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Senate President seeks legal opinion on ‘right-to-work’ option for counties

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers asked for an attorney general’s opinion Monday on whether Kentucky counties can adopt so-called ‘right-to-work’ provisions that let employees work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said in a news release that he is seeking the opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway because Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell recently opined that the Louisville Metro Government has the authority to require a higher minimum wage than the minimum wage established by federal or state law.

“Using Mr. O’Connell’s analysis, a county should also be able to establish itself as a right-to-work county,” said Stivers.

The Senate leader noted that he sought the request as legislators prepare for the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January. Republicans in the state Senate have pushed the issue for years, but House Democrats oppose the measure.

Many Republicans say such a state law is needed to spur economic development while many Democrats argue it would lower wages by weakening unions.

A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favor changing state laws to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues. Twenty-eight percent of those polled were opposed.

Stivers said the issue “will be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses.”

He noted that 24 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that are not pre-empted by federal law.

Stivers was not immediately available to take questions about his request. O’Connell, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment.

Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin, said the attorney general’s office will review Stivers’ request.

Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking reappointment to Fish and Wildlife Commission

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT —A judge granted Senate President Robert Stivers’ request Friday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state Senate’s failure to vote on a reappointment to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd said in a four-page order that the court lacks the constitutional authority to direct the Senate on how to consider such nominations and nothing in the lawsuit filed by Campbellsville doctor Jim Angel supports any allegations that the Senate failed to follow its own rules.

Neither Angel nor his attorney, C. Thomas Hectus of Louisville, was immediately available to comment on Shepherd’s order.

Legislative leaders make joint appointment to ethics panel after two-year wait

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers filled a position Monday on the Legislative Ethics Commission that has been vacant for two years.

The two legislative leaders jointly appointed Henry Stephens, a professor at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, to fill out the nine-member commission that came under fire recently for not having a majority of members present to hear sexual harassment complaints against a former legislator.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Monday that the apppointment took such a long time because it was “an ongoing process, but we are pleased to have found such a well qualified person to serve.”

Stivers’ spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said he has “been vetting a number of individuals” who would be acceptable to both Stumbo and him.

The other commission appointments are split evenly between them.

Amens resonate in KY Senate for UK’s basketball success

FRANKFORT — Several Kentucky senators shouted “amens” Monday when a Frankfort minister opened the state Senate with a prayer thanking God for the University of Kentucky basketball victories.

The prayer offered by Rev. Gary Hager, senior minister of Westivew Baptist Church, drew the most responses from legislators of any prayer in the chamber this session.

Hager also thanked God for the civility in the chamber wrought by Senate President Robert Stivers.

–Jack Brammer

Lawmakers strike deal on state budget, but Rupp Arena out of luck

State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By John Cheves
Jcheves@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Top Kentucky lawmakers emerged from a closed room about 5:30 a.m. Sunday to announce they had reached a deal on a $20.3 billion, two-year state budget that does not provide major money for a proposed renovation of Rupp Arena.

“I think it’s responsible. It makes a pretty significant and strong statement toward education,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters after the conclusion of an 18-hour negotiating session between House and Senate leaders.

One high-profile casualty was the $65 million in bonds Gov. Steve Beshear proposed in January for the renovation of Rupp Arena and the attached convention center in Lexington. Instead, the state budget will include “a small sum,” to be matched with local funds, so Lexington can move ahead with more planning, engineering and programming on the project, Stivers said.

If Lexington publicly produces a formal financing plan for the Rupp Arena renovation and a signed lease agreement with the University of Kentucky, which uses the venue for its men’s basketball games, then it can return for more money in the 2015 legislative session, Stivers said.

“There are mechanisms in place for it to go forward,” Stivers said.

greg-stumbo-3Some lawmakers on the budget conference committee said they were unimpressed by a personal appeal Lexington Mayor Jim Gray made for Rupp Arena funding on Saturday. Gray said UK has not yet signed a future lease deal for the arena, and he said he could not publicly disclose the proposed terms of UK’s next lease or his own plan to pay for the renovation project.

State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said she believes Gray did the best he could Saturday fielding queries from lawmakers.

“There are some very good questions about the plan that right now the mayor simply cannot answer,” Flood said Sunday afternoon. “I sense right now that the Senate really does want to keep the project moving forward, but they want more assurances about how the financing would work. If he (Gray) can come back, even in our next session (in 2015), having rolled out a formal financial plan, there could be some more help then. I don’t think it would have to wait until our next budget in 2016.”

Gray had not seen details of the budget agreement as of early Sunday afternoon, said spokeswoman Susan Straub.

“We need to see it and make sure we understand it before we comment on it,” Straub said.

Gray also has asked lawmakers to let Lexington raise its hotel and motel tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent, which would yield about $3.5 million a year for the $328 million reinvention of Rupp. That proposal, which is not part of the state budget, appears to face an uphill battle in the Senate during the final days of this year’s legislative session.

House and Senate leaders, who spent the night cloistered in a committee room of the Capitol Annex, reached a consenusus on hundreds of differences in their proposed budgets. Most were relatively minor, but some involved huge sums of money or made significant changes to state policy, including:

Senate gives strong support to bill to cut legislative days

FRANKFORT – The Senate overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday to cut the number of days state lawmakers meet each year. The vote was 34-3.

Senate Bill 195, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester,would cut the number of days lawmakers meet in session from 90 days every two years to up to 60 days, saving the state up to $7 million a year.

Stivers said having fewer legislative days each year would attract more candidates to run for the House and Senate.

He also said legislators should not be concerned with less pay. “We are supposed to be citizen legislators. This is not supposed to be our primary job.”

The measure now goes to the House for its consideration, where it is expected to face a more difficult time than it did in the Senate.

–Jack Brammer

Senate panel unanimously approves measure to cut number of legislative days

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-ManchesterBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers won unanimous support Wednesday from a Senate committee for his constitutional amendment to cut the number of days state lawmakers meet each year.

Stivers said the proposal would cut the number of days lawmakers meet in session from 90 days every two years to 60 days, saving the state up to $7 million a year.

Though some Democrats on the Senate State and Local Government Committee expressed concerns with the proposal, all 11 members voted for Senate Bill 195 and sent it to the full Senate for its consideration later this week or early next week.

“This is an attempt to return to what I think the framers of our constitution thought our role should be — one of a citizen legislature,” said Stivers.

He predicted that having fewer legislative days each year would attract more candidates to run for the House and Senate.

Senator files bill to let legislative leaders intervene when attorney general does not defend state law

By Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – A state lawmaker has filed a bill to allow the Senate president or House speaker to intervene in a legal action when the attorney general fails to defend a state law or provision of the Kentucky Constitution.

Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, said Tuesday she filed Senate Bill 221 in part due to Attorney General Jack Conway’s decision last week not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other states and countries.

Gov. Steve Beshear has said he would appeal the ruling by U.S. District John Heyburn.

Gregory also said her bill would allow the top two legislative leaders to intervene in court cases in which attorney generals submit an order to the court giving them sole discretion to spend funding from a settlement.

Senate President Robert Stivers, who supports Gregory’s bill, said the provision dealing with funding stems from Conway’s decision earlier this year to use more than $32 million collected from lawsuit settlements with two drug companies to expand substance abuse treatment in Kentucky.

Stivers said the money should have gone to the state’s General Fund, which provides money for most state programs.

Senate approves bill to set up pilot project to open juvenile court proceedings

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT – Over protests that children were being ignored, the state Senate approved a bill Monday that would open to the public some juvenile court proceedings under a four-year pilot project.

Senate Bill 157, sponsored by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, would require approval by the Chief Justice, local judge and county attorney for a court district to participate in the pilot project.

Givens claimed his bill would provide more transparency in court proceedings that are now closed to the public.

But Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, and several other Democrats said the bill is only trying to please the media that want more openness and ignoring the well-being of children.

She said publicity about the proceedings could follow children all their lives.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said she is “thrilled” by the bill because it will expose “bad characters” in juvenile court proceedings.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the bill is about the children because it will show whether the courts and public agencies are doing their job in protecting children.

The Senate approved the bill on a 30-7 vote and sent it to the House for its consideration.

–Jack Brammer

No bill filed yet in Senate to allow Rand Paul to run for U.S. Senate and president in 2016

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Friday is the last day for filing new bills in the Republican-controlled state Senate and no bill has yet come forward to allow U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to run for the U.S. Senate and the presidency in 2016, Senate President Robert Stivers said Wednesday.

Stivers, R-Manchester, said he did not know if such a bill will materialize.

“There’s been quite a bit of discusssion on it,” he said.

Stivers said some states allow federal officeholders like Paul to run for their federal seat while being on the ballot for president or vice president.

Paul, R-Bowling Green, has indicated that he may run for president in 2016. He also is up for re-election that year for the U.S. Senate.

Stivers noted that there always could be a court challenge to the Kentucky law that prohibits a candidate for running for more than one office.

–Jack Brammer