By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s lawmakers can’t decide who they represent.
Legislative leaders debated for nearly an hour Wednesday without any resolution on what to tell constituents about who actually represents their districts in the Kentucky General Assembly.
The complex question stems from last summer’s special legislative session, in which lawmakers drew new boundaries for the House’s 100 districts and the Senate’s 38 districts.
The new maps passed legal muster in the courts but created a problem for legislative staff when constituents asked which lawmaker represents them: the legislator who was last elected by the constituent or the legislator who lives in the constituent’s newly-drawn district.
Staff also said they need to know how they should list legislators and their districts on the legislative website and in 2014 legislative directories.
Acting Legislative Research Commission director Marcia Seiler asked legislative leaders at their monthly meeting Wednesday to provide guidance on the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, made a motion that the LRC give constituents the names of legislators from the newly-drawn districts. He said the new redistricting law had an emergency clause, meaning it took effect immediately upon its passage.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, agreed with Thayer, noting a 1982 opinion from then-Attorney General Steve Beshear, who is now governor, that said a legislator represents the people of the new district in which he or she is placed in redistricting.
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said constituents expect their representative or senator be the ones they elected.
Thayer maintained that Stumbo’s approach is based on politics.
He claimed that several House Republican members have been denied messages from constituents in the newly-drawn districts, which could hurt their re-election efforts as the GOP attempts to gain control of the House in next year’s elections.
Stumbo denied the accusation and Thayer declined to provide any names of affected lawmakers to reporters.
Thayer’s motion failed. It needed nine votes for a majority. It garnered seven votes from Republican leaders in the Senate and House. The five House Democratic leaders voted against it, while the three Senate Democratic leaders did not vote. House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was absent.
Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said after the vote that legislative leaders did not have enough time to consider the issue before Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’re going to have to have more time to fix problems between the speaker and the Senate president,” he said without elaboration.
Asked after the meeting to describe the working relationship between House and Senate Democratic leaders, Stumbo said, “we’re working on it.”
Some leaders suggested that legislators be allowed to receive messages from constituents in any county they choose.
Stivers and Stumbo said they would try to find a resolution before the leaders’ December meeting.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Senate President Robert Stivers informed his colleagues Monday that he will reimburse the state for the nearly $1,000 bill for boxed barbecue dinners provided to state senators and their staffs on the evening of March 7.
Stivers’ decision prompted several members, Republicans and Democrats, to say they will help Stivers with the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, accused the Lexington Herald-Leader of “gotcha journalism” for running an article in the March 15 newspaper about the meal footed by taxpayers.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — The House and Senate unanimously approved a compromise bill Tuesday pushed by Auditor Adam Edelen that would bring more transparency to Kentucky’s special taxing districts.
Key lawmakers spent much of the day negotiating a deal on House Bill 1, which the chambers approved Tuesday evening and sent to Gov. Steve Beshear for his consideration.
Edelen, a Democrat, said he was thrilled with the compromise, aimed at making a $2.7 billion layer of Kentucky’s government more accountable to taxpayers.
HB 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would require special-purpose government entities — libraries, fire departments, sewer districts and similar agencies — to submit their budgets to a publicly accessible online registry. The state Department for Local Government is expected to unveil the registry to the public in October 2014.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Senate Republicans are preparing a new version of the bill that House Democrats made their top priority of the 2013 legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he is working on a committee substitute for House Bill 1, which is state Auditor Adam Edelen’s proposal to strengthen oversight of more than 1,200 special taxing districts in the state.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee discussed the original version of the bill Wednesday but did not vote on it.
Thayer said he is concerned the measure doesn’t provide enough oversight of special taxing districts, which can levy taxes even though their leaders are typically not elected. Examples include water districts and library districts.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — State Auditor Adam Edelen’s proposal to strengthen oversight of more than 1,200 special taxing districts in Kentucky may face a tough time in the Senate.
The House approved House Bill 1 on Feb. 8 on a 96-1 vote, but Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said Friday he has several concerns about the measure.
“Some of us think that the bill doesn’t go far enough in terms of providing the proper oversight when it comes to budgets and taxes and rate increases by these special taxing districts,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown.
He later said one suggestion has been for county fiscal courts to approve the budgets of the special districts, “so that’s something we need to look at, too.”
Under the bill, special taxing districts would have to file their annual financial reports with an online state registry. The public database would allow people to keep tabs on how, where and why special taxing districts spend $2.7 billion each year.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — A pension reform bill that would move new state employees to a 401(K)-style hybrid plan and eliminate annual cost-of-living increases for retirees cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted unanimously — 10-0 — to pass Senate Bill 2 on Wednesday. It now goes to the full Senate.
The bill contains the recommendations of a task force that studied Kentucky’s ailing pension system this summer. Kentucky’s pension system has less than half the money it needs to pay for all current and future retirees.
Senate Bill 2 would move new state employees into a hybrid plan that would guarantee retirees a rate of return on investments instead of a defined pension benefit. The bill also says the state should pay its full contribution to the Kentucky Retirement Systems beginning next fiscal year. However, there is no funding mechanism for the additional payments to the pension system, believed to be more than $300 million beginning in July 2014.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and sponsor of SB 2, said the task force opted not to include the funding mechanism because there was no consensus on how to make the increased payments.
“We did not have the support to include a bond or a tax increase,” Thayer said.
The bill directs the General Assembly to find the money in 2014, when the legislature tackles the two-year state budget. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said he would prefer the legislature decide how to fund the bill in the current legislative session.
Thayer has said that the full Senate could vote on SB 2 by the end of this week.
FRANKFORT – The Senate is putting on the fast track a bill that tries to remedy the state’s ailing employee pension system.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, introduced Senate Bill 2 Tuesday and said the Senate State and Local Government Committee will vote on it Wednesday. The full Senate may vote on it by the end of this week, he added.
The bill primarily reflects the recommendations of the bipartisan Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions. The pension system faces $30 billion in unfunded liabilities.
The Senate bill does not address how to pay for changes to the system. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said he prefers legislation that would include funding.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Senate leaders said Friday that a bill aimed at reforming Kentucky’s pension system will be filed on Feb. 5, the day the General Assembly returns from a two-week recess.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told the Senate on Friday that the Pew Center on the States, which worked with the task force on possible reforms, will return in late January to brief legislators on the task force’s recommendations.
Thayer, co-chairman of a task force on pension reform, said the bill filed in early February will include the task force’s recommendations as a starting point for debate.
Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, was appointed Friday to chair the House State Government Committee, where the pension bill will be assigned. Yonts said a similar House bill dealing with pension issues will likely be filed sometime after the Senate bill is filed.
“It will start on the same format,” Yonts said. “I’m sure there will be changes over here and there will be changes other there.”
Fixing the state’s underfunded pension system is a top priority of many lawmakers in the 30-workday session that began Tuesday. The pension system has only 44 percent of the money it needs to fund benefits for all current and future retirees.
A legislative task force that studied the issue this summer made a host of recommendations, including doing away with an annual cost-of-living increase for retirees, increasing the state’s contribution to the pension system and other reforms.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — A freshman legislator has been tapped to head a key Senate committee and Appropriations and Revenue will continue to be run by an independent but will have a Republican vice chairman, Senate Republicans said Friday.
In a written release, Republican Senate Caucus Chairman Dan Seum announced that the Republican majority selected new chairs for legislative committees after meeting for two days this week.
Sen. David Givens of Greensburg will be vice-chairman of the powerful Appropriations and Revenue Committee with current chairman Sen. Robert Leeper, an Independent from Paducah. Both men ran unsuccessfully for leadership positions earlier this month. Leeper challenged Sen. Robert Stivers for the top job and lost. Givens was bested by Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown for the senate majority leadership position.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said Friday he finds no reason to remove Republican David M. Cross, an Albany attorney, from the state Board of Elections.
Questions arose earlier this week about whether Cross should be removed from the board for possibly violating a state law that says members cannot run for public office.
Cross, appointed by Beshear to the board in 2010, tried unsuccessfully in November to secure the Republican nomination for the open 16th Senate District seat in Southern Kentucky vacated by former Senate President David Williams.
Cross spent money to print flyers that said he was a “candidate” for the nomination. Republican Party leaders in the district eventually selected state Rep. Sara Beth Gregory of Monticello, who faces Democrat Bill Conn, a Williamsburg Independent school teacher, in a Dec. 18 special election.