither “pill” will go down very easily.
As far as the next two-year state budget is concerned, lawmakers expect to consider a proposal that includes further cuts to state programs to balance out a General Fund shortfall that some estimate could reach $300 million or more through fiscal year 2014. This Spartan budget outlook, while considered pessimistic by some, is based on the state’s continuing cycle of slow revenue growth coupled with an increasing demand for state services and the unavailability of significant additional federal stimulus funds. The outlook could change, but as of today, it appears we lawmakers will be faced with passing a 2012-2014 state budget that is millions of dollars short of what Kentucky needs and wants.
Redistricting sounds simple enough: House and Senate members get together in their respective caucuses and chambers to redraw state legislative and congressional district lines that reflect population changes recorded by the 2010 U.S. Census. But changes in the configuration of districts and (as is often the case) losing folks who are longtime constituents and friends is never an easy or pleasant job. Redistricting is, in fact, one of the most personally and politically difficult issues that state lawmakers face in Kentucky or anywhere.
While Kentucky’s population increased from 4.04 million to 4.3 million overall from 2000 to 2010, some state legislative and congressional districts lost population to other districts. So, in order to create districts that are equal in population, many districts lines will have to be redrawn. Lawmakers will work to create districts that meet the strict “one person, one vote” standard to ensure everyone enjoys the constitutional right of equal legislative representation, both in Frankfort and in Washington.
The House and Senate plan to pass their chamber’s redistricting plans and a Congressional redistricting plan by the state’s primary election filing deadline of Jan. 31, avoiding the need to extend the deadline and interfere with the schedule for primary candidate filings. Hearings began on the issue this week in the House, with a vote on the House’s redistricting bills expected early next week.
Passing a budget and redistricting will take a lot of time this session, but these are far from the only issues lawmakers plan to consider. Add $30 billion in unfunded liability in the state’s public pension systems, renewed debate on a casino gambling amendment and a host of other tough session topics to this session’s lengthy agenda and it becomes clear: The 2012 Regular Session could prove to be the most difficult Kentucky lawmakers has faced in 30 years or more.
The governor presented his agenda for the session in a State of the Commonwealth Address before a joint House and Senate session Wednesday night, as is customary. Gov. Beshear made clear his intention to push a casino gambling amendment through both houses of the General Assembly before session’s end, although the Senate majority has voiced some resistance to the proposal. Time will tell how the gaming issue will fare in the Kentucky legislative arena in coming weeks.
With first-week-of-session formalities now out of the way and committee work underway, the House is ready to face whatever the 2012 Regular Session will bring. We lawmakers might need a big glass of water to swallow the “hard pills,” but we will get them down. We will do whatever we must do to preserve and improve the lives of Kentuckians in our districts and across the Commonwealth. It is a sworn duty that we gladly accept.
From now until the session concludes in mid-April, you can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you 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. 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.
State Rep. Brent Yonts
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