By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – A “deeply frustrated” state Auditor Adam Edelen accused Senate Republican leaders, especially Majority Leader Damon Thayer, of blocking for political reasons a cyber security bill he is pushing.
Edelen, frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2015, said at a news conference Thursday that Thayer is preventing a bill that had near unanimous support in the House from moving forward.
House Bill 5 would require most state and local government agencies to notify citizens of any electronic breaches of personal information within 35 days. Almost 30 groups have endorsed the bill, including AARP of Kentucky, Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky State Police and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Thayer, at a news conference an hour after Edelen called him “the chief obstructionist” to HB 5, said he finds “it kind of comical that the auditor has become so hysterical about the fact that his bill hasn’t moved yet.”
FRANKFORT — A constitutional amendment that would restore the voting rights of ex-felons who complete a five-year waiting period without further criminal offenses won unanimous approval in a Senate committee Wednesday despite reservations voiced by Democrats.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul testified before the committee, urging progress on the issue that has repeatedly passed the Democrat-led House in recent years but failed to gain traction in the Republican-led Senate.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington, joined Senate Democrats on the committee in expressing disdain for a substitute version of the bill that is expected to pass the full Senate later Wednesday afternoon.
Crenshaw and others said adding a five-year waiting period, which was proposed by state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, does not improve House Bill 70 “in any form or fashion.”
“I cannot go forward with saying I am in favor of the committee substitute,” Crenshaw said.
Thayer said the waiting period is “reasonable” and the only way to get Republicans to sign onto the measure. He drew the ire of a packed committee room by saying he expected “some level of gratitude” for finding a compromise that could pass.
“I’m trying to break the logjam and keep this moving,” Thayer said.
If the bill passes the Senate Wednesday as expected, then leaders of the House and Senate are expected to appoint a conference committee to hammer out a compromise bill. If the two sides can agree, voters would decide the constitutional amendment’s fate at the ballot box in November.
Crenshaw’s measure passed the House in January 82-12.
FRANKFORT — After years of languishing in the Republican-led Senate, a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for most ex-felons appears poised to win legislative approval Wednesday at the behest of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
The full Senate is expected to sign off on the proposal Wednesday afternoon, following a scheduled appearance by Paul to push the bill through the Senate State and Local Government Committee at noon, said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
“I think it has a good chance of passing,” Stivers said Tuesday afternoon.
House Bill 70, sponsored by state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has already cleared the state House. If the Senate approves the bill with no changes, voters would decide the amendment’s fate at the ballot box in November. If changes are made, the House must approve the revised version of the bill or set up a committee to negotiate a compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, has said previously that he could not support HB 70 in its current form. Instead, Thayer said he might be able to vote for the proposal if it is changed to include a five-year waiting period for each qualified ex-felon, “to make sure they do nothing wrong during that time.”
Stivers said he has not yet decided how he will vote on the measure.
“There is support,” he said. “I’m not a micro-manager of issues.”
Stivers said Paul, a potential candidate for president in 2016, will not be addressing the full Senate. He said Paul must leave the Capitol before the Senate convenes at 2 p.m.
The bill would affect about 180,000 ex-felons who have completed their sentences, but it would not apply to those who have committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sexual offense with a minor.
Under current law, ex-felons must petition the governor for a partial pardon to restore their right to vote.
Speaking to largely black audiences, Paul has criticized the War on Drugs for locking up a disproportionate number of black youths and taking away their constitutional rights.
“I think particularly for nonviolent drug crimes, where people made a youthful mistake, I think they ought to get their rights back,” Paul said in a Louisville speech last September.
The state House gave Crenshaw, who is retiring this year, a standing ovation last month for his persistence over the years in pushing the constitutional amendment, then voted 82-12 to send his measure to the Senate.
Do not adjust your television.
The 60-workday legislative session that begins this week in Frankfort will still deal with state issues, but Kentuckians can be forgiven if at times they think the statehouse is doing its best impression of Washington as federal issues and politics play major roles in the upcoming session.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election efforts will cast a shadow over almost everything in Frankfort as Democrats push issues that either hurt McConnell, help likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, or both. Meanwhile, Republicans will invoke the name of President Barack Obama at almost every turn.
The length and depth of the Senate race’s shadow started to come into focus Friday when Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo nonchalantly announced during a meeting with reporters that House Bill 1 would mirror federal legislation aimed at raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over a three-year period.
Stumbo joked Friday that he didn’t want to speculate on how the issue dovetailed with the Senate race, where Grimes and national Democrats hope to make raising the minimum wage a central agenda item in 2014. On Monday, Stumbo told the Herald-Leader he had “never ever” discussed the issue with Grimes.
Republicans have so far just rolled their eyes at Stumbo’s decision to push the matter in Frankfort. Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Monday that the speaker is “taking a page from the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda in a state that has overwhelmingly rejected those policies in multiple elections.”
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.