Thursday, April 04, 2002

Lawmakers leave bills in limbo

Budget up in the air; special session possible

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Lawmakers left the Capitol with stacks of legislation left in limbo, setting up a climactic finale to the 2002 General Assembly that could turn into a rush to pass bills.

        After three months of work, lawmakers went home Tuesday night for a 13-day break without accomplishing their primary task — passing a budget.

        Solid waste legislation was stuck in conference committee. Also unresolved were bills to offer amnesty for tax dodgers and to assign who decides where “merchant” power plants and cell phone towers are built.

        Legislators will return April 15 for the finale of the 60-day session. The final day ostensibly is reserved to consider overrides of any gubernatorial vetoes, but now will be used to pass bills. Any legislation passed on the 60th day could later be vetoed by Gov. Paul Patton without any chance of being overriden by the legislature.

        Hanging over lawmakers' heads was the prospect of a special session if they can't finish work on a state budget for the next two years.

        Budget negotiations are hung up on an issue raised late in the game by Senate Republicans.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he wants to do away with the partial public financing system for gubernatorial elections. While House and Senate Democrats say the system may merit some examination, they are against abandoning it without a complete debate. Mr. Patton has sided with his party.

        “I will be adamantly opposed to any diminution of the effectiveness of our spending limits program, and particularly as a budget document,” Mr. Patton said.

        Related to the budget negotiations, the legislature has failed to pass a bill to create a tax amnesty program this coming year. The amnesty is expected to raise $24 million, a critical piece to help balance the precarious budget.

        House Democratic floor leader Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg said the bill could be used to carry any tax reform initiatives that legislators agree to during budget negotiations.

        While budget talks stalled, House and Senate negotiators narrowed their differences on solid waste legislation.

        The negotiators agreed to impose a tax on garbage hauled to approved landfills but were wrangling over the amount.

        Meanwhile, the House delayed action on a bill that would allow local planning commissions to decide on sites for cell phone towers. The bill passed the Senate 38-0 Tuesday.

        Also unresolved was whether to create a special board to approve or reject proposed sites for “merchant” power plants. Those plants sell electricity on the open market and are now unregulated.

        A bill pending in the Senate would have cities and counties recognize collective bargaining units representing full-time firefighters. The bargaining units would negotiate on wages, benefits and workplace conditions. Volunteer firefighters are excluded from the bill.

        A bill that started out to let deputy sheriffs carry concealed weapons anywhere could be expanded to create state penalties for firearms instructors who improperly certify people for concealed weapons permits.

        The bill is being discussed by a conference committee. House negotiators have proposed language to make instructors guilty of a felony for certifying people who didn't meet training requirements.

        Still in limbo were two proposed constitutional amendments that could go before voters in November.

        An amendment that originated in the House would seek to give the General Assembly the power to veto executive-branch regulations. An amendment that started in the Senate would modernize laws on corporations. Those bills are pending in the other chamber.

        One amendment already with a spot on the ballot would validate family courts. The legislature passed it last year.


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