Explainer—The Kentucky General Assembly

Greg Leichty
Greg Leichty
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As Governor Bevin is about to call one or more special sessions of the General Assembly to deal with the issues of pensions and tax reform, it is appropriate to review how the Kentucky General Assembly operates.

The structure and general procedures of the General Assembly are specified in the Kentucky Constitution, which was ratified in 1891. The Constitution has been amended a number of times since 1891, but many of the sections remain. The sections which relate to the particulars described in this article are noted in parentheses.

The Makeup of the GA

The KY General Assembly consists of a House and a Senate, much like that of the federal government. The House consists of 100 members, and the Senate consists of 38 Senators (Section 35). State House members must be 24 years of age, must have resided in the state for at least two years, and resided in their electoral district for at least one year. Representatives in the House serve two-year terms. State Senators, on the other hand, serve four-year terms, and must be at least 30 years old and have been a resident of the state for at least six years (Section 32). Senators in odd-numbered Senate Districts are elected in presidential election years, and senators in even-numbered Senate Districts are elected in Federal midterm election years.

Working Days and Bills

The General Assembly is limited to meeting 60 working days during even-numbered Calendar years and 30 working days during odd-numbered years (Sections 35 & 42). As in the Congress, all bills that deal with raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. Bills must be approved by a majority of the present voting members in order to be sent on to the Governor for his signature or veto. Any law must pass with at least 40 percent of the total number of Representatives or Senators if some members are absent or elect to abstain from voting. In the case of bills that raise revenue, however, the minimum threshold rises to a majority of all elected Representatives in the House (51) or Senate (20 votes) (Section 47). One interesting section in the Kentucky Constitution is that laws must be confined to one subject at a time as it appears in the bill’s title and description. Amendments that deal with other subjects are not allowed (Section 51).

Vetoes

Once a bill passes both chambers it is sent to the Governor for his signing or his veto. A Kentucky Governor can sign a bill, or return it with his written objections to the chamber in which the bill originated, in which case the bill will be reconsidered. Any bill that is not vetoed within 10 days of being presented to the governor becomes the law. The veto of the Governor can be overridden by a majority of the elected members of both chambers (Section 88). In the case of appropriations bills, the Governor can excise particular portions of the bill (i.e., the Governor has a line-item veto), but this can also be overridden by a majority vote by both chambers.

Emergency Status

Ordinarily a law passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor goes into effect 90 days after the adjournment of the General Assembly. The exception to this is “emergency legislation” which requires that a majority of all elected legislators in both chambers agree to consider it as emergency legislation. The reasons for the “emergency” status must be published in advance in the register of each chamber. “Emergency legislation” becomes law immediately upon receiving signature of the Governor (Section 55).

The 2017 legislation had an unusual number of measures considered and passed under this emergency status including suspending the prevailing wage, so-called Right to Work, the University of Louisville board reorganization, and several abortion-related measures. In the past, far fewer emergency legislative bills were taken up because the Republican-dominated Senate and the Democratic-majority House seldom agreed on what was an emergency. This changed dramatically in the last election when the House Democrats lost 17 Seats and the Legislature shifted to a margin of 64 Republicans and 36 Democrats.

Special Sessions

Special sessions of the legislature are called by the Governor outside of the constitutionally scheduled periods to take up a legislative matter that the Governor specifies. During a special session no other matters except those specified in advance by the Governor can be considered. Special sessions may last up to four months (Section 80). Given the complexity of both the pension and tax restructuring projects, the special session may indeed be a rather long one.

The complete text of the current Kentucky Constitution can be found at the following URL: http://lrc.ky.gov/legresou/Constitu/intro.htm

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Greg Leichty

Dr. Greg Leichty is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville, in conflict management, argumentation, and qualitative research methods. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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