In final hours of session, General Assembly passes compromises on road fund stabilization and anti-heroin legislation

With many big bills still left on the table, members of the Kentucky General Assembly entered the 28th day of the 2015 session with a long to-do list and passed many compromises on some of the most pressing issues facing the state.

Agreements were reached and passed right before the clock hit midnight, when the chambers were expected to adjourn sine die. However, because of two snow days earlier in the session the legislators were able to work past midnight—until almost 4 a.m. to be exact—and get bills passed.

The Kentucky Chamber team was closely monitoring the action from the Capitol and have the details on the final day of the 2015 session.

Road fund stabilization legislation passed both chambers at the stroke of midnight

With a massive revenue shortfall looming over the state’s road fund, members of the General Assembly voted late Tuesday night to pass compromise legislation—House Bill 299–to stabilize the road fund.

The compromise sets a new minimum rate for the tax at 26 cents per gallon, a number slightly lower than the current rate, but not subject to fluctuations in line with changing prices at the pump.

The Kentucky Chamber has actively worked to urge lawmakers to find a way to stabilize the road fund because of the devastating impact a revenue loss of that magnitude would have on businesses, jobs and citizens across the state.

The compromise bill passed the Senate 29-8 before passing in the House with a 67-29 vote.

On behalf of 60,000 employers in the state, the Kentucky Chamber thanks the General Assembly for their work and the successful passage of House Bill 299.

Legislators reach compromise and pass anti-heroin bill in final hours

After months of back and forth negotiations, the House and Senate reached an agreement on legislation to address the scourge of heroin in the state.

The compromise bill, Senate Bill 192, first passed the House with a 100-0 vote at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday before the legislation was sent to the Senate where members voted 34-4 to pass the bill an hour later.

The compromised language in the bill addresses many of the issues that had been holding up negotiations for weeks as well as agreed upon provisions dealing with funding and others.

Some of the highlights in the final bill include:

  • tougher penalties on traffickers
  • the ability for local governments to set up needle exchange programs to cut down on the spread of diseases
  • increased accessibility of the overdose-countering drug naloxone to first responders and other medical professionals
  • a Good Samaritan provision that would allow a person who has called in a heroin overdose to avoid prosecution
  • funding mechanisms for treatment programs across the state

The main sponsors and negotiators of the bill spoke in favor of the compromise in their respective chambers, calling the final bill a result of great work by many groups.

Sen. Chris McDaniel, the sponsor of the original Senate version of a heroin bill, said the bill was authored by the citizens of the Commonwealth and is great news for the state. Rep. John Tilley, the sponsor of the House version, also applauded the final agreement calling it a great solution to a public health crisis.

Because of an emergency clause in the legislation, Gov. Steve Beshear signed the bill into law immediately on Wednesday morning at the Capitol.

The Kentucky Chamber has been a vocal supporter of the legislature reaching an agreement on this issue and applauds legislators’ work on the bill.

Energy legislation passes on final day

The General Assembly passed HCR 168, sponsored by Rep. Jim Gooch, Tuesday evening.  This measure directs the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) to establish a task force to perform a one-time study which assesses the potential impacts of federal environmental regulations on the “affordability” and “reliability” of electricity generation in Kentucky.

The “Federal Environmental Regulation Impact Assessment Task Force” is required to submit its findings and recommendations to the LRC by December 4, 2015.

HCR 168 now heads to Gov. Beshear’s desk and awaits his signature.

No agreement reached on KTRS bonding proposal

Ahead of the final days of session, a conference committee met to try and figure out their differences over a proposal to issue a $3.3 billion dollar bond to shore up the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and possibly examine the system with a study.

The original House bill would have allowed for $3.3 billion in bonds for a cash influx into the teacher pension fund. The Senate expressed concerns about bonding that amount of money without looking at systematic changes and amended the bill to conduct a study to look at KTRS, much like what was done in 2012 with the Kentucky Retirement System.

After meeting in conference committee for several days, the two sides could not reach an agreement on Tuesday and no action was taken to infuse money into the system.

The Kentucky Chamber has expressed concerns about moving forward with such a decision without public debate on the idea as well as a deeper look into the system’s practices. In March of 2014, The Kentucky Chamber suggested a in depth study of KTRS but the legislature did not pursue the idea.

This issue will likely be discussed over the course of the year before the next session in 2016.

Education measure killed in committee

A conference committee met on Tuesday morning in hopes of a compromise that would help the state’s low-performing schools.  Up for discussion was House Bill 449, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Graham, which would require schools that remain classified as persistently low-performing schools for four years, to implement an internal innovation option.  SB 132, sponsored by Sen. Dan Seum, was also discussed and would allow a superintendent to select the principal in a school identified as an initial intervention school.

Unfortunately, the committee hit an impasse and was not able to come to agreement as the clock ticked down on the last day of the 2015 session.  Legislators plan to meet in the interim to find a resolution and will try again in 2016.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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