A swearing-in ceremony for returning state Senator Albert Robinson.
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News
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.
The second meeting of the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission will soon begin sorting through the details of its efforts to bring legalized hemp to Kentucky. The commission will work on the details of a new legislative bill proposal, such what the bill will include and which legisators will sponsor it during the 2013 session, said the chairman, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
The State Senate Republican Caucus has officially nominated Senator Robert Stivers for Senate president. Stivers’ new role won’t be official until it’s voted on by the full chamber in early January. But the GOP holds a 24-14 advantage, meaning Stivers is all but certain to succeed former Senate President David Williams. Williams left the Senate to take a position as a circuit judge.
Just weeks before Lexington gets down to the nitty gritty work on a new budget, it’s lost two top fiscal experts. City Budget director Ryan Barrow is moving onto the state Office of Financial Management. Plus, in January, Lexington Finance Commissioner Jane Driskell will become the governor’s budget director. “Working in local government you keep up with trends at the state budget level and also at the federal budget level, so hopefully my learning curve will be shorter than somebody coming in that didn’t have that prior experience,” said Driskell.
Kentucky's state pension plans have problems, and a bipartisan legislative task force has approved sweeping recommendations to overhaul them -- including putting new employees in a hybrid plans akin to 401Ks. The task force -- with an 11-1 vote -- is recommending that the General Assembly start fully funding their pension contributions starting with the next budget in 2014. Lawmakers’ inability to do that is part of the pension plans problems.
Kentuckians who owe state taxes now have just two weeks to take advantage of an amnesty program. Delinquent taxpayers can pay what they owe and avoid penalties, fees, and additional interest. Kentucky Secretary of Finance and Administration Lori Flanery says it’s been ten years since Kentucky has offered tax amnesty. “The amount of money that is anticipated is about 55 million dollars. In the 2002 effort, there was actually 40 million dollars collected,” said Flanery.
Kentucky Democrats successfully defended their control of the state House -- but they're now stranded on a political island. It appears that Republicans will take control of the Arkansas House of Representatives, leaving Kentucky as the only southern state with a Democratic-controlled House. And that will make Kentucky House Democrats a big blue target in future years.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is recovering from minor eye surgery. Beshear developed a detached retina this past weekend and his office says he had minor surgery on Monday to reattach it. Spokeswoman Kerri Richardson says there was no injury that caused the retina to detach. The surgery will require the governor to limit his travel for the next week.
The first ever Republican state Senate president will end his 12-year reign by taking a circuit court judgeship back home. David Williams will resign his leadership position and Senate seat next week to start a judgeship that he was appointed to by his chief rival, Gov. Steve Beshear. It ends Williams' nearly 30-year legislative career, which included more than a decade as his chamber's leader. Williams leaves his party with a "super majority" in a Senate that's part of a divided state government
The state’s leading authority on juvenile justice says he would like to see status offenders kept out of incarceration facilities. A status offense is something a youth gets in legal trouble for, but an adult wouldn’t. Common status offenses are running away from home or skipping school. Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Hasan Davis says he believes status offenders shouldn’t be held in a detention center for minor offenses.
Kentucky Senate Republicans have established a succession plan in the case their current leader, David Williams, is appointed into an open judgeship in his district. Williams is considered a leading candidate for the open circuit court judgeship that covers his home county. Governor Steve Beshear, Williams’s main enemy in Frankfort, has the final say over who is appointed to finish the two year term. And Beshear hasn’t ruled out appointing Williams if his name shows up on the nomination list.
More than two thousand absentee ballots have been sent to Kentuckians in military service and other voters overseas. With the presidential election less than six weeks away, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says it’s important to allow for time and distance. “The process of receiving, filling out, and returning an absentee ballot, whether you are in the middle east or here in the United States, it can take weeks, especially for those active duty military members that I saw,” said Lundergan Grimes.
A second legislative hearing on Kentucky’s federally-mandated health insurance exchange led to a dramatic walkout by Democrats to Wednesday. For the second consecutive time, the interim joint Health and Welfare committee saw their meeting devolve into arguments over the exchange. And this time, a motion by Republicans to register a vote of disapproval against the exchange led every Democrat to get up and leave in the middle of the meeting.
Kentucky Republicans have unveiled a new legislative platform to help boost their chances of winning the state House this fall. The GOP needs to win 9 seats in order to take the House majority. Wednesday, they unveiled the agenda they'll enact if they win those seats in November. House Republican leader Jeff Hoover says, among other goals, the GOP wants to change the state tax code.
State Forecasters predicted 3% revenue growth this year, but so far this summer, state revenues have been flat. While there’s no need yet for alarm, Budget Director Mary Lassiter says steady declines in income and sales taxes is cause for concern. It’s still early in the state’s fiscal year, and the Commonwealth has until next summer to improve revenues.
Governor Steve Beshear has promoted his deputy chief of staff to the top spot. Louisville native Larry Bond was named chief of staff today. He replaces Mike Haydon, who died unexpectedly earlier this month. Bond was named to the deputy spot two years ago, after spending years in various roles in state government. He also worked in Louisville city government for years, including time as the city’s chief administrative officer.
Kentucky lawmakers will consider a medical marijuana bill in 2013. The legislation has been pre-filed by Louisville Senator Perry Clark. It would allow patients with a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS, cancer, and other serious medical conditions. The measure also establishes a network of state regulated dispensaries where patients could purchase medical marijuana.
A second chance for thousands of Kentucky businesses to make required filings with the Secretary of State’s office is about up. Entities authorized to transact business in Kentucky were required to file annual reports and pay a 15 dollar fee no later than July second of this year. Those businesses which missed the July deadline were notified they were no longer in good standing with the state. Officials with the Secretary of State’s Office say they now have until September tenth to remedy the delinquency before being administratively dissolved or having their certificates of authority revoked.
Governor Steve Beshear says he will appoint a new chief of staff soon, despite still being saddened by the sudden loss of his former chief of staff, Mike Haydon. Haydon died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this month. Haydon worked in government for more than three decades, and had been Beshear's chief of staff since 2010.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says he is restarting the long-dormant Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission. The General Assembly created the commission ten years ago to look into hemp's potential in the commonwealth, but it has never met. This morning, Comer announced that he is reforming the commission and, per state law, he will be the chairman.
Two of Kentucky's highest profile Democrats say they are not interested in taking on U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014. Attorney General Jack Conway, who ran for Senate in 2010 against Republican Rand Paul, says he isn't interested in running for the chamber again.
A leading advocate of Kentucky's new prescription pill law says he's ready to listen to doctors who want to change it. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has made fighting prescription pill abuse one of his top priorities. Earlier this year, he was a leading supporter of House Bill 1, which mandates that most doctors use the KASPER pill tracking system.
Governor Steve Beshear says he's interested in a so-called hybrid approach to pension reform. Lawmakers are discussing how to fix the flailing public pension plans for state and county employees. They'll make recommendations at the end of the year. Beshear says he would support a plan, that allows current to employees keep their pensions, but require new employees to pay into a 401k-type plan.
Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen is encouraging local officials to help him find out about the state’s hundreds of special taxing districts. A special taxing district is a quasi-governmental agency—such as a local sewer system or public library—that gets its funds from a separate tax. No one knows how many such districts there are in the state. And since the spring, Edelen has set out to find and catalog all of the districts, then see if any are abusing public funds.
The chair of Kentucky’s tax commission says a sweeping overhaul of the state's tax code isn't in the works. Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson says, in his heart, he wants to see a major change in the tax code.
A federal judge's ruling could open the door to the sale of hard liquor and wine in grocery stores. Currently state law allows grocery stores to only sell beer, while liquor stores and drug stores can sell beer, wine and liquor. After years of unsuccessful lobbying to change the law, grocery associations sued in federal court last year. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II in Louisville handed down a ruling in their favor today, declaring that the ban is unconstitutional.