The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2012 regular session convened yesterday in Frankfort, for a 60-day session that ends April 9th. We are reminded again of those immortal words of Judge Gideon J. Tucker, a Tammany Hall Democrat, who said: "No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” Actually, he wrote this memorable phrase in the report of the final accounting in the estate of A. B.—New York Surrogate Reports, 1 Tucker (N. Y. Surr.) 249 (1866). There’s no indication that Judge Tucker had ever watched the Kentucky General Assembly in action (or, inaction, as the case may be).
Judge Tucker was making an oblique reference to a provision in the Magna Carta: "No man shall be deprived of the free enjoyment of his life, liberty, or property, unless declared to be forfeited by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land." And, of course, King John probably never visited Frankfort either.
The biggest issue to come before the legislature this year will most certainly be the state budget. Governor Steve Beshear will present his budget request to the House of Representatives by mid-January, and the lawmakers will have to develop a spending plan for the next biennium which addresses a projected deficit in the current budget. During the past three years, Kentucky relied on more than $3 billion in federal stimulus funds to balance its books. That money is now gone, and there have already have been nine rounds of budget cuts under Beshear.
Additional issues predicted to arise during this session include:
Tax overhaul. The state spends more than it collects in taxes, so Gov. Beshear has promised a "restructuring of our tax system to make it more fair and efficient to meet the needs of our people." But, since 2012 is an election year for all 100 House members and half of the 38 senators, we can’t expect much beyond heated rhetoric on this topic.
Pseudoephedrine. Kentucky State Police and others in law enforcement want medicines containing pseudoephedrine to require a doctor's prescription, to make it harder for illegal use in home-made meth labs. Lawmakers appear evenly divided on this subject.
Child abuse records. Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services spent 2011 fighting to prevent the release of documents regarding children who were killed or nearly killed by abuse or neglect. A Franklin Circuit Court judge twice ordered the cabinet to release the records, and, finally, the governor also ordered their release. Legislators will try to re-write the provisions of Kentucky’s confidentiality laws.
Public pensions. Kentucky's public pension funds face a combined unfunded liability of nearly $30 billion. There is a movement to make individual pension information public.
Abortion. During every legislative session since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, opponents have sought to establish new laws restricting access to abortion in different ways, such as requiring women to view an ultrasound and get face-to-face consultations with doctors at least 24 hours before they can get an abortion.
Dropout age. First lady Jane Beshear is urging the legislature to raise Kentucky's school dropout age from 16 to 18.
Casino gambling. Beshear promised during his re-election campaign that he would renew his failed effort to obtain a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize gambling beyond its current forms in the state.
Redistricting. Using population data from the 2010 census, lawmakers must redraw the lines for 138 state legislative districts and six congressional districts. This issue will be hotly contested, and will take up most of the first two weeks of the session.
A summary of some of the other issues that will be considered is available by viewing bills that were prefiled last year in anticipation of the 2012 session.
Senate Democratic Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester (right), speaks with Sen. Vernie McGaha, R-Russell Springs, on the Senate floor during the first day of the 2012 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly (Photo: LRC).
Citizens have numerous ways to follow legislative action, including seeing legislative action in person in the State Capitol’s legislative chambers and committee meeting rooms, which are open to the public.
The Kentucky Legislature Home Page (www.lrc.ky.gov) is updated daily to provide the latest legislative information. Web surfers can view the issues before lawmakers by browsing through bill summaries, amendments, and resolutions. The website is regularly updated to indicate each bill’s status in the legislative process, as well as the next day’s committee-meeting schedule and agendas.
In addition to general information about the legislative process, the website also provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including their phone numbers, addresses, and legislative committee assignments.
The Kentucky General Assembly also maintains toll-free phone lines to help citizens follow legislative action and offer their input.
People who want to give lawmakers feedback on issues under consideration can call the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. People who prefer to offer their feedback in Spanish can call the General Assembly's Spanish Line at (866) 840-6574. Citizens with hearing impairments can use the TTY Message Line at (800) 896-0305.
A taped message containing information on the daily schedule for legislative committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Calendar Line at (800) 633-9650.
Information on the status of each bill lawmakers are considering is available on the Bill Status Line, (866) 840-2835.
Citizens can write to any legislator by sending a letter with a lawmaker's name on it to: Legislative Offices, 701 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601.
WDRB’s Rachel Collier reports:
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