Stumbo, Hoover say March special elections won't affect flow of legislation in House

01/07/2016 07:23 PM

FRANKFORT — In election-year sessions, the candidate filing deadline typically marks the date when more controversial or partisan legislation as incumbents look to avoid political challengers.

But even with the added dynamic of four special elections in the state’s House of Representatives that could tilt control of the chamber to a 50-50 tie, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Thursday he hopes to take action on House Bill 1 next week.

That legislation would authorize $3.3 billion in bond sales for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, giving the state some time to catch up on its actuarially required contributions to the pension.

“No,” Stumbo said flatly when asked whether the March 8 special elections would affect the flow of House priority bills.

The Senate’s Republican majority released its slate of priority legislation on Wednesday, and Stumbo said his House caucus would also offer bills on increasing the state’s minimum wage, authorizing local-option sales taxes and banning indoor smoking across the state.

But those pieces of legislation and their political implications likely will not play a major role in the four special elections, according to Stumbo.

Those contests are more about getting out the vote than campaigning on particular issues, he told reporters before gaveling in the House.

“Special elections in my judgment, and I came out of a special election when I returned to the House, aren’t really issue-driven,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “They’re more party-driven. They’re local issues, and whatever those local issues, I think, will trump whatever the state issues are.”

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover agreed that the special elections wouldn’t disrupt the flow of legislative action this year.

The lack of a constitutional majority in the House, however, could prevent the Democratic majority from taking certain actions, he said. Democrats have a 50-46 majority at present, one short of a 51-member constitutional majority.

“With the lack of a constitutional majority a lot of things change because the House Democrats cannot suspend the rules as long as all Republicans vote not to suspend the rules,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown. “They don’t have the votes to do that, and there are a lot of other issues that they simply cannot pass or even consider addressing, in my opinion, because of the tight margin.”

The House Democratic majority’s actions last year in giving freshmen Republican lawmakers just one committee assignment is still a point of contention for Hoover.

Still, he said that won’t affect how he wields the speaker’s gavel if given the opportunity, saying he would govern the House “in a fair manner.”

“I would intend to follow the rules at every time, which includes proportionate representation on committees,” Hoover said.

“That has been a problem since last January. I met with Democrat leadership on Tuesday, met with them again yesterday. I have submitted what we would recommend to try and address that problem that’s there on the lack of proportionate representation. I submitted that to them earlier today, and I hope to hear from them this afternoon or in the morning to address that issue. That will be a big step moving forward if they will address that issue.”

Some in his GOP caucus “are not happy” with the committee assignments, he added.

“Unless this problem is addressed, they are not going to be happy going forward,” Hoover said.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Wednesday that he’s unsure how his chamber’s priority bills will fare in the House given the political uncertainty there.

Stumbo, whose $3.3 billion bonding plan in HB 1 will likely be dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate after last session’s stalemate on KTRS funding and subsequent statements from Senate Republicans, pointed to educational improvements in Floyd County when asked about Senate Bill 1, which would repeal Common Core-based educational standards.

“I’d be reluctant to change our educational system,” he said. “I’m willing to listen, but I know it can be done because I saw it happen with my own eyes in Floyd County. If we can achieve those goals, it can be achieved anywhere in the state under existing law.”

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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