First day of General Assembly off to bumpy start, facing big issues; Hoover’s role in House uncertain

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By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The 2018 General Assembly got off to a bumpy start on Tuesday with some lawmakers unhappy that House Speaker Jeff Hoover has resigned and others upset that he hasn’t.


Hoover, R-Jamestown, had announced he would give up his leadership post in November after admitting he entered into a settlement with a former House staffer to resolve a sexual harassment claim, but no letter of resignation was filed and Hoover’s name remained on the speaker’s rostrum Tuesday.


It appears that Hoover is backtracking on his resignation, which he said on Nov. 5 was effective immediately. 


Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, presided in the House on Tuesday while Hoover sat quietly in the back of the chamber.

Jeff Hoover


Hoover said in a letter that he wanted Osborne “to perform the duties of speaker until further notice” because of a pending investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission, which is looking into sexual harassment complaints against Hoover and other House lawmakers.


”I feel this is an appropriate step to take, until the investigations have  concluded,” Hoover wrote.
 
Osborne told reporters Tuesday that Hoover remains speaker. He also said Hoover remains a member of two committees that determine which bills are sent to the Houe floor for votes.
 
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said the Democratic caucus “unanimously believes that Speaker Jeff Hoover should keep the commitment he made to the people of Kentucky in November and resign immediately.”

Hoover was one of four Republican lawmakers to settle the sexual harassment claim. The other three have all lost their committee chairmanships.
 
Amid the leadership chaos, Osborne said fixing the public pension plan remains at the top of the to-do list for lawmakers, though no legisation was filed on Tuesday to accomplish that.


“We are still waiting on some information to come back from the retirement systems, regarding some of the language we submitted to them,” he said. “The plan is to move as quickly as we possibly can, once we have all the information that we need.”

Another priority, Osborne said, is approving a state spending plan for the next two years. 


“The governor will be presenting his budget on Jan. 16, and certainly that will require an incredible focus of the House and our committees,” hesaid. 
 
Both the House and Senate convene Wednesday at 2 p.m. 

* * * *

Gavels pounded in the House and Senate at noon Tuesday signaling the start of the 2018 legislative session in which lawmakers are expected to tackle a number of crucial issues ranging from passage of a two-year, $22 billion budget to the reformation of the state’s adoption and foster system to allow children faster paths to forever homes.


Gov. Matt Bevin also is urging lawmakers to pass legislation to shore the financially troubled pension systems for government employees and retirees. The state has eight separate systems that have combined unfunded liabilities of between $33 billion and $84 billion.

David Osborne speaks with media after the session. (LRS photo)


The legislative session is scheduled to run into mid-April.


With tax revenues running $156 million below expectations, the State Budget Office issued a spending reduction plan in December for the final six months of the current fiscal year. Economists don’t see a turnaround coming in the near term, meaning lawmakers will have to either make deeper spending cuts or raise tax revenue.
 
Bevin’s administration has been working on a proposal to improve the state’s adoption and foster care system. Bevin appointed Dan Dumas as the state’s adoption czar to study the child placement process and make recommendations to improve it. Meanwhile, House lawmakers are also working on a proposal of their own.
 
A House taskforce, created to look into adoption and foster care, made more than a dozen recommendations in December.


Lawmakers will also consider a proposed constitutional amendment to ensure the rights of crime victims, including requiring that they be informed when offenders are being released from custody. Lawmakers are considering a measure called Marsy’s Law, a victin’s rights measure.


Similar measures have already been passed in Ohio, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and efforts have been launched in at least nine more states.

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