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 — Three legislative leaders called Friday for a meeting of all legislative leaders on Wednesday to deal with “a leadership vacuum” caused by the resignation of Legislative Research Commission director Robert Sherman.
Sherman abruptly resigned as director of the LRC, the administrative agency for Kentucky’s legislative branch of government, on Sept. 20. His departure came a day after he said an LRC investigation of two staffers’ sexual harassment complaints against former Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, showed that the LRC thoroughly investigated the complaints and implemented protective measures for the women.
In a letter to all legislative leaders Friday, Senate President Robert Stivers, Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover identified two items concerning legislative leadership that they said require the immediate attention of all leaders.
The three leaders said there are four people currently with the title of “deputy director” of the LRC, none of whom have authority to take over for Sherman. They said that Sherman designated Robert Jenkins as the administrator in charge, but that the designation was temporary until all leaders could meet.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo set the stage Thursday for the possible censure or expulsion of a Western Kentucky lawmaker for allegedly sexually harassing three female legislative staffers.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, filed a petition with the House clerk to launch an investigation by eight House members of the conduct of John Arnold, a 69-year-old Democratic lawmaker from Sturgis.
“I have decided to take this action so that the full House will have the opportunity to review the evidence and the recommendation of the eight-member investigative committee I shall appoint tomorrow, after speaking with candidates from both the majority and minority caucuses,” Stumbo said in a news release.
Stumbo said he believes strongly in due process in legal matters, “but we need to be ready if the findings show that these acts did indeed take place.”
The House leader said he did not take his decision lightly and the issue needs to be resolved quickly. He also noted that the Kentucky Constitution gives each chamber of the General Assembly authority to punish a member for disorderly behavior and, with a two-thirds vote, to expel a member.
By Jack Brammer
By Jack Brammer — email@example.com
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear hopes to determine within about a week when to call a special legislative session to redraw the boundaries of state House and Senate districts.
Beshear, after meeting for about an hour Monday behind closed doors in his Capitol office with Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, said that they are “working on a set of ground rules” for a special session and “are already looking at their calendars for a date” for it.
Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. The legislature determines how long one will last.
Beshear and the legislative leaders want a special session to run for only five days. That’s the minimum needed to make a law. The session will cost taxpayers about $65,000 a day.
Two federal lawsuits have been filed that seek legislative redistricting.
By Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear indicated Tuesday that he is likely to call a special legislative session this year to redraw the boundaries of state legislative districts.
“I hope to deal with redistricting sometime before the next regular session in January so that it will not become a distraction when we’re preparing the budget for the commonwealth for the next two years,” Beshear said. “I will continue to discuss this possibility with legislative leaders.”
Beshear’s comments came after House Speaker Greg Stumbo told him in a letter Tuesday that the Democratic-controlled House “stands ready” to tackle redistricting if he should decide to call a special session.
Lawmakers are not scheduled to meet again in session until the 2014 General Assembly begins in January. Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda.
“I believe this is an issue better resolved sooner than later,” Stumbo said in his letter to Beshear. “We need to avoid costly litigation that, no matter how it is decided, will end with the same result: new legislative districts for the House and Senate.”
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 and Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Hoping to avoid a special legislative session, Gov. Steve Beshear and legislative leaders will meet Friday in an effort to hammer out a deal to shore up the state’s ailing pension system.
Lawmakers decided late Thursday to not convene the full House and Senate Friday, giving legislative leaders time to determine if they can find common ground on the pension issue.
“The governor wants — as we all do — to avoid a special session,” said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. Stumbo declined to say when the meeting would occur.
Thursday was the 26th day of the 30-day session. The legislature will reconvene Monday and Tuesday, then recess until late March, when they will meet for two days to consider overriding any vetoes made by Beshear.
Beshear met behind closed doors in his Capitol office Thursday afternoon with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, searching for a way to jump start talks on the pension issue.
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT –Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Tuesday House Bill 217, which makes changes to last year’s landmark legislation to curb prescription drug abuse.
“House Bill 1, which passed last year, was a remarkable and comprehensive effort to create real and substantial changes to upend prescription drug abuse, and it’s working,” Beshear said in a ceremony with several legislators.
“Unlicensed pain management clinics have closed up shop. Prescriptions for the most addictive drugs have dropped every month since implementation. However, we recognized that a few issues needed to be worked out for the comfort of the most pain-stricken patients and for the practical needs of physicians, particularly in in-patient and long-term care settings. House Bill 217 makes those tweaks without reducing the impact of House Bill 1.”
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — An overhaul of Kentucky’s pension system will probably have to wait for a special legislative session, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Tuesday. But there’s still hope lawmakers will quickly approve a separate plan to stabilize Lexington’s police and fire pension system.
State Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, filed a bill Tuesday containing a compromise plan for the city’s pension system that was hatched last month by Mayor Jim Gray, police and fire unions and pension board members.
The plan was ratified in recent days by 76 percent of active and retired police officers and firefighters.
House Bill 430 would reduce the police and fire pension plan’s $296 million unfunded liability by almost half, to $160 million.
FRANKFORT — Legalizing casino gambling in Kentucky appears to be off the table for this year’s legislative session.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Friday there was little desire among the Republican caucus to pursue the issue.
“There has been discussion among members of the caucus on the issue of expanded gambling,” Stivers said in a written statement. “Leadership felt that the sentiment was simply not there to address it due to it being a short session with major issues such as pension reform still outstanding.”
Friday was the last day for senators to file bills for consideration in the 2013 General Assembly, which lasts 30 workdays. Tuesday is the filing deadline for House bills.
A House member always could file a constitutional amendment for expanded gambling but the issue would face an uphill battle in the Senate given Stivers’ comments.
Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, R-Louisville, said in a statement that he had discussed the possibility of a bill to allow casinos with some members of the Republican caucus but “found that there was not enough sentiment to deal with it since this is a short session with other more pressing issues.”
The Kentucky General Assembly has debated for more than two decades whether to allow casino gambling.