Special session update: It's all up in the air

05/27/2010 10:55 PM

Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, talks with Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown

FRANKFORT — Nothing appears settled heading into the the fifth day — and what lawmakers hope is the final one — of the special legislative session.

Of course, it just wouldn’t be a meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly if the last hours didn’t promise to be frantic or dramatic.

The four major issues Gov. Steve Beshear called lawmakers back to Frankfort to address all have question marks hanging over them.

  • The Senate’s transportation cabinet hasn’t even taken up the road projects bills yet. Getting House Democrats and Senate Republicans to agree on the list of construction projects was a major sticking point heading into the session.
  • Perhaps the most innocuous sounding bill on the special session agenda — one that would allow free bourbon tasting at this fall’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games — has unleashed bitterness and confusion in the House. It already failed on a House floor vote once. And even though the Senate passed a version to keep it alive, House leaders weren’t optimistic Thursday that the measure would pass.
  • And the Senate budget panel made changes to the state’s two-year spending plan Thursday night. If the full Senate approves it Friday morning, as expected, House leaders must review and decide whether to agree with the changes.

Job No. 1 of the special session was the budget. And heading into Friday, it appears the closest to coming together.

The Senate made some tweaks to the House version of the $17.1 billion two-year state spending bill. And the plan found a way to help fix the state’s most dilapidated buildings, which should please several House Democrats who complained during Wednesday’s budget debate that they were disappointed the House plan merely called for a statewide study of which schools were crumbling the fastest.

While no lawmaker seemed happy about the budget this week, most said they felt they could live with it.

“It’s a bad budget,” said Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, a Louisville Democrat, after voting for it Thursday night in the Senate budget committee. “But given the circumstances, I don’t think we could do much more.”

The Senate stripped out some of the key priorities the House wanted and put them into an amendment along with some provisions Senators were pushing for. That would make it easier for the leaders of the two chambers to negotiate Friday, said Sen. Bob Leeper, a Paducah independent and chairman of the budget committee.

“I think they will have the opportunity to look at these issues, make a determination, and in the end they will have an opportunity to pass a budget,” Leeper said shortly after his committee finished its work at 9 p.m. Thursday. “And do it tomorrow — hopefully.”

- Ryan Alessi

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