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

State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By John Cheves

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

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

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


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


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

Beshear, legislative leaders offer support for adult abuse registry

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear and Kentucky’s top two legislative leaders — Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo — pledged support Thursday for measures to create a registry of caregivers with records of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation.

“I have long advocated for legislation to protect not only our vulnerable adults but also their families,” Beshear said at a news conference at the Capitol. “The family members who hired these caretakers have a right to know whether potential employees have a documented history of hurting, neglecting or exploiting the elderly. This registry provides a simple, reliable check to give families and our senior citizens good information when hiring caregivers.”

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the registry “will go a long way in protecting some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens while giving their families greater peace of mind.”

Stivers said the support for the registry shows what bipartisanship can produce.

Later Thursday, the Senate approved the registry issue in Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, on a 36-0 vote. A similar measure, House Bill 256, sponsored by Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, is to be heard next Thursday in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

The registry would be maintained by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Beshear said the 2012-2014 state budget contained $2.2 million to support creation of the registry, but the enabling legislation was not enacted.

If the legislation is enacted this year, he said, that funding would be used to pay for the registry.

State senator says ‘shame on you’ to LRC for firing staffer who appeared in Grimes video

State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-LouisvilleBy Sam Youngman and Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT — State Sen. Gerald Neal said Wednesday that the firing of a Legislative Research Committee staffer for appearing in a campaign video released by Alison Lundergan Grimes was a violation of the staffer’s First Amendment rights.

Charles Booker was fired earlier this week after appearing in a web campaign video with his wife in support of Grimes, the likely Democratic U.S. Senate nominee. LRC employees are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities.

Neal, D-Louisville, spoke angrily on the Senate floor in defense of Booker, calling his firing “intolerable” and saying that if the state Senate doesn’t intervene then “shame on you.”

“He’s a casualty, collateral damage in the process of politics,” Neal said.

Kentucky Senate appears poised to approve constitutional amendment on felon voting rights

State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-LexingtonBy Jack Brammer

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.

Stivers calls debt in Beshear’s budget ‘large’

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester

By Jack Brammer

FRANKFORT –Senate President Robert Stivers on Thursday described the debt in Gov. Steve Beshear’s two-year budget plan as “large.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, was quick to say Senate Republican leaders have not yet decided how to respond to Beshear’s budget because they still are analyzing it.

Stivers also noted that action on Beshear’s budget will begin in the House. The House version of the budget then will go to the Senate for its consideration. Both chambers must agree on a compromise budget before it can take effect.