Release of Senate Republican bills show big changes lurking in the details

12/30/2010 06:20 PM

Released weeks ago, the agenda of the Senate Republicans for 2011 legislative session is full of ambitious changes to state law, including adding more campaign finance reporting dates, immigration reform and allowing for charter schools.

The agenda, which Williams has said will pass the Senate in the first week of the legislative session in January, is full of headline-grabbing items. But a closer look at the more than dozen bills shows that some of the details could change more than the main issues the bills address.

Tax Code Reform

For instance, Williams has proposed a new council that would be tasked with re-writing Kentucky’s tax code and presenting their recommendations in the form of legislation for the 2012 legislative session.

The council would be made up of nine voting members: five economics professors from four-year universities or colleges in Kentucky, two certified public accountants, one property valuation administrator and the chairperson of the section of taxation from the Kentucky Bar Association.

The suggested new tax code would be introduced first in the state House of Representatives, as required by Kentucky law.

But under Section 4 of the current bill draft, if the then-speaker of the House fails to bring the proposed bill to the House, the minority floor leader may introduce it to the House instead, a change in current policy. Under the current leadership set-up in the House, the speaker is Democrat Greg Stumbo and the minority floor leader is Jeff Hoover, a fellow Republican like Williams.

The new rule would allow Hoover to push the suggested new tax code into committee, even if House Democrats are opposed to the measure.

Campaign finance

Another of the Republicans’ major agenda items, campaign finance reform, would prevent all politicians from receiving campaign donations from lobbyists, a rule currently placed only on current legislators but not the executive branch.

But included in that bill is a change in the minimum amount of campaign cash raised before a candidate is required to file financial reports with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Currently, if any candidate raises or spends $3,000 or more, they are required to file financial reports with the registry. The new bill would raise the minimum to $5,000 raised or spent before a candidate would be required to file a financial report.

Also, in the same bill as the lobbyist ban and the raise in requirements for financial reports are changes to election dates in Kentucky.

Under the same bill, the filing deadline for candidates would be moved to the last Tuesday in April. The primary would be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in August. The general election date would be unchanged.

The issue is one Williams has previously tried to pass in previous sessions. The current filing deadline in the last Tuesday in January, while primary elections are held the third Tuesday in May.

Finally, the Senate Republicans’ proposal calls for requiring that any candidate who raises more than $25,000 would have to file reports electronically with the registry. Filing electronic is currently voluntary.

Revenue and budget bills

When Senate Republicans released their agenda in early December, one provision resembled a proposal pushed by House Republicans this fall.

Both groups want to install a 48-hour waiting period for lawmakers and the public to review bills that affect state revenue before the legislation can be voted on in either chamber.

But a new component included in the Senate Republicans’ draft legislation would require all revenue and appropriations bills to be passed with enough time left for the legislature to override any gubernatorial veto of the bill. Lawmakers have been burned by that several times in the last decade, including this year and 2006, in which they didn’t pass a state spending plan in time to come back and overturn vetoes of specific items in the budget.

If this proposal becomes law, it also will require that executive branch budgets must be submitted by the seventh day of a budget session, three days earlier than previously required.

The bill also strikes language that gave a recently-elected governor extra time to submit their executive branch budget. Under current law, all branches of state government are to submit budgets by the 10th day of a even-year legislative session, but a newly-elected governor is given to the 15th day according to current law.

Those new proposals for the executive branch budget follows what Williams said during an appearance on Pure Politics —┬áthat new governors didn’t need extra time to craft a budget.

The revenue bill also would require the Legislative Research Commission to establish a budget schedule with deadlines. That schedule would:

  • Lay out the last day a budget bill can be introduced into each chamber.
  • Give the last day for approval of a a compromise budget by a conference committee, which is made up of House and Senate members who are supposed to work out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the spending plan.
  • Include the final day in which the legislature can override a gubernatorial veto of a budget bill.

Informed consent

This bill, which would require a pregnant woman to be shown an ultrasound and require a face-to-face discussion with a nurse or physician before an abortion, would levy a $100,000 fine for anyone who refuses to have that face-to-face conversation and follow the requirements set forth in the bill.

A second offense would bring a $250,000 fine.

Another provision allows a pregnant woman to look away, penalty-free, during the ultrasound or conversation. In effect, a woman looking away or ignoring the conversation allows anyone off the hook for the big fines.

Republicans have pushed for passage of the ultrasound bill in recent sessions.

But, on the whole, the bills aren’t receiving a warm reception in the Democratic-controlled House. Democratic Majority Caucus Chair Bob Damron, Democrat from Nicholasville, said that the House was more focused on organization during the first week of the session, which includes elections of House leaders. Traditionally in a short 30-day session, lawmakers spend the first four days in January getting organized with leadership and committee assignments, then come back in February to begin the heavy legislative work.

“I don’t think we’re going to get in a big debate about the Senate bills” in January, Damron said in a phone interview.

Damron also said the House has passed their own versions of the issues Senate Republicans want to tackle this session, including immigration reform, but the Senate had largely ignored those proposals. Damron sponsored an immigration bill that called for Kentucky law enforcement to use the same computer programs the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to make sure companies aren’t hiring illegal immigrants.

He also said that passing bills in the first four days of a session doesn’t allow the public ample time to read and dissect the bills before they are passed.

“Until we have a chance to visit with (Senate leadership), and read the bills, I don’t think we’ll be very interested, Damron said.

-Reporting by Kenny Colston


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