Kentucky legislature languishing on priorities with six days lef - News, Weather & Sports

Kentucky legislature languishing on priorities with six days left

House Speaker Greg Stumbo House Speaker Greg Stumbo
State Sen. Dan Seum State Sen. Dan Seum
Rep. Susan Westrom Rep. Susan Westrom
Senate President Robert Stivers Senate President Robert Stivers

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Kentucky's legislature has six days left to approve many stalled bills that leaders identified as priorities earlier this year.

Lawmakers filed about 820 bills this session. As of Tuesday morning, only eight have become law. Another 15 await Gov. Steve Beshear's signature.

It will soon be legal for grocery store workers to replace broken eggs with fresh ones, under a bill that Beshear already signed into law. Among the measures awaiting his signature is a bill that would end Kentucky's requirement that drivers carry paper copies of car insurance. But many of the legislature's big-ticket items now fall into two categories - dead or stalled.

Tax reform
Beshear made recommendations that included decreasing income tax rates but adding new taxes on services, such as country club and fitness club memberships.

But no lawmaker ever introduced a bill, with House and Senate leaders repeatedly saying there was "no appetite" for changes to Kentucky's tax code.

Expanded gaming
Legislators filed three different versions of a constitutional amendment that would've asked voters to legalize casinos. But none of them have even gotten a committee vote.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-District 95/Prestonsburg) effectively declared the bill dead by refusing to take up the legislation in his chamber without the Senate passing it first. Sen. Dan Seum (R-District 38/Fairdale) continues to say he doesn't have the votes to pass expanded gaming in the Senate.

Statewide smoking ban
A bill banning smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants, cleared a House committee but stalled for weeks on the House floor.

Stumbo said it never had enough votes and support began to erode. Rep. Susan Westrom (D-District 79/Lexington), the bill's primary sponsor, blamed leaders in her own party for not pushing harder on the measure over election-year political concerns.

Similar legislation in the Senate went nowhere after that chamber's leaders assigned it to an unsupportive committee.

Local-option sales tax
Mayor Greg Fischer conceded defeat Monday on his top legislative priority after Stumbo declared it would fall at least 10 votes short on the House floor.

Fischer said he would again in 2015 push for passage of the bill, which would ask Louisville voters to approve a 1 percent increase in the sales tax for local projects.

Heroin penalties
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill increasing the penalties for heroin dealers and expanding treatment options for addicts. But the bill has languished in the House for two months.

Sen. Katie Stine (R-District 24/Southgate) said the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday. Stine said she remained optimistic that the measure could pass the legislature.

Law enforcement officials have testified about an increasing heroin epidemic, especially in northern Kentucky along the Interstate 75 corridor.

Electronic cigarettes
A proposed ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors passed the Senate last month. A House committee has approved a similar measure, but the issue hasn't gone any further.

Supporters want to use random inspections to levy fines against stores that sell electronic cigarettes to people under the age of 18. The legislation includes penalties for the minor, too.

Minimum wage increase
Stumbo's top priority, raising Kentucky's minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years, passed the House with most Republicans opposed.

Senate President Robert Stivers (R-District 25/Manchester) has maintained that all House bills have "a chance" in his chamber, but has repeatedly said he believes a nearly $3 increase in the minimum wage could hurt businesses.

Administrative regulations
Stivers' proposed constitutional amendment, which would limit Beshear's power to implement the Affordable Care Act and other programs while the legislature is away from Frankfort, passed the Senate.

Stumbo has said he thinks there's "a way forward" by making changes to Stivers' bill, but no plan has emerged.

Separately, Stumbo has thwarted Senate Republicans' proposal to allow Sen. Rand Paul to run for his U.S. Senate seat and either president or vice president in 2016.

Eminent domain
Legislation to stop the Bluegrass Pipeline's developers from using eminent domain to acquire land passed the House. Along the way, lawmakers amended it to allow in-state developers to use eminent domain, while out-of-state companies like the Bluegrass Pipeline's developers would be banned from the practice.

However, lawmakers might not need to pass legislation on the matter. Tuesday, Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled that the pipeline's developers didn't have eminent domain powers.

The company, which has fought the bill at the state Capitol, said it would immediately appeal the court ruling.

Lawmakers' only constitutional responsibility is to approve a two-year spending plan by April 15, when they leave Frankfort for the year. Failure would be politically embarrassing and would lead to a costly special session.

Stumbo and Stivers said they are confident that House and Senate negotiators can come to an agreement on the budget. The main sticking points include funding for higher education and using state debt to finance construction projects, such as the Rupp Arena expansion.

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