By Jack Brammer
Sticking to their plan to reach a legislative compromise this week on Kentucky’s next two-year spending plan, legislative leaders from the House and Senate expect to begin their work Monday as COVID-19 spreads across the state.
Noah Lucas, a spokesman for Senate President Robert Stivers, said Sunday the budget conference committee will meet at 2 p.m. Monday in the Capitol Annex. He also said it will be carried live by the Kentucky Educational Television network.
Members of the committee include most legislative leaders from both parties.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Sunday that the conference committee co-chairs — Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, and Rep. Steve Rudy, R-Paducah — “have already discussed social distancing and that will be put in place.”
Gov. Andy Beshear last Tuesday closed the Capitol complex to the public and kept it open only to essential personnel.
Legislative leaders said only legislators, essential staff, media credentialed by the Legislative Research Commission, and specifically-approved individuals will be allowed in the Capitol and Capitol Annex. House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Laura Leigh Goins said lobbyists are not included on the list of “specifically-approved individuals.”
“That will remain the procedure for now, but everything remains fluid,” said Thayer.
The goal, he said, is to have a compromise budget between the two chambers ready by Thursday.
Lawmakers halted their work last Thursday and decided to adjourn until March 26. Under the plan, lawmakers would meet again on April 1 with the goal of passing the budget. Lawmakers would return later that month to take up any vetoes by the governor.
The state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.
Lawmakers and the governor could reach an agreement for the legislature to adjourn at once and then the governor would call a special session later. Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda. Lawmakers decide how long a special session runs.
Those discussions, however, have not gone anywhere.
There are major differences between the House and Senate on what should be the the two-year, $22 billion state spending plan.
They include dropping the guaranteed $2,000 pay raises for teachers that Beshear promised them. Another would hold in limbo $1.13 billion in funding for their pension system unless “structural changes” are made to reduce benefits for new hires. Structural changes are not defined in the Senate budget bill.