From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh
A special legislative session to balance Kentucky’s budget, expand gambling and tackle other issues ordered by Gov. Steve Beshear got underway Monday in Frankfort.
The day began with a news conference in the law library of Attorney General Jack Conway’s office. Former House Speaker Jody Richards had asked Conway to research the issue of video slots at horse tracks and see if such an expansion of gambling in the commonwealth would require a constitutional amendment. It would not, says Conway, in a 20-page advisory opinion that is not legally binding.
“I want to be very specific here,” said Conway. “What we are saying here today is that the General Assembly may, may – in its own discretion – enact the governor’s bill allowing VLT’s at race tracks.”
The ruling drew immediate praise from Patrick Neely of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, or KEEP.
“We want to be put on a level, competitive playing field,” said Neely. “We thought the General Assembly could authorize this via statute and we’re pleased the attorney general agrees.”
But David Edmunds of The Family Foundation was quick to condemn the opinion.
“We believe that today’s decision was not a legal one, but a political one and we believe that it was crafted on behalf of the gambling interests,” said Edmunds.
Later, after the House and Senate met briefly to get organized, House Democrats caucused on the agenda. Besides video slots, Governor Beshear wants lawmakers to approve his budget-balancing plan, some economic incentives and a funding mechanism for major bridge projects. All four bills will go before the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, where chairman Rick Rand is already predicting there are enough votes for passage of the slots bill.
“Yeah, I think there will be,” said Rand. “Yeah, I haven’t done a hard count, but I believe there will be, yes.”
“How do you think it’ll fair on the floor?” asked McVeigh.
“You know, I think it has a good shot at passing,” replied Rand.
Last night, Governor Beshear continued pitching passage of his slots bill in a 21-minute speech to a joint session of the legislature. He says cash from gaming won’t just save the horse industry, it will save the jobs of those who work at the tracks.
“The people who without fame or fanfare muck stalls, exercise horses, truck hay, paint fences,” said Beshear. “We can no more stand to lose the equine industry’s 100,000 jobs and $4 billion in economic impact than we can stand to surrender our title as the Horse Capital of the World.”
Beshear says he and lawmakers have already proven they can work together in a bipartisan fashion for the betterment of the commonwealth by previously addressing retirement, budget and education problems.
“We’ve faced Kentucky’s challenges head-on and we’ve done it together,” said Beshear. “It is time to do it again.”
But after the speech, Senate President David Williams continued to criticize the governor for calling the special session. He says Beshear still hasn’t provided lawmakers with specific details of his legislation.
“He said I could bore you with the facts, but I don’t want to talk about the numbers here,” Williams told reporters. “And you know, it’s all about the numbers, the facts and the detail. And that’s what’s void right now. And I hope, and I’m sure, the Speaker will make sure that in the House that especially when we’re talking about a tremendous expansion of gaming that we will talk about the numbers and not use any urban legend or any conventional wisdom. We need to talk about the facts.”
All four of the governor’s bills will have to clear the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee in order to reach the House floor. House committee hearings on the bills begin today.