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Conference Committee of 20 men pour over state budget, to meet Monday; legislature about Tuesday

While most members of the Kentucky General Assembly are enjoying a recess until Tuesday, a group of 20 House and Senate members are trying to hash out an agreement on a state spending plan for the next two years.
The Budget Conference Committee began work shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, going line by line over the budget documents.

In the past, the media and public have been kept out of the proceedings, having to rely on conferees coming out to take a break to find out what is going on inside.  But this year, KET cameras are being allowed inside, and a feed is being made available on the screens in another committee room, as well as online, at least for the opening session.

Lawmakers begin examining the spending plans from the two chambers to try and iron out differences. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

In opening remarks, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne thanked Legislative Research Committee staff for their work on putting together the budget, and side-by-side documents to compare the versions approved by the two chambers.

“You have put together a product that is very conscious of taxpayer dollars,” he said.  “We are committed to finding a compromise to this that will be a good plan for the taxpayers.”

House Minority Whip Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, told reporters during a break that there are significant differences between the two versions.

“Dealing with public education is one of those,” Adkins said.  “Health insurance for active teachers was eliminated from the Senate budget.  (The) 6.25 percent cuts to higher education were reinstated by the Senate.  Public education overall is a top priority without question.  Removal of almost a billion dollars from teacher retirement to other retirement funds is pretty significant.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, says although Republicans have a majority in both chambers, “There really is no difference than past budget negotiations, it’s just earlier.” 

Stivers said working with the committee is a “more relaxed atmosphere. When you’re dealing with a multi-billion-dollar budget, you’re subject to make mistakes, just because of the volume and complexity.  When you do it late, you’re tired and you’re pressed for time, you’re more likely to make mistakes.”

Conference Committee members from the Senate are Republicans Christian McDaniel, who is serving as Chairman of the Senate delegation, President Robert Stivers, Majority Leader Damon Thayer, President Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon, Majority Whip Mike Wilson, Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum, and David Givens.  For the Democrats, Minority Leader Ray Jones, Minority Whip Dennis Parrett and Minority Caucus Chairman Dorsey Ridley are on the panel.

The House delegation includes Republicans Steven Rudy, who chairs the House delegation, Osborne, Majority Leader Johnathan Shell, Majority Caucus Chair David Meade, Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher, John Carney, and James Tipton.  Democratic House members are Adkins, Minority Caucus Chair Dennis Keene and Minority Whip Wilson Stone.  Osborne, who named the House members, said Rep. Sal Santoro will replace Tipton on the revenue bill.

Since all 20 members are white men, that drew some negative response, including Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, who took exception to the lack of diversity on the panel on Twitter.

“We’ve just had three conference committees appointed that have NOOOO women serving to add to the debates.  You’re dreaming if you think that invisibility and sexism do not exist in Government and politics.”

The full General Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday for two days, primarily for concurrence votes.  They will then take a 10-day recess, before returning to Frankfort for two days beginning April 1, to consider voting to override any vetoes by Gov. Matt Bevin.  Thus far this session, he has not vetoed any legislation.

They finished in late afternoon and will return at 10 a.m. Monday to continue work.

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