Immigration, taxes on agenda for Kentucky Republicans

Senate President David Williams
Senate President David Williams

FRANKFORT — Senate Republicans will file legislation similar to a controversial Arizona law that would allow police to carry out federal immigration law, said Senate President David Williams.

Williams, R-Burkesville, announced the Senate majority's legislative agenda Friday after the 23 members of the Republican caucus met for two days in Frankfort. The legislative session begins in January.

The expansive agenda includes proposals to overhaul the state's tax code, change the state's campaign laws and tweak state government pensions for new employees.

Williams, who plans to run for the Republican nomination for governor in the spring, declined to talk about specifics of the Senate's planned proposal regarding immigration enforcement, saying only that it would be similar to legislation that passed in Arizona.

If it were in effect, Arizona's law would require police to determine the immigration status of people they have stopped and determine whether the person is in the country legally. That law is currently being challenged in the federal court of appeals.

The bill would allow police to enforce federal immigration laws, he said.

Some called the proposal short-sighted and said it would do more harm than good.

"This kind of legislation is being pushed forward or promoted on the basis of a whole series of misunderstandings, misconceptions and falsehoods," said Brian Rich, a professor of sociology at Transylvania University who has studied immigration. Rich said the country's immigration laws are broken, but that asking state and local police to enforce immigration law panders to a very vocal minority.

"I am very disturbed," Rich said. "It is very opportunistic and they are trying to ride anti-immigration sentiment. Survey after survey shows that most people favor some sort of legalization."

The Senate Republicans are also proposing creating a commission to analyze the state's current tax code and propose changes to move the current system "away from taxing production" and toward taxing consumption. The independent commission — which would be staffed by economists and tax experts — would then report its recommendations to the state legislature by January 2012, when the next budget will be tackled.

The legislature would only be able to vote for or against the proposed plan, Williams said. No amendments would be allowed. Under a different proposal, all appropriations and tax bills would have to be posted for 48 hours before a vote, Williams said.

Williams also said that he would like to make changes to the state's pension system by moving new employees to a 401(K) type plan.

Senate Republicans would like to toughen some state campaign laws by making it improper for any elected official to receive money from lobbyists or lobbyists' spouses. Williams said legislators are not allowed to receive direct contributions from lobbyists. Other state office holders should have to play by the same rules, he said.

Such a law could help Williams in his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. If passed, it would mean that Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear would not be able to take money from lobbyists in the later part of the 2011 election.

Senate Republicans also want to move the primaries from May to August, which would allow state legislators to spend more time in Frankfort during the legislative session doing their job rather than worrying about a May primary, Williams said.

Despite the limited number of days — 30 in this year's session — Williams said he believed that the Republican agenda can be passed.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said in a written statement that the House Democrats, who control the lower house, will be focused on the economy. House Democrats will caucus next week and announce their agenda.

Stumbo did not directly address the Senate Republicans' agenda.

"As always, we will disagree with the Senate on some issues, agree on others, but I hope we can come together on helping families hurt by the recession," Stumbo said.

Beshear has said that raising the school drop-out age from 16 to 18 and shoring up the state's Medicaid budget will be at the top of his legislative agenda.

In a written statement, Beshar said that over the past three years he has worked with the legislature to pass significant legislation.

"Again in this legislative session, I look forward to working with the House and Senate on matters of mutual interest," Beshear said.

Phil Moffett, a Louisville businessman who is also running for the Republican nomination for governor, expressed skepticism about both the Williams and Beshear agendas.

"We should be very suspicious and hold their proposals to great scrutiny, because every other time they have gotten together to reform government it has put Kentuckians deeper into debt," he said.