By Les Fugate
The last five working days of the 2015 Kentucky General Assembly completely altered the public perception of how “successful” this year’s Kentucky legislative session might be. Until that point, the legislature had few tangible results to demonstrate their success in Frankfort, but all that would change in a few short days.
The Kentucky General Assembly isn’t like Congress. The U.S. Congress often takes months to review legislation before passing it through committee or a legislative chamber. The Kentucky General Assembly, much like other state legislative bodies around the country, moves at a quicker pace.
By directive from the Kentucky Constitution, the General Assembly can only meet for 30 legislative days during an odd numbered year, which leaves little time to methodically move bills through the legislative process. But the real intrigue during any legislative session in Kentucky is in the last five working days. That is when the deals are struck and the log-jam of bills is broken.
The 2015 legislative session certainly followed this pre-ordained work style. In the last two legislative days, the legislature passed major pieces of legislation, some of which had been the focus of outreach efforts for several years. Topping the list of priorities were bills to address the heroin epidemic in parts of Kentucky and legislation providing greater protections to individuals who experience dating violence. The legislature created a gas tax floor, expanded the use of ignition interlock systems for DUI offenders, as well as increased standards for booster seat requirements.. That is not to mention dozens of other bills that received the legislature’s support.
Now the page turns to the 2016 session and preparations for it via the 2015 interim legislative session, where committees can hear testimony and study potential bills. 2016 promises to be an intense session. We will have a new governor for the first time in eight years. His legislative agenda will certainly impact the legislative priorities. Most importantly, the biennium budget will be voted upon next year. Kentucky faces serious budget shortfalls in the coming years, so legislators will be tasked with some difficult choices.
Other bills which didn’t see success in 2015 but are likely to be seen in 2016 include pension system bills (for both government retirees and teachers), public private partnerships, medical review panels, campaign finance reform, right to work, felon voting rights, the local option sales tax, minimum wage, and a statewide smoking ban. That is just the start. And with 60 days in which to conduct business, expect even more legislation to come forward in 2016.
Oh, let us not forget one other major issue that will affect the 2016 legislative session – most of the members of the legislature will be on the ballot. That always presents a twist to any issue passing both chambers.
If you have an issue to bring before the legislature in 2016, get started now. Build your grassroots support and public support while you have the time. As you can tell from the list above, the 2016 legislative session promises to be busy and it is imperative that you stay ahead of the game.