2024 General Assembly: Lawmakers begin to tackle 60 days of work

Published 1:35 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Tuesday, Kentucky’s legislators started the new year getting back to work in Frankfort.

The 2024 General Assembly will be a 60-day session in which the legislature crafts a budget and passes other key bills. No bills were brought up for discussion Tuesday, but there was still plenty of action.

The day began with the swearing in of constitutional officers in the Capitol Rotunda.

Secretary of State Michael Adams, Attorney General Russell Coleman, Agricultural Commissioner Jonathan Shell, Treasurer Mark Metcalf and Auditor Allison Ball all participated in the ceremony.

Then, Kentucky Together, a coalition of education, labor, health and community organizations, held a press conference about their budget priorities this session.

Natalie Cunningham, KyPolicy outreach director, said that continuing to cut the income tax would “dramatically shrink revenues and result in shuttering schools, hospitals, universities and other vital services.”

Cunningham said that while they’ve often been told in the past that the money wasn’t there to meet the needs, now their is.

Letcher County flood survivor Wesley Brown said that state lawmakers can change lives by helping his family and others in Eastern Kentucky.

He asked them to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, mental health resources and supplies.

“If we aren’t doing this, what are we planning to do better?” Brown asked. “Somebody tell me, please, what are we saving the rainy day fund for exactly?”

Other speakers called for increased funding for land and water conservation, staffing of mental health professionals in schools and a cost of living increase for state employees.

Most of these budget items are included in Gov. Andy Beshear’s proposed budget.

At noon, the House and Senate convened. In both chambers, legislators attempted to reform the rules, which guide how bills travel through the legislature throughout the session.

These attempts come after a League of Women Voters report highlighted several ways the Kentucky General Assembly’s rules make the legislative process less transparent.

The report found that practices like allowing a vote on a bill the same day it leaves committee, replacing bills with substitute versions at the last minute and holding required bill readings before the committee sees the bill makes it harder for legislators, journalists and constituents to review legislation before it passes.

It included several suggestions for reform, including making committee substitutes available online a day before the committee meeting where it will be considered and holding all three required bill readings after it has already passed committee.

Ahead of the session, a group of Republican legislators suggested several rule changes to increase transparency, including giving House members three legislative days to look over a bill that has been amended before it can be voted on.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, spoke out against fast-tracking maneuvers on the floor.

“Transparency and open government are the most basic tenets of democracy,” he said.

Rep. Rachel Roarx, D-Louisville, also chimed in.

“I’m not a lawyer; it takes me a little bit longer to get through legislation than what someone who may read quicker or process those things a little bit faster does,” she said.

“But like many of us, I like to be prepared for what I’m voting on, and when I get 24 hours or less to do so, there is not that thoughtful consideration on my part.”

She added that her constituents also don’t have the time to have their voices heard with the quick passage of bills.

The rules were eventually passed, without amendments, 72-23.