Monday, January 01, 2001

Ky. Assembly will make history

1st annual session to begin Tuesday

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentucky lawmakers will make history Tuesday as they gather in Frankfort for the Assembly's first annual legislative session.

        “As the Commonwealth of Kentucky prepares to enter a new year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, “the General Assembly is entering a new era.”

        Under the state constitution, legislators have always met for 60 days every other year, though they were often called to Frankfort by governors for special sessions dealing with just one or two major topics.

        Kentucky's voters passed an amendment to the constitution in November requiring lawmakers to meet every year. It is unclear what effect this change will have in either the number or types of bills signed into law.

        “The important thing about this session is that it will really give us time to do our jobs,” House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat, said during a recent visit to Northern Kentucky.

        The annual session will actually be broken up into three phases over three months.

        This week the General Assembly will convene Tuesdayand meet for four days for what is known as an Organizational Session. Both parties will elect House and Senate leadership, and assign legislators to committees.

        With the Democrats in control of the House and the Republicans in the Senate majority, both parties should get their share of powerful political posts — such as seats on the much-desired budget, education and transportation committees.

        But some lawmakers will not get the committee seats they want.

        For instance, there are only four openings on the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, and 14 Democrats who want those seats, said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan.

        “There's no way we can make everybody happy.”

        State Sen. Callahan, and his counterpart in the House, Rep. Richard “Dick” Roeding, R-Boone County, are expected to be re-elected to their leadership posts, important because House and Senate leaders are involved in the flow of legislation and key decisions made by each party.

        A major highlight of the week will be Gov. Paul Patton's address Wednesday night to a joint General Assembly session. He is expected to talk about, among other topics, plans for a tax overhaul package that will likely be introduced in the 2001 session.

        “The governor wants to make tax reform one of the hallmarks of his eight years in office,” Mr. Callahan said, “and make changes and reforms much like he did with workers' compensation, higher education and early childhood development.”

        But the governor's tax reform package is also likely to include a call to increase the state's gas tax, with money raised by the tax going to build and repair roads.

        Many Republicans will resist any proposal to raise taxes, Mr. Roeding has said.

        No legislation will be dealt with during the first week, but bills can be filed. Committee meetings are expected to fill out the week.

        That phase begins Feb. 6 and lasts 24 working days. This phase will most resemble past sessions, with bills being filed, debated and voted on.

        But it is doubtful any major spending initiatives, tax increases or tax cuts will be voted on or even introduced this year.

        That's because Kentucky still operates on a two-year budget system, and lawmakers only want legislation dealing with spending dealt with during sessions in even years, when the budget will be drafted.

        “While there are no restrictions on what legislation can be considered in this annual session, any legislation that will have a budgetary impact will require a super majority vote — three-fifths of each house — to pass.” said state Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas,

        Bills typically only require a simple majority in each chamber — 51 House votes and 20 votes in the 38-member Senate — to pass.

        On March 9 the legislature will adjourn for two weeks during which Mr. Patton can veto legislation.

        Lawmakers then return to Frankfort March 22 for two days, for attempts at overriding any vetoes.


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