Local lawmakers will return to Frankfort next week to officially wrap up a regular session dominated by the budget and a redistricting effort that was shot down in court.
The Kentucky House and Senate will put the finishing touches on what was mostly a stagnant regular session Thursday when they must adjourn.
"It got off to a slow start and it was sluggish from there," said Sen. Tom Buford, who represents Boyle and Jessamine counties.
While the session won't be known for a flourish of new legislation, the general assembly did succeed in reaching agreement on a budget during the session, a rare feat over the last decade. The roughly $19 billion spending plan, which makes about 8.4 percent cuts to state agencies across the board, was passed in large part because of a compromise struck between the parties on lowering the amount of money the state can borrow.
"I think people realized it was going to be an austere budget," Rep. Mike Harmon of Boyle County said of why an agreement was reached unlike many times in the past. "Part of it is we have been arguing over miles in the past and this time we were really just arguing over inches."
While the cuts technically spared the major funding formula for education, Buford said holding the allocations steady amounts to a decrease in funding because of the increased costs.
Other major bills were left stalled along the way at some stage.
A statewide smoking ban couldn't gain traction. Laws that would have led to the creation of more charter schools and increasing the high school drop out age from 16 to 18 also failed.
The talk of the early session was a bill that would have placed a constitutional amendment on statewide ballots over whether to allow casino gambling at some racetracks and other locations. While Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican Sen. Damon Thayer, the major backers of the law, thought they were close to the number of votes needed in the Senate, the bill was defeated handily.
Buford lamented the amount of time spent on the legislation that was voted down 21-16, but said it seemed clear that his constituents and others across the state wanted a chance to weigh in on the issue. He said it will likely be a tough sell in years to come as well because legislators worry about a perception they support gambling.
"It needed 23 votes (to pass a constitutional amendment) and even with the one person who would have voted for it and wasn't present you would only have 17," said Buford, who voted for the bill. "If you turned out the lights in the room during the vote I think it may be more like 28-8 in favor. With the lights on, I don't think you can get the votes."
Harmon had been a proponent of a Senate bill that would have required a woman to receive face-to-face counseling before receiving an abortion. It was approved in the Senate, but never made it out of committee in the House.
There is still some important work left to be done Thursday, as legislators will likely vote on both a two-year highway construction plan and so-called "pill mill" legislation that would place restrictions on pain clinics.
The legislation would limit ownership of pain clinics to licensed physicians, shift oversight of the clinics and make the tracking system for pharmaceuticals more robust. Buford said one sticking point has been how large a supply of medication can be purchased with a single co-pay.
When the session is adjourned, Republican representatives Lonnie Napier of Garrard County and Danny Ford, who represented Lincoln County and has served as minority whip, will both bid farewell to the chamber where they served for more than half a century collectively.
Napier opted not to seek reelection during deliberations over a redistricting plan that would have changed his district from one including Garrard and part of Madison County to one that included Garrard and Lincoln. The plan was struck down in court, but Napier had decided to step aside and support Garrard Economic Development Director Nathan Mick for the post.
During the waning days of his final term, Napier said he was able to get several things done for his district that had been longtime goals.
"I felt really good about it under the financial conditions we faced," Napier said.
Among the accomplishments Napier cited were $1.4 million toward a water plant for Lancaster, a project that had been estimated to cost about $12 million. Napier said he believes he was also successful in getting most of the road projects he championed fully funded, including reconfiguring the city square in Lancaster into a traffic circle.
Harmon said prospects for the Ky. 33 to Ky. 34 connector in Boyle County were even more promising heading into negotiations this week after Buford was able to get the project upgraded to high priority status, which typically guarantees work will begin as scheduled. The most recent version of the road plan had $10.6 million for construction of the northern bypass route in 2012.
While the gavel will fall Thursday on the even-year session, legislators may be called back later in 2012 or early in 2013 to take up the legislative redistricting map that bogged down much of their work during this year’s 60-day stretch.