Politics & Government

Williams criticized for plan to push legislation quickly

Senate President David Williams
Senate President David Williams LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

FRANKFORT — Senate President David Williams is ready to get the 2011 law-making session that starts Tuesday off to a quick start by pushing several complex bills through the Senate this week.

But some lawmakers and a rival in his race for governor say he is moving too fast on issues such as immigration and tax reform. They say politics is the reason.

Louisville businessman Phil Moffett, who is challenging Williams for the Republican nomination for governor, accused Williams on Monday of acting secretly.

"Williams came out last month with a lot of fanfare about the legislation but has not shown them yet to the public," Moffett said in an interview. "The devil is in the details, and the public has not yet seen the fine print of these bills."

The first four days of odd-numbered-year legislative sessions generally are reserved for lawmakers to elect their leaders and make committee appointments — a duty that will be accomplished this week.

But Williams, R-Burkesville, said Monday that several bills will be filed in the Senate on the first day of this year's session and be voted on by the Republican-controlled chamber before week's end.

They include legislation similar to a controversial Arizona law that would allow police to enforce federal immigration law, an overhaul of the state's tax code, changes in the state's pension system, a revamping of campaign laws and a wide-ranging constitutional amendment that deals with issues ranging from abortion to the Ten Commandments.

"All this language in the bills is language everybody is familiar with," Williams said Monday.

He noted that the Senate Republican caucus agreed on the legislative package last month and that the proposals will be co-sponsored by many of his colleagues.

But several senators said Monday they don't see a need to act on bills this week.

"I'm still looking for them. I would love to be able to read them," said Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington.

Williams said the proposed legislation has been online since Wednesday. His staff notified the media that day of a Web site that contained draft versions of the legislation.

"I want to see the specific bills. It's fine to give them to the media, but I would hope legislators would get them, too," said Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson. "All this is too hasty. It's an insult to the process and our new members."

(The Senate, which Republicans control 22 to 15, with one independent, will have five new members. The House, with 58 Democrats and 42 Republicans, will have 12 new members.)

A better way, Webb said, would be for legislative committees to hold hearings on the GOP bills this month and vote on them when lawmakers return to Frankfort. The 2011 General Assembly is scheduled to be in session four days this week and Feb. 1 to March 22.

Williams said Senate passage of the bills is only the beginning of the legislative process for them. They would have to go to the House and, if approved there, back to the Senate for final approval of any changes. The governor then would have the opportunity to sign or veto the legislation.

Webb said the Senate's quick action this week on the bills is due to "political expediency."

"Senate Republicans want to be able to say the House had plenty of time to consider their bill, and, don't forget, there is a governor's race," Webb said.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said Monday that he is ready to vote for the Senate GOP leadership legislation but that he has not seen the actual bills.

"We had a conversation about them last month, but that's all I know about them," he said.

Buford also said it "probably would be unfair" to move leadership's bills quickly and not the proposals of rank-and-file lawmakers.

Moffett said in a statement that his campaign contacted Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum of Louisville on Friday about the GOP bills and that Seum said he had not seen them.

David Adams, Moffett's campaign manager, said the campaign's volunteer coordinator, Dave Goldberg, talked to Seum last week about some of the bills.

Goldberg, a Louisville businessman, said he did not call Seum under the auspices of the Moffett campaign but as "an interested citizen who wanted to have input into some of the bills."

"Dan did tell me he had not yet seen the bills, and I later told the Moffett campaign that," Goldberg said.

Seum said he told Goldberg the bills would be formally introduced Tuesday.

"That's the first day they could come out," Seum said. "I'm glad the Senate is doing this. It's a short session, and we're going to make good use of the first four days. It's better than just standing around."

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