Monday, December 03, 2001

Legislature's autonomy charted

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        RICHMOND — The stories bore testament to the inefficacy of the Kentucky General Assembly a quarter century ago.

        Jody Richards, now the speaker of the House, recalled the black, three-ring binder on his desk each day with a likely list of bills to be acted upon and a handy list of how he would vote, compliments of Gov. Julian Carroll's office.

        “There's no question the governor ran the show,” added former House Speaker Joe Clarke.

        A series of events — perhaps dating to the term of Gov. Louie Nunn from 1967 to 1971, or perhaps a backlash to the heavy hand of Mr. Carroll or freedom under the lighter one of Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. — freed the legislature from the yoke of gubernatorial control.

        The seminar last week sponsored by the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University was to examine what were called the “dramatic changes over two decades” in the legislature.

        Yet after 1979, there is little evidence to support the notion that the legislature has undergone any particularly significant change in the last generation.

        A change in the Constitution then put in place the structure for the legislature to get out from under the thumb of governors.

        The amendment changed the years for legislative elections so they would not be at the same time as gubernatorial elections, extended the odd-year session from 60 calendar days in even years to 60 working days and created a mechanism for effectively reviewing gubernatorial vetoes. It also created a session in odd years for the legislature to gather and organize by electing leadership and appointing committees.

        Mr. Richards, during his presentation at the seminar, added several other events he considers significant to the independence of the General Assembly.

        The 1983 decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in the landmark decision of Brown v. LRC acknowledged for the first time the standing of the Legislative Research Commission, Mr. Richards said. What the ruling meant was the legislature could have a full-time staff and meet in committees when not in session.

        He failed to mention that the most significant finding of that ruling was that the legislature as a decision-making entity does not exist except when it is in session.

        Another constitutional amendment, to allow gubernatorial succession, was also

        important to the legislature because it removed the lieutenant governor as the Senate's presiding officer.

        Mr. Richards said the most important moment for legislative independence arrived when voters in 2000 approved annual sessions of the legislature. But after the initial experience earlier this year, when little but bickering took place, Mr. Richards acknowledged the legislature is feeling its way.

        Discussions of the evolution of the legislature are couched in terms of “independence” from gubernatorial interference. Senate President David Williams, the first Republican to preside in the upper chamber, spent much of his time talking about how the legislature needs more authority to review administrative regulations and executive orders.

        Most legislative backers point to the 1990 Education Reform Act, which Mr. Richards called, “a legislative initiative,” as evidence the legislature can act independently on a substantive topic.


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