BETWEEN THE AISLES: Weather breaks up ‘Bloody Sunday’

Revisions to Gov. Steve Beshear's budget expected today

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The threat of ice and snow split what’s known as “Bloody Sunday” — a day typically reserved for House Democratic leadership’s markup of the governor’s proposed biennial budget — into two sessions, with complete revisions expected, or at least hoped for, today.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo met with Rep. Rick Rand, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, and others, making “good progress” during a closed-door meeting throughout Friday afternoon to review Gov. Steve Beshear’s two-year budget proposal, Brian Wilkerson, Stumbo’s spokesman, said Friday.

Wilkerson said leaders plan to meet again today with a goal to have the House’s version of the two-year budget complete by the end of the day. As of Sunday evening, today’s 4 p.m. gavel time had not been canceled due to weather. 

Beshear’s spending plan would increase funding for primary and secondary education while requiring cuts totaling nearly $100 million in a number of state agencies, such as constitutional offices, Kentucky State Police, public universities and the Energy and Environment Cabinet. 

Some, such as public health departments, Medicaid and the Department of Education, were spared the budgetary ax, and Beshear has appealed for expanded gambling and tax reform as a way to solve some of the state’s budget woes.

House Bill 235, the vehicle for Beshear’s proposed budget, was posted for consideration in Rand’s committee Friday, a standard precursor to a committee hearing. It’s the first sign of life for HB 235 since the bill was sent to the House budget committee Jan. 23.

There are always disagreements to iron out in the budget-writing process. Stumbo cited concerns with the governor’s proposed funding for property valuation administrators, who would face a $10.9 million drop in general fund support next fiscal year.

“There’s small concerns in other areas,” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday before the meeting. “I really don’t know because we haven’t been briefed on the total budget picture by Rep. Rand.”

Stumbo said the House is on pace to send the budget to the Senate by the 44th or 45th legislative day — March 11 or 12 in the current calendar. That’s typical during the budget-writing process, and the winter-storm-related hiccup won’t knock the House off course, Stumbo said. 

“We’ll remain on track to do that barring something unforeseen,” he said.

The Senate’s budget staff has been parsing Beshear’s budget plan in anticipation of receiving the House’s version, said Jodi Whitaker, spokeswoman for Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. 

“Obviously it’s a complicated process and the more time we have the better, but we’ll work within the timeframe we’re given,” she said.

Medical marijuana?

Kentucky may be on the verge of joining other states in allowing some medicinal uses for cannabis, though the bill with the most traction would not legalize the prescription of marijuana. 

Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor after clearing the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday. The legislation would allow doctors at medical research hospitals or those participating in trials approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prescribe cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating oil derived from cannabis plants such as hemp, which the General Assembly also helped green-light last year.

Advocates who testified for the bill said the oil has therapeutic effects on conditions such as epilepsy, and Denton, R-Louisville, said the legislation will “open the door for some first steps on this issue,” according to the Legislative Research Commission’s public information office.

SB 124 appears to have better chances than other pieces of legislation attempting the legalization of medicinal marijuana — the House Health and Welfare Committee passed such a bill, House Bill 350, by a 9-5 vote Thursday.

While some attitudes on the subject have thawed in recent years, the General Assembly remains far from joining 20 other states and the District of Columbia that allow the medicinal use of marijuana.

“I think we need to give it some time to see how it works in some of these other states that have moved forward with it,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said in an Associated Press report. “There’s still the concern about the abuse and recreational use.”

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