Kentucky lawmakers, many for the first time, have taken their seats for this winter’s legislative session. The gavel fell in both the house and senate around noon today. While many rookie legislators got their first taste of Frankfort politics, veterans were already at work throughout the capitol building, setting the general assembly’s agenda.
At the state capitol, smart lawmakers pay attention to what’s said on the house and senate floors, and in the hallways. Well before the first legislator entered either chamber, tea party supporters rallied under the capitol rotunda against federal health care reforms.
Just upstairs in the Senate chamber, still more than an hour from the opening gavel, a ceremonial swearing-in for Laurel County’s Albert Robinson took place..
Robinson returns to the senate after eight years away from Frankfort. He didn’t plan on leaving in 2004, but was ousted from office. He comes back advocating for what he termed ‘God’s people.”
Over in the house, newcomer Diane Saint Onge also raised her right hand and took the oath of office. The brand new state representative from Northern Kentucky hopes she can find common ground with her new colleagues.
“Everyone has their values. They have their ideas about how to fix a problem. None of that should be minimized. You need to respect the individual and take it from there. And I think, if everyone does respect each other, works together, I think collaboration is possible,” said Saint Onge.
Among the people attending the ceremonies was Margie Montgomery with Kentucky Right to Life. The Louisville anti-abortion rights activist has worked the capitol’s corridors since 1973.
“Because we believe in the sacredness of human life and we know that so far in our nation 55 million babies have lost their lives by legalized abortion…55 million,” said Montgomery.
Another regular visitor to the state capital is Lexington’s Don Pratt…. who today stood behind a sign protesting mountaintop removal mining. Pratt cites Hurricane Sandy as evidence fossil fuels damage the environment.
“I’m still here. They haven’t changed our policy in Kentucky yet to destroy the mountains in order to get the coal,” said Pratt.
Over the last two years, Pratt says he’s stood outside the governor’s office, sign in hand, about once a week. When the legislature’s in session, he makes the trip to Frankfort about three times a week.
Wayne Young has spent 30 years lobbying for the School Administrators Association. These days, Young says his job has gotten harder.
“It’s always been partisan, but it seems like it’s more splintered now. There’s not one agenda or one point of view. Even among the same party, you have people going off in different directions, so it’s harder to pull people together,” explained Young.
The actual work done by lawmakers on day-one was relatively light, such as approving the rules they’ll follow over the next 30 days.
“Motion made and seconded for the adoption of house resolution number one, which is the adoption of temporary rules that the house will operate under during this session. Is there discussion? Chair seeing none, are you ready for the question? Those in favor signify by saying Aye. Aye. Those opposed nay, the ayes have it. And the resolution is adopted,” said Speaker Greg Stumbo.
The first real test of collaboration may not come this week. Lawmakers will spend the next few days in ethics training, ironing out committee assignments, and developing priorities. The bigger test likely comes in February, when lawmakers return for the real meat of the session.