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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Editorial: Acrimony Poisons Session And Sstate

Editorial | Acrimony poisons session and state

Despite itself, the General Assembly ended the 2012 special legislative session with mission accomplished.

Lawmakers finally funded the state road plan and passed the so-called “pill mill bill” Friday after both measures died a lingering death in the final hours in the regular session. That prompted Gov. Steve Beshear to recall the legislature to Frankfort to finish the job.

And they did — promptly passing in five days what they failed to do in 60. Lawmakers even completed their work just after 5 p.m. Friday, avoiding the pointless exercise of grinding fruitlessly away until midnight, as they have done in the past.

None of this bodes well for next year.

Kentucky’s needs are urgent and well-documented.

In a state with an aging population, increasing numbers of low-income seniors go on waiting lists for basic services such as Meals on Wheels.

Health indicators are miserable, ranging from high rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease to deplorable rates of tooth decay and disease, starting with toddlers and ending with toothless adults.

Students at public colleges and universities are enduring repeated hikes in tuition at a time when college degrees are no longer optional for meaningful employment.

And most state agencies that serve the public will face another round of budget cuts this year as lawmakers refuse even to consider tax reform that could bring the state desperately needed revenue.

Williams is fond of advising others in Frankfort to take a deep breath and calm down.

Maybe he could join them in that effort as they consider how to put the state ahead of their own petty grudges and goals. Maybe they could exhibit vision, leadership and, while they’re at it, statesmanship.

And maybe the next legislative session could end with a landmark accomplishment or two that have been sorely missing from recent legislative sessions.

And perhaps they could achieve all this in a regular session, so the taxpayers don’t have to fund special sessions at a cost of $60,000 a day.

As a result, funds will continue for Kentucky’s road projects, including critical funding for the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Kentucky now has a bill meant to crack down on the flow of addictive prescription drugs in a state where overdose deaths have reached an estimated 1,000 people per year and where the scourge of addiction is tied inextricably to crime, violence and child abuse deaths and injuries.

Gov. Steve Beshear signed House Bill 1, the pill mill legislation, Tuesday. It takes effect July 12.

And Kentucky and its citizens likely are free from further legislative mischief until lawmakers return in January.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this year’s regular session and the special session both ended in the partisan acrimony that has poisoned the General Assembly in recent years.

The regular session collapsed on the final day at 11:59 p.m. amid bickering between leaders in the Senate, controlled by Republicans — chief among them Senate President David Williams — and Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat.

Beshear, the Democrat who beat Williams in last year’s governor’s race, accused Williams of “rank partisanship” and greed over his failed attempt to stuff extra road construction projects into his district.

Williams, in turn, called Beshear a “a small, petty, vindictive individual.” Williams closed the special session in his typical, gracious way with an angry speech, calling House Democrats “saps.”

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