Budgets and bills on the table

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By Jimmy Higdon

After a pause in legislative work Monday, Jan. 20, to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Senate reconvened Tuesday, Jan. 21, in a joint session with the House to hear the Governor’s budget proposal.
Determining the state’s two-year budget is the most daunting, time-consuming task we undertake in the legislature. As you can imagine, getting a majority of 138 lawmakers -- who represent varied ideologies and communities across the state -- to agree on any bill is hard. It was never meant to be effortless. Our government and the legislative process were designed so that every person has a voice and only the best bills become law. A measure with the complexity and consequences of the budget bill makes that process even more involved. Tuesday night’s speech was a first step.
The Governor’s plan, which focused largely on increased spending for education and training efforts, is now in the hands of House budget subcommittees. There, line item details are being hammered out for billions of dollars of revenues and expenditures.
In the coming weeks, the bill will move through the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and then to the full House for that chamber’s stamp of approval. That’s when we’ll have a chance to put our mark on it here in the Senate. Then conferees will meet to settle differences between the House and Senate plans.
It’s much more than a matter of mathematics. Getting the numbers to add up is easy. The hard part is reconciling the differences in priorities, principles and philosophies among lawmakers. We don’t always agree on which programs and services to cut or invest in. And we have to work toward a consensus on the most fiscally responsible way to move our state forward.
It’ll most likely take nearly every one of our 47 remaining working days – and many late nights and weekends between – for the plan to make it back to the Governor’s desk to become law.
For now though, many other bills are getting their turn on the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 3, passed 33-5 this week, would change the informed consent process required prior to an abortion procedure. The bill would mandate an in-person meeting with a doctor, nurse or social worker at least 24 hours before the procedure is scheduled. Supporters say this would allow women considering the procedure an opportunity to ask questions and consider information.
Senate Bill 4, passed unanimously, would address legislative pension spiking concerns raised after a 2005 law permitted legislators to include other, more lucrative government jobs in their pension calculations. Called the Legislative Pension Reciprocity Repeal, this measure would permit lawmakers to make a one-time irrevocable declaration opting out of the higher-paying pension calculation.
Senate Bill 27, passed 25-12, would amend the state Constitution to move the four-year election cycle of the state’s constitutional offices. Currently, those offices are up for election in 2015. This measure would move the elections up to 2016, matching the current presidential election cycle. The bill’s sponsor said the change would save the state $3.5 million. If approved by the full General Assembly, the question would be posed to voters on the November ballot this year for final ratification.
These bills are now in the House for their consideration.
We’ll consider many more before final adjournment on April 15. I encourage you to stay informed and stay involved with the legislative process and the bills we take up. Let me know your thoughts and concerns about the budget or any other legislative issues we’re considering. To do my job well, I need to hear from you.
Citizens are always welcome in our committee meetings. You can also view live-streaming and archived coverage of legislative proceedings at www.ket.org. My website, www.jimmyhigdon.com, hosts updated information. Also, you can call me at 1-800-381-7181 and at my home, 270-692-6945. I appreciate any input and welcome your questions and comments.