The 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly gets underway this week, and most of the high-priority bills state lawmakers will grapple with are re-incarnations of last year’s unresolved dilemmas.
Here are the old battles that are scheduled to be fought again during the 30-day session, which will be spread out over three months. The following six issues are likely to lead legislative action all the way through March.
Many of last session’s failed bills will get a second chance at passage in 2015. House Democrats are prioritizing an increase in treatment beds, more access to rehab centers, and a needle exchange program. Senate Republicans want to strengthen sentencing requirements for convicted heroin traffickers and fund treatment for users behind bars. Each side’s proposals are larger-than-average bills—a lengthy chain of amendments and compromises from both chambers is likely on either bill that passes.
Local Option Sales Tax
When the Democratic-controlled House picks a bill to be its highest priority, it labels it House Bill 1. This year that title is assigned to a bill allowing a local option sales tax to be put on local ballots. The Republican-led Senate has yet to announce which legislation will be its top priority as Senate Bill 1, and no legislation has been pre-filed by either Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, or by Sen. Majority Floor Leader Damon, R-Georgetown.
The perennial bill to restore the voting rights of former felons died a nasty death last year. The legislation got Republican support locally and nationally—including personal testimony from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a possible Republican presidential contender. But Senate Judiciary committee chair Thayer told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, that Crenshaw should have shown some gratitude for Thayer even allowing the bill to be heard. In a controversial move that split party ranks, Thayer dropped the bill. Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville—reported to be seeking a House leadership role—will be pick up the torch for the bill into 2015.
A measure to raise the minimum wage across Kentucky was last year’s House Bill 1. It failed. This year the pressure is on from groups across the state pushing for a raise in the wage. When Democrats retained control of the House during November elections, House Speaker Greg Stumbo promised to push for minimum wage (and pay equity) again this year. Most states have already surpassed Kentucky’s $7.25 hourly minimum. Republican resistance to this measure is rumored to be linked to their desire for …
Right To Work
When the House was up for grabs during elections, Republicans including Thayer and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, wanted to make Right to Work legislation their top priority. Kentucky is one of the last union holdouts in the South due in great part to the historic fights of pro-union coal miners. Right to Work was favored in a recent Bluegrass Poll; 55 percent of those polled support the measure which re-states current law: workers are not forced to join a union as a requirement for hiring. To date, 24 states have enacted Right to Work laws.
After gaining enough traction to pass out of a House committee last year—and bolstered by Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order barring tobacco use from government buildings—a statewide smoking ban has once again gained attention as an upward-bound bill in this short session. Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, has pushed the legislation for six years now, and recent polling numbers show widespread public approval, House Democrats may bring the bill up for a vote this year—a move they couldn’t pull off last year after support for the bill dwindled among rural Democrats and House Republicans.
The Kentucky General Assembly convenes for the 2015 session Tuesday in Frankfort.