FRANKFORT – While legislative sessions in odd-numbered years are relatively new in Kentucky – the first of the modern era was held just 20 years ago – the General Assembly has convened at the Capitol every January since our current constitution was adopted in 1891.
Until 2001, these odd-year meetings only lasted for four days and did not involve passing new laws. Instead, the sole focus was swearing in nearly elected legislators, choosing House and Senate leaders and establishing committee memberships for the next two years.
Much of that work is still finalized at the start of odd-year legislative sessions, but otherwise, this time looks little different than what takes place in the General Assembly’s even-year meetings.
That doesn’t mean these sessions are entirely alike. In odd-numbered years, for example, legislators meet for 30 instead of 60 days, and there is about a three-week gap in January where we return home before completing the bulk of our work in February and March.
The most significant difference between the sessions is the fact that, in odd-numbered years, bills affecting state spending require the support of three-fifths of the House and Senate instead of a simple majority. This is largely to preserve the two-year budget process that state government still maintains.
There is of course one major similarity between this year’s legislative session and last year’s: COVID-19. Because of the virus, the Capitol complex is still closed to the general public, and legislators have the option to attend meetings and vote remotely, as long as we are in our offices.
Like last year, the General Assembly will also be considering a one-year state budget. We chose this annual approach because the legislature had no way last spring of knowing what kind of negative impact the virus would have on state revenues.
The good news is that they have not plummeted as first feared. In fact, no budget cuts are expected this fiscal year, which runs through the end of June, and the state’s economists are predicting moderate growth next fiscal year.
It is too soon, of course, to say what will become law this session, but legislative leaders have promised to curtail the governor’s state of emergency powers. While there may be areas where hindsight can help lead to improvements, I believe that Governor Beshear’s actions have saved lives and have struck a responsible balance between public safety and maintaining our day-to-day activities as much as possible.
I will focus more next week on that issue and the governor’s proposed budget, which he is scheduled to introduce on Wednesday.
As the legislative process gets underway, I encourage you to follow the flow of bills and resolutions and to let me know your thoughts or concerns. You can write to me at Room 451E, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. This is a toll-free number here in Kentucky, and operators will be answering calls each weekday. For those speaking Spanish, the phone number is 1-866-840-6574. To check the status of a bill, you can call 866-840-2835, and the number to find out the time and place of legislative committee meetings is 1-800-633-9650. If you have internet access, the General Assembly’s website – legislature.ky.gov – is another great resource that features the full text of legislation and House and Senate votes.
KET does a great job of keeping the public informed as well. It airs many legislative meetings as they occur and keeps those videos archived, and there is also a smartphone app you can download on Apple and Android devices. To learn more, visit its website at www.ket.org. The General Assembly has its own YouTube channel for meetings that KET does not cover. You can find it by searching for “Kentucky LRC streaming.”
I will of course keep you updated of our work in the weeks ahead, and encourage you to stay in contact with me via email or social media. That dialogue helps immensely when it comes to vote.
I look forward to hearing from you.