Hopes abound with major bills in Ky legislature – The Courier-Journal

By Tom Loftus and Gregory A. Hall
Source: The Courier-Journal

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.

Week ahead

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.

What People Are Saying

  • “Putting the local-tax amendment on the November 2014 statewide ballot is a no-brainer. If local people want to levy local taxes on themselves, they should be able to.”

    Al Cross, Courier-Journal columnist
  • Jeff-Bringardner-headshot-only“This is a way to keep dollars in the area, to come up with a diverse slate of projects that sync up with the long-term plans of the community and get voted on by the people”

    Jeff Bringardner, President, Humana Kentucky
  • BillLamb“If Louisville could adopt a 1% Local Option Tax, it would impose a minimal burden, but would raise over 90 million dollars a year.”

    Bill Lamb, President and General Manager for WDRB and WNYO
  • Bill Samuels Bellarmine Portrait“Local option makes all the sense in the world. Offering citizens the opportunity to vote on investing in their community is how our country ought to operate.”

    Bill Samuels, Chairman, Emeritus Makers Mark
  • …a new way for communities to see the projects they want and need go from the drawing board to reality — and to do it for themselves.

    Jim Host, founder of Host Communications and former State Commerce Secretary
  • LIFT is a tried-and-true tool that allows for more voter involvement in the process.  Voters, not politicians, would help determine big picture, visionary projects that could improve quality of life.

    Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
  • …an idea whose time has come, and could be a crucial economic development tool which will help our local communities build a better future, and the new jobs and businesses we need.

    Hal Goode, President and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Economic Development
  • In our opinion, Kentucky voters should be allowed to vote on the local option sales tax because it could fund public facilities without increasing property taxes.

    Morehead News
  • It will allow communities to plan and pay for improvements to enhance civic and economic life without going hat in hand each budget session to Frankfort.

    Lexington Herald-Leader
  • The beauty of it is that local voters have the say-so as to its enactment, and they have a sense that they are getting what they pay for.

    Princeton Times-Leader