Politics & Government

Beshear orders lawmakers back to Frankfort at noon Monday

Gov. Steve Beshear and other state and federal officials spoke about Kentucky's drug problems at the Kentucky Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Lexington.
Gov. Steve Beshear and other state and federal officials spoke about Kentucky's drug problems at the Kentucky Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Lexington. Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear has ordered the Kentucky General Assembly to convene a special lawmaking session at noon Monday to consider a transportation budget and a bill aimed at battling prescription drug abuse.

Beshear's call for a special session came about 12 hours after lawmakers ended their regular 60-day session just before midnight Thursday without approving the Transportation Cabinet's operating budget, which funds everything from road building to snow removal.

A special session costs taxpayers $60,456.50 a day. It probably will last at least five days — the minimum amount of time needed to move a bill through the legislative process — but could go on for weeks.

Beshear took several opportunities Friday to blast Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, for blocking approval of the bills Thursday night.

Speaking outside his office about 12:45 a.m., Beshear said Kentuckians rejected Williams in November, "and I whooped him by 21 points. I think everybody in this state got the message except for David Williams."

Williams responded by calling Beshear "a small, petty and vindictive individual."

In his call for a special session, Beshear said Williams refused to allow a vote on the bipartisan bills, "once again allowing his rank partisanship to block the path of a measure so vital to the health and well-being of Kentucky's citizens, its economy and its future."

At a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday, Beshear said Williams did not pass the Transportation Cabinet's operating budget late Thursday because he did not want Beshear to line-item veto road projects in his Senate district.

The House and Senate passed the $4.5 billion, two-year road plan late Thursday, but Williams demanded that Beshear sign the plan into law before the Senate approved the transportation budget, which would have ensured Beshear could not veto any road projects.

"It's called personal greed," Beshear said. "When Senator Williams received the road plan, it already had $266 million for his district, over $130 million of which was to be funded in the near-term. But that wasn't good enough for Senator Williams. He made some last-minute, fine-print changes that moved another $155 million of those projects in his district ahead of those of other communities around this state. He wants to guarantee that his projects would be finished first at the expense of others.

"He was worried that I would veto those changes. In other words, he was worried about himself, not this state."

Beshear said he could not say whether he would line-item veto the additional road projects in Williams' district, which includes Clinton, McCreary, Monroe, Wayne and Whitley counties.

Williams, whom Beshear defeated in last year's election for governor, said Friday afternoon he was disappointed that Beshear was "so personally vitriolic" in his call for a special session.

Williams said Beshear's efforts to "demonize" him have created a security risk for his family. He said he would not go to a Louisville sporting event or concert because of "threats and verbal assaults" against him, provoked by Beshear.

He recommended that the Democratic governor "calm down a little bit."

Williams stressed that the Senate would not pass a transportation budget until the governor acted on the road plan.

"I don't think he should have called the special session until he decided on the road plan," Williams said.

Williams has an advantage in his dispute with Beshear.

House Bill 267, the two-year road plan, was delivered to the governor late Thursday. He has 10 days to consider vetoing portions of the bill. The Senate could adjourn Monday or any day next week and wait for the 10-day veto period to expire. Or it could stay in special session until April 24, when Beshear's veto period is up, then pass the transportation budget if he does not veto any projects in the road plan.

Only the governor can call a special session and set the agenda. But he does not control when the legislature leaves.

Beshear warned Friday that voters would not be happy if they have to pick up the tab to fuel Williams' ego or to protect Senate road projects.

"If they stay here longer than the minimum amount of days just in order to put money in their pockets or to play political games, the people of this state this fall, when these elections roll around, I think will let them know just how they feel about that," Beshear said.

He also added HB 4, a measure designed to crack down on misuse of prescription drugs, to the call for the special legislative session.

The state's abuse of prescription drugs is an epidemic, he said. Recent studies show that one in three adults in Kentucky knows someone with a prescription drug problem. Three Kentuckians die each day from a drug overdose, Beshear said.

HB 4 would give law enforcement more tools to crack down on rogue doctors who overprescribe pain medications and would limit the ownership of pain clinics to physicians. It would move the state's electronic reporting system for prescriptions from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office.

Attorney General Jack Conway said Friday in a statement that he was disappointed lawmakers failed to pass a comprehensive bill to fight prescription drug abuse. He also said he favored original legislation sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and not the bill that has been "watered down" by lobbyists for the medical community.

The new bill "would place even greater restrictions on law enforcement access" to the monitoring system, "making it more difficult to do the job we are seeking to do."

He said lobbyists also persuaded the Senate to remove a provision "that would require doctors to register and use" the monitoring system, Conway said.

Beshear said he would not add any additional measures to the agenda of the special session.

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