FRANKFORT — Slamming headlong into a midnight deadline to end Kentucky's 2014 General Assembly, state lawmakers rushed to vote on a wide array of bills Tuesday night.
Among the bills lawmakers sent to Gov. Steve Beshear in the final hours of the session was a two-year road plan that includes more than $5.1 billion in projects and a proposal which expands and makes permanent a scholarship program for coal county students who want to attend college in the Eastern or Western Kentucky coalfields.
The legislature gave final passage to House Bill 2, the scholarship measure, after the Senate dropped a plan to attach an "unfriendly amendment" with language from a proposed telephone deregulation measure sought by AT&T and opposed by the House.
The state budget holds $2 million per year in coal severance tax funds to provide 500 scholarships for the program.
Earlier in the evening, the House approved the road plan on a 71-26 vote after the Senate endorsed it 37-1. There was no discussion of the hastily assembled compromise bill in either chamber.
House Bill 237 now goes to Beshear for his signature or veto. It's not clear if the Democratic governor must accept or reject the entire bill or if he has the authority to line-item veto individual projects. If he does make vetoes, the legislature will not have an opportunity to override them.
The state Constitution required lawmakers to end their 60-workday legislative session by midnight Tuesday.
About three-fourths of projects listed in the road plan are fully funded, lawmakers said. It does not rely on a 1.5-cent-a-gallon increase in the state's gas tax that the House proposed but the Senate rejected.
Fayette County got nearly as many projects in the final road plan as in previous versions — $154 million — most of which were fully funded. They included major improvements to New Circle Road, Leestown Road, Clays Mill Road and the Newtown Pike Extension near downtown.
Scott County got $35.5 million for a new Interstate 75 interchange near the Toyota factory.
Further north, Grant County got $1.15 million for road improvements to accommodate heavier traffic near the proposed Ark Encounter religious theme park. Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, said the state also has $9.1 million budgeted to improve a nearby I-75 exit, but not until 2017, after this two-year spending plan expires.
The road plan also has money for the extension and widening of the Mountain Parkway in Eastern Kentucky, but on a slower schedule than was proposed by Beshear and with no tolls.
House and Senate leaders worked throughout the day to reach a compromise agreement to avoid a special legislative session. Senate Transportation Chairman Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, said lawmakers understand that taxpayers resent the $65,000-a-day cost for a special session, which only the governor can call.
After spending most of Tuesday on extended breaks, the House and Senate slammed through a series of newly amended bills in the final two hours of the session. Several lawmakers complained that they had no time to read bills rewriting Kentucky law and spending billions of dollars.
Both the House and the Senate are to blame for "horse-trading ... by four or five" legislative leaders as deadline looms, leaving most lawmakers in the dark, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, thundered in a floor speech.
The handful of bills that won approval in last-minute votes Tuesday night included:
■ House Bill 154, which requires certification of school district finance officers.
■ Senate Bill 74, which was amended to include a tax break that would benefit AK Steel in Ashland. Sen. Bob Leeper tried unsuccessfully to get his colleagues to vote against the amendment in hopes of getting the House to act on a bill to lift a state moratorium on building nuclear power plants.
■ Senate Bill 108, which would deny paternity rights to rapists who produce child.
Key lawmakers had hoped to reach a compromise on several other proposals, including a bill aimed at increasing treatment for heroin addicts and toughening penalties for heroin dealers; a constitutional amendment to let some felons vote after completing their sentences; and a proposal approved Monday by the House that strengthens and diversifies the Legislative Ethics Commission.
The clock literally ran out on Senate Bill 5, the heroin bill, as House members started to debate it about 15 minutes before midnight. SB 5, which appeared to have bipartisan support in both chambers, would have expanded treatment capacity for drug addicts as well as toughening penalties in several ways for heroin dealers. However, a House committee made changes to the bill that some Republicans didn't like, such as adding a local option for needle-exchange programs for addicts.
Moments after adjourning the session, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said it was tragic that the anti-heroin bill didn't pass and that Beshear should call a special legislative session to consider the bill.
In another last-ditch effort that didn't work, the House took SB 58, intended to abolish the elected office of state treasurer, and replaced its language with a version of HB 70, the proposed constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to felons convicted of nonviolent and nonsexual offenses.
The bill held new language allowing the legislature to return in the future, if voters approve the amendment, and impose a waiting period of no more than three years between the time a felon completes his sentence and can vote again.
Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, who has fought for a decade to get a felon-voting bill through the legislature, said this was his last-minute effort to reach a deal with the Senate, which wanted a five-year waiting period and to exclude those with multiple felony convictions.
"I think the right to vote is sacred," said Crenshaw, who is retiring from the legislature this year. "You don't stop being a citizen just because you committed a crime."
The House voted 85 to 13 to approve the newly remodeled SB 58 and return it to the Senate, where it died at midnight.