Time for bills in General Assembly getting tight as lawmakers head into second half of 30-day session

02/18/2017 05:30 PM

FRANKFORT – With this year’s 30-day legislative session entering its second half next week, lawmakers are working to ensure a number of bills reach Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk before the General Assembly adjourns sine die.

While anything can be resuscitated through amendments or tacked onto so-called “Christmas tree” bills at the 11th hour, many pieces of legislation will wither without movement next week. House Speaker Jeff Hoover told representatives Friday, the 14th legislative day in the session, that the 533 bills filed in the lower chamber broke the record for short sessions, a feat also achieved by the Senate with its 249 pieces of legislation this year.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters that some issues could be resolved within five days, the minimum amount of time to move bills through the General Assembly.

“But with the volume, the discussions that’ll be going on between the respective chambers, you can kind of take it as a rule of thumb that next week is the flipping point,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he doesn’t like to draw “a line in the sand in saying that there is a point of no return.”

“But I think it’s important that bills that we want the House to consider that start in the Senate need to be out of the Senate by the end of next week and vice versa,” he told Spectrum News in an interview Friday.

“House bills that they want us to consider probably need to be passed out of the House by the end of next week, but there’s still enough days if there are some stragglers to deal with we can do that, but for the most part, the bulk of the bills that are going to have any chance of passing will be out of the chamber of origin by the end of next week.”

The General Assembly’s pace, as expected, has slowed considerably since sending seven bills to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk in the opening five days of the 2017 session.

Since then, only one bill – House Bill 174 – has passed both chambers. Twenty-two Senate bills are pending in the House, one more than the number of House bills awaiting consideration in the upper chamber.

Stivers and Thayer say they expect action soon on legislation that would codify performance-based funding calculations for state colleges’ and universities’ appropriations, filed as Senate Bill 153. That bill received its second reading Friday, and Thayer said it will be “the biggest thing that the Senate will probably consider next week.”

Other issues on their radars include a criminal justice reform bill aiming to help felons find work, establishing medical review panels in malpractice lawsuits, expanding the number of veterinarian and optometric degrees available at postsecondary schools, and increasing political fundraising limits, among others.

“Plenty of work to be done,” Thayer said. “We still have a number of reorganization bills to consider in the House and the Senate that the Bevin administration has requested. Over here in the Senate, we haven’t even begun dealing with the dozens and dozens of confirmations that we have to consider of Governor Bevin’s appointees to various boards and commissions, so there’s a lot to do and we’re going to be here right up until the last day dealing with those on March 30th.”

Senate Bill 120, the criminal justice package, was met with some skepticism in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but Stivers predicted that the measure would ultimately pass.

Stivers called SB 120 “good policy” but understood that the measure could seem like “a big bite to take” for those unfamiliar with the criminal justice system.

“I think we’re stepping back a little bit,” he said. “The Governor’s Office, working with them, with (Sen. Whitney Westerfield), some of the other stakeholders to try to educate some of the members who aren’t in the area of the practice of law, that don’t deal with that type of situation when they leave the confines of the Capitol.”

Stivers also said talks have progressed in getting a charter school bill through the legislature, with stakeholders “generally” agreeing on conceptual aspects of the legislation. House Education Committee Chairman Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, filed the third charter school bill in the legislature Friday, the last day to file House bills.

Bringing the state into compliance with the federal REAL ID law is another legislative item Stivers anticipates lawmakers will pass this session. Kentucky has received an extension until June 6 to become compliant with the law requiring improved security measures for drivers’ licenses issued by the state.

“I think there will be and I know there has been discussions about how we can work through that and calm some peoples’ fears,” Stivers said.

Hoover, R-Jamestown, did not speak with reporters after the House adjourned Friday. A spokeswoman said he was running late for a flight. House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, declined an interview request after adjournment, saying he had another engagement to attend.

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