What To Look For In the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 Session – WFPL

By RAE HODGE
Source: WFPL

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.

Heroin

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.

Voting Rights

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.

Minimum Wage

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.

Smoking Ban

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.

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