Legislative Pace Lags Behind Previous Sessions

by Gabe Bullard on February 15, 2008

The 2008 Kentucky legislative session is halfway over and so far, the House and Senate have passed far fewer bills than at this point in recent 60 days sessions.

Since the start of the legislative session in January, and as of February 15, the Senate has passed 28 bills. That’s the fewest to clear the chamber by this point in the last three 60-day sessions.

“We generally are very sensitive to ensure the quality of the legislation, and frankly, quantity is not the measure of good legislative product,” says Katie Stine, President Pro Tempore of the Republican-controlled Senate.

Stine thinks the body is passing more meaningful bills and sending them to the House.

But the House hasn’t passed any of the Senate’s 28 bills. The Senate hasn’t passed any of the House’s bills’ either.

And the House has passed fewer of its own bills, too. 50, that’s less than half the average for the past 3 sessions.

Stine says despite the lack of action, the House and Senate are tracking each other’s progress.

“Things don’t happen in one chamber or another in a vacuum,” she says. “We’re watching what the other chamber is doing.”

By this point in the 2006 session, one bill had already been signed into law. In 2002, four were signed by the halfway point. Many more bills were eventually passed those years, but historically, most of the bills the governor signs are voted on in the last week or two before the General Assembly adjourns.

“It comes so fast at the end, sometimes the members of the legislature don’t know what they’re voting for or know the substance of the bills,” says Richard Beliles, chairman of the legislative watchdog group Common Cause of Kentucky.

Beliles thinks the key to progress is a more efficient legislature. One that doesn’t wait until the last minute to pass bills.

“They’re just all bunched together and that’s a problem,” he says.

“That is true,” says Representative Charlie Hoffman. “That is true up to a point.”

Hoffman, a Democrat from Georgetown, is the House Majority Caucus leader. He attributes the pace to human nature.

“There’s a sizeable part of the legislature that’s procrastinators and I think legislators have that same percentage as the makeup of our population of procrastinators too,” he says.

Hoffman says another reason for the slow start is the political process itself. Kentucky, like most states, has a citizen legislature. One that spends most of its time out of session. While that keeps legislators connected to their constituents, it also results in a slower start to the two month sessions.

Senator Stine agrees.

“A lot of times you need those alliances from across the state in order to get everybody in the state legislature to vote for your legislation,” she says.

While Stine thinks the time legislators spend getting to know each other and the lobbyists is worthwhile, she has another theory about the snail’s pace of this session.

“This governor tends to speak primarily to his own party members,” she says.

Stine adds she’s not sure why Governor Beshear hasn’t spent much time with Senate Republicans. Especially when he was crafting legislation to expand casino gaming, a key component of his campaign that will be a tough sell in the GOP controlled chamber.

“We have had so much success in the past when we worked with the minority party,” says Stine.

The success of the casino legislation remains to be seen, as it was just unveiled on February 14. But right now, it’s in a committee in the House, along with over 500 other bills awaiting action.

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