For the past few legislative sessions, state Sen. Chris McDaniel has tried unsuccessfully to shine a light into Kentucky’s complex, often secretive public pension systems, which absorb billions of dollars in taxpayer money.
This year, McDaniel filed two pension transparency bills. Senate Bill 2 would have opened the systems’ business practices to outside scrutiny and required the same competitive bidding for services used elsewhere in state government. Senate Bill 45 would have expanded the Kentucky Open Records Act to cover legislators’ public pensions, so people could know how much their lawmakers expect to collect in retirement benefits.
A House committee stalled on the bills for weeks — the chairman was a vocal critic — but it finally reported them favorably in March.
Still, those measures looked hopelessly stuck in the House on Friday, the session’s final day. So McDaniel and other Senate Republicans quickly cobbled together what they called a “super transparency bill.” It held McDaniels’ two pension bills as well as House Bill 438, which would have brought more accountability to the state’s area development districts. The Senate unanimously approved this bill about 5:30 p.m. and sent it to the House for final passage.
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And there it died for lack of action six hours later, when the House adjourned.
“I thought we were going to make it this time,” said McDaniel, who represents part of Kenton County. “It would seem that that chamber has an issue with not liking transparency bills.”
The last day of the 2016 General Assembly produced a state budget and a road plan, but few other bills survived their trip through both chambers to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk. The final tally: 85 percent of the 941 bills filed this session fell short along the way.
Here are some notable bills that survived Friday and others that did not.
Bills that made it
House Bill 4, to increase criminal penalties for possession or trafficking of synthetic drugs. The Senate added a few items — accepted by the House — to tighten the legal classification of fentanyl derivatives and hydrocodone, preserve the prescription-writing authority of advanced practice registered nurses and optometrists, and provide $12 million more to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet for substance abuse treatment.
House Bill 441, to let the city of Lexington raise its hotel room tax by 2.5 percentage points to help pay for the proposed $250 million expansion of the Lexington Convention Center. Technically, HB 441 died. But its contents were placed in HB 55, originally a Louisville-focused planning and zoning bill, which was sent to the governor.
House Bill 626, known as “Work Ready,” a program to pay tuition for college students seeking two-year associate’s degrees after existing state scholarship programs have been used. The two-year state budget also included $25.3 million for it.
Senate Bill 18, to establish legal procedures for insurance companies that want to change their agreements with medical providers. Negotiators on a House-Senate conference committee kept that language while adding a section to require insurers to pay for “therapeutic food, formulas and supplements” for patients who are diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.
Senate Bill 245 will create a new Kentucky driver’s license that complies with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. The new license will cost $48 and be good for eight years, compared with the current license that costs $20 and must be renewed every four years. Although the new license is optional, after Oct. 1, 2020, any American without one won’t be able to board a commercial airline flight unless they carry a U.S. passport or some other federally approved identification.
Bills that fell short
House Bill 80 would have broadened the Open Records Act to cover private companies hired by governments to run utilities or other public services. It was aimed at one controversial firm in particular, Utilities Management Group, which operates the water system in Pike County. Technically, HB 80 made it to the governor’s desk. But its original contents were deleted and replaced with parts of a revenue bill that Bevin vetoed April 8.
House Bill 147 would have boosted the sums of money that people and corporations may give to state politicians and state political parties. The Senate State and Local Government Committee held a special meeting Friday to send this to the Senate floor. But Senate leaders ultimately killed it because there is a pending federal lawsuit challenging state campaign-finance rules, filed by one of their own, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union.
House Bill 225 would have helped military veterans get occupational or professional licenses from state agencies if the training they received during their military service could reasonably be expected to have provided them with the necessary skills and experience. Bevin vetoed this bill April 13, calling it “well-intentioned but poorly written.” The House voted 71-8 Friday to override Bevin’s veto, but the Senate didn’t touch it again.
House Bill 396 would have required two office visits with a doctor before a man could get a prescription for an erectile-dysfunction drug. Additionally, the bill would have required the man to be married, and he would have to swear on a Bible that he would use the drug only while having relations with his current spouse. The bill — a widely publicized satire of anti-abortion bills, filed by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville — went untouched in the House.
Senate Bill 175, known as “Marsy’s Law,” would have added a crime victim’s bill of rights to the state constitution. Among the rights specified would be the right to restitution, the right to be notified of court proceedings and the right to be told when an offender is released from custody. It died on the House floor for lack of action.
Senate Bill 180 would legally have protected businesses that don’t want to serve gay, lesbian or transgender customers because of the owners’ religious objections. It died in the House Judiciary Committee for lack of action.
Senate Bill 224 would have abolished mandatory state safety training of coal mine foremen and allowed companies the option of using their own certified trainers. It died on the House floor for lack of action.
Senate Bill 297 would have eliminated state safety inspections of coal mines. It died for lack of action in the House Labor and Industry Committee. However, the state budget did contain language reducing the frequency of mandatory state mine inspections from six a year to four.