Rep. Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, began his first term as House Speaker on Wednesday the 100-member body elected him to the top House post. The veteran state lawmaker has served over 25 years in the House, where he returned last year after a four-year term as Kentucky Attorney General. Stumbo replaced former Speaker Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, who had held the Speakership for a record 14 years.
Candidates for House Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore—who fills in for the Speaker when he cannot perform his official dut-ies—are elected by the entire membership of the House. Joining Stumbo was longtime Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, who is now in his ninth term as second-in-command in the House.
All other House leadership positions are decided at the party level. On the Democratic side, incumbent Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, was reelected without opposition to the top party post. Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, got the nod as Caucus Chairman, replacing Rep. Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown. Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, was named Majority Whip, succeeding the retired Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville.
The only change in House Republican leadership was the election of Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, to succeed Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, as House Minority Whip. Incumbent Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and incumbent Minority Caucus Chairman Bob DeWeese, R-Louis-ville, were reelected in their respective leadership roles.
The remainder of the four-day first “organizational” week of the 30-day 2009 session was spent making and receiving committee assignments and attending mandatory training. After attending a couple days of briefings on ethics and legislative issues, lawmakers received reports late in the week from chairs of the interim joint committees, which study issues and draft legislation between sessions. Lawmakers were expected to find out by week’s end their standing committee assignments. (During sessions, the joint House and Senate committees that meet during the interim are separated into chamber-specific standing committees. It is these committees that will take up legislation during the second part of this year’s session, which will begin on Feb. 3 and is scheduled to end on March 24.)
Before the session convened, more than 130 bills were prefiled and more will be filed within the next few weeks. Some simply clarify language in existing law or change how various state agencies or commissions are organized. Others bills address major challenges—not least of which this year is how to meet the immediate funding needs of state government in an economic downturn that has left the state with a budget shortfall of more than $450 million.
The paradox that states like ours face in poor economic times is that the need for social, correctional and Medicaid spending grows at a time that state revenues are in decline. This makes it difficult to reduce current shortfalls and nearly impossible to meet requests for new or increased funding without finding new revenue sources.
Proposed new sources of state revenue -- including a tobacco-tax increase proposed by Gov. Steve Be-shear, or expanded gambling at Kentucky racetracks, a proposal that gained new currency last week — face uncertain prospects. It will likely be several weeks into the second part of the session—after lawmakers have had more time to listen to our constituents and research the pros and cons of any revenue-raising measure—before we know if any such notion has a chance of passage. In any event, streamlining government and further belt-tightening of state spending will be our first priority.
You can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you this session by logging onto the Legislative Research Com-mission Web site at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. If you would like to share your comments or concerns with me or another legislator, you can call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.