Senate sends two more priority bills to House as lawmakers adjourn until Feb. 3

01/09/2015 06:00 PM

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Senate continued to churn through its legislative priorities Friday, approving a constitutional amendment that would nullify administrative regulations found deficient by lawmakers and a measure mandating women seeking abortions obtain face-to-face consultations with their physicians before the procedure.

The bills have been previously passed the chamber only to stall in the House.

Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican and sponsor of Senate Bill 2, said the governor can direct agencies to enact regulations even if the legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee votes them down.

SB 2, which passed 24-11 with Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, voting against it, would amend the Kentucky Constitution to state regulations found deficient by lawmakers would be unenforceable. The proposed amendment would be put to voters in the 2016 election cycle.

“Currently the General Assembly does not have the authority to prevent a regulation from becoming effective when the General Assembly is not in session,” Bowen said in a floor speech, noting that the constitutional amendment route is necessary in his opinion because previous efforts at simply changing the law were found unconstitutional.

Bowen argued that SB 2 would restore a balance of power between the legislature and the executive branch, but others contended the measure would place too much power in the General Assembly’s hands, particularly the review subcommittee that currently has six members from the Senate and House.

Senate Minority Caucus Chairman Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, called the measure “radical” while Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, said SB 2 “is a solution in search of a problem.”

“By that I mean currently we have had less than 1 percent, currently in 2013, we had less than 1 percent of submitted regulations that were found deficient,” Ridley said. “No regulations were found deficient in the year 2012. Only one regulation was found deficient in 2011, and that was withdrawn by the agency.

A similar amendment passed the legislature in 1990, but the electorate voted it down by a 2-to-1 margin, he said.

“I think the people of Kentucky at that time 25 years ago plus saw that it was not a good idea, and I believe that this proposed amendment also continues the same process of damaging the balance of power, Mr. President, that we have enjoyed over the many years of this current constitution.”

The chamber also passed by 30-5 vote Senate Bill 4, which would require an in-person visit with a doctor 24 hours before an abortion. Democrats comprised the dissenters, with Democratic Sens. Julian Carroll of Frankfort, Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown, Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg, Robin Webb of Grayson and Ridley supporting the bill.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, SB 4’s sponsor, said the bill would clarify existing law because some practitioners use pre-recorded telephone messages before such procedures to meet current legal standards.

“The importance of a face-to-face medical consultation prior to consenting to a surgical procedure is a widely accepted medical standard of care, and Kentucky women deserve no less,” said Adams, R-Louisville.

Some Democrats decried the bill, with Sen. Denise Harper Angel of Louisville calling SB 4 burdensome for women in rural areas and Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington accusing supporters of wanting “to make women engage in this walk of shame, go into a doctor’s office because she finds herself in this situation.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, though, called informed consent “an ethical doctrine” to help patients make informed, voluntary choices in their medical care.

“I don’t see how anyone could possibly want to restrict this from an individual,” Alvarado, R-Winchester, said, noting the bill would cover other procedures like organ transplants. “Informed consent should be looked on as a process rather than just a signature on a form or a recording to played.”

Before the Senate took up the bills, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he agrees in principle with SB 2, although he doesn’t believe the legislature needs to pass a constitutional amendment to accomplish that goal.

When told the chamber planned to take up the informed consent bill, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, feigned shock before dumping cold water not only on SB 4, but the GOP-led Senate’s slate of legislative priorities.

“Really? Really? My God, what a surprise,” he said.

“I noticed last night as I was leaving that the infamous buzzards that come and go at the Capitol were again circling. It was a clear sign that they’re waiting for the Senate agenda to arrive in the House.”

Friday marked the end of a four-day organizational period, primarily for the House, in the 30-day session. The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene Feb. 3 for the remaining 26 days in the session.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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