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.
The sponsors of a pair of bills that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses in Kentucky say their proposed legislation has been stalled in the General Assembly.
Louisville Republican Julie Denton filed one of the bills in the Senate. And she's been frustrated by what she sees as the inability of both parties to support the issue.
“There are so many compelling things that I don’t understand why we can’t get this to move forward in either chamber," said Rep. Denton. "So obviously it’s not a partisan issue, it’s both sides. It’s all sides. I’m frustrated.”
Last week, Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom declared her smoking-ban bill “dead” after House leadership refused to bring the measure to the floor.
Tobacco companies have spent nearly $70,000 in the first month of the 2014 General Assembly, according to lobbying data from the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission
And the sponsor of a bill that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses says that that money is sowing doubt over its chances in the House.
Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat, is the sponsor of the statewide smoking ban bill, which has languished on the House floor for over three weeks. She says that tobacco lobbyists routinely influence rural legislators and leadership of both parties to avoid tackling the issue.
“This does not surprise me, because they want to make sure that legislators who have a tobacco farmer in their backyard, they want them to believe that any tobacco farmer will be greatly offended if they support a health issue related to smoke-free.”
Two Kentucky lawmakers plan to file bills that would create a statewide smoking ban—an idea supported by Governor Steve Beshear.
The smoking ban measures are being championed by a bipartisan duo: Democratic Representative Susan Westrom of Lexington and Republican Senator Julie Denton of Louisville. The lawmakers point out that January marks the 50th anniversary of the first-ever report from the U.S. Surgeon General on smoking and health. That report is credited with helping to change public attitudes on the dangers of smoking.
Several Kentucky towns have passed ordinances that don’t allow smoking at work or public places. But supporters point out that nearly two-thirds of the commonwealth remains uncovered by such a ban.
Opponents say individual businesses should be able to determine whether or not they allow smoking on their premises.
Gov. Beshear voiced his support for a comprehensive ban during his “State of the Commonwealth” address Tuesday.