By Lynn Bechler
Source: The Times Leader
The Kentucky House of Representatives was running at full speed this past week as 28 bills were passed and sent to the Senate for consideration. Of these 28 bills, I would like to focus on four — House Bill 1 (HB-1), House Bill 344 (HB-344), House Bill 2 (HB-2) and House Bill 145 (HB-145).
HB-1 is commonly referred to as either LIFT (Local Investments For Transformation) or LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) that would amend the Kentucky Constitution to allow local governments to levy sales and use taxes up to 1 percent, subject to voter approval.
Local governments currently have the authority to levy property taxes, restaurant taxes, employment taxes, and a few others, but do not have the authority to levy taxes for capital projects. If the Senate concurs with HB-1 and it is signed by the governor (he said he would), voters will be asked to decide if local governments should have that authority.
HB-344 is a companion bill and is what is referred to as enabling legislation. If HB-1 makes it on the ballot in 2016 and is approved by the voters, a local government wanting to implement a capital project tax would have to go to its voters and ask for approval. HB-344 sets all the parameters and requirements under which the vote may be taken and the project or projects are implemented.
This is a two-step process requiring voter approval in both stages.
First, a majority vote of voters in a statewide election would have to approve the amendment to the constitution.
Second, a majority vote of voters in a local election would have to approve the tax for the project or projects.
HB-344 goes into great detail, but the points most frequently addressed by those in favor of the amendment are: taxing power is given to people to decide for themselves if they want to pay for a specific project or projects; voters will be told the specific project or projects that will be undertaken and when it will be completed; and the tax is temporary and will end upon project or projects completion and payment.
An amendment to HB-1 that would have kept tax dollars from being used to promote passage of a tax was defeated. I voted yes on that amendment. This would have placed the same restrictions on the bill as an amendment I proposed for the same purpose in 2014.
I firmly agree with local government control, but with the defeat of that amendment to HB-1 coupled with the fact that HB-344 can subsequently be changed by the vote of another General Assembly, I voted no on each bill. These were very difficult votes for me.
HB-2 is a bill that would raise Kentucky’s minimum wage. As I noted in last week’s article, state law now ties Kentucky’s minimum wage to the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour. HB-2 would change state law and raise the minimum wage to $8.20 per hour on July 1, $9.15 per hour on July 1, 2016, and $10.10 per hour on July 1, 2017 — a 39.3 percent increase over the current minimum wage. Supporters of the increase believe the change would benefit low income families while opponents believe the change would increase prices with those increased prices being passed on to everyone.
An amendment was defeated that would have raised the minimum wage to $8 per hour on July 1, 2016 and adjust it annually to reflect the average annual percentage change in the consumer price index. I voted yes on this amendment, but no on the bill without the amendment.
HB-145 sets a statewide smoking ban indoors and within 15 feet of public places and places of employment. The governor, by executive order, has already decreed that smoking is not allowed on state property, but HB-145 would disallow smoking, including e-cigarettes, in public and business places, too. If the bill becomes law, any local anti-smoking laws that are already in place or that are enacted prior to this law being implemented on July 1 can remain in place.
I prefer not to eat at an establishment that allows smoking or to enter a smoke filled room, but that is a decision that I make, not a decision that I feel the government should make for me. There is nothing in current law that prohibits a business from enacting its own smoke-free requirements, so based on my belief in personal freedom, I voted no on HB-145.
Your input helps me make decisions that best represent the views of the Fourth District. I may be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext. 665, by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link, or by mail to the Capitol Annex, Room 424C, Frankfort, KY 40601.
(Lynn Bechler represents Caldwell County in the Kentucky House of Representatives.)