The 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly adjourned at 3:20 a.m. this morning, following a last-minute flurry of bills passed in its final hours.
Though the state legislature swept through some of its top priorities that many feared would have to wait until next year, others were not so lucky. Here’s a rundown of what the General Assembly passed and will send to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature, and what was left on the chopping block.
Just before midnight, both chambers passed legislation that was a top priority for both parties to combat Kentucky’s growing heroin epidemic. SB 192 offered a compromise that has stricter penalties for out-of-state heroin traffickers, while also offering more treatment options for addicts.
While an optional needle exchange program run by local health departments derailed this legislation last year, Republican legislators finally relented, as the bill passed 100-0 in the House and nearly unanimously in the Senate. The bill also has a “Good Samaritan” clause that protects users from criminal charges if they report an overdose, and expands access for emergency workers to naloxone, which treats heroin overdoses.
A top priority for Beshear this session, he indicated last night that he would sign the bill first thing this morning.
“I applaud our legislators for putting aside partisan interests for the greater good of all Kentuckians who have been affected by this devastating drug,” said Beshear in a press release. “Because the bill has an emergency clause, I will sign it first thing tomorrow morning – Kentuckians can’t wait one more minute for the tools it provides to fight heroin.”
Gas Tax Floor
While the prospects of legislation to freeze the gas tax floor appeared dim earlier in the day, compromise legislation passed the House just after midnight. The gas tax rate was set to drop 5.1 cents per gallon next week — costing the state $250 million in road funds over the next 15 months — but compromise legislation needing to pass by a three-fifths majority in both chambers allowed the floor to drop only 1.5 cents.
The legislation did not come without its critics, as Republican Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer called it a betrayal of taxpayers. But Republican House Floor Leader Jeff Hoover said his party had saved consumers from a tax increase — despite most House Republicans voting against it.
Stumbo said the late movement on this legislation was caused by a late wave of local elected officials pressuring their legislators to prevent dramatic cuts in funds for road projects and maintenance in their districts. There will likely still be a drop in those funds, just not as dramatic.
Dating Violence Protections
After a decade of attempts by advocates, both chambers passed HB 8, which would provide civil emergency protective orders for dating partners who are not married, have not lived together and do not share a child. Last night marked the first time the full Senate has ever voted on the bill, passing by a 37-1 vote.
Kentucky was the last state in the country to not provide such protections for the victims of dating violence.
Trust Funds for cancer research, rape crisis centers and Special Olympics
Bucking unfounded rumors that the legislation would fund emergency contraception and abortion, SB 82 passed both chambers unanimously. The legislation will create trust funds devoted to pediatric cancer research, rape crisis centers and the Kentucky Special Olympics, allowing donors to write them off on their income tax returns.
Despite the growing $22 billion unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, legislation providing it with a $3.3 billion bond failed to pass the Senate. Republicans feared that issuing such a large bond was too risky, amending the House bill to only create a task force to study the teachers’ pension plan.
In the session’s closing hours, Republicans floated a compromise to provide $50 million to KTRS, which would be taken out of the also-troubled Kentucky Retirement Systems for other government workers. House Speaker Greg Stumbo rejected that offer — which was less than 2 percent of the original total — saying it would be “like spitting into the ocean and expecting it to rise.”
KTRS and teachers unions had hoped to take advantage of historically low interest rates on the bonds, which may now be higher and make a bonding proposal less attractive next year.
Student Input on Superintendent Hires
The stalling of HB 236 — which would allow high school students to have a say in the selection of new superintendents — has made national headlines, and last night the General Assembly finally completed their lesson on why cynicism is warranted toward Frankfort.
After the Senate refused to withdraw all of its controversial amendments, the House declined to vote on the bill. Though the Senate dropped the amendment of Republican Sen. C.B. Embry to regulate the restroom usage of transgender students, they kept the amendment of Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, to allow students to express religious viewpoints in the classroom, despite being fully aware that the House would not act on it with its inclusion.
Doubling Maximum Campaign Contributions
In the wee hours of the morning, Senate Republicans passed a campaign finance reform bill with an amendment that would double the maximum contribution an individual could give to a non-federal candidate in Kentucky. However, the House rejected the Senate’s bill by a 43-49 vote — which was notable both for its bipartisan opposition and support.
Top Democratic leadership in the House such as Stumbo and Rep. Sannie Overly voted for the bill, but enough Republicans peeled off to defeat it.
P3s, Local Option Sales Tax, and Public Smoking Ban
While the prospects for these three proposals passing were already virtually nil going into last night, some hoped that they would be resuscitated at the last minute, as is all too common in Frankfort. That did not happen.
Legislation allowing public-private partnerships for transportation made even less progress than last year, when it was passed and then vetoed by Beshear. The local option sales tax — the top priority of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer — was not revived in the Senate and will have to wait again until next year, as was the case with legislation to ban smoking in public places statewide.