FRANKFORT, Ky. – Last week was one of hope in the General Assembly. Advocates for a smoking ban and the local option sales tax saw years of effort pay off as their priorities cleared the House for the first time ever.
But both issues will have difficulty in the Senate. Hopes are brighter, however, for the bill extending court-ordered protections against domestic violence for dating partners. Here’s a look at action on major issues last week:
•Smoking Ban: In a bit of legislative history, the House on Friday passed the smoking ban bill (House Bill 145) by a 51-46 vote. Neither chamber of the General Assembly had previously passed a statewide ban on smoking at workplaces and indoor public places. But to get the votes to pass, the bill was amended to exempt private clubs and cigar bars. The bill also lets local government smoking laws prevail over any new state law — even if the local laws are weaker. It faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
•Local Option Sales Tax: House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 1, a constitutional amendment sought by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer for a local option sales tax, passed the House and now goes to the Senate. President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has endorsed the concept but doesn’t know how the bill will fair. Fischer said he believes he has the 23 votes to pass it and submit the amendment to voters in November 2016.
•Domestic Violence: A bill to extend domestic violence protections of civil court orders to dating partners may have broken into the clear. The bill passed 98-0 in the House on Thursday. This bill has passed the House many times before only to die in the Senate. The week’s key development was a strong public endorsement from Stivers, which indicates its chances look bright in the Senate.
•Heroin: The top priority of most legislative leaders and Gov. Steve Beshear — a measure to combat Kentucky’s heroin epidemic — continued forward last week. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, filed the House version as House Bill 213 on Monday, and that bill passed 98-0 on Friday. The Senate had previously passed its version. The two versions differ in some key respects, primarily the Senate includes stiff penalties for selling small amounts of heroin, the House does not. Because addressing the problem is so urgent, leaders say it’s likely the House-Senate differences will be resolved.
•Minimum wage: Stumbo’s HB 2, to raise Kentucky’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2017, passed the House in a largely party-line 56-43 vote. But the Senate, which killed it last year, is likely to do so again.
•Voting Rights: The House on Thursday passed HB 70 — a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to some felons once they have completed probation, parole or their prison sentence. The measure — sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville — is also unlikely to pass in the Senate, where it has died in the past.
•Medical marijuana: Stumbo’s HB 3 to allow medical marijuana got a hearing in House and Welfare but no vote and Stumbo said afterward that it’s likely dead. He said the purpose of the debate was a discussion because he believes it will become the law eventually.
•Beer distributorships: Stumbo’s HB 168 to force Anheuser-Busch to sell two Kentucky distributorships passed the Economic Development Committee. The bill covering the war between Anheuser and a collection of craft brewers and other distributors may get a floor vote in the House in the next week, Stumbo said.
•Right to Work: A top Senate priority — Senate Bill 1, which would ban requiring membership in a union or payment of union dues as a condition for employment, was defeated Thursday on a vote in the House Labor and Industry Committee.
The General Assembly does not meet Monday, Presidents Day. But as early as Tuesday, the House could consider the bill authorizing a $3.3 billion bond issue to help address the $14 billion unfunded liability of Kentucky Teachers Retirement Systems. The “AT&T bill” to deregulate local phone service and the beer distributorships bill also could see floor votes in the House by midweek.
Tom Loftus can be reached at (502) 875-5136. Follow him on Twitter at @TomLoftus_CJ.
Gregory A. Hall can be reached at (502) 582-4087. Follow him on Twitter at @gregoryahall.