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.
By Beth Musgrave and Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Tuesday that a 40 cent increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes is one of many options the Democratic House is considering to fund the state’s ailing pension fund.
The increase would bring state cigarette taxes to $1 a pack, which is still lower than most neighboring states, Stumbo said. Raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products would generate the $100 million in General Fund dollars needed by July 1, 2014, to fully fund the pension system, he said.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, declined to name other options House Democrats are considering, but said he hopes to have those options ready for the Democratic caucus to possibly vote on during a meeting on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be part of the general discussion on where the members want to go,” Stumbo said of the cigarette tax.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear asked legislative leaders Wednesday to delay the contentious redrawing of district boundaries until after this year’s 30-workday session so the General Assembly can focus on reforms to the state’s ailing pension system.
In a letter provided to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Beshear urged the legislature to postpone redistricting until later this year and said “I am committed to working with you to make sure it is completed in ample time for the 2014 elections.”
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg has said he would like to tackle redistricting during this session, which began Tuesday. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester has said he would like to redraw district lines in 2014.
By John Cheves — firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — It could be a kinder, gentler Capitol when lawmakers return Tuesday for the 2013 General Assembly. Republican Senate President David Williams, who fought Democratic governors and House speakers for more than a decade, has left. But Republicans still hold the Senate, Democrats still hold the House and Kentucky is still broke. So the 30-workday session may be as contentious as usual. If so, expect at least one special session (at a daily cost of about $60,000) to deal with unfinished business.
Here are some of the major issues to watch:
Kentucky’s ailing pension system could be the toughest problem facing the General Assembly.
For many years, Kentucky governors and legislators knowingly failed to put enough money in the state pension fund at the Kentucky Retirement Systems. This fund is responsible for providing lifetime pensions to 117,000 current, former and retired state employees. Simultaneously, the politicians sweetened retirement benefits to encourage state employees to jump off the payroll a few years early.
Now the bill is due.
By Linda B. Blackford
State Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said she will apologize to one of her colleagues after calling him a “narrow-minded nimrod” on Facebook over the weekend.
“I thought it was private,” Stein said Monday about her comment, which she made on an old blog post about Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, on the liberal Hillbilly Report blog. The blog uses a commenting system powered by Facebook, which means the comment also appeared on Stein’s Facebook page.
“This narrow-minded nimrod is now the Chair of the Senate Education Committee — Lord help us,” she wrote.
The blog post included a campaign handout for Wilson that featured a prominent typo. It touted Wilson as “firmly standing for conversative values, vision, faith and integrity.”
Stein’s apology may not cut any ice with incoming Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.