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Legislators eye budget woes as they head to session

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

Lawmakers head to Frankfort this week for a legislative session aimed at overcoming budget woes, among other things.

While many local officials have prefiled bills and have agendas for the 60-day session, the main focus is balancing a budget that hasn't gained much revenue in the past year. Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-4th, said revenue grew in the state about 2.3 percent, but federal dollars to the state will decrease this year.

"A lot of the additional money has been spoken for," Bechler said. "That's going to be the main topic. In this state, Republicans and Democrats are not always at each other's throats.

But just because we get along doesn't mean we hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' together. We don't necessarily have the same views on how money should be spent, and we don't have the same vote on these issues."

Bechler said this year he will focus on increasing educational spending, and also is looking for raises for state employees. He also prefiled a bill that would require the legislature to vote on changes to the state's fuel tax.

Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-3rd, has been perhaps the most active legislator in the region, prefiling 13 bills. Most of the bill suggestions focus on revising the criminal code, including legislation that would make those charged with misdemeanor possession enter rehabilitation programs instead of going to prison. He also introduced the idea of a three-strikes rule, where repeat offenders with Class A or Class B felonies or capital crimes would face life in prison without parole.

"One of the fastest growing parts of the budget is corrections," Watkins said. "We are spending too much - about $22,000 each for 22,000 prisoners - so we need to keep people out of jail. Then we need to keep the violent and repeat offenders off of the streets."

Watkins also introduced a bill lifting a moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants in the state. Sen. Bob Leeper introduced that bill in the Senate last year.

Rep. Steven Rudy, R-1st, said he plans to refile a bill nicknamed Conner's Law, which resulted from the death of toddler Conner Bachuss. The law alters the manslaughter charge, allowing for harsher penalties when a crime involves child abuse. 

Sen. Stan Humphries, R-1, did not prefile any bills. He said this is his first time as a senator going through the budget process, and he is looking to concentrate on a sustainable budget. He also is considering sponsoring or co-sponsoring bills to help transportation in his area, mainly to repair bridges and roads that have been overlooked for some time.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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