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Kentucky LRC

Members of the Kentucky House and Senate will not meet in session Wednesday, but budget negotiations will continue. After talks came to a standstill this week, leaders from both chambers decided to work on the spending plan Wednesday and likely Thursday, and then call members back into session on Friday.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo was asked if this strategy would work. “If it doesn’t work, it won’t be because we didn’t try,” Stumbo said. “This is pretty normal in the closing days of a lot of sessions, there is a little bit of confusion. We are working very desperately to get a budget, very hard to get a budget.”

Both chambers remain divided on two key points: the Democratic House wants to restore proposed funding cuts to higher education. The Republican Senate wants to use money attained through reductions to address the state’s pension crisis.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is cautiously optimistic.

“Everything is in flux, but we’re not at a stalemate anymore,” said Thayer. “Conversations are cordial and I still feel like there’s a good chance we can come up with a compromise.”

Thayer said for a compromise plan to work, each side has to give a little. Neither chamber is scheduled to meet in session again until Friday.

J. Tyler Franklin

Lawmakers are back at the table after budget negotiations stalled Monday night amid deep differences over how to start fixing the state pension systems and how much money to cut from K-12 and higher education.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Bevin, along with Republican leaders of the House and Senate, held a formal press conference calling out Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo for delaying the budget process.

“There will be tremendous pain inflicted upon the people of Kentucky if the Speaker does not sit down and come up with a budget. It is up to him,” Bevin said.

Bevin accused Stumbo of “not taking this process seriously.”

House leaders later proposed the beginnings of a compromise plan. It includes some of Bevin’s proposals for the pension system, along with reduced cuts to education.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is raising the possibility of ending the current General Assembly session without a state budget.

Conferees from both chambers and both political parties met in public session Monday. Afterwards, Stumbo said the two parties are philosophically ‘light years’ apart.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is not ready to say that agreement is unattainable.

"There's a long time between now and midnight on April 12, so I'm not going to make a prediction like that, but for now, we are definitely at a standstill," Thayer remarked.

If they cannot agree on a compromise budget, Stumbo says the governor could only spend money for public protection, education, and federally mandated items.

The governor would also have to call lawmakers into a special session before the end of June to try to adopt a state budget.

Cheryl Beckley, WKU PBS

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell makes no secrets about his desire to block President Barack Obama’s agenda at almost every turn.

The latest flashpoint is the President’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

McConnell says the Senate won’t hold hearings for Garland. It’s a position McConnell took almost immediately after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The senior Senator from Kentucky believes Mr. Obama should let the next President fill the high court vacancy.

That position has been blasted by Democrats, who say McConnell is ignoring the president’s constitutional obligation to put forth a nominee, and the Senate’s obligation to provide advice and consent.

McConnell sat down with WKU Public Radio Monday to discuss the Supreme Court and the presidential contest.

The former secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet has been charged with accepting bribes to hire a consulting firm for the state’s employee health plan, which the cabinet administers.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington alleges Tim Longmeyer, who was until this week the state’s deputy attorney general, took more than $200,000 to persuade administrators of the state health plan — Humana and Anthem — to hire a consulting firm for public relations and focus group work.

The FBI also alleges he used his official position to steer work to a consulting firm in exchange for cash payments and contributions to political campaigns.

“A representative of the firm personally delivered the cash and conduit campaign contributions to Mr. Longmeyer,” U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey said in a press conference Friday.

Harvey refused to say which campaigns received contributions.

“We have no reason to believe that the candidates whose campaigns received the tainted funds were aware of the scheme or the illegal sources of the funds contributed to their campaigns,” he said.

The complaint alleges that the consulting firm was paid more than $2 million by Humana and Anthem.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The Kentucky House of Representatives has officially rejected the state Senate's budget proposal and appointed a conference committee to work out a compromise.

The Democratic majority of the state House did not concur with the Senate's changes to the more than $65 billion two-year state spending plan. House Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed six Democrats and three Republicans to the conference committee. Senate President Robert Stivers appointed six Republicans and four Democrats to the committee.

The key difference between the two sides is the $650 million in proposed spending cuts from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Senate Republicans mostly support the cuts while House Democrats mostly oppose them.

The committee met Thursday night and is scheduled to meet again on Friday. Leaders from both parties say they hope to have a compromise by Wednesday.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The Kentucky Senate passed a budget bill on Wednesday that contains most of Gov. Matt Bevin’s nearly across-the-board proposed spending cuts, including deep cuts to higher education.

The Senate budget also aligns closely with Bevin’s proposal to set aside money in the state rainy day fund and a “permanent fund” that Bevin says would be dedicated to shoring up the pension systems in the future.

Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee chairman Chris McDaniel said the proposal is “structurally balanced.”

“We have to address our current problems in order to be able to invest in our future opportunities,” he said. “There are no one-time moneys used for current expenses.”

Bevin proposed — with a few exceptions — cutting state spending in all departments by 9 percent over the next two years and 4.5 percent for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

LRC Public Information

Lawmakers’ state-run retirement funds would be subject to open records requests under a bill that a House committee approved Wednesday morning.

Legislators have drawn criticism because their pension system — the Kentucky Judicial Form Retirement System — is significantly better funded than the retirement funds for teachers, most state employees and state police.

The legislation would require state retirement systems to disclose pension payments to current and former members of the legislature.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Covington and sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers should open up their pensions to the public.

“Dedicated public servants, and our teachers, and our state police, and everyone else has a right to know — as do the taxpayers — whether we’ve got any kind of a conflict or whether we personally benefit,” he said.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The local option sales tax proposal is dying of neglect in the Kentucky Senate.

As the legislative session heads into its final days, the Senate has a full plate of bills to consider. And it appears the local option sales tax isn’t one of them.

The constitutional amendment would allow local governments to raise the sales tax by up to 1 percent if voters approve in local referenda. It has received strong support from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and been the focus of lobbying efforts from Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said he supports the bill. But he won’t shepherd it through his chamber.

“It’s not one of the issues that I’m out in front on, but if individuals can get a champion and garner the support, I will be voting for the bill,” he said.

Thinkstock

The state legislature would have the power to determine which felony offenses would qualify for voting rights restoration under a constitutional amendment approved by the Senate on Monday.

At present, the state constitution only allows a governor to restore the right to vote for those who have been convicted of a felony.

If the House and Gov. Matt Bevin also approve of the bill, a majority of Kentuckians would have to vote in favor of the measure in a referendum in November for the amendment to become law.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester and the amendment’s sponsor, said it would allow the legislature to be more flexible in the restoration process.

“Give us the authority, then we can define it,” he said. “If we need to reel it in, we can reel it in. If we need to expand it, we can expand it.”

Voting rights restoration bills have been proposed for well over a decade in the General Assembly. A proposal that passed the state House earlier this year would have automatically restored voting rights to Kentuckians who had finished serving time for certain nonviolent felonies.

Senate President Expects Budget Vote Soon

Mar 21, 2016
LRC Public Information

The leader of the Kentucky Senate says he’s anticipating a vote on the state budget Tuesday or Wednesday. But, Senate President Robert Stivers is concerned about leaving enough time to pass a spending plan.

House Democratic leaders initially proposed to borrow more than $3 billion to help resolve the state’s pension debts, but later rescinded that recommendation.  Stivers says that change removed at least one area of debate. “I think it was a move that was, by far, more fiscally responsible to put more monies into the pension plans than to try to bond it,” said Stivers.

Although much of Governor Bevin’s spending recommendations are included in the democratic house budget, there are also many changes. For instance, the house restored funding to higher education.

Creative Commons

The state House of Representatives approved a bill on Friday that would create a new class of criminal punishment called “gross misdemeanor.”

Included in the new category would be three crimes that are currently Class D felonies: flagrant non-support (not paying child support), second degree forgery and second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

Rep. Lew Nicholls, a Democrat from Greenup, said people who commit those crimes shouldn’t be charged with felonies, which could hinder future opportunities.

“Once they get a felony record, then that really creates a bad problem for them in trying to get a job for the rest of their lives,” he said.

LRC Public Information

Some Kentuckians with felony convictions would be eligible to have their voting rights restored under a bill that a Senate committee approved on Wednesday.

The bill would allow Kentuckians to vote on whether to give the legislature authority to determine which felony crimes would be eligible.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester and sponsor of the bill, said previous attempts to restore voting rights have gone about the process wrong.

“The bills that I felt had come before us about restoration of civil rights were not appropriately taken because we, as the General Assembly, did not have the authority per our constitution to do that,” he said.

Currently, only the governor can restore voting rights to those with felony convictions.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

After a five-hour debate, the state House of Representatives approved a budget bill on Wednesday. All 53 House Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while all 47 Republicans abstained.

The measure would restore cuts to K-12 and higher education made under Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget. It also would increase the state’s contribution to the teacher retirement system by taking money Bevin set aside for future contributions to the woefully underfunded pension systems.

The bill now heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it’s expected to change.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said the budget was an “education statement” by the House.

“I’d rather have the vote saying, ‘I voted in favor of restoring those cuts, I voted in favor of reducing the debt, I voted in favor of making sure the pension systems were sound, and I voted in favor of not letting the governor have a $500 million slush fund,’” he said.

johnwaynesmith.org

The embattled former director of a school for at-risk youth remains in the race for the Kentucky House of Representatives. 

John Wayne Smith of Warren County was convicted in federal court last month.  Smith is a Democrat from Smiths Grove who is challenging Brownsville Republican incumbent Michael Meredith.

Smith was found guilty of failing to report allegations that two teenage girls had been sexually abused by another staff member at the Bluegrass Challenge Academy where he served as the director.  The Fort Knox-based academy is a quasi-military school for students at-risk of not finishing high school. 

Smith will be sentenced May 19 and faces up to a year in prison and fines.  In an email to WKU Public Radio Wednesday, Smith said at this time, he remains in the contest.  House Republican leaders have called on him to exit the race before his sentencing.

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