Kentucky Legislative Session Ends With Flurry Of Late Activity

Originally published on March 31, 2017 3:22 pm

The 2017 legislative session concluded Thursday night, and a bevy of bills now await Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature or veto.

The General Assembly adjourned near midnight Thursday after approving a steady stream of legislation during the final hours of this year’s lawmaking session.

Republicans controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in state history and succeeded in moving a wide range of conservative policies this year.

The session was House Speaker Jeff Hoover’s first leading the chamber after almost 20 years in the minority party.

“I think the people of Kentucky are proud of the fact that we came in — even when they disagreed on the issue, they knew that we were in here working, doing something, and I think they appreciate that,” Hoover said.

Most of the major legislation passed in the first five days of the session. The newly-Republican General Assembly passed a so-called right-to-work law, anti-abortion bills and a repeal of the prevailing wage, which set higher pay rates for workers on state construction projects.

Bevin led the charge for lawmakers to approve a charter schools law, which allows the organizations to open up statewide starting in the 2017-18 school year.

On Thursday, the legislature awarded final passage to an extension of the Louisville-based KFC Yum! Center’s TIF scheme — which allows the arena authority to skim sales and property tax revenue from nearby businesses.

Lawmakers also approved a bill that limits pain pill prescriptions and creates stiffer penalties for trafficking synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Doctors will only be able to prescribe Kentuckians a three-day supply of opioid painkillers under the legislation, which now awaits the governor’s signature.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville, said the bill would help curb the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

“I think this is a good first step towards cracking down on too much medicine getting out there in our communities,” he said.

The legislation creates several exemptions for doctors to write opioid prescriptions that last longer than three days, including for people suffering from chronic pain or cancer, and those in end-of-life situations.

The legislation would also increase the penalties for trafficking synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which has been blamed for recent spikes in drug overdoses in several Kentucky cities, including Louisville. Those caught trafficking even the smallest amount of fentanyl could be charged with a Class C felony under the legislation.

Bill Targeting AG Stalls

Despite a flurry of activity on a bill limiting the attorney general’s powers this week, the legislation did not receive final approval from the legislature.

Hoover said his chamber ran out of time.

“We made the decision that to get into a lengthy debate on that, because of the situation between the governor and the attorney general, that we just didn’t have time to do it if we were going to do these other bills,” Hoover said.

The legislation would have given the governor sole authority to file amicus curiae — or “friend of the court” — briefs where the state weighs in on lawsuits in which it’s not involved.

Republicans have criticized Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear for filing briefs they don’t agree with. They also don’t like that Beshear has repeatedly challenged Bevin in court.

State Incentives for Mystery Project

During the final hours of the legislative session, lawmakers voted to allow Bevin to issue $15 million in bonds to attract an economic development project to the state. But officials won’t say what the project is or where it would be.

Terry Gill, secretary of the Economic Development Cabinet, said he couldn’t provide details about the project, but that it would have “a significant economic upside” for the state.

“We’re under a pretty tight non-disclosure,” he said. “We’re trying to just provide us with the greatest latitude we have in competing for it.”

Gill said an announcement about the project would come sometime within the coming six months.

House Floor Leader Johnathan Shell revealed that the initiative would be in Eastern Kentucky and create an estimated 1,000 construction jobs. He also said once completed, the mystery project would create 500 permanent jobs paying an average of $75,000 per year.

The next legislative session begins in January 2018 unless the governor calls a special session before then. Bevin has indicated he wants to call a special session this year for the legislature to discuss pensions and tax reform.

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