The Kentucky General Assembly is in the midst of its biennial short session but is setting a blistering pace, according to local legislators.
“This one seems to be moving at a high velocity,” said Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, describing the atmosphere at the Capitol in Frankfort. “The speed of the issues and how they are moving through the system has picked up considerably,” she said, compared to other years.
“It’s going at a frantic pace,” agreed veteran Sen. Robin Webb D-Grayson.
York also noted citizen engagement seems to be exceeding past years. “A lot of citizen action groups have been visiting the capitol. The volume has been so high at times, it’s been hard to move through the hallways,” said York.
“There are so many bills and so many special interests, and they all want to meet with you,” said Rep. Kevin Sinnette D-Ashland, as he navigated through the throngs of visitors in the lobby of the Legislative offices last week.
A typical day for Sinnette starts before 5 a.m. and ends late in the evening, he said. Before noon on Tuesday, Sinnette had already attended a handful of committee sessions and answered more than two dozen constituent messages, reading through each one and crafting a handwritten response. One of his three cell phones chirped while he chatted with a reporter before the afternoon House session began.
“It’s a short session, and we’re trying to get in a lot in a short time,” he said.
The pace and the outpouring of the public opinion is being attributed to this year’s slate of big ticket items up for discussion, ranging from pension and tax reform to legalization of industrial hemp.
“I think the nature of the times we’re in right now for the Commonwealth has got people paying more attention than what they have historically,” said York, citing the state’s well documented pension and budget woes.
“Then there is the flurry of other wonderful pieces of legislation, wonderful ideas that may or may not get their chance to make a difference,” she added.
Each legistor from our area including Sinnette, Webb, York, Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Sen. Walter Blevins, D-West Liberty, are each squarely in the middle of the full range of issues. But each also has their areas of interest and pieces of legislation with local ramifications they hope to get through this session.
To date, there have been more than 409 pieces of legislation proposed in the House and 209 in the Senate.
Most of those items won’t make it through this year, explains Webb, who has 15 years of experience in the General Assembly.
“Some of the best things take time. It’s an evolution. You want input from all the stakeholders. It’s an educational process. We are up here and we have our own areas of expertise, but it takes time just to educate our members on several issues,” she said, “You take your victories where you can get them.”
For Webb, getting Senate Bill 50, which would allow Kentucky farmers to grow hemp, passed through the General Assembly would be the realization of more than a decade’s work on the issue and is one of many pieces of legislation at the top of her priority list. “I think industrial hemp has a great potential for our area,” said Webb, “It’s something we have to keep working on. If and when the legislation passes in Kentucky, it will still require work on the federal level,” said Webb.
She’s also heavily involved in bills involving DNA collection in Kentucky and legislation to overhaul Kentucky’s death penalty process. In addition, Webb co-authored a bill incentivizing biomass and legislation that would strenghten Pullin’s previous bill on scrap copper.
Sinnette is hoping to finally get a bill in to law requiring electric on house boats to be grounded. It’s passed in the House before, but stalled in the Senate.
The law would save lives and make Kentucky a leader in boater safety nationwide, said Sinnette. “On July 4 last year, there were five electric shock drowning deaths in the U.S.,” he explained, noting since Australia passed similar legislation it has had no deaths. He became involved in the issue after a young woman was killed at Cave Run Lake.
York also has a host of issues she hopes to see become law. Among them a measure that would allow foster parents to attend all court proceedings involving their foster children and a bill combining seperate boards that now oversee barbers, beauticians and cosmetologists.
“I’m also pushing legislation to tighten up and make clarifications within some of the open meetings statutes,” said York. “There are some statutes that are just vague enough to allow for some bad acts,” she noted.
York is also anxiously waiting for the legislature to take up legislative redistricting again, following last year’s rejection of a plan by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which would have combined her district with that of Adkins. She is hopeful when the map is redrawn, “the rules set forth in the constitution are followed.” If they are, York said, she believes her district should be allowed to remain intact because Lewis and Carter counties are too small to be dividied and when combined are almost the perfect district size.
“I would like to hang around,” she said. For now, York is focused on this session and getting as much done as possible.
“The crush of people up here, the flood of ideas and the deluge of conversations that we’re having, while that is sometimes overwhelming it is absolutely essential and I would always encourage citizens to make the effort to be a part of this process,” York said.
“Government doesn’t happen in a vaccum. Good government happens because there is citizen particpation in it. I would encourage them to be that voice that participates so we can be their voice and amplify it,” she added.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@
dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.