The Kentucky General Assembly stands in recess as lawmakers hash out compromises in several conference committees.
The journalists on this weekend’s Comment on Kentucky discussed the uncertain fate of several bills as the 2015 legislative session winds down. The veto period continues through this week before lawmakers return on March 23 and 24 for their last days of work.
Policy differences and authorship credit have stymied efforts to reach a compromise on anti-heroin legislation, according to Kevin Wheatley of cn|2. Senators rejected House Bill 213 provisions for local-option needle exchange programs and tiered levels of jail time for drug traffickers. House members opposed the tougher sentencing provisions in Senate Bill 5. Plus, some Democrats opposed crediting the Senate measure to sponsor Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Wheatley says the House took most of its original provisions and integrated them into an unrelated measure, Senate Bill 192, which is now before a conference committee to negotiate a final compromise.
But Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader warns that a new amendment added by the House may cause problems. He says a provision to allocate $10 million for treatment programs was promoted by Rep. Sannie Overly (D-Paris), who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. Brammer says credit for Overly in the compromise bill may become a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
Rescuing the Road Fund
The winter snows have melted to reveal a plethora of potholes in Kentucky roads. With dwindling gas-tax revenues going into the road fund, transportation officials worry they won’t have enough money for those repairs as well as other maintenance and building projects.
Wheatley says a conference committee formed to address a general taxation measure could also take up the road fund problem. He says that conference panel includes Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris (R-Prospect) as well as House and Senate budget panel members who handle transportation issues. Wheatley reports that Gov. Steve Beshear has also been involved in the back-channel negotiations on the issue.
Jack Brammer adds that Beshear could help the road-fund cause by telling lawmakers the specific projects the state won’t be able to fund in their districts without a change to the gas tax formula. Brammer says legislators want those projects but don’t want to be associated with any potential tax increase.
Other Legislative Measures
A measure to enable school districts to waive some days missed due to snow awaits the governor’s signature. Kevin Wheatley says schools will be allowed to extend daily classroom hours and stay open on primary election day, if they don’t host a polling place. Those districts that don’t reach the instructional-hour minimum by June 5 could petition to have the remaining time waived.
Jack Brammer says he expects bills concerning dating violence and teacher pensions to pass in some form by the end of the session. He reports the pension measure will likely embody the review of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System pushed by the Senate, rather than the $3.3 billion bonding plan proposed by the House.
Kentucky Governor’s Race
The latest Bluegrass Poll shows Louisville businessman Hal Heiner with an 8-point lead over his Republican gubernatorial opponents. Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier-Journal says Heiner has invested $1.1 million in statewide television ads that have aired over the past six weeks.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Senate candidate Matt Bevin are tied at 20 percent of likely voters. Gerth says Comer has only spent about $100,000 for campaign ads. Instead, Comer is using county courthouse visits to build his ground organization.
Trailing in fourth among the GOP contenders is former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott at 8 percent. Gerth says Scott hopes to boost his profile with a skydiving stunt today to bring attention to his plan to help military veterans.
The poll also found Democratic candidate Jack Conway leading the four Republican hopefuls – but barely. Gerth says Conway leads Heiner by 3 points and Comer by 2 points. But Gerth warns that Conway will have a tougher time maintaining that lead after Republicans pick their nominee in May.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.