Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky Senate’

Louisville Native Helps Organize and Rock the Vote

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Women Rock. And, they’re rocking the vote from the ground game strategy to the ballot box.

The 2012 election produced historic, ceiling-breaking victories for women serving in the nation’s capital. According to Rutger’s Center for American Women and Politics, a record-breaking 20 women will serve in the U.S. Senate (16 Democrats and 4 Republicans) and 78 in the U.S. House (58 democrats and 20 Republicans).

In 2013,  some 1,770 women will occupy seats in state legislatures across the country. And while those numbers may sound impressive, some states, including Kentucky, suffer a steep gender gap in electoral politics.

In Kentucky, we all know not a single woman is among our federal delegation. When it comes to the state legislature, 7 women (including the recent special election victory of former state Representative Sara Beth Gregory) in the 38-member state Senate and 20 women in the 100-member state House will descend on Frankfort in about 10 days to do the people’s business. The Center for American Women and Politics ranks Kentucky 38th among state legislatures for the proportion of women to men.

There’s a growing list of organizations and individuals determined to have more women take the oath of office in Kentucky, and more women are also working behind the scenes of political campaigns. The latter applies to Keidra King, a Louisville native who was inspired to wade into Democratic political strategy after working as a community organizer in Cincinnati in 2001 while a student at Northern Kentucky University.

Since that time, King has worked on Capitol Hill in the office of Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville; she was a field director for the Obama for America campaign in 2008; and was the state director in Kentucky for President Obama’s second-term campaign. Moreover, she can add election victories in Ohio and South Carolina to her street creds.

Keidra now works for Louisville Metro City Council and was recently named Kentucky state coordinator for the Presidential Inaugural committee.

This weekend on Connections, I talk with Keidra about working the ground game and GOTV efforts, the unpopularity of President Obama in Kentucky and how women and minorities are faring in electoral politics and policy decisions.

Tune in today at 5pm on KET 2 and Sunday at 1:30pm on KET to watch our entire conversation.

Diplomas, Blacktop, and Religious Freedom Occupy State Legislature’s 11th Week

Monday, March 19th, 2012

A plan to bolster the number of bachelor degree holders in southeast Kentucky was approved by the House last week. House Bill 260 started off as a measure to make the University of Pikeville a state-supported school, but after resistance from county officials in eastern Kentucky and college presidents, the bill was made over to offer scholarships to kids in far east Kentucky who earn college degrees from schools in that area. Pikeville representative Leslie Combs is the prime sponsor of the bill. She once worked for the private University of Pikeville, and says she’s putting her idea on the back burner for now. A floor amendment was attached to the bill that would allow an eastern Kentucky student to access a pool of money to attend a school outside of the region if a degree program he or she is pursuing is not available at schools in the southeast area.

A mechanism to pay interest on federal government loans Kentucky received to pay out jobless benefits over the last three years was approved by the full House last week.  Kentucky has borrowed close to one billion dollars to pay unemployment insurance claims. The interest payments are due each September; last year Governor Steve Beshear paid out the $28 million due in interest from general fund coffers. House Bill 495 carried by Speaker Pro Temp Larry Clark of Jefferson County authorizes the state to borrow $79 million from the Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI) fund to pay the federal interest payments, at three or four percent interest and levy a surcharge to employers beginning in 2014 to pay back the borrowed money. The bill has the backing of five dozen co-sponsors, and several business, trade, and labor groups. The House advanced House Bill 495 without opposition 97-0.

A bill to improve the handling of child abuse and neglect cases that result in death or near death was approved by the full House. Lexington Democrat Susan Westrom’s House Bill 200 addresses the state fumbles of those cases by establishing an external review panel made up of more than a dozen experts with child welfare experience from across the state. House Bill 200 cleared the House 96-0, and now waits for action by a Senate committee.

The Senate also has in its possession a measure to better protect the vulnerable in long-term care facilities from abuse and neglect from workers in charge of their care. Lexington Democrat Ruth Ann Palumbo is the sponsor of House Bill 259, which calls for the state to develop and implement a registry of people who have substantiated allegations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult. The electronic background check is a screening tool to keep adult facilities and individuals from hiring an applicant with those histories of abuse. House Bill 259 cleared the House 97-0 and now heads to the Senate for consideration there.

On day 49 of the 60 day legislative session, the Kentucky House paved the way for $3.8 billion of blacktop, state and federally supported construction, and highway maintenance for the next two years in the Commonwealth. The body passed the Transportation Cabinet budget, the two-year highway construction plan, and the plan for the four “out” years of the six-year road plan. House Transportation Subcommittee Chair Sannie Overly, a democrat from Paris, said despite the cash-flow issues with the general fund, the road fund is robust. It includes $782.8 million dollars to local governments, which Overly said are important for city mayors and county judges.

The Kentucky State Senate last week approved constitutional amendments–on redistricting, religion, and administrative regulations. The most contentious of the proposed amendments relates to redrawing state House and Senate districts and avoiding the county-splitting scheme that caused the most recent remapping attempts to be struck down by the state’s high court. If the House passes Senate bill 18, voters would decide the issue at the ballot box in November, which would also require lawmakers to craft a plan by April 15 of the full legislative session after the decennial census or stay in Frankfort to hash out a plan without pay. The Chamber approved Senate Bill 18 by a vote of 27-11. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling a few weeks ago that struck down the state legislative lines state lawmakers passed and the Governor signed into law, declaring, in part, that the maps split too many counties.

A constitutional amendment to keep the government from stepping into religious matters cleared the Senate chamber with lesser opposition. Senate Bill 158 in its legal language prohibits in part: “a human authority from burdening actions that are based on religious beliefs in support of a compelling government interest using the least restrictive means to further that interest.” Senator Jimmy Higdon commented on the coincidental timing of the measure as an old order of the Amish community in Western Kentucky was pleading its case against outfitting their horse-drawn buggies with the required orange, triangular emblems that they claim violate their religious principles against bright-colored displays. Legislation from both chambers working through the process would allow slow-moving vehicles to be adorned with reflective tape instead of the vivid emblems. Senate Bill 158 was approved 34-4 and now awaits House action.

Constitutional amendments require a supermajority of three-fifths vote of each chamber, which translates to 23 of the 38 Senate votes and 60 of the 100 House votes, before the measure can be put on the ballot for voters. According to the Legislative Research Commission, up to four amendments can be put on the ballot in even-year elections, and referendum matters do not require approval by the Governor.

Monday begins the 10-day countdown to the session’s closure before a recess for a gubernatorial veto period. After a 10-day break, lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on April 12. The session is constitutionally bound to conclude by April 15. Among the issues in need of final resolution: the state’s two-year, $19.5 billion operating budget.

No Dice on Dealing Voters a Hand on Casino Gaming

Friday, February 24th, 2012

A constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling was dealt a losing hand yesterday when the Kentucky Senate rejected the measure 16 to 21. Senate Bill 151, chiefly sponsored by Senator Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, proposed a constitutional amendment to let lawmakers approve up to seven casinos across the state.

Amid a cacophony of groans about constitutional protection for one industry – the horse industry – the bill’s language was massaged to remove the promise of guaranteeing casino licenses to five horse tracks and two casino operations at stand-alone locations. The version ultimately rejected by the Senate allowed for up to seven casinos anywhere, but casinos not located at horse-racing facilities would have needed to be at least sixty miles from a racetrack.

Governor Steve Beshear, who made expanded gaming a central plank of his 2007 bid for the state’s chief executive, pitched it at press conferences and committee hearings as an economic boon for a cash-strapped state. And he repeated the oft-touted political catchphrase latched onto the measure, “It’s time to let the people decide.”

A rare coalition of political bedfellows from the ‘R’ column appeared to have the Governor’s back on the issue – those who cheered its robust financial blessings to state coffers and to the horse industry beleaguered by competition from states cashing in on Kentuckians’ chance-taking at casino parlors across the river. Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner and former State Representative James Comer cast the expansion of gaming as a balm to an endangered horse industry that is losing its signature status, which effectively hinders the entire farm economy of Kentucky.

Key among the Governor’s legislative allies was Senator Thayer, chair of the State and Local Government Committee, which approved the bill Wednesday by a vote of 7 to 4.  But realizing the vote count in the full Senate was short the necessary 23 votes, he sought to delay the vote in order to wrangle more votes. His request was met with resistance by party leaders and the bill was called to a floor vote on Thursday. Thayer’s last pitch against forbidding odds attempted to appeal to the sensitivities of those in opposition, as he asserted “casino gambling isn’t my cup of tea.” He added, “I’m not a casino guy. I’m a horse racing guy.”

During yesterday’s floor debate, the bill’s co-sponsor, R.J. Palmer of Winchester, praised Senator Thayer for his steadfast commitment to the issue despite his party leadership’s sneers, and characterized the matters as one rectifying “the problems Kentucky gets from casino gambling while our neighbors get the benefits.”  He added that Kentucky already has gambling, with Kentucky Lottery, charitable gaming, and pari-mutuel wagering. “Kentuckians lose money to gambling already – nearly half-a-billion-dollars’ worth outside our borders,” Palmer said.

Arguments against it came from those who proclaim the immoral peril of casinos. Lexington Republican Alice Forgy Kerr said she represents folks from all walks of life in her district, including Keeneland, but “not the out-of-state casino owners get rich by preying on the poor.”

Others, like Bowling Green Republican Mike Wilson, argued that Kentucky’s constitution should not be littered with language enshrining one industry and affording it monopoly protection. Pikeville Democrat Ray Jones spoke of how gambling addiction breaks family bonds and dooms habitual gamers to insurmountable debt and other problems the state ends up subsidizing. Louisville Republican Julie Denton said Kentucky’s search for tax revenue should come by tax reform and enacting right-to-work laws.

Regardless of pleas and familiar contentions for and against the issue, it was clear that most senators’ convictions were firm and unswayable as members announced their decision to be cast by their electronic nameplate on the voting board.

Senate Bill 151 was defeated on a vote of 16 in favor and 21 against.

In a statement to the press, Governor Beshear said in part: “Obviously, I am disappointed that several of the senators who had publicly said they would support letting the people decide did not follow through on their commitment to our citizens. However, for the very first time, we were able to get this issue considered by the state Senate, and I appreciate the bipartisan cooperation of Sen. Thayer and others, which allowed that to happen. This is a good omen for the future of expanded gaming in our state, and I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to address this issue.”

To see the debate on expanded gambling, check out recent editions of Legislative Update. Watch February 22. Watch February 23.

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