By law, the only piece of legislation that the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly had to pass was a two-year state budget.
All else, as Will Rogers put it, is applesauce.
And with a session that began with a bang and ended with a whimper, it's what happened in between that House Speaker Greg Stumbo says lawmakers should be "proud" of.
Specifically, that they passed a compromised version of Gov. Steve Beshear's $20.3 billion state budget. House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, however, took to the editorial page of The Courier-Journal to vent about what he dubbed a "lackluster" session.
But the truth probably lies somewhere between the extremes of "proud" and "lackluster."
Many political observers noted a reluctance among lawmakers to tackle controversial measures—chief among them tax reform—because of the impending November elections that will prove as a test for House Democrats to retain their slim eight-seat majority.
Here's a look at the winners, losers and downright lost causes of the 2014 General Assembly.
The coal industry—A slate of coal-friendly bills easily cleared the legislature, including one that allows coal-fired power plants in the state to regulate their own carbon emission standards at lower-than-federal-levels. Lawmakers also approved a bill that provides a new round of tax incentives for coal and coal-related industries to subsidize their purchase of new equipment.
Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear have announced the creation of a 15-member executive committee to lead their SOAR initiative. They held a joint press conference Monday at Hazard Community College to discuss the appointments. Rogers and the Governor will co-chair the panel, which will be composed of public officials and leaders from the private sector.
The congressman says the group will keep listening to ideas to boost the region’s economy and improve its quality of life.
One of the executive committee’s first tasks will be hiring a permanent director, which it hopes to do by September. SOAR stands for “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” and was created to help eastern Kentucky recover from the slump in the coal industry and the loss of thousands of jobs.
A Kentucky Congressman is pushing legislation to force the withdrawal of a powerful painkiller from the market.
Somerset Republican Hal Rogers says the drug will only worsen the nation’s prescription drug abuse problems. Rogers describes Zohydro as a “crushable, pure hydrocodone pill” that threatens to become the next Oxycontin, another crushable painkiller that has been widely abused across the nation.
The Courier-Journal reports a single Zohydro pill has up to five times more hydrocodone that medications combined with non-addictive drugs, such as Vicodin.
In addition to the U.S. House legislation, a similar measure has been introduced in the Senate.
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has defended her agency’s approval of Zohydro, saying that the drug doesn’t contain the same risk of potentially fatal liver damage that is found in other pain-killing narcotics.
Over 40 consumer watchdog groups have petitioned the FDA to pull Zohydro off the market.
U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers says the federal government should have a role in spreading high-speed Internet access to the region's struggling coalfields.
The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that the spending bill passed by Congress last week included $10 million to expand broadband access to distressed areas of central Appalachia.
Rogers said he hopes that's the start of federal investments for broadband access in hard-hit coal regions. As chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Rogers will have an influential voice in that debate.
Rogers was at the Kentucky Capitol to support a plan outlined by Gov. Steve Beshear in his budget speech to lawmakers Tuesday night. Beshear is proposing a $100 million project to expand broadband access in Kentucky.
The proposal would be supported by $60 million in state bonds.
The Kentucky Supreme Court is considering a case that could have a major impact on criminal investigations in the commonwealth.
Floyd Grover Johnson was sentenced to 10 years in prison on multiple drug trafficking charges in Powell County.
But in his appeal, Floyd successfully argued that because the investigation leading to his indictment was conducted solely by uninvited law enforcement agencies outside of Powell County—including detectives from the Kentucky Attorney General's Office and officers working for Operation UNITE, an anti-drug enforcement non-profit founded by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers—then his 2009 indictment should be moot.
In oral arguments before the Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said that if Floyd's appeal is upheld, it could have severe implications for his office's ability to investigate a wide range of cases, from drug trafficking to child pornography.
"What is particularly concerning to the office of the Attorney General is to accept the ... argument would be to make the office of the Attorney General nothing more than a clerk for your local prosecutors, your local city council," Conway said. "I guess someone working at Walmart would have more investigative authority than the office of the Attorney General who’s given peace officer status.”
Another high-ranking Kentucky Republican lawmaker is predicting that there won’t be a government shutdown in January.
In an interview in his Washington office, Somerset Republican Congressman Hal Rogers told the Courier-Journal “if we don’t do something, there will be a shutdown, but we’re going to do everything possible to avoid it.”
Kentucky’s Fifth District Representative joins Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in calling on Congress to make sure there is not a repeat of the shutdown that closed the federal government for 16 days in October. The shutdown ended when a stopgap spending plan was passed that funds the government until January 15.
Congressman Rogers and his Democratic counterpart are asking a special budget conference group to send them overall government spending numbers by Thanksgiving, in order to expedite the process of creating a new spending plan.
In a speech to the nation Tuesday, President Obama will make his case for a U.S. military strike on Syria. Regardless of what the president says, some members of Kentucky’s federal delegation already have their minds made up.
Republican Congressman Thomas Massie says he will vote against any resolution authorizing military force against Syria for its government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. For one thing, Massie says he’s uncomfortable with the language in the president’s proposal.
"It's not limited geographically, it's not limited by type of engagement, and it's not limited by who we can engage, not just the Syrians," contends Massie.
Massie contends the civil war in Syria is not a matter of U.S. national security. Massie is joined by Congressman Ed Whitfield as solid “no” votes. U.S. Representatives Brett Guthrie, Hal Rogers, and Andy Barr, all GOP members, are still contemplating.
Two of Kentucky's elected leaders are joining their peers in asking a national clothing retailer to stop selling questionable pint and shot glasses.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset are asking retailer Urban Outfitters to stop selling an array of pint glasses, shot glasses and flasks that are made to look like prescription pill bottles.
The two men have consistently fought for laws to reduce Kentucky's prescription pill epidemic on both the state and federal levels.
In a news release, Conway said the fact that the retailer, which is known for selling ", is encouraging the mixture of alcohol and pills by their branding is even more disturbing.
U.S. Representative Hal Rogers has reintroduced legislation to preserve a Civil War site in southern Kentucky. The bill seeks to recognize the Mill Springs Battlefield site in Pulaski and Wayne counties.
The battle on January 19, 1862, was the second largest in Kentucky. The fight resulted in a Union victory and blazed the trail for Union troops to move from Kentucky into Tennessee.
The measure calls for a National Park Service study on incorporating the battlefield into the national park system. Currently the battlefield is being preserved through private sources. The Mill Springs Battlefield Association has led efforts to preserve the battlefield. More than 50,000 Civil War enthusiasts have visited the 500 acre site.
Other co-sponsors of the bill are Kentucky congressmen John Yarmuth, Brett Guthrie and Andy Barr.