Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 10, 2014

RONNIE ELLIS: Dull week? Never in Frankfort

CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — When I was a kid, a show briefly aired on American television called “That Was the Week That Was,” an American imitation of a satirical British program.

On Friday concluding the first week of the 2014 General Assembly it doesn’t seem like much was accomplished — but things did happen.

How can you to top lawmaker Leslie Combs’ accidental discharge of her pistol in her Capitol Annex office while fellow Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, was seated across from her desk? Naturally, the incident prompted jokes about the session “beginning with a bang.”

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, reportedly fired off some pretty good one-liners about the incident at the Kentucky of Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday evening, suggesting House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who also is a spokesperson for Morgan and Morgan, a large personal injury legal firm, could represent Greer in a personal injury lawsuit.

Greer, a former college football lineman, meanwhile was explaining why he faced no danger by reminding listeners of the movie “The Matrix” in which a character is able to instantly contort his body to avoid bullets in flight.

Of course, in Kentucky we have a different concept of gun control than many other parts of the country. Our lawmakers, led by Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, are always prepared to shoot down any imagined threat to gun owners’ rights. Only last year, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, came to Kentucky to lampoon a measure sponsored by Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, claiming the state could nullify federal legislation governing the sales and use of firearms. Our constitution guarantees the right to hunt and fish.

We also learned from the Chamber dinner that Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, believes the state “Senate will be bold” in 2014. Stivers is the person who commenting on a state budget which has been cut $1.6 billion in six years likes to make bold statements like: “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

Speaking of bold, Gov. Steve Beshear told lawmakers during his State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday that after 12 studies over two decades saying Kentucky must reform its tax code, he’s prepared to offer specific proposals to do it. But he hasn’t boldly made much of a public case for it.

But Beshear, who for the first six years of his administration was viewed by some as a “caretaker” governor, seems suddenly to be thinking about Kentucky’s future and his legacy. He defiantly embraced the Affordable Care Act in spite of the law’s unpopularity in Kentucky and now says he will do what is necessary to reinvest in education. If he delivers on health care, tax reform and increased funding for education, we may indeed one day look back on his second term as a bold one.

While they aren’t likely to agree on the specifics, Hoover welcomed Beshear’s call for tax reform. Hoover wants “to begin the discussion” on tax reform. Working with a Democratic governor to enact actual reform would certainly be bold for the House Republican leader in an election year in which he hopes his party wins control of the House.

A year ago I was skeptical about the prospects lawmakers would go along with Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer’s proposal to legalize cultivation of hemp. I was wrong. This week, a House committee heard testimony on the medical uses of marijuana. Again I’m skeptical — but who knows? This is Kentucky after all.

So it didn’t feel like much really happened this week. But maybe it’ll turn out to be the week that was after all.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.