2012 Kentucky General Assembly Begins

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Lawmakers who convened the 2012 session of the General Assembly on Tuesday prepared to tackle a litany of
divisive issues, including legislative and congressional
redistricting and a push to allow casino-style gambling in

Throw in crafting a lean two-year budget that will likely
require further cuts to government agencies and services, and
lawmakers are certain to face a fiery get-together that will last
into April.

"Redistricting is going to be the dominating topic we're going
to be concentrating on initially," said House Majority Floor
Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. "We're hoping to have that
completed and out of the way within the first two weeks."

Gavels fell in the House and Senate shortly after noon,
signaling the start of the legislative session. One of the first
actions was the filing of a proposal that would redraw boundary
lines around the state's legislative and congressional districts.

Always contentious, redistricting occurs every 10 years to
account for population changes in the Census. In Kentucky,
lawmakers have sole discretion in changing boundary lines.

"We need to move on it as quickly as possible, get it behind
us, and just go on," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo,
D-Prestonsburg. "You're going to have a lot of people upset about
it. Population shifts mean that people move out of districts
they're comfortable with and into districts that they may not be
comfortable with. That's just what the federal courts say we have
to do, so we have to do it."

When that's passed, lawmakers will focus on the budget, which
has proven to be challenging in the past for a legislature that has
a Democratic majority in the House and a Republican majority in the
Senate. Over the past decade, they've repeatedly adjourned without
a budget, forcing special sessions.

Gov. Steve Beshear has warned that the upcoming budget cycle
could be the most challenging yet. The lingering recession has
triggered $1 billion in revenue shortfalls over the past four
years. And with federal stimulus money used up and no sentiment for
a tax increase, lawmakers will have to slash spending again.

Stumbo told reporters that he believes the House could approve a
proposal to expand gambling beyond horse races, lotteries and
charitable bingo games, depending on the language in a proposal
that is expected in the Senate.

"I think it could pass pretty easily," Stumbo said.

Beshear, who favors casino-style gambling in the state, said he
expects a proposal to be filed in the Senate within days of the
start of the legislative session. Beshear has been pushing the
gambling issue for four years, but so far lawmakers have been

Beshear said Kentucky is losing hundreds of millions of dollars
to neighboring states that allow casino-style gambling. He said
Kentucky could recapture some of that money for needs within its
borders by offering the same kinds of gambling here.

In past legislative sessions, the gambling debate has been
rancorous with opponents arguing the games prey on the poor and
could spawn more crime.

While Kentucky has a long history of betting on horses, the
Bible-belt state has a longstanding constitutional ban on
casino-style gambling. Beshear wants lawmakers to approve a
proposed constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for

Lawmakers will also see pushes to allow charter schools and to
accept the private University of Pikeville into Kentucky's system
of public universities.

Stumbo said he's open to listening to charter school proposals
"because I think any time we have a new idea about educational
improvement, we should listen, but I have reservations, because we
can't allow our public schools to be impacted negatively."

The House speaker also said he expects to file legislation
Wednesday that would provide public funding for the University of
Pikeville. The proposal is to use revenue from coal severance taxes
to operate the campus in far eastern Kentucky.