Kentucky’s normally mild-mannered governor, Steve Beshear, was visibly upset last night, as the annual 60-day session of the General Assembly came to an end without voting of several important pieces of legislation. The bicameral legislators adjourned at midnight, but they failed to pass either the state's $4.5 billion highway construction plan or the much-debated prescription drug abuse prevention bill.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the session, the governor lambasted Senator David Williams—the Republican Senate President—for obstructing pending legislation; thereby costing taxpayers money by effectively forcing the Democratic governor to call the legislators back to Frankfort for a special session.
Today, Beshear issued a proclamation calling for a special session to begin Monday at noon. He wants lawmakers to finish work on the transportation plan and reconsider the prescription pill measure.
Gov. Beshear’s remarks to reporters late last night were particularly critical of Sen. Williams:
“For twelve years, Kentucky and Kentuckians have suffered at the hands of Senate President David Williams. His rank partisanship, his obstructionist attitude has caused numerous special sessions and has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary expenses in conducting business that ought to be done in regular sessions …
“We had hopes that he had learned a lesson from the general election last November and he would take a different attitude. We were glad when for the first time in the last six years, we were actually able to pass the executive budget in the regular session. However, my happiness did not last long because the old David Williams surfaced once again, and he has caused the Senate to refuse to pass the Transportation Budget bill. Without the Transportation budget bill, we can’t fund any of the projects in the Transportation Plan that had been passed.
“In addition, he has caused the failure of House Bill 4, the bill that would have allowed Kentucky to take an aggressive stance against illegal prescription drug abuse. By his failure and by his actions in not allowing that bill to pass the Senate, he is responsible for the continuing agony of hundreds of thousands of families around this state who have members who are suffering from various types of drug abuse. We need that bill. …
“I am going to be issuing a call for a special session of the General Assembly to begin on this next Monday at 12 noon. The call will have on it the Transportation budget bill and House Bill 4, which is the prescription drug abuse bill. It’s time that people of this state know loudly and clearly what the problem is here. If you go back twelve years, it covers three Governors. Two Democrats and a Republican. Every one of us have had the same problems with Sen. Williams. Special session after special session after special session. The one common denominator is Sen. Williams.”
After sleeping on it, Gov. Beshear had even more to say about Senator Williams Friday morning. The explosive rhetoric unleashed in last year’s gubernatorial election—which pitted the incumbent Governor Beshear against Senator Williams—was mild in comparison to Beshear’s desultory philippic unleashed this morning:
Remarks by Gov. Steve Behsear:
“Once again, I – like most Kentuckians – am disgusted and angry to be in this position.
Once again, it’s the morning after a legislative session formally came to a close, and once again, critical business remains unfinished.
The reason is a familiar one to Kentuckians: Senate President David Williams.
Senator Williams is so wrapped up in winning what he sees as a political game here in Frankfort that he is willing to turn his back on the needs of our people.
In essence, he forgets why he is here.
Yesterday our Senate president not only refused to pass routine bills to keep the state operational, but also torpedoed essential legislation designed to protect the health and safety of our citizens.
The General Assembly had only two items that it had to pass yesterday to meet the requirements of this session – a Transportation budget and a road plan. The House passed both, but the Senate passed only the Road Plan.
In a demonstration of political gamesmanship at its worst, Senator Williams adamantly declared that the Senate would not pass the highway budget until I signed the Road Plan first – without even reading it.
For the record, the two Road Plan bills are 398 pages long, and include brand-new projects just added yesterday, at the last second.
As the Senator well knows, the law gives me 10 days to sign bills. It does so for a reason.
I have the obligation to thoroughly review the Road Plan – a massive bill -- to make sure all projects are in the best interest of our taxpayers.
And how can I do that if I don’t even know what funding accompanies those projects?
To attempt to make the Transportation budget conditional on my blind approval of the Road Plan is ridiculous political maneuvering that insults the businesses and families of this Commonwealth.
Numerous Senators on both sides of the aisle told me last night they were ready to vote on the Transportation budget. But they didn’t get a chance to.
Sen. Williams still seems to think this is some sort of personal competition.
He still thinks that it is acceptable to push the state’s business to the eleventh hour, to hold bills according to his personal whim – and then, when reasonable people don’t acquiesce to his wishes – to throw a temper tantrum and go home, with business unfinished.
To Kentuckians, this is no game.
The Transportation Cabinet’s $2.4 billion budget not only includes all funds allocated to build and maintain roads in Kentucky, but it also authorizes snow and ice removal, traffic management planning, bridge inspections and many, many other necessary services.
Those projects create jobs in every county, ensure safe roads for our families, and protect and promote commerce not only within our counties but also among our surrounding states and region.
As just one example, this budget also includes funding for the Ohio River Bridges Project, a project of enormous importance to our state and our economy.
For 40 years this project has been stalled.
But in the last few years – because of incredible cooperation among Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (who is a Republican, by the way) and I and our respective staffs, not to mention local government officials in both states and business leaders, we’re close.
We’re preparing to choose a design/build contractor so we can begin construction this year.
But now … we have no new funds authorized for these critical bridges.
Isn’t a 40-something-year delay in building these bridges long enough?
Why would a person sabotage this effort?
I’ll tell you why. It’s simple.
When Sen. Williams received the funding plan, it already included $288 million in projects for his district.
$288 million – over $130 million of which was to be funded in the near term.
But that wasn’t good enough for Sen. Williams.
He made some last-minute fine-print changes that moved an additional $155 million of those projects in his district ahead of those in other communities around the state.
He wanted to guarantee that his projects would be finished first – at the expense of others.
And his worry, he said – the reason he held up the plan – was that he was worried that I would veto those changes.
He was worried about himself, not the state.
Another victim of Sen. Williams’ willful inaction is House Bill 4, a bill with broad bipartisan support that would have immediate impact in reducing the devastation caused by prescription drug abuse.
The whole state knows that prescription drug abuse is causing untold misery among our families.
It is robbing our economy of productive workers. It is filling our jails, hospitals and treatment centers. And it is draining our state budget of resources that could be used to fund classrooms, put police on our streets and create jobs.
In a nutshell, prescription drug abuse is wasting away the future of Kentucky.
We had strong support for the many elements of HB 4.
Many Representatives and Senators from both parties, Democrats and Republicans, worked very hard with me on this bill.
We had an agreement. It was ready to be passed.
They have seen – among their own families, friends and communities – the horrifying effects of prescription drug abuse.
One survey showed that one of every three Kentucky adults say they have friends or family members who have suffered from misuse of prescription pain relievers.
Every day, three Kentuckians die from drug overdoses, a rate of 82 per month. That’s more than those killed on our highways.
But Sen. Williams willfully ignored the visible misery of our communities, and allowed this essential bill to die.
Why? Because of his road projects.
How many issues, how many legislative bills, how many families must be sacrificed to feed our Senate president’s political ego?
We cannot wait a minute longer to strengthen our response to this epidemic. Since the beginning of this year, more than 400 Kentuckians have been hospitalized because of prescription drug overdoses.
Every single day that we delay is a day that more Kentuckians will die from prescription drug abuse, that more families will continue to be torn apart by this scourge.
That’s why I am adding the elements of House Bill 4 to the special session call.
Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida recently all passed legislation tightening regulation in their states.
If we don’t follow suit, Kentucky risks becoming a source state for the diversion of prescription painkillers.
I realize that.
Our experts realize that.
Most of our legislators in the House and Senate realize that.
But one man doesn’t.
I thought that voters sent a clear message in November. Quit the games. Stop the power plays.
Work together for the good of all Kentuckians.
Almost everyone got that message. Apparently, the one person who didn’t get that message was the Senate president.
Now, we’re forced once again to call a special session that will cost taxpayers $60,000 per day.
Since Sen. Williams’ assumed the Senate presidency in 2000, the Kentucky legislature has been ordered into a special session four times because of failure to agree on budget issues.
Those sessions cost our Kentucky families and businesses nearly $2 million and put more pay into Sen. William’s pocket.
Come Monday, we add to that figure.
Come Monday, I expect Sen. Williams to be here to finish the work that he was elected to do.
It’s time for him to put the people before himself.
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