A Kinder, Gentler Frankfort?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

As the sun shone bright on my old Kentucky home the first day of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly, a clarion call for a new day and new ways of doing the people’s business rang out across the Republican- controlled State Senate. One could say leaders were trying to usher a kinder, gentler Frankfort sullied by a bruised image from political brawls and discord that’s caused key measures to languish unresolved or endure over-heated battles that tested the strength of the Capitol dome.

Last night on “Kentucky Tonight” with Bill Goodman, I couldn’t keep track of the number of times Governor Steve Beshear, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said they agreed with each other.

And today, after he was officially sworn in as president of the Senate, Stivers pledged a new chapter for Kentucky. In his first public statement after the elections propelling to him to the top Senate spot, the gentleman from Manchester, with a mountain population of 1600, answered the question he’d been asked many times: Will there be a new day in Frankfort? His answer:
“We can have differences and disagree without being disagreeable. Also, we need not dwell on the past.”

As a gesture to demonstrate more bipartisanship, Stivers announced that Senate Republican leadership had honored all of their Democratic counterparts’ committee requests. It was a move publicly applauded by Senate Democratic leader R.J. Palmer as it was not a routine practice heretofore.

But even though the atmosphere seemed rife with ‘melodies Kumbayah,’ new Senate majority floor leader Damon Thayer reminded the body of the difficult tasks that lay before them, which includes a $33 billion liability in the public employee pension system.

“How do we continue to fund it and do we create a new system that shares the risk between the employer and employee so that future General Assemblies aren’t faced with Kentucky’s own version of a fiscal cliff,” asks Thayer. He says the recommendations that resulted from a bipartisan panel represent a compromise in the truest sense: one that gives solutions for the unfunded liability and creating a system for new workers going forward similar to a 401K style plan available in the private sector. Thayer says he’ll file a bill to that effect later this session and he urged lawmakers to address the issue during the remaining days of the 30-day regular session.

In addition, Thayer added that doctors, hospitals and pharmacies are groaning loudly over the state’s new system of Medicaid-managed care because of delayed treatment authorizations and slow reimbursements. Moreover, he challenged lawmakers to deal with the prospect of Medicaid expansion under federal health care reform that could add 450,000 Kentuckians by 2016, which he says is unsustainable.

A new look at a recent law aimed at reining in prescription drug abuse by heavier regulation of pain management clinics or pill mills as they’re often pejoratively referred could come in the next three months. As Thayer put it on the Senate floor “we need to make adjustments on HB 1 to ensure regulations do not punish the innocent.”

Thayer’s reality check and others’ bi-partisan praisings were going on while House Democrats and Republicans caucused behind closed doors to select their party leaders. I’m not sure the tune of “Kumbayah” permeated those locked doors.

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