Herald-Leader Editorial

End the politics, pass these bills

On tax districts, hemp, military voting

March 6, 2013 

Here's a little unsolicited advice to legislative leaders who are torpedoing bills that are identified with up-and-comers in the opposite party:

You might think you're playing smart politics, but, really, you just look petty.

With only five days left in this session and almost nothing to show for it, lawmakers of both parties should be scrambling to earn their benefits and pay.

And yet the Republican Senate is sitting on reforms that would bring more accountability to special taxing districts (Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen's project).

The Senate weakened, if not gutted, legislation to make voting easier, especially for Kentuckians in the military serving overseas (Democratic Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes' cause.)

The Senate is even bottling up legislation to protect child victims of human trafficking, presumably to deprive the bill's sponsor, House Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris, of a victory.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have rolled out a rocky road for the industrial hemp legislation championed by Republican Agriculture Secretary James Comer.

All these bills received broad bipartisan support in their originating chamber, so it's not as if either party has deep philosophical objections. And the costs are negligible to none.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, seems to be the main obstacle to House Bill 1, which would standardize rules and reporting requirements for more than 1,200 special taxing districts which control $2.7 billion a year and provide everything from fire protection to water.

Thayer, who wants county fiscal courts to control special districts' ability to tax and impose fees, should talk to some experts to learn how this would harm taxpayers by making it more expensive for counties and districts to finance infrastructure such as new waterlines.

What Thayer is proposing is a pet cause with some in the Tea Party, but there's no way it's going to become law in this session. Thayer's idea of the perfect should not block reforms that no one disputes would be good.

And if relieving special districts of their taxing powers is such a great idea, Thayer should be able to sell it in future sessions, especially if HB 1 becomes law and sheds needed light on special districts.

The only non-political concern we've heard about House Bill 3, which would combat human trafficking, is the cost of victim services and training law enforcement. But the bill's services would be funded only out of assets seized from those engaged in human trafficking. The bill places no new obligations on the General Fund.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, may have saved the measure Tuesday by attaching the protections against human trafficking to a Senate bill that creates provisions for safely exchanging children in shared custody. Both measures deserve the legislature's support.

The ostensible objection to allowing overseas military personnel to vote by Internet is the potential for fraud. But that risk seems small compared with the risk of depriving someone who is in harm's way to protect our freedoms from exercising one of those freedoms.

If problems arise from service people voting by Internet, the legislature could always end it or make adjustments.

After being stonewalled, the hemp bill, Senate Bill 50, appears finally to be moving in the House, with a committee vote expected today. This mostly symbolic measure can't change anything unless the federal government lifts its ban on hemp. The House should approve it and remove one excuse for Senate Republicans to bottle up good House bills.

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