Last edited: February 14, 2005

Amendments Slow House And Senate

Louisville Courier-Journal, Thursday, February 15, 1996

by Al Cross, Political Writer

The House has joined the Senate in partisan gridlock over proposed constitutional amendments, at least until some vacant House seats are filled next week.

To reach the November ballot, a proposed amendment must get a three-fifths majority in each chamber--23 in the Senate, 60 in the House.

Because Democrats have only 21 Senate seats, they need at least two Republican votes to pass proposed amendments. That has blocked a Senate amendment that would let future legislatures relax or repeal property taxes on securities and unmined coal, because Republicans are demanding broader or more direct tax relief.

The tax fight temporarily blocked an amendment to remove vestiges of segregation from the 1891 constitution, but the Senate passed that measure and sent it to the House last week.

The Senate's difficulties made House Democratic leaders chuckle last week as they started moving their own amendments to set new rules for drawing legislative districts and give the legislature more authority over executive-branch regulations.

However, House Democrats now find themselves in a snag similar to the Senate's. The proposed amendments won't get a floor vote until next week because Republican gains in the 1994 elections and three Democratic resignations since then have left Democrats with the minimum 60 votes needed.

"It'd be nice to have one or two to breathe with," Democratic Floor Leader Greg Stumbo said yesterday.

The three vacancies will be filled in special elections next Tuesday, and the new representativdes are scheduled to take office next Thursday. Democrats are heavily favored to keep the 40th and 42nd Districts in Jefferson County and are given an edge in the 21st District in Warren County.

Republicans have two bones to pick with the redistricting amendment, House Bill 219, which would eliminate the troublesome rule against splitting counties in drawing districts.

First, they argue that it will allow Democrats to victimize Republicans in drawing district lines, as was done last month. Second, they argue that more popular amendments are available to fill the two available slots the House has on the fall ballot.

Republican Rep. Danny Ford of Mount Vernon has filed a floor amendment to replace the bill with a measure that would overturn a 1992 state Supreme Court decision by giving the legislature the right to re-criminalize sodomy, even between consenting adults of different sexes.

"I think an anti-sodomy amendment would be far more acceptable to the people than one aimed at destroying the two-party system in this state," Ford said.

A similar Ford measure in 1994 killed a House amendment that would have allowed legislative committees to cancel certain state contracts between legislative sessions. House Democratic leaders killed the bill to avoid a vote on the sodomy issue, which was being pressed by social conservatives.

New House rules make Ford's latest measure clearly out of order, but he said he will make a motion to force a vote on the issue.

The other proposed amendment backed by House Democratic leaders apears likely to get more Republican support. It would allow legislative committees to block executive-branch regulations between sesions. It is in HB 392 and is expected to emerge from the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee next Wednesday.

It seems to me that, for the time being, the gay and lesbian community can breathe more easily, as it appears there will not be a vote on this matter until sometime late next week at the earliest. This doesn't mean we should let our guard down; continued pressure through phone calls, letters, and email is needed. And this breathing space will definitely give the religious right time to rally their troops and inundate Frankfort with messages supporting Floor Amendment One to House Bill 219. So we need to keep up the fight.

On the other hand, I understand that HB 219 is Greg Stumbo's baby and he will do everything to see that it gets passed and is not gutted by such amendment.

Finally, Danny Ford says that he wants to force a vote on the issue anyway.

Why? So that the Republicans can get on record just who is "pro-sodomy" and who isn't. Paul Patton refused to back a sodomy amendment during the gubernatorial election, and so Frank Simon labeled him "pro-sodomy" and worse. Any Democrat or Republican who is seen to vote against Floor Amendment One will be considered "pro-sodomy" and you can bet the Republicans will use this against them in the fall elections.

David Williams
The Letter

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