Moving state forward is tough task in 30 days

Published 1:11 pm Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mark Twain, whose sarcastic wit has become the stuff of legends, famously quipped that “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

He sure would have loved living in Kentucky.

Here in the Commonwealth, the legislature convenes in regular session for 60 days in even-numbered years and for 30 days in odd-numbered years. 

That means 2017 is a short session that really amounts to less than a month of really focusing on moving the state forward.

And that’s it.

The legislature could convene in a special session if the governor asks for it and some items are handled in what is called the interim period between sessions.

Lawmakers are well past the halfway mark of this year’s session, but so much remains unresolved with hundreds of bills stuck in what could best be described as limbo.

They came out of the gate like Secretariat and passed seven bills in less than a week.

Since then, well, the pace has slowed. To a snail’s pace.

How many bills have been passed since? One.

What was this piece of legislation that one might think had to be a masterpiece? It would allow vehicles used to transport feed for livestock or poultry to exceed weight limits by 10 percent.

Another concern is that having such compressed legislative sessions creates a culture designed to be either one extreme or the other.

Lawmakers either are forced to rush things through with such a tight timeframe that you have to wonder if some pieces of legislation are fully thought out and thoroughly vetted. In some cases it limits the window for lawmakers to get a clear understanding of how legislation will impact their constituents and how those citizens feel.

The other extreme is that legislation can get strung out for years in the review process.

Although considered part-time, the compensation certainly feels a lot more full-time to most citizens.

Salaries range from about $40,000 to $90,000 including expense reimbursements. This doesn’t even include the benefit packages and pension plans.

We understand that legislators have to make a living in their day jobs — some of whom actually take a pay cut to spend time in Frankfort — but we need consistent and constant focus on moving Kentucky forward.

It may be time to overhaul the whole system and rethink the approach.

Do we need full-time lawmakers? Maybe, but the expense could be prohibitive. Do we need longer sessions? Possibly. Would creating more clear guidelines as to how many bills can be introduced per session help? Very possibly.

At the very least, we must have a conversation about the time we give our lawmakers and how they spend it.

So, no offense to Twain, but Kentucky may need to give its legislators more time to focus on the future.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 759-0095 or by email at mike.caldwell@winchestersun.com.