FRANKFORT — The Legislative Research Commission could have a new director by this summer who would enact reforms at the troubled agency, Kentucky legislative leaders said Tuesday.
The General Assembly returned to the Capitol for the remaining 26 days of their 2015 session Tuesday, but other than file scores of new bills, there wasn't much for lawmakers to do while preparing their chambers for the days ahead.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he wants the LRC to begin its search to replace Bobby Sherman, who resigned as the agency's director in September 2013 amid lawsuits claiming a hostile workplace filed by several employees. The House and Senate leaders who oversee the LRC will meet on Wednesday.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, later told reporters that he hopes to have a new director on the job by July 1, when the state's fiscal year begins.
Last month, the LRC released a nine-month-old performance audit of its operations that showed low morale among the 388 employees, poor management practices and a lack of internal communication. On Tuesday, Stumbo said he wants to see "a reform agenda" at the agency that runs the legislative branch, but he thinks a new LRC director should be the person to set it.
Also Tuesday, Stumbo and Stivers said their chambers should be able to agree this winter on at least two measures: a bill to address the state's heroin addiction epidemic and a bill to extend civil protective orders to dating couples. Bills on both subjects have failed in past sessions because the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate could not agree on their differences.
But Stumbo said he's optimistic this time.
"We're gonna get a heroin bill and we're gonna get a domestic-violence bill. You can take that to the bank," Stumbo said.
There will be differences between the Senate's heroin bill, which that chamber passed in January, and the House's heroin bill, which should be filed in the next two weeks, Stumbo said. Unlike the Senate, which seeks much longer prison terms for anyone convicted of heroin trafficking, the House wants to distinguish between major traffickers and addicts who are small-time peddlers to support their addiction, Stumbo said.
Also, the Senate's heroin bill would redirect millions of dollars toward addiction treatment from savings that are supposed to result from the state's recent prison reforms, which cut the number of inmates. But it's not clear all that money will exist, the speaker said.
"The Senate spent money that really wasn't there," Stumbo said. "It's kind of a bit of a false promise, I'm afraid."
In a separate interview, Stivers disagreed.
"It's premature to say there's no money there," Stivers said.
On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to discuss Senate Bill 29, which would try to protect the state's Road Fund from further losses because of the dramatic drop in gasoline prices. The bill would set a floor for the average wholesale price of gas — for tax-computing purposes only — at its present level of $2.35 a gallon.
The House Judiciary Committee is set to hear several bills, including one sponsored by Stumbo that would expand the offense of first-degree animal cruelty — a Class D felony — to include keeping, breeding, training, selling or transferring a four-legged animal for fighting purposes.