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June 2012
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EFFICIENCY Put annual sessions on GOP target list


A lot got done in a short time in Frankfort last week. That is something of a first.

The Kentucky Legislature passed seven bills during a five-day stretch of the "odd-year" session, during a period normally taken up by organizational work such as making committee assignments and electing legislative leaders. Gov. Matt Bevin was correct when he said, "We've done more in five days than typically gets done in any session."

How one feels about what was accomplished is probably a function of political affiliation. GOP lawmakers used their new supermajorities to force through legislation long blocked by Democrats, who until last November's election still ruled the House. The GOP majorities passed measures making Kentucky a right-to-work state and scrapped another law requiring payment of union wages on all state construction projects.

Republicans also instituted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, one that makes no exception for cases of rape or incest. And they passed a law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound that includes monitoring a fetal heartbeat prior to having an abortion.

Union members raised a loud but futile ruckus in the Capitol hallways as the Senate advanced the labor bills in a rare Saturday session. Helpless Democrats were left with little to offer other than frustrated invective. Gov. Bevin, also a Republican, quickly signed the bills into law.

Regardless of one's view of the legislation, the flurry of work does prove it is possible to get things done efficiently in the Legislature. The GOP lawmakers did what they were elected to do. It is hard to argue given the supermajorities they won in November that they lacked a mandate.

Lawmakers passed another piece of legislation during this process that we think voters of all persuasions will find commendable. It makes the pensions of individual legislators subject to the Open Records Act. That is a first step toward addressing a larger issue.

Gov. Bevin told The Paducah Sun's editorial board several weeks ago that he questions whether legislators should have pensions at all. He said he finds such benefits inconsistent with the concept of the citizen legislators. But Bevin concedes getting rid of them would be a tall task. At best he says benefits of current legislators would have to be grandfathered.

There may be a better way to come at it. Perhaps Bevin and the new GOP majority can right a wrong. Specifically, why not just get rid of the odd-year sessions?

Kentucky legislators did just fine meeting every other year until 2001, when then-Senate President David Williams, a Republican In Name Only, helped champion annual sessions. That change bloated the pay and pensions of lawmakers. Since then the sessions themselves have been monuments to time-wasting and political mischief.

Our biggest objection to the odd-year sessions is that in addition to being costly, they result in more lawmaking, some of it quite bad. And with more laws come more regulations. Annual sessions also, as Bevin notes, turned service in the Legislature into a career choice.

We can't name a single benefit to the public of annual sessions. If Bevin wants to reduce legislative pensions and return to the day of citizen legislators, getting rid of the odd-year sessions would provide a great start.

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