Legislature did some stuff; important work was also left undone – Lexington Herald-Leader

Source: Lexington Herald-Leader

It may be a while before we’re sure of all that went down in the 2015 General Assembly’s witching hour, when ideas that would shrivel in the light of day can magically fly into law.

But what we know was accomplished in this session’s final hours merits applause: A smart heroin bill; long overdue protections for victims of stalking, sexual assault and dating violence; and a booster seat law that protects more Kentucky children.

Earlier, the University of Kentucky was assured $132.5 million to build a six-story medical research center. Teachers were assured training in recognizing and reporting child abuse. And a rating system sought by Gov. Steve Beshear for early childcare facilities was enacted.

In the session’s dying hours, lawmakers also showed that nothing inspires bipartisan accord like blacktop by approving a plan to stabilize the motor fuels tax that pays for roads.

That lawmakers waited until the 11th hour to even begin considering funding for critical infrastructure — rather than using hearings and debates to educate themselves and the public — is testament to the tax-phobia that for years has blocked modernization of Kentucky’s tax code.

Which brings us to the disappointments.

The Republican-controlled Senate killed a constitutional amendment that would have given cities and counties new options for raising money for infrastructure projects by levying a local sales tax if voters approve. Denying our cities economic development tools available to their competitors makes the whole state less competitive.

The Senate also killed a statewide smoke-free law without even bothering to hold a committee hearing. The good news — great news, really — is that the House, for the first time, approved a statewide law to protect Kentuckians from secondhand smoke on the job and in other enclosed public places.

Democrats control the House but some Republicans, including Lexington’s Rep. Robert Benvenuti, supported the smoke-free law which was again sponsored by Lexington legislator, Democrat Susan Westrom.

Sadly, lawmakers bowed to years of lobbying and put Kentuckians who need land-line telephones at the mercy of AT&T and the telecom industry. But the legislature bucked another corporate giant, AB InBev, in its quest to monopolize Kentucky’s beer market.

The legislature did nothing to reform personnel policies that have demoralized its staff in the Legislative Research Commission.

And, despite House approval of $3.3 billion in bonds for teachers retirement, the legislature did nothing to shore up public employee pension systems.

To its credit, the House killed what was aptly described as a back-room deal in the middle of the night that would have doubled limits on political contributions.

It’s taken years to get a dating violence law. Kudos to the lawmakers and advocates who worked so hard to overcome the inscrutable objections of some Senate Republicans.

The final product is a good law that for the first time makes civil protective orders available to victims of stalking and sexual abuse as well as dating violence.

Going into the final hours, the outlook seemed dim for a compromise on the heroin bill, which last year failed as the session ran out.

Hard work and compelling explanations by House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, along with smart strategy by Senate President Robert Stivers, overcame the backward objections of some Senate Republicans and produced a bill that became law as soon as Gov. Steve Beshear signed it Wednesday morning.

The new law protects from criminal prosecution those who report overdoses, creates a local option for health departments to start needle exchanges to stem infectious diseases and makes an overdose antidote more accessible.

The bill establishes a new crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, of importing heroin into Kentucky with the intent to distribute or sell it and stiffens some penalties but avoids draconian prison terms for users who sell small amounts.

The law’s emphasis dovetails with new Medicaid funding gained through the Affordable Care Act to finally expand access to addiction treatment in Kentucky.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/03/25/3768032_legislature-did-some-stuff-important.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy


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