GOP Senators churn out agenda items as helpless Democratic minority watches

01/06/2011 08:57 PM

FRANKFORT — On only the third day of the 2011 legislative session, Senate Republicans have already passed 1/3 of their announced agenda and are poised to pass the rest out of the Senate on Friday.

Four bills cleared the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 22 to 15 with one independent who caucuses with the Republicans:

  • Senate Bill 8, a “business one stop” bill that would streamline the process for businesses to file their paperwork the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office. It passed unanimously.
  • A bill allowing superintendents more control over picking their principals. (That legislation, Senate Bill 12, passed 21-16 with Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville passing and Republican Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard voting “No.”)
  • A measure offering monetary awards for teachers whose students fare well on Advanced Placement tests. (Senate Bill 13 passed 23 to 14, with Sen. Bob Leeper, Independent of Paducah passing and Sen. Joey Pendleton, a Democrat, voting yes.)
  • And legislation dealing with “informed consent” for abortions, which would require a face-to-face meeting with a medical provider before an abortion.

That measure, Senate Bill 9, provided the most contentious floor debate.

Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat, tried to add a last minute amendment to the bill that would outlaw abortions in Kentucky. At first, Senate Republicans tried to block Stein through procedure, saying it was too late in the process to add an amendment.

Stein, who has advocated in the past for women’s rights to choose, said she was “tired of beating around the bush” and wanted the Senate Republicans to take a vote once and for all on the legality of abortion because she said that appears to be their ultimate goal. She acknowledged she would have voted against her own amendment because she was doing it to make a point.

With the ranks of Senate Democrats whittled to a minority of 15, such maneuvers are among the only ways for them to be more than just bystanders as the majority Republicans roll through their agenda.

Ultimately, Republicans sidestepped taking up Stein’s amendment in a procedural vote along party lines, 23-15.

The might of the Republican majority — and conversely the Senate Democrats’ political futility — was underscored later Thursday as the Senate State and Local Government Committee met.

The panel took up a complicated bill aimed at revamping the state employee pension system, Senate Bill 2. It would create a new retirement system for future state workers that would have retirement accounts similar to 401(k) plans, in which the state would match employees’ contributions that would be invested. Current employees would keep their benefits that will give them monthly pension checks based on their highest annual salaries when they retire.

The committee easily passed the bill, 7-2, with Democratic Senators Walter Blevins of Sandy Hook and Johnny Ray Turner of Drift the two votes of opposition. Two other Democratic members of that panel — Neal and new Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer of Winchester — didn’t attend the meeting.

Blevins, noting the pension reform bill was 66 pages long, showed his frustration in not being able to stop the process.

“I don’t know why we have to rush this bill through,” he said.

After that vote, Blevins and Turner left, seemingly waving the white flag.

The panel then passed three bills without a Senate Democrat in the room:

  • Senate Bill 4, which makes a series of changes to the campaign finance law, including adding new dates for candidates to file fundraising reports with the state and barring lobbyists from giving to any candidate for statewide office. Currently, only sitting legislators are excluded from taking donations from lobbyists.
  • Senate Bill 7, calling for all state government expenditures to be published online.
  • And Senate Bill 10, a constitutional amendment similar to what the Senate Republicans offered in 2010. If approved by 3/5 of both chambers, it would put on the election ballot language that weighs in on a series of controversial issues. It includes language to exclude Kentuckians from federal mandates to have health insurance, would outlaw abortion, guarantee the right to hunt and fish and own guns, bar laws that would prevent coal mining and prohibit expanded gambling.

The seven Republicans left in the committee room unanimously approved those measures.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.