In the year since I first began serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives, I have had numerous people ask me exactly what a legislative session is like.
The first thing I tell them is that it is hectic. But I also tell them that, at its core, these meetings are still the best way to make sure everyone — from here in the mountains to the edge of the Mississippi River 400 miles west of here — has their voice heard on things important to all of us.
The General Assembly’s work is governed by the state constitution adopted in 1891, and it called for the House and Senate to meet in even-numbered years until voters approved odd-year legislative sessions in 2000.
There are some important differences between the two meetings. The odd-year ones last for 30 working days, ending in late March, and they begin by having newly-elected legislators sworn into office. Legislative leaders are then chosen and committee assignments are made. Mine, for example, are Agriculture, Judiciary and Tourism & Outdoor Recreation, and there are 13 others that deal with legislation.
There often aren’t many bills in odd-year legislative sessions that focus on state finances, because we are still one of 19 states that pass two-year rather than annual budgets. That work is the main focus of our longer, 60-day legislative session, which the constitution says must be done by April 15.
A few days from now, Governor Bevin will formally start the budget process when he appears before the House and Senate to offer his proposed spending plan for the Executive Branch.
The House has eight special budget subcommittees that will then look over that budget — plus the budgets for the Legislative and Judicial Branches — and hear testimony from leaders of state agencies and the public alike. This work also includes a two-year spending plan for our roads and bridges and the next four “out” years so that the public has a better understanding of what highway projects are on the horizon.
Our chamber usually votes on all of these branch budgets by early March, when the state Senate then begins undertaking its own review. A compromise that both chambers can then vote on will be held later that month, and the governor will have about 10 days to decide whether to sign them into law, veto all of a spending bill or veto just some lines of it. The state constitution says he cannot add words to the budget, but he can mark them out. Budgetary bills are also the only ones in which he can do a line-item veto; the governor must accept or reject the others entirely.
The General Assembly will return on April 12 and 13 to decide whether to override any vetoes the governor may issue, and it is possible that some unresolved issues will be decided those two days as well. However, if that occurs, the General Assembly is unable to override any vetoes the governor may issue for those bills.
The budgets will take effect on July 1, which is the start of the fiscal year, and the other laws the General Assembly approves will officially become law around that time as well, unless they had an emergency clause or a specific enactment date.
While the budget will be the major focus during this session, there will be numerous other bills that are important in their own right. For example, I will be fighting to make sure any public retirement reforms, should they occur, do not place an unfair burden on our local and state government and school employees and their retirees.