Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Hoover’

Map Drawing, Hemp Growing, and God-loving Issues Press Lawmakers

Friday, March 8th, 2013

By a mostly party-line vote, the Kentucky state House advanced Democratic leadership’s plan to redraw boundaries for House districts on Wednesday.

Legislative lines drawn last year were declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court and it left the mapping scheme from 2002 in place. Redistricting is required after a decennial census to take into account shifts or growths in population. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the mastermind of the remapping plan before the House mid-week, called the chore personal and often divisive, claimed it’s a mere puzzle of math. His House Bill 2 splits 24 counties which is the minimum, mandated number by the courts; the two additional counties that are split are Graves in the west and Harlan County in the east. It also pairs 11 Republican incumbents against each other and one Democrat against a Republican in the new mapping scheme. A contentious calculation in the redraw is the exclusion of the federal prisoner population. To that point, Speaker Stumbo gave this explanation.

In an inquiry from House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo acknowledged that both the congressional and judicial maps drawn and adopted last year included a count of federal prisoners. The inquisition into that sticking point was pursued even further by Representative Hoover.

Hoover continued a diatribe about rule-breaking referring to a plan for funding public pensions and other matters. Hoover accused House Democratic leadership of using adjusted, manipulated numbers this year that they didn’t use last year to achieve a political goal of maintaining control in the House.

In a rare floor speech, Republican Jill York did some numbers crunching of her own. The House Democrats redistricting plan pits her in a district with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.

Several aggrieved by the new map proposal rose to denounce it. House Speaker Greg Stumbo was unmoved and in his signature country lawyer vernacular he spouted that when it comes to redrawing legislative lines “somebody’s ox is getting gored.” While he had the body’s attention, he also rebuffed accusations that he’s obstructing compromise or passage of two prominent bills this session: public pension reform and hemp.

After about 85 minutes of floor debate, House Democratic leadership’s new maps for state House districts cleared the House in mostly partisan divide 53 to 46.

The hemp bill Speaker Stumbo alluded to cleared the House Agriculture committee Wednesday morning with minimal opposition. Whether or not the measure, Senate Bill 50, gets a floor vote in the House is concerning supporters. The Speaker claims the hemp measure contains an appropriation, and applying his logic means the measure should have originated from the House. And, the Speaker also isn’t convinced a state law is necessary and asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to render an opinion. On Thursday, as Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal wrote “the attorney general agreed with Stumbo that Kentucky would be forced to adopt any change in hemp policy at the federal level. But the opinion also said that if the federal government legalized hemp without providing a regulatory framework, ‘industrial hemp would be essentially unregulated in Kentucky after the mandatory adoption of the federal definition.’”

See Courier-Journal article by Tom Loftus.

Senate Bill 50 doesn’t allow hemp to be grown in Kentucky, as it’s currently banned by the federal government. But, it does establish a regulatory framework in case the feds lift the ban or Kentucky is granted a waiver. A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing hemp for industrial uses, compared to 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure.

The Kentucky State Police and prosecutors worry that hemp legalization will complicate drug eradication and enforcement efforts because of the physical similarities of hemp and marijuana that they contend make them indistinguishable by the naked eye. Hemp has a much smaller concentration of the psychoactive or intoxicating ingredient, THC, that’s found in marijuana. Hemp fibers can be used for fuel, apparel, cooking, plastics, and moisturizing creams. It’s still uncertain whether or not House Democratic leadership will call the bill up for a floor vote in the 4 days remaining this session.

In the mad dash to hoist bills across the legislative finish line, the Kentucky State Senate toiled nearly until midnight last night. Among the cluster of measures approved was a human trafficking bill that took a rather twisted and, at times, uncertain path through the legislative process. House Bill 3 is called ‘safe harbor legislation’ because it treats children who are sexually exploited for profit as victims as opposed to criminals. Like other child victims of abuse or neglect, they would be eligible for state services. The bill also calls for a victims’ fund to be created from fines and asset seizure of traffickers; victims of forced labor would be able to sue for unpaid wages and law enforcement would trained on recognizing the crime.

According the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Coalition, 101 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Kentucky, 44 of them were children. The State Senate passed House Bill 3 with some minor changes that must be approved by the House before it’s sent on to the governor’s desk.

Around 11:00 last night, the State Senate awarded final passage to a religious freedom measure that that allows citizens to ignore laws that substantially burden their religious beliefs. Opponents argue it endangers civil rights protections, stokes discrimination against gays and lesbians, and even endorses domestic violence under a person’s warped biblical interpretation.

The text of the House Bill 279 reads as follows: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

House Bill 279 passed 29 to 6 and now heads to the governor’s desk for his approval, veto, or he can let it become law without his signature.

State lawmakers agreed to change the session calendar and cancel class for today. The move means legislators will work both Monday and Tuesday of next week before taking a 10- day recess for gubernatorial veto consideration. The last day of the 30-day session is slated for March 26th. They are constitutionally bound to conclude their business by March 30th.

Tune in Monday night at 11pm ET for day 27 coverage of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly in Regular Session, and follow @ReneeKET throughout the day for updates.

Key Senate Leader Ponders Session Sabotage

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Consternation over public employee pension reform reached the pinnacle of political posturing last week — Senate Republicans pushed back against the House Democrats’ proposal conjoined to a funding idea that expands lottery gaming options and instant racing to help chip away at the billions in the system’s unfunded liabilities.

On Wednesday of last week, the House democrats’ version of public pension reform advanced from the State House on a party line vote. Representative Brent Yonts shepherded the House committee substitute to Senate Bill 2. Yonts’ plan keeps the traditional, defined benefit plans for new hires as opposed to a hybrid plan with a 401-K style approach preferred by Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer. It also provides a mechanism to retain the cost of living adjustments so long as they can be paid for — something that Senator Thayer sought to repeal.

The other bugaboo is a plan by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, embodied in House Bill 416, which would expand lottery games and instant racing. On the House floor Wednesday, the Speaker tried to persuade members to vote for the funding idea in order to dodge a special session later.

Republican Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said lawmakers were being dealt a bad hand with House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s plan. The House GOP caucus believes there’s another way the issue can be approached, and that’s through a reduction in government spending by way of slicing personal service contracts and the number of executive branch employees.

On Wednesday, Republican Floor Leader Hoover proposed those spending reduction ideas to be adopted in a floor amendment he offered up, but it was rejected.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 416 that would expand lottery options to include games like Keno and tax revenues from instant racing to help the cash-poor pension fund was narrowly approved 52 to 47. Senate Republicans rebuked the plan, asserting the rule that during odd-year, 30-day sessions, a measure dealing with appropriations and revenue must earn a three-fifths, or supermajority of votes from each chamber; 60 in the House and 23 in the Senate. It’s a rule Stumbo, a lawyer, interpreted to apply only to a measure’s “final” passage.

Senate Republicans soundly rejected House Democrats’ ideas on tackling the public pension crisis on Thursday. And, Senate Republican floor leader Damon Thayer, issued blistering criticism, admonishing the lower chamber Democrats for dismissing key recommendations of a year-long task force, and being too preoccupied with an ill-conceived pension funding idea rather than focus on its structural maladies.

Senator Thayer expressed optimism Thursday that key leaders in both chambers can reconcile their differences on the public pension plan. But, media reports quickly circulated Speaker Stumbo’s resistance to further negotiations on the matter in the waning days of the session. In a volley of responses and denouncements on the Senate floor on Friday, Senator Thayer expressed an aversion to special sessions and hinted that the intransigence of the House might be part of a conspiracy to force a special session.

Senate President Bob Stivers relinquished his gavel and retreated to his floor seat. He claimed he’s been careful to preside over the chamber in a new chapter devoid of political gamesmanship. In a reference to former Senate President David Williams, Stivers said of his friend, “the bully of Burkesville is not here anymore.”

Today marks day 23 of the 30-day session. Please interject your own predictions and opinions here, and post them if you’re so inclined.

Watch “Legislative Update” each weeknight during the session at 11pmET on KET and follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for constant updates.

Working Toward a Cliffhanger or Finale? This Is How the Capitol Turns

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Today marks 18th day of the 30-day legislative session. Rumors of a special session(s) soon-after swirl the Capitol halls like echoes in the marble naves of the century-old temple of democracy.

The robust beginning of the session and the new spirit of bipartisanship proclaimed by legislative leaders signaled promise of a productive gathering of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly.

But, alas, the hourglass is emptying, and so far only one bill has made it to the Governor’s desk: House Bill 7 that gives bonding authority to the state’s public universities to self-finance their own construction projects for student housing and academic and athletic complexes.

With issues ranging from industrial hemp to public pension reform, lawmakers might leave the legislative table in 12 days with their bellies full but their plates un-cleared.

Last week, the House gave approval to a bill aimed at improving the bachelor degree attainment in the east and west coal-producing counties of the state. It’s a goal of Pike County Democrat Leslie Combs who pursued (along with House Speaker Greg Stumbo) an attempt last year to make the privately-owned University of Pikeville a state-supported institution for that same reason.

The measure’s metamorphosis this session is embodied in House Bill 210 that creates the Kentucky Coal County College Completion Program to award scholarships to students in coal- producing counties to get their bachelor’s degree from schools in those areas. Thirty-four Kentucky coal counties are impacted by the bill, 26 in the east and 8 in the west. Bell County Democrat Rick Nelson made an unsuccessful attempt at broadening the bill to let kids in coal-producing counties attend any public institution they choose in the state, but that proposed floor amendment was ruled out of order.

House Minority Floor leader Jeff Hoover referenced some recent studies critical of private universities’ matriculation rates and student loan defaults. He said the report ranked the University of Pikeville number one in students who failed to earn a degree after a six-year stint on the campus. He questioned whether Comb’s measure would upend that ranking.

Hoover’s Republican colleague Ben Waide, co-sponsor of HB 210, redefined the bill as an economic development and answer to the brain drain because it will make it more likely for college graduates in coal-producing counties to remain there and start businesses that will boost those lagging economies. Representative Combs doubled-down on her message for better education and quality of life for those in the margins.

Pike County Democrat Keith Hall opined that the money made available for the scholarships was paid for on the backs of coal miners through coal severance taxes into state coffers. Fifty percent of coal severance tax dollars, he added, is designated to the state general fund. He said the measure is not one of charity, but an opportunity rightly owed to coal producing counties.

The maximum scholarship of $6,000 dollars a year would be awarded for a student attending a participating institution that is a nonprofit, independent college or university. Lesser scholarship awards would be available for college satellite or extension campuses or to those pursuing a degree in-state but outside the designated coal counties. The measure cleared the House 97 to zero, and now waits for assignment to a Senate committee.

In other news…

A measure to allow overseas military to cast absentee ballots electronically was snagged in committee last week. Senate Bill 1 would allow armed forces members, their spouses and others overseas to register to vote and get an absentee ballot electronically. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes shared a witness table with Senate President Robert Stivers in pitching SB 1, but they disagree over a key provision which would enable military personnel to actually vote online. Stivers omitted the provision via committee amendment but Grimes hopes to restore it.

As it stand now ,SB 1 would let overseas voters get their ballots via fax, e-mail or another secure electronic transmission system, but they would have to mail in their ballots. Secretary of State Grimes said about 300 overseas absentee ballots were not counted in last year’s general election in Kentucky for a host of reasons. She asserted that failing to modernize has costs you can literally count.

President Stivers wants to study the issue and ensure the integrity of Internet voting before taking further action.

SB 1, as amended in committee last Thursday by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee now waits for action by the full Senate membership.

On Friday last week, House Licensing and Occupations chairman Dennis Keene introduced — for discussion only — HB 52 to expand gambling in the Commonwealth. It does not include a constitutional amendment to let voters decide on gaming expansion as some previous efforts contained. Representative Keene says while the exact dollar determination of casino gambling in the state is unknown, economists on staff with the Legislative Research Commission estimate that seven casinos would generate more than $900 million a year, yielding a yearly tax revenue of $295 million. He laid out how the revenue pie would be sliced in today’s hearing. Some of the money would be injected into the state’s anemic public pension systems.

HB 52 was for discussion only and no vote was taken.

You can watch entire meetings of any of the bills mentioned in this post and see our nightly reports at Tune into “Legislative Update” each weeknight at 11pm ET for a daily digest of Capitol happenings and follow me on Twitter @ReneeKET.

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