FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky State Legislature officially went back to work on Tuesday, January 8th. When legislators wrap up their day Friday, January 11th, they’ll begin a recess that’s three weeks long. They’ll head back to Frankfort on February 5th. Then, they’ll wrap up the session for the year on March 29th.
If you think their calendar is weird (and confusing), you’re not alone.
For the record, it’s set by the Kentucky State Constitution (see Sections 36 and 42). We’ll spare you the convoluted and “constitution-y” language, but it boils down to this:
In even-numbered years, like 2018, the legislature convenes in early January and is in session for a total of 60 days; in odd-numbered years, like 2019, it meets in early January and is in session for a total of 30 days.
Maybe you just did some quick math in your head and realized that adds up to 335 “days off” for the 2019 year. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig, right?
Well, not so fast. We put “days off” in quotes for a reason.
First of all, it doesn’t take into account special sessions called by the governor, like we saw last month for pension reform. It also doesn’t account for behind the scenes work legislators have to do to craft laws, work on budgets, meet with constituents, and more. Above all that, most state legislators have other jobs on top of their legislative work in Frankfort.
“They have careers, and they receive a per diem expense, so you can’t really make a living just being a member of the legislature,” explained Dr. Dewey Clayton, a professor of political science at the University of Louisville. In his opinion, it’s actually a good thing that legislators have other jobs and aren’t in session all the time because it lets them stay more connected to the community.
“They stay moored to the people,” Clayton said. “This is not something they’re going to make a living off of necessarily, so it sort of keeps them balanced. I think it sort of keeps them in tune with what the voters in the state are thinking, those in their respective districts are thinking as well. I think it’s a plus.”
FYI—the legislative calendar can change, and it has in the past. Once upon a time, the legislature met only every other year in Kentucky but began meeting every year in the early 1980s.
The calendar could change again in the future, but only with a constitutional amendment.
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