FRANKFORT (1/21/12) - After a pause in legislative work Monday to commemorate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, the General Assembly reconvened Tuesday and joined the House to hear the details of the Commonwealth’s finances.
In one of the first steps in the daunting task of determining the new biennial budget, the Governor presented his State spending plan to a joint session of the House and Senate. While there is some good news to be found in recent increased revenues and a relatively healthy Road Fund, the overall tone of the Budget Address was bleak.
As we continue to dig out of the Great Recession, we once again face a serious deficit – by our own best estimates, more than $460 million over the next biennium. That comes in the face of millions of dollars in increased costs to many critical services like Medicaid.
The Governor’s proposal cuts many governmental agencies an additional 8.4 percent to cover that shortfall, exempting only the basic funding formula for K-12 education, plus Medicaid, Corrections, and a few other crucial areas. Higher education and the State Police face lesser cuts.
The administration proposal is now in the hands of House budget subcommittees. After they are finished – and the full House puts its stamp on the plan -- it will come to us in the Senate for our input. This will be a tough budget to write, but we will do our best to protect vulnerable citizens, ensure vital services, and continue our climb out of an unprecedented economic downturn in a fiscally responsible way.
As we reported to you after the first week of the legislative session, redistricting is one of the first and most time-urgent items on our agenda. We are Constitutionally mandated to reapportion State Legislative, Congressional, and Judicial district lines every 10 years to match population shifts and changes identified in the latest U.S. Census. Meeting the Supreme Court principle of “one person, one vote” is difficult in a myriad of legal ways, and never a pleasant process. We had hoped this process would focus on the people and not the politicians. However, as you may have read in recent news reports about the redistricting plan we approved this week, this was not the case.
The Senatorial District plan, which passed 22-14, places 10 incumbent Senators in districts with other members. We do not think this was necessary because we – the Senate Democrats – had a plan that would not have had incumbents running against one another, every Kentuckian would have had equal representation and it met all constitutional requirements. But, unfortunately, our plan was never allowed to come before the body for a vote.
I am disappointed that Muhlenberg and Ohio counties were moved into different senatorial districts. I will miss the opportunity of representing the individuals living in these two counties. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to represent Muhlenberg and Ohio counties. I will continue to support these counties in the General Assembly. Even though I will no longer be their State Senator – I will welcome communication from those counties as a State Senator. The new 6th district will consist of Hopkins, Henderson, McLean and Webster counties. I am looking forward to my service in the Senate on behalf of the new counties in my district. The Senate majority plan benefited the majority incumbents.
The redrawn Senate and House lines have been approved by both bodies and were signed into law on Friday by Governor Beshear.
We have not reached an understanding on the redistricting plan for the Congressional districts, but the Senate and the House have appointed a special conference committee to work out an agreement.
This week, work continued on anti-meth-lab legislation. Senate Bill 50 was discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would require a doctor’s prescription to buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, main ingredients in making illegal methamphetamine. If the bill becomes law, sales of those drugs would also be tracked in the State’s prescription-drug monitoring system.
Last week, committee members heard testimony favoring the legislation, which would strike at the heart of meth abuse in the Commonwealth, which everyone agrees is a true scourge. This week, folks came before the committee to express opposition, saying law-abiding families should not be forced into the inconvenience and expense of seeing a doctor for simple cold medicine.
While everyone shares a common interest in alleviating the drug problems facing the Commonwealth, there are many differing opinions on how to accomplish that goal. As always, we are interested in hearing from all sides before making a decision.
Other topics were considered this week as well, as we continue the long journey through our 60-working-day session. Many more bills will be considered between now and mid-April. Now is the time to become informed on the issues we are considering in Frankfort. I encourage you to get -- or stay-- involved with the legislative process, and let me know your thoughts and concerns.
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