Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 10, 2014

First week of session mostly uneventful

FRANKFORT — The first week of the 2014 General Assembly might have been written off as uneventful but for the accidental firing of a lawmaker’s pistol in her Capitol office.

Fortunately, no one was injured and there were no charges after Rep. Leslie Combs accidentally discharged her pistol while unloading it. But the incident provided fodder for jokes in a week when no legislation passed either chamber.

On the evening of the first day of the 60-day budget session, Gov. Steve Beshear told lawmakers he would not stand by while continued cuts or flat funding put in jeopardy gains the commonwealth has made in education. He said he’d make “harmful” cuts to other programs if he had to in order to “re-invest” in education.

But he also told lawmakers he’ll offer specific proposals on tax reform and ask them to pass a constitutional amendment to allow voters to vote on the question of casino gambling. Such amendments have been proposed by a member of Republican Senate leadership — Caucus Chair Dan Seum of Louisville — and Democratic House Leadership — Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark of Louisville.

Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he “sees a way forward” on gambling if the Senate will first act on a “clean amendment,” by which he means wording which says nothing in the state constitution prevents lawmakers from authorizing expanded gambling but without any guarantee for a specific industry such as thoroughbred racing.

Gambling and tax reform — as well as a budget with little extra money for education or increased costs in programs like Medicaid — will succeed or fail against a very political backdrop. All 100 House seats and 19 of 38 Senate seats will be on the fall ballot and Republicans think they have a shot at taking over the House which Democrats now control 54-46.

Cynics might be forgiven for thinking the election might have something to do with the respective chambers’ top legislative priorities. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers wants a constitutional amendment allowing a committee of lawmakers the authority to overturn executive orders by the governor.

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