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Kentucky General Assembly Nears End, Issues Still Remain
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.
Between now and then, a few lawmakers will work to resolve those final issues during the so-called veto recess, which is two weeks for the governor to consider all passed bills so far and whether he should sign them into law or strike them down.
Here's the list of what got finished, what's still in limbo and what's likely to be at its final resting place.
- House Bill 7/University bonding projects. The first law of this year's session will authorize more than $360 million dollars in projects for six of the state's eight public universities. It's mostly for dorm renovations and academic buildings, although renovations for Commonwealth Stadium at the University of Kentucky is also included. Uses no general fund dollars for the upgrades.
- House Bill 217 /Tweaks to pill mill law. In 2012, lawmakers passed a tough crackdown on pain clinics and abuse of prescription pills. But the law causes unintended consequences, like extra drugs tests and multiple reports for patients in hospitals. This law corrected those problems, without weakening the original law, supporters said.
- House Bill 8. It's an update to synthetic drug laws passed in 2012 and it toughens buying of PSE for convicted meth offenders. Basically an update to two other drug laws passed in 2012.
- House Bill 279/Religious freedom bill. This bill easily passed both legislative chambers, despite opposition saying it would overturn fairness laws that prevent discrimination in many Kentucky cities. The governor has yet to sign the bill into law and is getting pressure to veto it. Supporters say its use as a disrciminatory tool never holds up in court.
- Senate Bill 97/Dropout bill compromise. One of the chief priorities for Gov. Steve Beshear has been raising the age when Kentucky students can drop out of school to 18. This bill allows local school boards the option of raising the age and once 55 percent of all school boards in Kentucky make the move, it will become mandatory for all four years later.
- House Bill 441/ toll administration. This bill sets up the regulatory framework to tolling on the Ohio River Bridges Project, sponsored by state Rep. Larry Clark.
- House Bill 3/Human Trafficking.This bill is so called "safe harbor" legislation, allowing victims of human trafficking to be treated as victims, not felons, when they are caught doing prostitution or revealed as non-U.S. citizens. With Kentucky's multiple interstate highways, supporters say they state is ripe for this illegal activity.
- House Bill 1/Special Taxing Districts. Auditor Adam Edelen got his bill passed after a little wrangling over oversight for the special taxing districts. A special district is a quasi-governmental agency, like a sewer district or library board, that can tax or fee. The bill would list all special districts in a centralized registry and make them present budgets and tax increases in public areas and to their local fiscal courts.
- Child fatality review. Lawmakers finally codified the review panel for child deaths this year, after Beshear started it with an executive order.
Hanging Onto Life Support
- Senate Bill 1/Military Electronic Voting. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' measure would allow for electronic voting for military members overseas. The Senate prefers for the ballot to return via snail mail, but the House amended the bill to include electronic return as well. Lawmakers are working to find a compromise before the session ends.
- Redistricting. The House has passed their own redistricting map, which isn't amiable to GOP incumbents. But Senate leaders didn't get their own map ready and appear to be ignoring the House map already passed.
- Pensions. Legislative leaders continue to work with the governor on reforms to the state's underfunded pension systems. The House also wants to find a way to generate new revenue to start fully paying required obligations, but the Senate would rather find that money in the budget already.
- ATT bill. Supporters say this bill would help encourage broadband development across Kentucky, but opponents say it takes phone companies off the hook for providing land line access to rural areas. The bill has yet to pass the House, but could be poised to do so with some amending.
- Medi-share Bill. This bill would allow Christian Care Medishare, a health sharing organization, back into business in Kentucky after they were kicked out by the courts. It would grant them an exemption under current state law. But it appears dead on the House floor.
- Hemp. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has pushed a bill that would set up a regulatory framework for growing hemp in Kentucky, if the federal government legalizes it soon. But the bill has hit a bump in the road in the name of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who opposes it calling it a small, unnecessary industry. But with Comer's push, could make it out alive on final day.
- Stumbo Medicaid change. Stumbo has a bill that would move prompt pay claims between providers and Medicaid Managed Care organizations to the Department of Insurance's process. The idea being that providers would be paid faster and MCOs wouldn't be able to deny claims on technical grounds. Could die in the Senate.
- Smelter bill. This bill would allow two smelters in Western Kentucky to buy energy on the open market, since their current contract with Big Rivers is too expensive. The bill is struggling to get votes since many rural co-ops are against the bill, but supporters remain optimistic.
- Alcohol bills. Whether it's the ability or lack there of to buy it in groceries or whether it can be sold on election days, it appears any major bills dealing with alcohol this legislative session are being poured out and ignored.
- Statewide smoking ban .Despite help from Beshear, former basketball player Derek Anderson and many others, a plan to institute a statewide smoking ban stalled on the House floor this session.
- local option sales tax/tax reform. Neither idea got much play, despite support from many mayors and from Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson.
- gun control bills. After the Newton, Conn., shooting earlier this year, a few Democratic lawmakers attempted to tighten gun control in Kentucky by putting in into the hands of the Kentucky State Police. But their bills never moved.
- medical review panels for nursing homes. Supporters say Kentucky has a overzealous legal community that sues nursing homes for abuse too much. So to help counteract that, they proposed setting up review panels of doctors to review the cases to be admitted in any court cases. Opponents say nursing homes are trying to cover their bad actions.
- Charter schools. The latest proposal would allow persistently low-achieving schools to become a charter school as a fifth option for turnaround. The bill cleared the Senate, but didn't move in the House.