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High-profile bills remain in limbo during last days of legislative session

FRANKFORT — With only four official working days left in this year's General Assembly, the fate of several major bills — dealing with topics ranging from domestic violence to texting while driving — remains unknown.

In these last frenetic days, legislators will concentrate first on approving a compromise state budget. However, until they sine die, or officially end the session, every bill remains in play.

Monday is the 57th day of the 60-day session, which can run no later than April 15. Lawmakers have given final approval to 79 of the 825 bills filed this year.

'Amanda's Bill'

Named in honor of Amanda Ross, who was slain in September in front of her Lexington home, House Bill 1 would give judges the option of ordering a global-positioning tracking device for the most dangerous people accused of trying to harm a loved one.

Different versions of the omnibus domestic violence bill, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, have passed both chambers and are in a House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences between the two measures. Late Sunday, lawmakers said they had crafted a compromise bill but offered no details.

Last week, Stumbo said the committee had to work through broad "policy decisions" and technical differences, such as a Senate-approved provision that would allow people other than a trained police officer to serve emergency protection orders.

Victim advocates are unhappy with the Senate's version of the bill for several reasons, including that it requires violation of a domestic violence order before monitoring can be ordered and does not extend domestic violence protections to dating couples.

Texting

Despite widespread support in both chambers, proposals that would ban all drivers from text messaging while behind the wheel have veered onto what looks like a dead-end road.

Senate Bill 23 and HB 43 also would ban all cell phone use by drivers younger than 18 while their cars are moving. Both bills have passed their respective chambers with overwhelming support, but neither chamber appears willing to consider the other's bill.

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said last week his texting bill, HB 43, probably is dead in the Senate. Richards said because of time constraints it might not be possible for the House to pass SB 23. "I don't know what will happen" to SB 23, he said. "They would have to suspend about every rule out there to get it passed."

Unemployment insurance

A measure to fix the state's bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which faces a nearly $732 million deficit, has been stalled in the Senate State and Local Government Committee since early February. Among other things, HB 349 would decrease unemployment benefits and increase taxes on employers.

The measure, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, flew through the House with the support of labor unions and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, but Senate leaders have said they are concerned about higher taxes in the bill.

However, the measure has received two of three required readings in the Senate — a sign that a last-minute compromise might be in the works.

Teachers' health insurance

A measure aimed at stabilizing the state's health insurance pool for retired teachers appears close to winning final approval from the legislature.

HB 540, sponsored by House Education Chairman Carl Rollins II, D-Midway, would require more money from school boards and active and retired teachers to help reduce the unfunded liability in the retired teachers health insurance fund from $6.2 billion to $3.4 billion over time.

The plan would require teachers, retired teachers younger than 65 and school districts to pay increasing health insurance premiums until 2016, when the contribution for active teachers would be 3.75 percent of their salaries.

The House approved the bill last week, and the Senate State and Local Government Committee approved a revised version Wednesday. To become law, the full Senate must approve the bill, the House must agree to changes made by the Senate, and Gov. Steve Beshear must sign the measure.

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