This year's Kentucky legislative session is now over. Though many bills failed due to lack of compromise or attention, House Speaker Greg Stumbo says lawmakers did what was expected of them from taxpayers by passing a two-year state budget.
But that chamber’s highest ranking Republican, Jeff Hoover, decried tactics by Democrats to amend bills at the last minute without giving Republicans enough time to study them. Lawmakers debated new amendments and legislative procedure right until the stroke of midnight.
Among the failed bills was a measure that would raise penalties for heroin traffickers and legislation that would restore voting rights for felons.
House and Senate lawmakers have agreed to a $4.1 billion road spending plan on the Legislature's final day that, if approved, would avoid an expensive special session.
The plan includes $5.2 billion worth of projects throughout the state. But as much as 25 percent of that money will not be spent. Lawmakers said they like to include a cushion in case some projects are delayed because of environmental concerns or problems acquiring land.
The state Senate is scheduled to vote on the road plan first before sending it to the House of Representatives. Lawmakers have until midnight to pass the bill.
State lawmakers say they are close to an agreement on how to spend $1.2 billion in state tax dollars on road construction.
A national conservative group says the effort to get rid of the death penalty in Kentucky is picking up substantial bipartisan support. But legislation to repeal capital punishment failed to gain much traction in this year’s legislative session.
In the House, a bill to ban the death penalty was introduced by Republican David Floyd of Bardstown; in the Senate, Democrat Gerald Neal did the same. But neither piece of legislation received a hearing.
Marc Hyden with the group “Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty”, says while progress may be slow, he says within five years, the death penalty could be gone in Kentucky. He says it’s a rare issue on which Republicans and Democrats can work together.
Hayden rejects the notion that the death penalty is a deterrent.
The budget Kenutcky lawmakers approved this week will give $1.5 million to a costly renovation of the University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena.
The money would be used to finance architects' and engineering fees and other planning costs for the $310 million project.
Republican lawmakers got few answers from Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who lobbied House and Senate leadership for $65 million for the project during marathon budget talks held in Frankfort over the weekend.
Gray said the project would create thousands of jobs in Lexington, and failing to provide the amount would “drive a stake through the heart of the project.”
Details of the project remain scarce, as Gray and other officials are under a verbal non-disclosure agreement with the university.
The director of one of Kentucky’s leading non-profit economic policy think tanks says the recently-passed state budget fails to address the state’s revenue problem.
Jason Bailey, the director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says the budget, which includes five percent cuts to over a dozen state agencies, reflects the 14th round of harmful cuts since 2008, and doesn't do enough to generate new revenue.
“There are areas that have been time after time after time, so I think for higher education, for human services, for areas like environmental and public and worker protection, I think those systems will be frayed even further by the cuts that we’ve seen.”
Bailey adds that the revenue bill passed by the legislature that gives tax breaks to the bourbon industry and beer and wine wholesalers aren’t worth the cuts to important state agencies.
Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education is already tailoring its next state budget request to include performance funding for state universities.
The General Assembly did not include the CPE’s request for performance funding in its two-year spending plan that awaits the governor’s signature. CPE President Bob King says the performance funding request was among several suggestions to bring more money to the state’s universities.
“One of those purposes was to create a pot of money that would be distributed to the campuses tied to the proportion of degrees that they produced,” he said. “And there was a premium for students who earned degrees in the STEM field—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or in health fields because we know that our workforce needs people with those skills quite substantially.”
King says in addition to going over this legislative session’s budget to determine the tuition cap for state universities, the CPE is working on its funding request for the next session.
A bill that would raise penalties for heroin traffickers and expand addiction treatment is on shaky ground in the Kentucky General Assembly.
The proposed legislation barely passed a House committee due to concerns over language that would charge drug dealers with homicide in overdose deaths. House State Government Committee chair Brent Yonts says there are “major problems” with the constitutionality of charging dealers for the deaths of people they’re never met.
“One who sells heroin foresees that it’s bad and will kill, and they’re potentially liable for that death even though they may be three people distant from the one who actually gave it or sold it to the one who died,” said Yonts.
Yonts says without changes, he doesn’t think the bill will pass. A bill last year was killed over similar concerns.
Kentucky’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker says language in the state’s budget that attempts to pull funding for the Affordable Care Act won’t kill the program.
Kentucky is set to begin paying a portion of the cost for expanded Medicaid and the health-insurance exchange in 2017. Provisions in the recently-passed state budget bar state money from going toward the program.
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo says it's largely symbolic.
“We know that that would have been probably something that we’d still been there debating, and so after reviewing the language and reviewing the governor’s implementation of what we call ‘Beshear Care,’ we didn’t feel like that this language would be egregious to the governor in moving forward.”
The governor’s office spearheaded Kentucky’s implementation of the ACA, but has declined to comment on the budget language.
After winning speedy approval in the Senate, the Kentucky House has given final passage of the state’s $20 billion two-year budget.
Lawmakers passed a series of budget bills funding the legislative, judicial and executive branches of state government with minimal debate, and earlier than they have in previous years.
The budget bills will head to Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk for approval. They largely preserve his efforts to fund K-12 education at the cost of other state programs.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo hailed the compromise with the Senate as an example of how democracy can work.
“The gridlock and the stalemate that’s engulfed both parties in Washington didn’t make it’s way to Kentucky. It worked," Stumbo said, to applause from fellow lawmakers. "And you can go home tonight and you can look your constituents in the eye while you’re on this veto break and you can say it worked. We did what you paid us to do.”
Lawmakers will now break for two weeks until returning April 14 for a veto session.
Doctors at two Kentucky research hospitals can prescribe medicine derived from marijuana oil to treat child seizures under a bill that cleared the General Assembly on Monday.
The bill would allow Kentuckians to use cannabidiol in two cases: a prescription from a doctor at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville research hospitals, or a trial from the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Senate gave the bill final approval Monday and it will become law unless Democratic Governor Steve Beshear vetoes it. The bill comes as states across the country are allowing the limited use of marijuana and its products for medical purposes.
In other news from Frankfort, Kentucky drivers will not pay more in states taxes at the gas pump this summer.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he's told legislative leaders to prepare the state's two year road spending plan without the extra $107 million that would come from a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax.