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Public Policy: Rebalancing Power While Balancing a Budget

A look at the topic’s being addressed by the ’21 General Assembly

By Bob Babbage and Julie Babbage

Against a backdrop of anxiousness for a return to normal, House and Senate majority members are slicing power from the governor’s job description, while working fast to write a one-year balanced budget.

Eight of the 30 working days allowed for a short session were used to send priority bills to Gov. Andy Beshear to sign or veto. He is expected to veto several of these, but will almost certainly be overridden by the historically high GOP membership.

Orchestrating the tight calendar plus the high demand for results are Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and House Speaker David Osborne (R-Prospect).

Keeping issues moving for debate and votes is the job of Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), a veteran in this role. Rep. Stephen Rudy (R-Paducah) headed the budget panel, but now calls out the House agenda from the leader’s microphone.

The House has a 75-25 Republican edge, similar to the Senate advantage of 30-8, GOP.

These four leaders just put the next state budget on a fast track. Instead of committee and floor debates late in the session, the budget will be worked through and remade by a team of top leaders in the House and Senate by early February, then voted.

Leading figures are the budget chairs, Sen. Christian McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) joined with Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton), new to this post.
State Budget Director John Hicks figures in, with a strong handle on revenue projections as well as the governor’s budget goals, including teacher raises and rural broadband expansion.

Backing up Stivers or Osborne are Rep. David Meade (R-Lancaster) and Sen. David Givens (R-Greensburg), who serve temporarily as speaker and president when needed. The Senate minority leader is Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).

Women number 31 of the 100 House members and six in the Senate, a high mark in state history. Likewise, two top women chair the GOP majority caucus meetings: Sen. Julie Raque Adams (Louisville) and Rep. Suzanne Miles (Owensboro).

Women also have two top roles for the House Democrats: Rep. Joni Jenkins (Shively) as floor leader and Rep. Angie Hatton (Whitesburg) as “whip” or chief vote counter.

The moves to cut the power of the governor started with orders issued by the chief executive during the pandemic. Rep. Bart Rowland (R-Tompkinsville) and Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) led the way to give businesses, churches or schools a choice. They can meet the standards of the state or the CDC guidelines, whichever are least restrictive. Another measure limits the duration of executive orders to 30 days, unless the General Assembly approves. It would have to come back into session to do this.

No law could be suspended by the governor in an emergency without approval of the attorney general, which would be Daniel Cameron over the next three years. Regulating abortion clinics has largely come under the purview of the governor; the GOP-backed law would move this to the attorney general.

The governor could no longer disband boards or commissions in order to get new members aligned with administration goals and policies.
Education dominates fiscal conversations. Rep. Regina Huff (R-Williamsburg) and Sen. Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) manage many issues and ideas.

Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris) and Sen. Dennis Parrett (D-Elizabethtown) work on the funding and spending parts, along with Sen. Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green).

Health concerns and the massive Medicaid program have leadership from Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser (R-Taylor Mill) and Sen. Ralph Alvarado (who is a physician), Rep. Dan Bentley (R-Russell), Rep. Lisa Willner (D-Louisville) and Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington) concentrate here.

Pension debt has constant attention from Rep. James Allen Tipton (R-Taylorsville) and Rep. Jim DuPlessis (R-Elizabethtown).

Hot button issues will loom, including medical marijuana and a fix for historical racing wagering, which was given a curve ball by the Supreme Court while sports betting is now gaining popularity in surrounding states.