The first three weeks of the 2016 General Assembly have come and gone. Compared to some years, this Session got off to an even slower start.
With four open seats, there are currently 50 Democrats and 46 Republicans in the House. That means that neither party has a 51-vote majority to guarantee passage of certain bills. For that reason, the majority refused to propose new rules governing the conduct of the House. In an unprecedented move, they decided to continue operating under an old set of rules. The impasse over House rules and committee assignments (which are supposed to reflect the makeup of the membership) resulted in a seven-day delay in moving any legislation. Finally last week, committees began to meet and bills began to flow.
On another positive note, it is obvious to everyone in Frankfort that our new governor is setting a new tone. Governor Bevin has quickly cut through some previously intractable problems. For instance, in very short order he resolved the shortfall of funding for Kentucky Guardsmen to receive promised tuition assistance. Working with public universities and colleges, he ensured that the men and women who serve us in uniform could start classes on time. He also resolved the dilemma caused when our former governor unilaterally changed the state marriage license form, resulting in one county clerk going to jail when her sincerely-held religious convictions would not allow her to sign the new form. And he has given notice that he will dismantle the duplicative state-run healthcare exchange that has seen exorbitant cost overruns—even while assuring that health insurance will not lapse for covered individuals.
The Governor’s determination to meet problems head-on and work with all interested parties has been a real breath of fresh air. And, given the financial challenges that we continue to face, it will take all parties working together for the long haul to find workable solutions going forward.
Thankfully, I’ve seen great reasons to be hopeful. On January 12th, I helped facilitate the kick-off event for the Kentucky Prayer Caucus. I am the co-chair of this non-partisan group, and we demonstrated once again a determination to stand united on things that truly matter. Then, last weekend, it was announced four Americans would be released from an Iranian prison. I co-sponsored a House Resolution in Kentucky for years calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed Abedini. Proving the power of prayer—and the importance of legislation even for the sake of one wrongly imprisoned halfway around the world—this was a tremendous victory.
This year, I’m working with other legislators on several pieces of legislation as a result of input from constituents throughout the 18th District. One bill designates a three-foot buffer zone around bicyclists, providing a hedge of protection as they travel our roadways. Another will extend in-state tuition to military reservists, recognizing the selfless service they render in uniform. Another still would allow legitimate, conceal-carry license holders to be in possession of a weapon on virtually all public property, instead of being criminalized in locations like public universities. This bill was designed as an anti-terror provision, eliminating designated gun-free zones that cowardly attackers seek in order to wreak havoc in our society. Kentucky cannot wait for the next mass shooting before allowing its law-abiding citizens to defend themselves legally.
So far, 291 bills have been filed in the House. I expect that several more will soon begin working their way through the legislative process. And, of course, our most important tasks will include working with the Governor to craft a biennial state budget and addressing state retirement funding for teachers and public employees. There will be plenty to keep us busy over the next several weeks.
I would invite you to visit the Capitol while we are in Session. Come and see your legislature at work, and tour one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the nation. If you do, just let me know you are coming so I can formally welcome you and host you during your time in Frankfort. But, if you can’t make it to Frankfort, I would still like to hear from you. I’ll be hosting a “Constituent Coffee” this weekend (Saturday, January 30th) in two different locations: Rineyville Grill at 2 Eastern and Kay’s Diner in Clarkson at 3 Central. Stop by, have a cup of coffee and piece of pie, and let me know what is on your mind.
As always, I welcome your input on any issue and your prayers. Our Prayer Caucus has demonstrated time and again the power of that special intervention. I can tell you that it is incredibly encouraging when many of you share that you have specifically prayed for me and all who are serving you in office. Thank you once again for the privilege of serving each of you.