After more than a decade of dysfunction and deadlock under former Senate President David Williams, 2013 will go down as the year the legislature relearned the arts of negotiation and compromise.
Praise for new Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester , is pouring in from all corners, including Gov. Steve Beshear’s. But credit is due first to Senate Republicans who gave their leader a refreshing mandate to cooperate.
As a result, Kentucky took a giant step toward keeping its pension promises to public employees while improving its deadbeat image with bond rating agencies. No one got everything they wanted from the pension deal, but everyone got something. Now it’s incumbent to keep the heat on future legislatures to the $100 million a year commitment to make-up funding.
Lawmakers also enacted a number of smaller but valuable reforms, including some that the Senate had blocked for years.
Beshear got $100 million in tax reform through the back door. The tweaks in the tax code and tax collections that produced the $100 million for pensions came out of his blue ribbon tax reform panel.
Beshear should keep pushing for broad reform that would allow the tax base to keep pace with the economy. Kentucky still has desperate needs, as the imminent cutoff of child care funding for 23,000 young Kentuckians should remind us.
“We want to reach out and start writing a new history.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, extending an olive branch by letting Senate Democrats decide their committee assignments
“Our schools aren’t treading water. They are slowly sinking.”
Gov. Steve Beshear, making the case for revenue-raising tax reform in his State of the Commonwealth address. He never offered a tax reform proposal.
“There is no election in Kentucky this year, and hallelujah for that. That’s one less distraction, one less temptation to fall into the partisan trap of thinking our differences matter more than our shared goals.”
Beshear, State of the Commonwealth
“It’s time to indulge in an adult conversation on some of the issues.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, responding to Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth
“I’m very pleased the governor and legislature are supportive of letting UK issue its own bonds. And I’m pleased athletics will be making greater contributions to the academic mission of the university.”
Robert Grossman, chemistry professor and vice chairman of the University of Kentucky Senate, on universities being allowed to spend their own money, including UK’s plan to build a $100 million science building with profits from sports.
“What are we presuming about people who have been arrested? Are we presuming guilt at this point?”
Ernie Lewis, of the Kentucky Association of Defense Lawyers, opposing a proposal to allow DNA samples to be collected and added to a national database at the time of arrest in felony cases. The bill failed
“If you’re not first you’re last.”
Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, supporting an industrial hemp licensing plan to make Kentucky an early adapter if the federal cannabis ban is lifted.
“Industrial hemp won’t make us high, but it might make us happy.”
Sen. Kathy Stein. D-Lexington
“There is no need for additional state bureaucracy involving permits issued by a state hemp czar.”
“I’d like one day for my kids to bike up a mountain and drink out of a creek and not get sick.”
Zoey Barrett, 15, at the “I Love Mountains” rally on the Capitol steps.
“Vast majority of Kentuckians share a far more positive view of coal than those gathering on the Capitol steps today.”
Bill Bissett, Kentucky Coal Association president, on “I Love Mountains” rally
“There has to be a program or a courthouse that they can go without for a few years.”
Jack Burch, Lexington, Community Action Council head, on administration plans for dramatic cuts in child care subsidies, effective April 1.
“It seems as if the speaker is kind of throwing anything up to see what sticks because yesterday he was all for a cigarette tax. Now, he has changed to racing. So, I would like to see what he will be for Tuesday.”
Stivers, responding to Stumbo’s efforts to find funds to shore up pensions.
“Amending Senate Bill 2 is putting lipstick on a pig.”
Jim Carroll, co-founder of Kentucky Government Retirees, on House changes to Senate pension reforms.
“If you don’t have the rabbit you don’t have the stew. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have reform.”
Stumbo, likening pension reform to rabbit stew.
“If the General Assembly takes no action, Kentucky in four years will go off its own fiscal cliff because our public pension system will be insolvent.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
“We can’t seem to get pension reform done or any of the other things we need to get done because House Democratic leadership is too concerned about who has talked to Ashley, who didn’t talk to her and who she called or didn’t call. I just think we need to get past someone who lives in Tennessee and focus on Kentucky problems.”
House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, on speculation about actress Ashley Judd challenging U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell next year.
“This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason.”
Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, during House debate on overriding Gov. Steve Beshear’s veto of the so-called “religious freedom” bill.
“You don’t think your religious freedom is under attack?”
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, supporting the “religious freedom” bill.
“Great American cities like Lexington tackle big problems and wrestle them to the ground. Our police and fire pension system was by far our city’s biggest financial challenge. With this agreement, we make Lexington a stronger city.”
Mayor Jim Gray on legislative approval for shoring up Lexington police and firefighter pension fund.
“The men and women of the police and fire pension system, active and retired, have shown both their commitment and sacrifice by voting for and accepting the concessions made in order to sustain this pension, not only for themselves but also for our future retirees,”
Lexington Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Sweeney, on Lexington’s pension fix.
“There’s an immediacy to an EPO (emergency protective order) or DVO (domestic violence order) that is really key. It bothers me not to do something about an honest-to-goodness threat.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, supporting expansion of domestic violence protections to cover Kentuckians who have never married, co-habitated or had a child together. Several times the House has approved the expansion which made it out of a Senate committee for the first time this year.
“I am elated and hopeful. It has been a long haul, but I feel it’s a good promise for those who haven’t had protection.”
Darlene Thomas, executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program, after the domestic violence bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“It opens up the court system to even more policing of social issues, and that’s not what our court system needs.”
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s lone “no” vote on expanding domestic violence protections, which died in the full Senate.
“Today is a landmark day for kids as this bill has the potential to drastically reduce child abuse deaths across the state.”
Terry Brooks, Kentucky Youth Advocates head, on creation of a permanent panel to review child deaths from abuse and neglect and recommend systemic improvements.
“I love Kentucky. Two of my three wives came from this state.”
Marty Brennaman, Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame announcer, visiting the Senate.
“I felt better about this session as it concluded than any other session since the 1990 session. We did what Kentuckians expected to us to do, we solved problems.”
“We didn’t always agree, but we could always have honest and open dialogue about any issues. As a result, we’ve just concluded one of the most productive sessions in years.”
Beshear, praising Stivers for being “willing to look at policy first and politics second.”
“I’ll leave it for others to judge whether this was for the better or for the worse. I’m taking my son to Disney World,”
Stivers on his first session as Senate president and his immediate post-session plans.