Thursday, August 17, 2000

Committee control contested

Tie vote halts interim meetings

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — In a continuing power struggle, the president of the Kentucky Senate on Wednesday tried to put the Senate in control of committees that oversee the engines of state government's “gravy train” — contracts, building projects and regulations.

        The House historically has dominated the committees. Leaders of the House's Democratic majority, primarily Speaker Jody Richards and Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, refused to accede to Sen. David Williams' demand.

        Mr. Williams and other Republican leaders — House as well as Senate — retaliated by teaming up to block the start of the General Assembly's interim committee meetings.

        Mr. Williams, R-Burkesville, said House Democrats were “playing partisan politics by try ing to keep control .... They don't want a Republican in charge to take a look at the gravy train.”

        At issue are three committees, practically unknown to the public, that exist by statute, not by action of the Legislative Research Commission — the 16 constitutional and party leaders of the Senate and House.

        The “statutory” committees review government contracts, capital projects and bonds, and administrative regulations. They can influence, but cannot directly veto, certain executive branch actions.

        By law, each has seven members, appointed proportionately from both parties. The law does not say how many are to be appointed from either chamber. The House's majority has been a matter of tradition, not statute.

        The dispute over whether that should change was more of the arm wrestling that commenced when Republicans gained their first-ever majority in the 38-person Senate last year.

        Mr. Williams said the issue was Senate vs. House. “This is not a Democrat-Republican thing on these committees,” he said.

        Yet it was. A vote on Mr. Richards' motion to have interim committees begin meeting Sept. 1 failed on a party-line tie.

        The LRC's three Republicans from the House minority voted with Mr. Williams and four other Republicans from the Senate majority. The three Democrats from the Senate minority teamed with five from the House majority.

        Mr. Richards said that without interim committee meetings, legislators would be unprepared for a session next year. “You're essentially closing down the legislature,” he told Mr. Williams.

        The General Assembly will meet in a regular session if voters in November approve a constitutional amendment for annual sessions. If not, Gov. Paul Patton has said he will call a special legislative session in February to deal with workers' compensation and statewide trash collection.


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