Task forces on state pensions, juvenile justice and students put on hold by lawmakers' votes

06/14/2012 12:50 PM

(UPDATED with video) — Lawmakers who voted against approving an agenda at Wednesday’s Legislative Research Commission meeting had sought to make a point about responsible government but, in the process, indefinitely delayed the start of key legislative work.

A host of task forces and research projects on Kentucky’s prescription pill problem, juvenile justice system and the future of the state employee pension system cannot begin without approval of the Legislative Research Commission committee, which is is made up of leaders of both parties from the House and Senate.

On Wednesday, two House Republican leaders and three Democratic Senate leaders voted “No” on approving the agenda. House Republicans said they objected to the legislative branch covering the costs of lawyers to defend proposed state House and Senate redistricting maps in a court case in February. The Supreme Court ended up throwing out the case. And the lawyer for the legislative branch was Sheryl Snyder, who is set to be paid $45,000 for his work, according to state contract documents.

Of the 100 plus items on Wednesday’s agenda those minority caucus leaders objected to one item of new business, Item C — a memorandum regarding retention of counsel from Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

Republican Reps. Danny Ford (Mt. Vernon) and Bob DeWeese (Louisville) and Democratic Senate Leaders R.J. Palmer (Winchester), Johnny Ray Turner (Drift) and Jerry Rhoads (Madisonville) were the leaders who voted down the agenda, leaving the committee one vote shy of the nine needed to approve it. All five House Democratic leaders and the three Republican Senate leaders present voted for it.

House Republicans, who challenged the legitimacy of the maps, said taxpayers shouldn’t foot that bill. And in protest, the leaders of the minority caucuses in both chambers voted against the LRC meeting agenda.

“A motion to approve the agenda items failed. Therefore, no items on the agenda are to be considered approved, accepted, or referred,” an email from Legislative Research Commission Director Robert Sherman to all legislators and LRC staff said.

And the move by the House Republicans and Senate Democrats could be for naught. The Senate President and House Speaker have the authority to pay the lawyer fees of up to $125-an-hour, Sherman said in the email.

Sherman’s email, which was released to Pure Politics from Senate President David Williams’ office lists the committees and task forces that are now on the shelf until the LRC committee can meet again.

That includes an oversight committee to keep tabs on the implementation of rules related to prescription pills as part of the legislation the General Assembly passed in a special session in April as well as a task force that would study an age of criminal responsibility, status offenses involving runaway children, and other juvenile codes.

House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, a Hopksinville Democrat, told Pure Politics reporter Don Weber that he he was disappointed that work would be delayed.

Also being delayed will be a task force that would study potential reforms to Kentucky’s public employee pension system. But Democratic Rep. Mike Cherry, who chairs the House state government committee, said he’ll just call for two meetings of the group next month to make up for it.

Among the other key groups delayed are:

  • Committees dealing with elementary, secondary, and post secondary education.
  • A task force that would develop a strategy to provide computers to fifth and sixth grade students for school and home use.
  • A task force looking into healthy eating habits for Kentuckians.

Sherman’s email says that all of the items agenda items not considered will appear on a future LRC meeting agenda. A phone call to LRC Director Bobby Sherman was not immediately returned.

“It’s obviously going to push some of the work back. Some of these committees have required reporting timetables, which means they’ll have to double up on work. I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be done, though,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in a statement to Pure Politics.

No date has been set for the next LRC meeting.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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