The end is a great start

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Editorial: March 31, 2013

ISSUE:2013 General Assembly
OUR VIEW: A bit of fresh air

“We sent a positive message that we did what our constituents wanted us to do,” Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said as lawmakers closed this year’s session of the General Assembly in Frankfort.

While in session, lawmakers passed a state pension reform bill, made it easier for deployed military personnel to vote, paved the way for a Christians-only health plan again to operate in the state and said it’s OK to sell liquor on election days.

They also approved a plan that raises the high school drop-out age to 18, and another that allows students with disabilities to receive high school diplomas.

They also created a framework to develop a hemp industry, if the federal government ever allows it.

It is remarkable there was an agreement on pension reform, one of the top priorities for the session. On Monday, the day before the session’s end, Gov. Steve Beshear presented a plan to fellow Democrats who soundly rejected it. But negotiations continued and late Tuesday lawmakers approved a plan designed to generate some $100 million to pay down the unfunded liability of the state employees’ pension fund.

The 2013 plan creates a 401(k)-like plan for new state employees — including lawmakers. It’s almost enough to make Capitol-watchers giddy. Will it fix the problem? Who knows. Lawmakers thought they fixed the problem with a 2007 reform plan. They hadn’t.

The Democrat-controlled House tackled another top priority when it passed a crazy redistricting plan that, among other things, carved up Hardin County like an Easter ham. It was rejected by the Republican-led Senate. Senators deliberately put off addressing their own redistricting dilemma until next session.

Other issues that fell by the wayside:

  • Whether Medicaid-managed care organization should reimburse hospital for all types of emergency care.
  • A measure against dating violence that would have allowed couples who don’t live together to obtain protection orders.
  • Lawmakers did not take up legislation that would have allowed Western Kentucky aluminum smelters to buy electricity on the open market, setting the stage for possible shutdowns and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Either way, rate payers to the west of Hardin County are likely to see huge increases in electric bills.
  • Lawmakers continue to require telephone companies to provide basic service to all homes.
  • Legislation to nullify federal guns laws went nowhere, as did a measure that would have eliminated constables and a requirement to collect DNA samples from those arrested on felony charges.

These are important measures, some of which are better left dead.

By the standards set in the last decade which include bitter partisan sniping and gamesmanship and expensive special sessions to complete the most basic of legislators’ jobs — budgets — this does appear to have been a successful session.

How much of that success can be attributed to the absence of long-time Senate President David Williams is unclear, but the tenor of the conversation under the capitol dome certainly seems to have changed.

There’s still room for improvement. Too many negotiations took place behind closed doors. Last-minute wrangling also means legislators voted on measures without the opportunity fully to study, digest and confer with others.

The next time the General Assembly convenes a biennial budget and redistricting for both houses will be on the agenda. Let’s hope the spirit of cooperation continues.