New era begins, issues still languish in Frankfort


by Joe Arnold

Posted on January 8, 2013 at 8:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 9 at 12:24 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky (WHAS11) -- "We need not dwell on the past," said newly elected Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers on Tuesday, ushering in a new era, post-David Williams, at the State Capitol.

After leading the Republican majority in the Senate for a tumultous and often contentious 13 years, Williams resigned from the Senate in November to accept a circuit judgeship.

Saying the 14th Republican led Senate will write its own history, Stivers (R-Manchester) reminded fellow senators in his first floor speech as President that each new page of that history is a blank page.

"The way the body will be conducted I think we just have different styles and mechanisms and mannerisms," Stivers told WHAS11 during a brief recess, "and we'll just see how that plays out."

"I think there's at least going to be a civility to the dialogue," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).

Stivers' first big move as president was bipartisan - surrendering some of his power.  He will let Senate Democrats make their own committee assignments.

"To reach out to have the opportunity to start a new chapter, to have a blank page," Stivers reiterated.

Yet, it remains to be seen if more civility in the inner workings of Frankfort will lead to anything actually being
accomplished in the 30 day "short session" of the legislature.

"It will be very difficult to pass anything of great significance during a short legislative session, especially since we don't have a consensus," said House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover

The leaders do agree that Kentucky's underfunded pension system needs to be a priority, but their opinions differ as to when lawmakers will be able to reach any agreement.

"I think it is a crisis," said Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), the Senate's new Majority Floor Leader, explaining why pension reform should be passed during the session.

"We're talking about a $33 billion unfunded liability," Thayer continued, "and why wait until the last minute like they did in Washington DC?"

Stumbo, however, said it will take a special session to both tackle a solution to the chronically underfunded pension system and take up tax reform.

"And I think they probably ought to be discussed intricately at least from the beginning to see what happens on both those issues," Stumbo said.

"It's kind of a generational shift going on right now," said newly elected Senator Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).  "We have seven new senators and many of us are under the age of 40 so I'm excited to see what we can come up and contribute."

Yet a new cast of characters doesn't necessarily change the plot.
For instance, the exit of expanded gambling opponent David Williams doesn't appear to increasing the issue's odds.

The sponsor of a failed expanded gambling amendment in 2012, Sen. Damon Thayer, is turning his attention to other matters as the newly elected Majority Floor Leader.

"I did the heavy lifting on it last session," Thayer (R-Georgetown) said.  "I think it's something that the House of Representatives ought to take up."

Stumbo, however, indicated a reluctance for House members to commit to a gambling initiative that may not have enough support in the Senate, where it failed last year 21 to 16.

"I think we would want to know that there would be a pretty good chance it would be passed down there given their history on the issue," Stumbo said.

"If that is their issue that they want to deal with that they should probably discuss that issue in the House," Stivers said.

At least one new House member from Jefferson County says he's all in -- and that local voters' voices should be heard.

"(Voters want) the opportunity to vote either yes or no on it," said Rep. Denny Butler (D-Louisville).  "And I think we have an opportunity now to get it on the ballot. I think it would be the best thing for not only Louisville but Kentucky."

Butler hopes expanded gambling succeeds in the short session.

"I don't see why it couldn't," Butler continued.  "and I think it will put more confidence back in the voters."