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Legislative session preview with Senator Higdon

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By Jesse Osbourne

 

The Kentucky legislature will meet for a short, 30-day session starting on Jan. 8.


State Senator Jimmy Higdon represents Washington County in the state senate. The Springfield Sun caught up with him recently via phone to ask about issues in the upcoming legislative session.
His answers appear below. Questions from The Sun appear in bold. Higdon’s responses are a summary of his answers given in a telephone interview.
State Auditor Adam Edelen recently released a report about special taxing districts, and Speaker Greg Stumbo mentioned that strengthening oversight of those districts should be a priority in the House during the upcoming session. What are your thoughts about the findings in Edelen’s report and do you agree with Stumbo that it should be a priority in the House this upcoming session?
Higdon said strengthening oversight on special taxing districts should be a priority. Most of the districts, he said, are well managed, including ones in Washington County.
The oversight being discussed, he said, are audits and more transparency from the special districts.
Legislation has been passed for several years calling for more accountability for taxing districts, he said.
Gambling has been a topic during legislative sessions for some time now. Do you expect much discussion about gambling in the short session?
Higdon said he thinks gambling will be a top issue for Governor Steve Beshear.
It’s a tough issue, Higdon said. It’s an emotional, economic and religious issue and a lot of people are very interested in it.
Higdon added that he didn’t know if the issue would have enough votes to get out of the House.
He said when he ran for senator, he said he would support putting the issue on the ballot. He did that, he said, and he plans to be more selective about his support for a gambling bill this time.
He said he’s not making a commitment on which way he’ll go this time, because he wants to see the bill and see the proposal.
The last proposal wasn’t a good piece of legislation, he said.
“You’re giving a monopoly to a private industry,” Higdon said. “It’s just one of those things that we need to really watch very closely.”
Former Senate President David Williams left for a circuit judge appointment recently. What are your thoughts on his departure?
Higdon said there hasn’t been and never will be a person with the institutional memory and the ability to strategize like Williams.
He somewhat dominated the legislative process, Higdon said.
Now, with Williams out, there isn’t a dominant person like Williams, Higdon said.
There are a lot of new leaders emerging, he said, and not one leader will take the place of Williams, but many.
Higdon said Williams was great to work with and helped him get elected.
“I consider him my friend,” Higdon said. “I have nothing negative to say about him.”
The Williams he knows and the Williams the public knows are two different people, Higdon said.
“He told it like it was,” Higdon said. “Not everybody wants to hear that.”
The topic of eliminating the office of constable has been a topic of conversation recently. Where do you stand on potentially eliminating the position? Do you think it will come up in this session?
Higdon said the topic will come up, but it will take a constitutional amendment to eliminate the constable position.
The issue some people have with constables, he said, is that there is no training requirement.
There are some communities in the state where constables are a valuable resource, he said. There is a lot of support for constables, he said, but there is also a lot of support to eliminate them.
A constitutional amendment would take a three-fifths majority, he said, something he doesn’t think could get enough votes.
In Marion County, Higdon said, a constable has to have a $2 million bond. For a job that doesn’t pay, that’s a steep price, he said. Essentially, a constable can get elected but can’t serve his duties because of the bond requirement.
Redistricting will likely be a priority in the session, I presume. Last session, redistricting was left on the table after a Supreme Court ruling. What kind of solution would like to see come from this session?
Higdon said redistricting should occur in the short session, but there are a lot of issues going on. It’s probably not the top priority, he said, which would be pension reform.
Redistricting could happen in the short session, but will likely wait until the longer session in 2014.
He’d prefer to go on and do it, he said. There’s a 50-50 chance redistricting could happen in this session, he said. 
Under the redistricting map that was rejected by the Supreme Court, Higdon said his district would have changed quite a bit.
He’d prefer to keep it more like it currently is, he said.
Finally, pension reform will also likely be a priority this session. How would you propose to shore up the under-funded pension system?
Higdon, who wrote a column last week about the pension reform task force, served on the task force.
He said he would support the recommendations set forth by the task force, with one change.
He wants to find a way to pre-fund cost-of-living allowances. He doesn’t think it would be a difficult solution to find.
Higdon said he is hearing a lot about the issue. It’s an issue that could bankrupt the state if it’s not dealt with, he said.
Is there any issue that I failed to mention that you think will be discussed in this session?
Higdon said there will be new issues emerge daily, but the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, the gaming bill and retirement will likely be the headliners.
He said the pill-mill legislation will likely be tweaked to fix unintended consequences.
He added that Kentucky Alcohol Beverage Control laws will likely be addressed, as they have been a hodge podge in the state.
Some laws on the books were actually illegal, he said, while others conflict with each other.
“The issues we have to address are serious issues and we have to deal with them,” he said. “The House and the Senate are trying to work together to get these issues addressed.”