Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Lines drawn on legislative sessions

Idea on ballot a fourth time since 1969

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — Supporters of annual sessions for the Kentucky General Assembly are confident of passage for a proposal rejected three times in 31 years.

        Under the proposal, the legislature would meet in odd years for not more than 30 working days. Three-fifths votes in the House and Senate would be needed to pass any budget or tax items, but the agenda for the new sessions would have no other restrictions.

        “It's the last important measure ... to make sure that the General Assembly is a cohesive government,” said House Speaker Jody Richards, who supports the initiative.

        Next week, Kentuckians for Progress, a group of citizens and corporations who support annual sessions, will sponsor a statewide poll on the amendment.

        Bob Babbage, a former state auditor and secretary of state, is chairing the pro-amendment group, as he did in 1998 when a similar proposal was defeated by the voters. He said Mr. Richards and Senate President David Williams will play major roles in the campaign for passage.

        Bringing the issue up for another vote is senseless, said former Gov. Brereton Jones, an opponent of annual sessions.

        “It seems a little insulting to just keep coming right back answering the same question over and over again,” Mr. Jones said. “It's kind of like the guy who gets his face slapped, then comes back and asks for another date.”

        In 1998, the Kentucky Farm Bureau and Kentucky Medical Association led a very public campaign against annual sessions.

        This year, the Farm Bureau again opposes yearly sessions. But a bureau spokesman said the group has more pressing issues.

        The Kentucky Medical Association, another big spender in past opposition efforts, also hasn't taken a position. The matter could come up at a meeting of the policy-making body in two weeks, a spokesman said. The group represents 6,000 doctors.

        Mr. Babbage said about $10,000 has been raised, but a more aggressive push for passage of the amendment will kick off next month.

        He said supporters will wait until October to start campaigning because it's “the last thing voters decide on, not the first. It would be futile to try to start discussion on this today.”

        Gov. Paul Patton initially said he would lead the fight against the amendment. This week, Mr. Patton said through a spokesman he will not take a position.

        The legislature now meets in even-numbered years for 60 working days, departing by April 15. In odd-numbered years, legislators can take up to 10 days to organize, but not conduct any substantive business.

        The latest proposal would require lawmakers to wrap up their business by March 30 in odd years.

        A similar amendment was defeated, 51 percent to 49 percent, in 1998. Kentucky voters also rejected yearly session proposals in 1969 and 1973.

        Supporters say annual sessions allow lawmakers to have more oversight over state agencies and provide for more orderly introduction of legislative issues, decreasing the last-minute logjam of legislation.

        Opponents argue that if lawmakers meet annually, the General Assembly will become less representative of the people, more costly and less efficient.


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