You have heard that watching people make laws can be like watching people make sausage. This year in Kentucky, it has been uglier than that. Reading the entrails of the General Assembly session, though, unveils one sad truth: it could have been worse.
The clock ran out on the spending spree when the House and Senate adjourned Tuesday night. They left town without agreeing to restore the 2006 vetoed projects or any number of goodies they might have agreed on if they had been more agreeable more quickly. It might have been better if they had found common ground, as the special session that is sure to follow will cost taxpayers another $60,000 a day in addition to the new spending lawmakers will approve. It is ironic that the same legislators we will be paying extra to come back to work later this year were promising us in 2000 that if we just gave them annual sessions, these special ones would be unnecessary. This next one will be their fourth in seven years.
Nevertheless, there are at least ten good reasons to rejoice in the form of ten bills that didn’t make their way into the law books this year.
Senate Bill 12 would have extended the terms of Senators from four to six years and of Representatives from two to four years.
House Bill 5, an environmental extremist’s dream, would have doled out subsidies for retooling private buildings and equipment and questionable tactics in building, buying, and managing state properties in hopes that by doing so we might use less fossil fuel. While it might not actually succeed at saving energy, there can be no doubt this bill would cost lots of money.
House Bill 411 would have raised income taxes and estate taxes by several hundred million dollars a year and tacked new taxes onto a laundry list of services to the tune of nearly $100 million a year. Some of the services targeted for taxation included greens fees and country club dues, chartered air flight services, landscaping services, security and armored car services, and limousine services. Should we call this one the class warfare bill?
Another bill would cost taxpayers millions each year by warehousing thousands of unwilling students in our public high schools. HB 221 would have increased the compulsory school attendance age from sixteen to eighteen. Forcing students who want to drop out to come to school is meant to help some of them graduate. The far more likely result of this would be to unleash serious discipline problems on the rest of the student population.
Seeking to imprison students within school walls must only be half as fun as actually arresting them. Twin measures Senate Bill 183 and House Bill 309 would have allowed police to take into custody anyone found off school property during school hours who is suspected of being less than eighteen years old. What we really need is more freedom and greater opportunities for achievement for our students and instead we are literally handcuffing them.
One of the hottest issues in every election is how to lower college tuition costs. House Bill 544 pushes that idea in the wrong direction. The bill would have appropriated $19.7 million to dole out $2000 bonuses to every staff employee at the University of Kentucky for no particular reason at all
The debate about pension reform in state government deals partially with double-dipping. Allowing retiring employees to start drawing a pension and then return to work for another salary has caused problems with the state’s underfunded pensions. The focus of HB 465 was to enable double-dipping judges. The bill would have extended the life of the senior status judge program, set to expire this year.
Gender discrimination in the workplace is already against the law. House Bill 219 which would have prohibited paying women less than men when both perform jobs of “comparable worth,” succeeded mainly at confusing the issue. And that usually means lawsuits. For example, what does comparable worth mean? For the purposes of dealing with HB 219 as a law, it would have meant “call your lawyer.”
In the tradition of saving the best for last we have House Bill 184. This one would have allowed the General Assembly to rewrite any law behind closed doors. As such, any of the worst of these bills might find its way into law and only a handful of lawmakers would know anything about it until it was too late.
We must be vigilant as these bills might well reappear later. Looking on the bright side again, though, we need not fear that while the legislature is out of session.