Credit Doug Wilson / Environmental Protection Agency
The smokestack of an aluminum smelting plant, 1973.
With only two days left in this year's Kentucky General Assembly session, time is running out for supporters of legislation meant to keep two western Kentucky aluminum smelters—which employ about 3,000 people—from closing.
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers working late Tuesday night.
Kentucky legislators have returned home for the next 12 days after passing a flurry of bills in the recent days of the 2013 General Assembly session. But many big issues still remain on the table and lawmakers will have two days left—March 25 and 26—to hammer out any remaining issues, including pensions and military voting bills.
Senate President Robert Stivers talks with other legislators.
FRANKFORT — Two priorities of Kentucky lawmakers will spill over to the so-called veto period of the 2013 legislative sessions after the issues could not be resolved by the end of Tuesday. Legislators were unable to compromise on pension reform and the military electronic voting bill before both legislative chambers adjourned until March 25.
Kentucky lawmakers reached a deal Monday in a conference committee on legislation addressing issues with special taxing districts. The committee adopted a new proposal that would require special districts to present their annual budgets or any new fee increases to their local fiscal court. But the compromise on House Bill 1 does not allow the fiscal court veto or approval powers of the special district's actions, as Senate Republicans had recently suggested.
A bill designed to allow Kentuckians in the military deployed overseas vote electronically has cleared the House, after amendments returned Senate Bill 1 to a full electronic system. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is the main promoter of the bill and urged House lawmakers to return to full electronic provisions after the Senate did not include the electronic return of a ballot.
The Kentucky House approved on Monday legislation that gradually raises the age when students can drop out of school—a compromise reached after past efforts to strike a deal failed. The dropout bill allows local school boards to choose whether to raise the dropout age to 18. After 55 percent of Kentucky's school boards raise the drop out limit, the change in four years becomes mandatory statewide.
Kentucky's legislative leaders have hope they can finish redistricting before the current session ends later this month. New legislative districts were drafted and passed last year to reflect the 2010 Census. A judge threw them out, however, saying lawmakers did not properly divide up the state.
A bill reauthorizing a Christian health sharing ministry in Kentucky has cleared a House committee after the insertion into the bill a provision for more disclosure to possible members of the group. Senate Bill 3, known as the Medi-Share bill, would re-legalize Christian Care Medi-Share to operate in Kentucky after courts ruled them illegal and kicked them out.
Changes to a bill reforming how special taxing districts operate in Kentucky could kill the legislation in the final days of the General Assembly session. State Sen. Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican and the majority floor leader, introduced the changes in committee on Wednesday which give local governments veto powers over possible rate increases by special districts. Those changes later passed off the Senate floor.
A bill that would strengthen Kentucky's human trafficking laws has passed a Senate committee and appears ready to finally become law. House Bill 3 is sponsored by state Rep. Sannie Overly, a Paris Democrat and the House majority caucus chair.. It's consider so-called "safe harbor legislation," which would require treatment for victims of human trafficking instead of legal ramifications, such as prostitution or immigration charges.
The House State Government committee has advanced a new redistricting map to the House floor after weeks of closed door debate. Last year's state House and Senate districts were ruled unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court after House GOP members challenged them in court. The new House districts would create seven new districts all across Kentucky, where no current lawmakers reside.
FRANKFORT — In its second try, the Kentucky House agriculture committee approved a bill Wednesday creating a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government were to legalize it. The hemp bill—championed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer—got only one no vote in the House agriculture committee.
Gov. Steve Beshear signed on Tuesday legislation aimed at "fixing" 2012's crackdown on pill mills. The so-called pill mill fix bill, House Bill 217, exempts hospitals and long term care facilities from constantly running prescribing reports on patients in their care.
Supporters of a statewide smoking ban in Kentucky are once again trying to persuade a House committee to pass the the legislation this session. The House Judiciary Committee is the second committee—after House Health and Welfare—to hear the smoking ban bill sponsored by State Rep. Susan Westrom, a Lexington Democrat.
As the 2013 legislative session winds down, the top priorities for each chamber are still stuck in the process and not yet law. House Bill 1 would reform special districts in Kentucky and centralize financing reporting aspects for the districts. The legislation is supported by Auditor Adam Edelen, a Democrat. But the legislation is likely to undergo changes that Edelen has yet to support, including giving more oversight of the districts to local governments.
FRANKFORT — Arguments over how to reform and pay for Kentucky's underfunded pension systems have devolved into legislative chaos. Both the Kentucky House and the Senate are refusing bills addressing pensions, citing legal or procedural reasons. And leading legislators are blaming each other.
A House bill aiming to help generate revenues for the underfunded pension system is in legal limbo as the Senate refused to accept the bill. House Bill 416 takes revenues from expansion of Instant Racing and online lottery sales and the start of a Keno game to generate close to $100 million a year to pay into state's currently underfunded pensions for state employees.
After dismissing the idea last fall, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is warming to the idea of actress Ashley Judd running for the U.S. Senate in 2014. Judd has begun reaching out to Kentucky Democratic leaders; Stumbo said on Thursday that he'll tell Judd that, should she enter, the race is winnable. "Ashley Judd, if she chooses to get into this race, will be a formidable candidate by the time the race is over I'm convinced of that," Stumbo said.
A bill addressing issues with 2012's pill mill bill has cleared a state Senate committee, less than a day after it cleared the full House. The bill calls off some regulations of the 2012 House Bill 1, which cracked down on prescription pain clinics and abuse. It also exempts hospitals and long term care facilities from pulling KASPER reports every time they prescribe medication.
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House Agriculture Committee chairman blocked a vote on the hemp bill on Wednesday morning after a tense exchange with a Republican supporter of the legislation. The hemp bill would create a regulatory framework in Kentucky, should the federal government legalize it. Rep. Tom McKee, the ag committee chairman and a Cynthiana Democrat, wanted to amend the bill to turn it into a study, which the bill's supporters oppose.
State Auditor Adam Edelen is encouraging Senate lawmakers not to tweak the special district taxing district reform bill, which is largely based on his proposals from a report last year. The Senate State and Local Government committee discussed the bill for more than an hour, but did not vote on House Bill 1 because Sen. Damon Thayer says he's attempting to amend the bill. Thayer's main concerns are giving control of a new registry of special districts to the Department of Local Government and that local elected officials often don't have control of a special district.
Ashley Judd has begun reaching out to Kentucky House Democratic leaders as she continues to explore a 2014 bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Judd has called House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark asking for a meeting, Clark said. She also called and left a message on House Speaker Greg Stumbo's cell phone—but asked to speak with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins. Stumbo said he's returned the call but hasn't heard back.