This week, my fellow state legislators and I returned to the Capitol to begin another legislative session. As our work gets underway, I thought it would help to write about what, exactly, will be taking place.
Since we're in an even-numbered year, the General Assembly will meet for 60 working days, and the state constitution says that time cannot extend past April 15.
For much of Kentucky's history, even-year sessions were the only time legislators could pass laws, unless the governor called them to Frankfort to address a specific issue. In 2000, however, voters made annual legislative sessions possible, bringing us in line with most other states.
Unlike most states, Kentucky still uses a two-year budget cycle, and crafting that multi-billion dollar spending plan for state government will be the General Assembly's chief focus this year.
If tradition holds, Governor Andy Beshear will address legislators twice this month. The first will be the annual State of the Commonwealth, which is similar to the presidential State of the Union.
Later, he will formally present his budget proposal that the House and Senate will then modify before sending it back to him to sign, veto, or line-item veto. The budget is the only type of legislation that a governor can choose what part of the bill he would like to reject, but the legislature retains the right to override that decision.
Outside of our budget work, the General Assembly will also consider hundreds of other bills. This legislation will be assigned to more than a dozen committees, and it will be up to the committee chairmen and legislative leaders to decide which bills are heard and ultimately voted on in the House and Senate. If a bill clears one chamber, it will have to go through the same process in the other.
Except for proposed constitutional amendments, which go directly before voters in November of even-numbered years, all bills that the House and Senate approve head to the governor, who then has about 10 days to decide whether to accept or reject each one. Like the budget vetoes, however, the legislature can override a governor's rejection with a simple majority vote. That's different than what happens in Washington, where a veto override has to have the support of at least two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate.
Here in Kentucky, legislators can file bills up to the first couple of days of March, which is about two-thirds of the way through the session. It is important to emphasize that major changes can and often do occur much later through amendments and special conference committees temporarily created to finalize a particular bill that the House and Senate can both support.
Those interested in the legislative process have several ways to keep up with this work beyond what we learn in the media. The General Assembly's website (legislature.ky.gov) is an excellent resource, and there you can find the full text of all bills and track their progress each legislative day.
That same progress can be monitored by calling the bill-status line at 1-866-840-2835. The number to learn more about committee meeting schedules, meanwhile, is 1-800-633-9650, and the TTY message line is 1-800-896-0305.
If you would like to leave a message for me or any other legislator, that number is 1-800-372-7181, and it is available year-round and has later hours when the General Assembly is meeting. All of these numbers are of course toll-free.
Kentucky is fortunate to have KET, which does a wonderful job of keeping the public informed. Videos of committee meetings and House and Senate debate can be found online and via KET's mobile-phone app.
I encourage you to stay informed, and to keep me informed, too. Legislators receive tens of thousands of calls, letters, emails and social media messages, and each one is vital when it comes to helping us know how to vote. In addition to leaving me a phone message, you also have the option to email me at Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov. If you are a parent whose child would enjoy being a legislative page for a day, please let me know that by phone or email, too.
I'll provide more information in the coming weeks on individual issues we'll be discussing this legislative session. For now, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you at our state Capitol, and I hope to hear from you soon.