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Blitzkrieg Budget: Lawmakers Finalize Spending Plan, Other Bills Await Action

Josh James

Final passage of the state's $22 billion spending plan looms large on the last day of the 2016 legislative session, but a number of other bills wait in the wings.

Lawmakers gaveled in for the hectic final hours of the session with a compromise spending package in hand, one that House Speaker Greg Stumbo says should sail through his chamber with a healthy majority.

"If you look all through this budget document, it's full of compromises," he declared. "So I would characterize this session as a success just because we found middle ground."

That said, debate continues over a host of unpassed bills - albeit often in abbreviated fashion. Early Friday afternoon, a Senate committee quickly signed off on a measure boosting individual campaign contribution limits from $1,000 to $2,000. Republican Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer argued the change helps candidates and parties compete against massive Super PAC operations with unlimited resources.

"Our limits are actually miniscule compared to those states which do have limits. So this merely updates about a 25-year-old law," he said, explaining the committee substitute.

Louisville Democrat Morgan McGarvey cast one of three "no" votes.

"I don't think that we need to introduce more money into politics in Kentucky right now," he commented. "This bill puts more power in the hands of fewer people."

The bill later cleared the committee 8-3.

It's Alive!

While contentious budget negotiations dominated headlines in recent days, other measures could make last minute comebacks on the final day of the session.

In the Senate's only floor debate on a budget amendment last month, lawmakers stripped out a provision OKing $60 million in bonds for the Lexington Convention Center - prompting vocal protests from Sen. Reggie Thomas.

"What this Senate budget does... is that is shoots a hole in the heart of the city of Lexington," he complained.

So, that's it for convention center hopes this session, right? Not so fast.

Friday afternoon, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee hastily delivered a bill allowing Lexington to up its hotel tax from 6 to 8.5 percent, generating much needed funding for the proposed $250 million overhaul. It later moved out of the full Senate.

Other bills that could see eleventh hour action include transparency measures dealing with pensions and area development districts, a bill eliminating state safety inspections for coal mines, and a crime victim's bill of rights. When the clock strikes midnight, the session must come to its constitutional end.

Lawmakers could opt to override vetoes issued by Gov. Matt Bevin, but Stumbo said that will be up to members.

Also on the General Assembly's radar as the clock ticks down:

  • Increased penalties for dealing in illegal synthetic drugs, such as flakka.
  • Tighter restrictions for needle exchange programs implemented under last year's heroin bill.
  • Making legislator pensions subject to public scrutiny.
  • A "Work Ready" scholarship program paying some community college students' tuition if eligibility requirements are met.
Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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