Stretching out in the “lobbyists” lounge watching the House stick to its guns and adjourn “Sine Die” rather than try and resurrect some bad (and some good) legislation, it dawned on me just how lonely lobbyists for environmental interests are in Frankfort. As I sat, thumbing through my old,paper Legislative Record,surrounded by at least fifty people in shiny blue suits and attractive business outfits with sensible shoes furiously texting away on their palm pilots and blackberries, I felt as out of place as a wart on Faith Hill’s face. Wandering down the hallway I spied Tom Fitzgerald coming out of an office. I almost embraced him in relief (although I’m not sure how he would have taken that). Bottom line, public interest lobbyists are at a great disadvantage to private industry folks in both numbers and in access to ranking members of the legislature. That is one reason why Speaker Stumbo’s decision not to continue the session, in spite of the wishes of his own party’s Governor, was a good sign for us. It means that the legislature is trying to move in a direction of greater openness in its proceedings.
Most bills on the floor of both chambers this session received a decent debate before they were voted upon. The decision to shut down on schedule and to only take up vetoed bills took some of the power away from the special Interest lobbyists. They are the ones who circle around leadership offices and insert their agendas into other peoples’ bills at the last minute. This,of course, is done to stifle debate and reaction on the part of public interest groups who are mainly confined to the first floor of the Capital Annex. For the most part this tactic was thwarted by House Leadership and they deserve credit for it. Now, if they would reinstate the 24 hour rule on amendments to bills in committee so interested parties not privy to the negotiations on an amendment can at least read them and have time to contact there membership, things would be even better.
All-in-all thought, it was a much more efficient session than in years past. Most of this was due to a better working relationship between Chambers.
P.S. One bill that failed to pass was HB 178, the bill that would have reinstated HB 2, the “Nation Model” energy efficiency bill that passed the House last session after the 12:00 O’clock deadline. I suppose that the Executive branch will proceed with the energy saving provisions of the bill until someone challenges the law in court. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. I’m going to try and give updates during the interim so keep in touch.
The question looming in Frankfort is whether the House will stick by its own rules and only consider Gubernatorial vetoes in the last two days of the 09 session, or take up a few bills that have been hanging fire since they went home two weeks ago. The signs point to the former since they stuck to the self-imposed deadline of a five O’clock adjournment after the last two days of concurrence. This would come in spite of some heavy lobbying by the Governor who’s hoping to pass HB 229, and its economic incentives. Goodness knows we desperately need a NASCAR race in Kentucky. There are also provisions in the revamped budget bill to fund Public Defenders which stand to go out of business in April if the money is not forthcoming, but most believe that the Governor can do this without Legislative authorization. The Senate (read David Williams) has been uncharacteristically quiet on the issue showing just how things have changed under Greg Stumbo’s House Leadership. The KCC will be in Frankfort to watch the proceeding tomorrow.
The final hours of the 2009 Regular session were hectic, but without the clock-stopping dramatics of the 2008 session. Still, some last minute shenanigans were attempted. SB 138 (setting up oil and gas leases on State lands) and SB13 (the nuclear power bill) were attached to several House Bills in the Senate, but the time is such that it is doubtful that they will pass. The House stuck to an earlier promise and finished regular business at 5:00 Friday, and the Senate ended at around 8:00. The Legislature can still take one of the two remaining “Veto” days to concluded regular business, but it is not likely that any controversial bills will be included. There will now be a nine-day recess after which the Legislature will re-convene to address any possible gubernatorial vetoes.
All in all, it was a quiet session with most of the big issues worked out by leadership in the early stages. Most of the major environmental bills are being put back for a later session, including changes to the earlier energy legislation and changes to mine safety laws. The big issue, state revenues, will remain an issue the rest of the year, and may prompt a special session if income continues to deteriorate. As I write this at 8:30 on Friday night, it looks like we’ve gotten through this session with no major environmental disasters. Thanks to Tom Fitzgerald for his work on good amendments to several bills.
The 2009 “short session” is in its final stages. For the most part,it has been a quiet one. SB 138 which would have given the go ahead to oil and gas leasing on State properties without the benefit of any preliminary study is seemingly dead. ( I say seemingly because in the Legislature anything is possible). The study (SJR 67) will probably pass. Several bills that would have weakened the mine safety standards set out in the last two sessions have quietly died deserving deaths. There is already talk circulating about a possible special session to address revenue measures, maybe sometime in early December ( after the legislative elections – surprise,surprise).
Actually, the whole legislative process is a lot different than it used to be. If you’ll allow an “old-timer” to muse a bit, it’s just not as fun. The problems started when the Legislators were moved from a large cubical area in the basement of the Capitol Annex to individual offices on the upper floors. In the cubicles you could go in and talk to every member of your committee in about fifteen minutes. More importantly, the legislators were better able to communicate with each other . A sense of camaraderie was established, and communication between committee members flowed easily and quickly. Now, ensconced in their “warren-like” offices ,it’s difficult for committee members to communicate amongst themselves and more difficult for lobbyists or everyday citizens to get to their Representatives. While access to Senate offices is easier, the House has hired sentinels to prevent anyone from simply going to a legislator’s office. This has concentrated the power in Leadership. If you really want a bill to move, that’s where you have to go. It’s even affecting staff which used to be easily accessible and more than willing to answer questions. I suppose that change is inevitable, but I have to say that openness and access has suffered for it. The atmosphere has become much more formal.
Some good news coming from Frankfort this week, first and foremost, SB 13 – the “let’s get the nuke party started and worry about cleaning up later” — bill was recommitted to the House Natural Resources Committee … kudos to Horace Brown, KCC Board member, for his efforts on this. While it could still move, the prospects right now are not good.We will continue to monitor.
On a semi-sour note, SB 138 (oil and gas production on State land) passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee at 9:39 Thursday and SJR 67 (to study the feasibility of doing what SB 138 has already authorized) passed out of Tourism and Energy about an hour later. I say semi-sour, because it seems that we are going to get some beneficial floor amendments from our hero, Rep. Robin Webb that will make SB 138 a pretty good bill. The amendments will strengthen reclamation and other environmental standards on oil and gas production in this State, something that is long overdue. It will also transfer some of the proceeds from royalties, etc. to the Heritage Land fund to further its good work in purchasing State lands for preservation and recreation purposes … mega kudos (with apologies to our friend Mr. Limbaugh) to Tom Fitzgerald for working with LRC staff to craft the language. (I never thought that I would write a blog using Tom Fitzgerald and Rush Limbaugh in the same sentence.)
HB 537 ( renewable energy portfolio standards) could also see some revision. As it reads now, the portfolio standards aren’t really standards at all, but more like wishes. It is hoped that either through this bill, or somewhere in future legislation we will get some goals for increasing our use of alternative energy with some “teeth” and better still, some real economic incentives. Andy McDonald, a KCC Board member and Director of the Kentucky Solar Partnership has written an excellent white paper on this issue which should be available soon on The KCC website.
Jim Gooch, chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment committee said it straight-out the other day “We live in a coal State”. The problem is that most folks who don’t live in the coalfields, those who live in the metropolitan areas, don’t realize how profoundly that statement affects them. No clearer example can be made than to look at the so-called energy and environmental legislation coming out of Frankfort these days. HB 285 gives copious tax incentives for carbon capture projects in coal-fired power plants. SB 55 would make existing coal-fired power plants eligible for more tax breaks under what was to be a section of HB 2 to encourage “alternative” energy production. HJR 7 directs the University of Kentucky to study the feasibility of mining in the Robinson Forest, an area already determined to be unsuitable for mining by the Natural Resources Cabinet. SB 138 directs the Government to start the process of leasing State and University land for oil and gas production. HB 537, designed to set up standards for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency programs, mainly addresses fuel economy in State Government vehicles, new tax incentives for oil shale and tar sand mining and actually takes incentive money from cellulose based biofuels and gives them to grain-based fuels if they are not used.
The bottom line: industries that are already in existence get the dough, emerging alternative technologies and energy efficiency gets study and encouragement. All the while the coal-fired electric power industry and its constituents sap money away from innovative technology and sustainable alternative energy projects. In what may be the ultimate insult, HB 537 even sets up a special legal committee to, among other things, look at ways to prevent lawsuits from the general public which are described as a nuisance, obstructionist and harassing. We’ll never make any real progress in putting our energy economy on a different footing in Kentucky until we can do away with the “siege” mentality of the power companies in partnership with the extractive industries.
Citizens from across the Commonwealth need to realize that these initiatives, emanating from interests in the coalfields as well as oil and gas, grain-based biofuels, tar sand and oil shale interests, will eventually influence the future of our energy structure and ultimately our environment. We can’t keep giving lip service to sustainable alternative and innovative new energy technologies while we pour our tax dollars into more of the same old thing. There’s an old saying “ If you keep doing what you always did, you’ll keep getting what you always got”. It’s time to start funding something new.