GLI’s 2015 Legislative Session Rewind

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FRANKFORT – Rep. John Tilley and Senate President Robert Stivers converse in conference committee on heroin

The General Assembly brought the 2015 Regular Session to a close in the early morning hours of March 25. This session, which Governor Beshear called a “remarkable success” saw the passage of some important legislation, but much work remains to be done to move the Commonwealth forward.

Legislation supported by GLI that will become law includes:

Anti-Heroin Abuse – Among GLI’s top legislative priorities for this session was addressing the heroin epidemic affecting Kentucky. Negotiations between the House and Senate in a conference committee on SB 192, successfully yielded a compromise bill that the Governor has already signed into law. The final bill combines many provisions that were found in each chamber’s original versions, including $24 million to fund treatment programs; a “Good Samaritan” clause, which protects individuals who report an overdose from prosecution on drug charges; expanded use of the anti-overdose drug Naloxone by first-responders; and provisions that allow local governments to establish needle exchange programs, which help prevent the spread of blood-borne disease.  The final legislation also includes tougher penalties for heroin dealers.  An individual caught with a kilogram of heroin or more now faces a Class B felony but someone with less than two grams would not be considered a dealer unless they are found with other paraphernalia or with two grams over 90 days.

Crowdfunding – House Bill 76, sponsored by Rep. Steve Riggs (D-Louisville), will allow Kentucky investors to participate in crowdfunding, which allows non-accredited investors to invest limited amounts of capital in start-up ventures. GLI was very supportive of this legislation that passed the General Assembly and was signed by the Governor.

Early Childhood Education – One of GLI’s top long term priorities is to improve funding and quality for early childhood education. The General Assembly took a big step in that direction this session with the passage of House Bill 234, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort) that puts in place a quality rating system for child care providers, supported by a $44 million Race to the Top grant.

EPAD – House Bill 100, sponsored by Rep. James Kay (D-Versailles), would enable local governments to establish energy project assessment districts to allow for the financing of energy efficiency projects through assessments on properties participating in the program.  The bill passed and was signed by Governor Beshear.

Pension Reform Measures – HB 62 ensures that any entity choosing to withdraw from the Kentucky Retirement System must repay their unfunded liability.  In addition, HB 47 added the Legislative, Judicial and Teachers’ Retirement Systems to the Public Pension Oversight Board.

Stabilizing the Road Fund – A conference committee on House Bill 299  successfully reached a compromise that will prohibit a significant loss of revenue to the state’s Road Fund. The compromise sets a new gas tax floor at 26 cents, changes the calculation of the gas tax from quarterly to annually, and provides a 10% limit on how much it can decrease or increase in any year.  This is a significant win for Louisville’s transportation system that GLI was proud to support.

Telecommunication Reform – House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand (D-Bedford), has already been signed by Governor Beshear and will remove antiquated regulations and allow Kentucky to modernize its telecommunications system. GLI was very supportive of the House and Senate efforts to pass this important legislation.

Legislation Opposed by GLI that was defeated:

Minimum Wage – House Bill 2, which would raise Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 by July 2017, passed the House but was never considered in the Senate. GLI is opposed to increasing the minimum wage on the state level because it would create a competitive disadvantage to other states.

The Kentucky General Assembly failed to pass many pro-business bills that GLI supported.  These include:

LIFT – Local Investments For Transformation, which is legislation that would provide an option for voters to enact up to a 1% sales tax in order to raise revenue for specific projects, was not enacted. House Bill 1 and the enabling legislation, House Bill 344, both successfully passed the House this session, but remained stagnant in the Senate. GLI remains committed to working with the General Assembly to get this critical economic development tool passed into law.

Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) – House Bill 433, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs (D – Pikeville) would have allowed the use of public-private partnerships for transportation projects, leading to savings for taxpayers and increased expertise and efficiency in project execution. GLI was disappointed to see this popular legislation lose momentum as Kentucky is the only state among all bordering states without P3s.

School Leadership – One of the key education issues for Louisville and JCPS for the 2015 Session was to give superintendents more flexibility in selection of principals within school districts. Legislation to provide that authority, Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Dan Seum (R-Louisville), passed out of the Senate and the House Education committee but was never considered on the House floor. We hoped the issue would be resolved as part of a conference committee on House Bill 449 dealing with other education issues. Unfortunately, House and Senate leaders were unable to reach a compromise. We look forward to working with legislators to address this issue in the 2016 Session.

Smoke-Free Kentucky – During the 2015 session, GLI supported a state law that would place restrictions on smoking in certain public places. House Bill 145, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom (D-Lexington), passed the House this session, but could never get traction in the Senate. GLI joins with other HB 145 supporters in thanking Rep. Susan Westrom and Sen. Julie Adams who worked tirelessly on this legislation.

Comprehensive Tax Reform – The only real proposal was the perennial effort by Rep. Jim Wayne, House Bill 132, which was never considered in House A&R.  Two bills supported by GLI, HB 361, the Taxpayer Rights Enhancement Act of 2015, and HB 399, which strengthens the current Taxpayer Bill of Rights, is legislation that can bring much-needed transparency, efficiency, and equity to the administration of Kentucky’s tax code. A hearing was held in committee, but the bills did not receive a vote in the House.

Distillery Modernization – HB 198, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keene (D-Campbell), permits bourbon distillers to sell their products by the drink to visitors at their distilleries just as wineries and breweries do today. HB 198 passed the House Licensing and Occupations Committee in mid-February, but was not given a full House vote

Expanded Gaming – This issue never gained traction in either chamber this session, though there were two bills filed: HB 300, sponsored by Speaker Stumbo, and SB 199, sponsored by Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville).  GLI continues to believe that expanded gaming is an important economic development driver that should be permitted in Kentucky.

Expungements – GLI supported HB 40, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville), which would expand the scope of statutory expungement to include non-violent Class D felonies and prohibit the introduction of a crime that has been expunged as evidence in a suit against an employer for negligent hiring or licensing. This bill will help address the Commonwealth’s qualified workforce shortage by reducing obstacles that limit business access to over 174,000 work-ready adults.  HB 40 passed the House but never received consideration in the Senate.

Medical Liability Reform/Medical Review Panels – After getting off to a quick start, from introduction to passing the Senate in three days, Senate Bill 6, which would have established Medical Review Panels, never moved in the House.

Pension Reform Measures – HB 4 was the vehicle this session for legislative action on the large unfunded liability in the KY Teacher’s Retirement System. The House offered up a bonding proposal, which the Senate rejected and countered with a study of the problem and possible solutions. Final negotiations between House and Senate leaders failed to yield a compromise this session. GLI remains concerned about the significant issues facing KTRS & KRS public pension systems, and hopes that the General Assembly will address this.  SB 22 would have strengthened transparency to require the Judicial Retirement Plan, the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System to establish a placement agent disclosure policy and require the policy to disclose to the boards of trustees of the plans and systems the name of the placement agent, the dollar value of the investment, and the fees or payments made to the placement agent for each investment in which a placement agent was used.

Right to Work – This issue was labeled as the top priority, Senate Bill 1, for the Senate Majority this session. However, it was defeated in the House Labor & Industry committee in mid-February.

Other Item of Note

Beer Distributors – GLI was opposed to House Bill 168, which would require divestiture of Anheuser-Busch, a company that employs approximately 175 people in Louisville and has been operating in Louisville since 1978.  GLI was not pleased with passage of this legislation because it sets a precedent for state government to require closure of a company that has followed the law and been a good corporate citizen for decades. This bill would also require divesture of an operation in Owensboro and another Erlanger.  HB 168 passed both houses and was signed by the Governor.

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