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2015 Short Session - a stunning array of bills

As this short session concludes, let's recall the stunning array of issues placed on the legislative table at the beginning. From Agriculture (right-to-farm) to Banking and Insurance (crowd funding); Education (cyber bullying and dual credit) to Health and Welfare (aging at home and mental illness); the list proved overwhelming. Students, anti-animal cruelty advocates, Black Lung claimants, airport authorities, and small farm wineries all fought for our attention - and action. And there were the heavyweights: Mayors and county associations trying to get a LIFT. They had focused agendas and worked to maintain the all important pipeline of state juice for local road maintenance and projects. And like soldiers in the Army, various commerce Chambers marched onward for P3 Partnerships under the banner: "Support Job Growth."

We legislators had high hopes. We strained to see and hear of renewed bipartisanship between the H and S chambers. There were tantalizing joint communications from leadership offering tempting glimpses into what appeared to be new working partnerships. We eagerly took them to be commitments from leadership to work thru issues, together. Oh, did we have high hopes. . .

That apparent thaw in political détente was quickly frozen early this month by the worse weather and weather-related delays seen in many, many years. Those lost days of meetings meant lost opportunities to forge consensus and continue progress toward resolving issues. But mostly, it meant less time to birth what we believed to be promises of real progress made in some of these areas. It meant we, again, lament the fact that "we ran out of time" . . . In my point of view, more bills of substance and meaning to Kentucky families remain on the table this session than any previous short session.

When it's all said and done, more will have been said than done. What was done, nevertheless, will have profound effect on Kentucky families and children.

The question is how to honestly assess this session. It began as a canvass of challenges we Kentuckians collectively face each day; it ended with some sense of progress - and the quiet acknowledgement of elephants-- remaining in the room. And if you are willing to disregard process, one can legitimately claim "Victory." As it was, that just happens to be what we did; the elephants still waiting.

The Heroin Bill, the Gas Tax Stabilization Bill, the Dating Violence, and the Ignition Interlock Bill--ach will have a long-term, positive impact on our families and on state and local governments. Add to that list an expanded Booster Seat law; a tax check off program for rape crisis centers, and pediatric cancer research; even my HB 59 addressing aircraft safety and prohibiting using laser lights to interfere with aircraft operations and also resolving a long-standing dispute between Boone and Kenton Counties over the Northern Kentucky Airport.

The question on legislator's minds, and of concern to the public footing this bill, is why these important measures were only resolved in the 11th - make that the 2nd and 3rd hour in the day following the last day, sine die. I know, we had two snow days on the shelf. I also know a number of committees met constantly to hammer out details on some of these bills. Had we simply been told a decision had been made to hold us in session until Wednesday or Thursday, we would have been prepared for that. We were not prepared to be in session until 3:30 a.m.

As it was, the final two days were a hodgepodge of leadership, committee, conference committee and caucus meetings -- and rumors. Literally throughout the last days and hours, no one seemed to know the fate of most of these key bills. We did know that scores of bills, each representing a public policy concern and hard work by legislators, lobbyists, and committee work by one chamber or the other - literally scores of important bills ran out of time -- and at the end, time on our hands was the one thing of which we had an abundance.

Among the bills NOT making it thru include Former Felons Voting Rights; the LIFT Proposal allowing local taxing for local projects, the $3.2 B bonding for the Teachers' Retirement Fund, a proposal to allow student input into the Superintendent hiring process, and P3 Partnerships to increase privatization in the state. Although the session is over, you can still access and review all the 2015 legislative action on bills of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov .

The final vote of the session was the most interesting I believe we've taken in my years in the legislature-- An Act relating to campaign finance reports. In literally the last hour of the session, HB 203 came up for a vote. It proposed to increase (double) the amount of money candidates and parties could raise. It was sold as a way to combat the flow of "dark money" into state elections; giving incumbents a fighting chance to keep their seats. While it passed out of the Senate, there was bipartisan opposition in that chamber. And it was bipartisan opposition in the House that defeated it, 43-49. The public should keep an eye on this proposal, and we hope it will get the scrutiny it deserves next year.

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