Senate passes House version of judicial branch budget over protests of Senate Democrats

03/25/2016 10:00 PM

FRANKFORT — Pointing to time winding down and the beginning of the negotiation process on the $21 billion, two-year state spending plan, the Senate quickly moved the judicial and legislative branch budgets along with the revenue bill out of committee and off the Senate floor on Friday.

Following a 10-minute meeting of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, where the bills unanimously passed, Sen. Chris McDaniel said the House had forced his hand.

“The fact is the House felt that these were good plans, they sent them to us, and last night they put demands on us that these had to be all out there as part of the (conference) committee,” said McDaniel, a Taylor Mill Republican who chairs the budget committee. “The fact is there’s not time for committee substitutes, there’s not time for amendments based off of the schedule we’ve been handed and … it’s going to have to stand as is.”

“I certainly would like a little but more time with the plan, but they’ve sent me the four biggest pieces of legislation with less than a week to handle all of them … they’ve created the situation.”

The legislation then was voted off the Senate floor on a 27-9 vote with Democrats decrying cuts put in by their House counterparts.

The House of Representatives passed their version of the of the budget bills including the judicial branch budget on March 16.

Hours before the House voted on the judicial budget, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John Minton sent a letter predicting devastation to the courts if the spending document remained unchanged, a cry he repeated on Monday in a special Senate meeting with members of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

Under the House budget, which the Senate passed, Minton predicted the courts will be required to eliminate approximately 600 jobs, which would be almost 18 percent of the eligible judicial workforce. Personnel costs make up 87 percent of the Judicial Branch budget.

The Kentucky Constitution restricts the judicial branch from changing the salaries of the 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks during their terms which means that non-elected personnel would bear the brunt of any reductions.

Under the rules of a free conference committee, which the House and Senate will likely enter into to complete budget negotiations, House Democrats could conceivably send more money to the judicial branch budget. However, McDaniel said that move would have to start with the lower chamber’s leadership.

“In free conference there’s a lot of room to discuss a lot of things, and we’ll just see what comes out of that,” McDaniel said.

Most Democrats in the state Senate first “passed” on their votes when the bill came to the Senate floor, later revising their vote as “no,” protesting the effect the funding shortfall will have on Kentucky’s court systems.

Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, voted for the judicial branch budget.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, in explaining his “no” vote said the Senate should send the bill back to committee for amendments.

The bills now head to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk.


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