Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Annual sessions face hurdles


Opinions differ on whether to amend state Constitution

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Changing Kentucky's Constitution to let lawmakers meet every year would strengthen the General Assembly. How lawmakers would use that influence draws different opinions.

        “I think what it'll do is allow more meddling and mischief,” said Senate Republican Leader Dan Kelly of Springfield, a chief opponent.

        “It just takes time to analyze and produce the legislation and then to scrutinize what's been done before you start fooling with it again.”

        Supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot say annual sessions would allow lawmakers to respond to needs in a more timely manner.

        Bob Babbage, chairman of Kentuckians for Progress, the measure's main supporter, said lawmakers would focus on the state's $35 billion budget.

        “If we were a $35 billion company, we wouldn't meet every two years, and we certainly wouldn't begrudge the cost of a board meeting,” said Mr. Babbage, a former state treasurer and secretary of state.

        Yet the amendment on the ballot specifies that budgetary and tax matters could only be taken up in the new session if three-fifths of the members of both chambers agreed.

        Kentucky voters have rejected annual sessions three times, in 1969, 1973 and 1998. The last attempt prompted radio ads that ridiculed annual sessions as a power grab by legislators.

        “A general sense of distrust of the legislature, and antipathy. That's the reason why annual sessions questions have failed in the past,” said Paul Blanchard, an Eastern Kentucky University professor who specializes in state politics.

        Despite such widespread suspicion, Mr. Blanchard believes annual sessions are a mechanism for good government.

        “We have a lot of issues to be dealt with, and they need to be dealt with on an annual basis,” he said.

        But many people aren't convinced. Tom Templin of Lexington, a lobbyist for small farms and health-care reform, thinks lawmakers would be tempted to pick apart hard-won reform laws if they met annually.

        He also thinks the little people would be squeezed out by full-time lobbyists for more powerful interests, because most citizens and nonprofit lobbyists can't afford to stake out the Capitol every year.

        “I know from experience it's just not as easy to get people with busy lives to come to Frankfort more frequently,” he said.

        Malvery Begley, a London res ident who is active with Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, thinks annual sessions would provide more opportunities for the public to make its voice heard.

        But she plans to vote against annual sessions because she feels the legislature has not made progress on issues such as environmental protection and land use.

        “If they would get busy ... it would be beneficial,” she said. “But otherwise, it'll be a drain on the taxpayer.”

        Mr. Babbage thinks the annual-sessions proposal will pass this time because organized opposition has been minimal.

        Gov. Paul Patton has said he dislikes the idea of annual sessions but can live with it, and he has stayed out of the debate this year.

        Only seven states still have biennial sessions: Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas. Arkansas and Kentucky have the shortest sessions, meeting for no more than 60 days.

       



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