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House might not take up key legislation

FRANKFORT — Several major pieces of legislation, including incentives to lure a NASCAR Sprint Cup race to the Kentucky Speedway and a scheme to pay for new Louisville bridges, might be in jeopardy.

House leaders said Monday that new House rules prevent the chamber from voting on any bills when the General Assembly reconvenes Thursday and Friday. Those two days are designated solely to override any potential vetoes by Gov. Steve Beshear.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he will ask the Democratic caucus to vote Thursday on whether to suspend the rules, which would allow them to consider more legislation.

"Before we decide whether to suspend the rules, we will have to caucus, which we will do after the session reconvenes on Thursday," Stumbo said in a written statement. "If it is the will of the caucus to have such a suspension, we will go forward accordingly."

Several pieces of legislation, including a proposal backed by Beshear to overhaul the state's economic-incentive programs, could be dead if House Democrats decide against suspending the rules.

Stumbo said he personally thinks that most of the legislation still on the agenda for this session could wait until next January's regular legislative session.

In a statement late Monday, Beshear stopped short of directly urging House Democrats to suspend their rules, but he said many outstanding bills couldn't wait until 2010.

"We understand the position of House leadership and appreciate their willingness to get direction from the caucus on how best to move forward to complete what has been a productive legislative session so far," Beshear said.

But some proposals, including a bill that would create a mechanism to pay for bridges over the Ohio River in Louisville, could mean jobs, he said.

"All of these initiatives will preserve and create jobs, while injecting hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact throughout the commonwealth," Beshear said. "We should move forward now to create those opportunities for our state and our people."

The governor's economic-incentive package is one of many bills whose fate is now in limbo.

The Senate passed a version of House Bill 229 on March 13, but only after tacking on a host of other proposals, including tax incentives to lure NASCAR and Breeders' Cup races to Kentucky and a $25 million tax credit for new home buyers. For the bill to pass, the House must agree to the Senate's version or send the bill to a committee where a compromise could be reached.

Other outstanding bills include a budget cleanup bill that contained $4.7 million for the state's public defenders, who say they'll be broke by the end of April if the state doesn't give them additional funds.

Also in question is a bill that would create an authority to fund and oversee mega-bridge projects in Louisville.

House Majority Caucus Chairman Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said House leaders felt that the membership should decide whether to suspend the rules that the group worked so hard to implement in January. There are many people in the House who feel the rules should be followed, Damron said.

"They put some fairly significant rules in place," Damron said. "I suspect that they would want to keep them."

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said that if the House does not take up any new legislation, the Republican-controlled Senate will only confirm appointments and is likely to leave Frankfort by Thursday afternoon.

He said the House leadership's position to consider only vetoes this week "was absolutely a new development."

Williams called it "unfortunate" but said he was not going to be critical. "It's their prerogative," he said.