The General Assembly made history this week, when for the first time since the advent of short, 30-day sessions in 2001, it was in session during the second week in January. The pace of legislative work was slower this week than the first five days of the session, but the focus was the same: the passage of the priority bills of the chambers and to position budgets for conference committee discussions over the January break.
Another event of the week was a first, at least among recent history. A group of private citizens filed a petition for impeachment of the Governor with the House of Representatives. The petition alleges that Governor Beshear should be removed from office for violations of numerous sections of the Kentucky Constitution. The Speaker named a seven-member committee, of four Republicans and three Democrats that is chaired by Rep. Jason Nemes, to consider the petitions accusations. The committee met to adopt rules and set a schedule for an answer by the Governor and response by the petitioners. The committee will meet again on January 27. An impeachment petition has also been filed by ten private citizens against Rep. Robert Goforth stemming from charges of domestic violence to which he has pled not guilty. The committee chaired by Rep. Nemes will also consider the petition against Goforth.
When the legislature adjourned on Wednesday, the 13th, it did so until February 2 when it will have 22 legislative days remaining in this short session.
Governor Beshears budget proposals were quickly dispatched by the General Assembly. The House and Senate have each passed their version of a continuation executive branch budget (HB192), transportation budget (HB 193), legislative branch budget (HB 194) and judicial branch budget (HB195). HB 191, the Governors COVID-19 relief bill, remains in the House A&R Committee. These bills are, in effect, place holders for a budget that will be hammered out in conference committee beginning over the January break.
Conference committee members were appointed in each chamber before adjournment on Wednesday. For HB 192 the Senate appointed: McDaniel (chair), Stivers, Givens, Thayer, Wilson, Adams, McGarvey, Thomas, Parrett. The House appointed: Petrie (Chair), Osborne, Meade, Rudy, McCoy, Miles, Jenkins, Hatton, Graham. The first conference committee meeting is expected to take place next week, though we expect much of the negotiations to take place behind closed doors.
Last week we commented on rule changes that allowed the Committee on Committees in each chamber to hold bills indefinitely without referral to committee. This rule change has been put into effect, particularly in the House.
By adjournment on Wednesday, 280 house bills have been filed. Other than priority bills and budget bills, the House had not assigned any bills to committee until Wednesday when twenty-five bills were assigned to committee in the House prior to adjournment. Several of these bills were posted for hearing in committee when the General Assembly returns.
The Senate has moved more quickly to make bill assignments and, on the 13th, began Senate committee hearings where legislation was taken up and reported to the full Senate.
By the time the General Assembly adjourned last Saturday, five priority bills had passed both chambers and been delivered to the Governor. This week the House and Senate continued work on priority bills. We have listed the priority bills in the list below, but wanted to highlight this weeks action:
HB 3, intended to remove certain legal actions from the exclusive jurisdiction of the Franklin Circuit Court, is on the Governors Desk with a committee substitute adopted this week that does away with the original bills three judge panel structure and allows filing of actions in the county of residence of the plaintiff in cases involving constitutional questions, executive orders, and administrative regulations.
HB 6 to revise and strengthen the investigative authority and powers of the Program Review Committee passed the House and has been received in the Senate and assigned to the Committee on State & Local Government.
The House and Senate have taken different approaches on immunity from COVID related lawsuits. The House version is HB 10 which deals only with the COVID 19 pandemic and provides a defense in legal actions. The Senate version, sponsored by Senate President Stivers is SB 5, which applies to all emergency orders and seeks to provide immunity from personal injury lawsuits in certain circumstances. Both bills remain in the Senate and are expected to be worked on over the recess break.
Three new priority bills were filed in the Senate. SB 6 , sponsored by Senator Wise, pertains to executive ethics and more specifically to participation of former or future lobbyists on gubernatorial transition teams. SB 8, sponsored by Senator Wilson, provides exceptions to mandatory immunization requirements and SB 10, sponsored by Sen. Givens, would create a Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity.
The House also rounded out its priority agenda bills with the filing of HB 7, sponsored by Rep. Bowling, which would establish an Advisory Council for Recovery Ready Communities and HB 8, sponsored by Rep. DuPlessis, to make changes to the way employers make payments to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System.