Lawmakers return to Frankfort for another round

By Roger Alford

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 5:10 p.m. MDT

In this LRC Public Information provided photo, House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of D-Sandy Hook, left, confers with House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown before the start of a special session in Frankfort, Ky., on Monday, April 16, 2012.

LRC Public Information, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawmakers hurriedly introduced two key bills dealing with highway construction and drug abuse Monday in hopes of wrapping up a $60,000-a-day special legislative session as quickly as possible.

Gov. Steve Beshear had called lawmakers back to the Capitol on Monday because they ended their 2012 session last week without passing legislation that would appropriate some $4 billion for road projects over the next two years and that would attempt to curb overdose deaths from widespread prescription drug abuse.

Logistically, Kentucky lawmakers need a minimum of five days to get legislation through both the House and Senate. If lawmakers can wrap up their work by the end of this week, the cost of the session would be limited to some $300,000.

"I would hope that we could get through in five days," House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Monday. "Nobody really wants to be here any longer than five days. I can assure of that, at least nobody in the House."

Kentucky's divided Legislature has a history of ending legislative sessions without budget agreements. The state's last three state operating budgets were adopted in special sessions called after lawmakers failed to reach accords.

The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate had passed the two-part, $10 billion road plan on Thursday, the final day of the regular session. One part lists $4.5 billion worth roads and bridges to be built across the state over the next two years. The other lists more long-term projects that would be on the drawing board for the following four years.

The bill includes funding for the state's single largest project: $2.6 billion for two bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville. It also includes $200 million to widen the heavily traveled Interstate 65, where numerous fatal traffic crashes have occurred in recent years. A crash on a rural stretch of the highway near Munfordville in 2010 killed 11 people, 10 of them members of a Mennonite family.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, had insisted that Beshear sign the nearly 400-page state road construction plan before the Senate would pass the accompanying transportation budget that would have provided funding for the projects. Williams said if the governor wants the transportation budget passed by the end of this week, he still must first sign the road construction plan into law.

"I will tell you without the fear of any contradiction that I don't believe this Senate will ever pass the budget bill until the governor tells us what he's going to do on the road plan," Williams said.

Williams challenged Beshear to sign the measure immediately.

Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson had no immediate comment.

Several Republican senators delivered floor speeches Monday defending Williams against criticism from Beshear in recent days that he was responsible for the impasse that led to the special session. One Democrat, Sen. Ray Jones of Pikeville, joined in Williams defense, saying he had never seen a lawmakers singled out for criticism the way Beshear singled out Williams.

"Let me just say that it sets a bad tone to come into this special session with the type of rhetoric that's been exchanged," he said.

The Beshear administration postponed the planned selection of three finalists competing for the chance to work on the bridge project. A spokesman for the Transportation Cabinet said in a statement Monday that narrowing the prospective builders from five to three will have to wait until the Legislature appropriates the money needed.

The transportation budget was filed in the House and Senate on Monday, as was the prescription drug bill. The tentative plan is to have Houe floor votes on Wednesday and Senate floor votes on Friday.

Proponents consider the prescription bill one of the most crucial for Kentucky, a state where officials say more people are dying from overdoses than car wrecks. Beshear put the number of deaths at more than 80 per month.

The bill would allow the attorney general's office to monitor the prescribing patterns of Kentucky physicians, which would allow police and prosecutors to take action against those who overprescribe.

Stumbo said some lawmakers will likely return any pay they receive during the special session. And he said lawmakers may revive legislation that has been proposed in the past to require lawmakers to forego pay when special sessions have to be called on budget issues.

"If this continues, there's going to have to be something like that done," Stumbo said.

In Kentucky, lawmakers called into special legislative sessions can consider only the items the governor puts on the agenda. So any such measures on legislative pay, including one introduced in the Senate on Monday, can't be considered during this special session that the governor limited to two items in hopes of wrapping up the work quickly.

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