The Richmond Register

January 24, 2014

Beshear’s budget proposal is first of four

By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — The big news in Frankfort last week was Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget proposal, but as Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, pointed out, there are four budget proposals which go into a final spending plan.

“There are really four budgets: the one introduced by the governor, the one passed by the House, the one we send back to the House and the one which finally is passed,” Stivers said. That process usually involves changes at each step.

Stivers said Senate leaders are already reviewing the governor’s proposal, but declined to express much of an opinion at this point, saying he thinks it’s inappropriate for him to weigh in on the budget so soon. But some Republican lawmakers are questioning the level of debt in Beshear’s plan.

The $1.9 billion in borrowing represents 7.05 percent of budgeted revenues, but Beshear and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, have said that’s misleading because all the debt isn’t issued at one time and typically the actual outstanding debt never exceeds more than 5 percent. Plus, Stumbo said, it makes sense to borrow when interest rates are so low.

The constitution requires the budget to originate in the House, which must first act on it before sending it to the Senate. The Senate will make changes and send the altered version back to the House. Typically a committee of negotiators representing the two chambers works out differences near the end of the session in mid-April.

Friday marked day 13 of the 60-day session. Not much has happened as lawmakers wait for Tuesday, the last day for candidates to file. They want to see if they have opponents, or who those opponents are, before voting on controversial bills.

But the Republican-controlled Senate moved on two of the majority party’s legislative priorities this week.

SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, would allow lawmakers to opt out of a provision in the retirement system that allows them to “super-size” their retirement. Under that provision, lawmakers can take higher-paying jobs in government and use that salary multiplied by their years of service in the legislature to calculate benefits. The bill passed 38-0 and now goes to the House.

The Senate also passed SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, which amends the state’s 1998 informed-consent law requiring women seeking an abortion to participate in a consultation with a doctor 24 hours before the procedure.

Currently some fulfill the requirement with a pre-recorded telephone message, which Gregory said evades the law’s intent. Her measure would require a “face-to-face” consultation with a physician 24 hours prior to the procedure.

Critics say the measure is designed to make it more difficult for women to have abortions. There are only two abortion clinics in Kentucky – one each in Louisville and Lexington – and SB 3 would force women from rural areas to incur even greater travel and lodging expenses. The bill passed 33-5 and now goes to the House.

The Senate is likely again to take up a measure calling for medical review panels to review medical malpractice complaints prior to litigation. Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, sponsored a similar measure last year regarding nursing homes, which passed the Senate but died in the House and is working on another bill for this session.

Earlier this week, a group of major healthcare organizations and chambers of commerce came out in support of such a measure. Supporters claim “aggressive” and “frivolous” medical suits drive up malpractice insurance rates and encourage physicians to move to other states.

MRPs usually include three “medical experts:” one picked by each side and the third by the first two. They review malpractice claims and render “expert findings” which would be admissible in court. Critics claim MRPs tilt the balance unfairly to the side of medical defendants, but supporters say those claims may still be taken to court.

“I don’t think it would keep someone from having his day in court,” Stivers said when asked about it this week. “This is not something that would supplant a judicial ruling.”

But Stumbo, an attorney and spokesman for a personal injury firm, isn’t on board with the idea as proposed.

“I don’t think the panel’s finding should be admissible to the jury,” Stumbo said. The experts on the panel “could testify, but if they do, they would be subject to cross-examination. But just to submit the findings to the jury taints the jury pool.”

Stumbo said he hasn’t seen any evidence that MRPs drive down insurance rates or that the lack of them in Kentucky drives doctors out of state.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at cnhifrankfort.