Frankfort – The 2019 regular session may have begun early last month, but it wasn’t until early last week that, like a train leaving the station, the legislative process began picking up steam.
That delay is by design. Under the constitutional rules governing odd-year meetings of the General Assembly, legislators only meet for four days in January and focus most of that time on such organizational matters as formally electing House and Senate leaders and establishing committees for the next two years.
The remaining 26 working days don’t begin until February, and are over by the end of March. These two months are when we decide which bills are destined to become law.
While relatively few votes were taken last week, this time was nonetheless important, since many of my colleagues and I began solidifying our priorities through the bills we filed. Our overall goals are to use these two dozen or so days to improve school safety; expand access to voting; broaden educational opportunities; and improve economic policies that benefit us all, not a select few. I will cover those more fully in the next week or two.
Governors also use these opening days to promote their own agenda. Their State of the Commonwealth speech has long been a tradition, and it’s special, too, because this is the only time each year that leaders of all three branches of government are in the same room.
Governor Bevin presented this year’s address on Thursday, and he focused most of his remarks on bigger issues rather than specific bills. Some that he listed have near-unanimous support, such as the need to do even more to tackle the opioid epidemic, improve school safety, reduce bullying and increase the number of foster children who are adopted by loving families.
He also highlighted the positive upgrades that have been made at our state parks and with bridges that have long been in need of repair.
Outside of the legislative process, there were some other important events taking place at the Capitol last week.
In especially good news, we learned on Friday that Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro will be able to serve his complete term following his opponent’s decision to drop an election contest. As you may recall, Rep. Glenn won his seat by a single vote last November and was certified both locally and statewide by election officials.
The election contest was formally brought before the House last month in large part because of more than a dozen absentee ballots that were rejected in November because they did not meet statewide standards. A recount a little more than a week ago showed Rep. Glenn did indeed win the race, but after some of the ballots that had been rejected were accepted, the outcome was a tie.
Friday’s decision fortunately ends this issue, but there is broad agreement that changes need to be made so that close legislative elections in the future can be resolved in a fairer and quicker way without dominating the General Assembly’s time.
In other actions last week, the House began commemorating Black History Month, recognizing the contributions of such leaders as Dr. Grace James, who was the first African-American faculty member at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine.
Following a request from one of my House colleagues, meanwhile, the Attorney General issued an opinion stating that the recent emergency regulation limiting public access within the Capitol complex violates state law.
While safety is certainly important, the long-standing security measures in place were appropriate. I believe this regulation is more about keeping the public from being fully heard in the People’s House while we debate controversial bills; it certainly does not meet the definition of emergency.
Economically, we heard some good news last Wednesday regarding our bourbon and farming communities.
That morning, the House Agriculture Committee learned that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has approved requests by farmers to grow as many as 42,000 acres of industrial hemp in 2019. That’s up from 16,000 acres last year and just 33 acres in 2014, the first year the crop could be grown in Kentucky.
Later that afternoon, the Kentucky Distillers Association reported that the number of distilleries in the state and the value of their spirits have tripled over the past decade. The payroll for those working in the industry now tops $1 billion, and there were 1.4 million people who visited the Bourbon Trail in 2018, which is nearly four times as many as in 2009.
This week, we should begin seeing more bills clearing the House and Senate, and it’s possible some may be ready to be signed into law.
I will keep you updated on these and many other issues facing the General Assembly, and I encourage you to keep letting me know your thoughts as well. Your calls, emails, letters and in-person visits are critical in guiding me how to vote.
You can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305.
The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov.