Sunday, April 01, 2001

General Assembly busy killing bills

        It's April Fool's Day, but this is no joke.

        Last week the Legislative Research Commission, the administrative arm of the Kentucky General Assembly, sent out a press release touting the passage of “Brownfield legislation” as one of the major accomplishments of the historic annual session just completed in Frankfort.

        Brownfields have to do with the reclamation of abandoned industrial sites. Relaxing and revamping regulations that will allow developers to more easily build projects on old manufacturing sites — such as those along the Licking River on Newport's west side — is certainly laudable, innovative and necessary legislation.

        But it's about as sexy as Senate President David Williams in a pair of thong underwear.

        That's not to say legislators didn't do anything during the 30-day session. They just didn't do a lot, or at least not much when it comes to some of the high-profile bills and proposals that were on the table back when the session convened in early January.

        Mandatory garbage collection, one of Gov. Paul Patton's babies: Trashed when the parties — namely House Dems and GOP Senators — couldn't agree on a final bill.

        Workers' comp: Injured by Senate Republicans and never voted on.

        Telemarketing regulations: Nobody's home. The bill died when the parties, once again, couldn't agree on final language.

        Tax cuts: Not this

        Election reform: Not enough votes.

        I could go on. It was not the most productive year the General Assembly's ever had.

        But that is not a criticism, more of an observation.

        There are those, particularly Senate Republicans and their supporters, who think less government is good government.

        An excellent argument can be made that with opposing parties each controlling a chamber of the legislature, a true checks-and-balances system is in place.

        No more can one party — historically, it has been the Democrats — muscle through legislation it favors while simply shoving bills its members dislike or oppose into committees, where the bills die slow, voteless deaths.

        Of course, now both parties have the power and votes to wantonly kill just about any piece of legislation filed in Frankfort.

        Democrats wrote the book on that little maneuver. For the couple of hundred years they held majorities in the House and Senate, they routinely squished GOP-sponsored bills by just not calling them up for a vote.

        When the Republicans landed control of the Senate last year, they promised that “all bills would be heard.” That pledge lasted about as long as a snowflake in San Diego.

        Take this year's workers' comp reform bill. Gov. Patton was pushing it, which means Senate President Williams, a Burkesville Republican, was against it.

        So Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, who chairs the Senate committee that heard the workers' comp bill, angered the Dems when she wouldn't call the bill for a vote. Make no mistake. Mrs. Stine pulled the trigger, but it was Mr. Williams who ordered the hit on the bill.

        Annual legislative sessions may be new to Frankfort. But during the session, it was politics as usual in the Capitol.

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