Politics & Government

Five things to watch heading into the end of the 2019 legislative session

Kentucky teachers call out sick, protest at capitol

At least four Kentucky school districts were forced to close on March 7 as hundreds of teachers called out sick to protest proposed legislation at the state Capitol. It was the third time in the past week districts were forced to cancel classes.
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At least four Kentucky school districts were forced to close on March 7 as hundreds of teachers called out sick to protest proposed legislation at the state Capitol. It was the third time in the past week districts were forced to cancel classes.

Lawmakers in Frankfort are likely in for long days as they head into the final four days of the legislative session this week.

While the House and Senate already passed their priority legislation — a school-safety bill that encourages schools to hire more school resource officers and mental health counselors — there are still plenty of bills waiting in the hopper.

The legislature will have three days this week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — to pass bills before they give up the ability to override a veto from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Then they’ll come in on Thursday, March 28, to finish off any business they left unattended and override any vetos Bevin issues.

Here are some of the bills worth watching this week:

Free-conference committee

Two bills, HB 354 and HB 268, have been sent to a free-conference committee between the House and the Senate. The bills deal with last year’s tax-reform bill and the budget respectively.

HB 354 was originally proposed as a tax-cleanup bill, one that would fix some of the mistakes of the tax-reform package that moved Kentucky to a flat income tax while taxing some services like auto-mechanics, trips to the veterinarian and admissions to events. One consequence of those changes is that it forced charitable organizations to pay a sales tax for admissions to the events they hosted.

But with a free conference committee, the lawmakers aren’t limited to changes made by either the House or the Senate. Instead, they have the freedom to add measures, causing concern among some that lawmakers could add a provision to cut taxes for banks.

Once the lawmakers have a proposal for the tax bill, they’ll get to the budget, HB 268. The House opened up the budget to include money to enable Bevin’s administration to fund economic development projects, repairs to Kentucky’s park system and research at some of Kentucky’s universities. The Senate blanked out almost all of that money. The tax bill’s impact on revenue will likely determine whether any of those projects get funded.

Abortion

This legislative session has been full of abortion bills. There are at least five bouncing around the various stages of the legislative process this week and several of them have a chance of passing.

Chief among them is HB 148, the bill that would ban abortion in Kentucky if Roe V. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide, is overturned. The bill passed the House and is waiting for a vote from the full Senate.

Other provisions like HB 5, which bans abortions based on the race, color, ethnicity of the unborn child, or in cases of a disability, will likely be challenged in court. There’s also SB 9, which bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected; SB 50, which requires doctors to tell their patient if a medically induced abortion can be reversed; and SB 227, where a doctor must medically intervene to preserve the life of any born alive infant.

Education

Teachers have been on edge this year —Jefferson County has had to cancel school four times because of “sick outs” — in an abundance of caution after lawmakers passed a major pension overhaul bill at the last minute of last year’s legislative session.

No major pension reform legislation has moved this session, despite a proposal from freshmen Representatives Travis Brenda, R-Cartersville, and Scott Lewis, R-Hartford. Instead teachers are primarily focused on two bills: HB 205, a tax credit for people who donate to a scholarship-granting organization, and HB 525, a bill that would strip the Kentucky Education Association’s control over the nomination process for members of the Teacher Retirement System’s board of trustees.

Both bills are said to be “dead,” meaning they’re unlikely to pass this year, but there is always a possibility that they may reappear in the waning days of the session.

Elections

A House committee last week killed SB 34, a bill that would strip Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of her power over the State Board of Elections and make her a symbolic, non-voting member. The vote outraged Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer and he vowed to revive the bill.

He has. By adding the language of his Secretary of State bill to one that has already passed the House of Representatives, Thayer gave the bill a second life. He made some tweaks — going from making it illegal for the Secretary of State’s office to access the state’s voter registration database to making it a misdemeanor for someone to misuse the system and adding two former county clerks to the state board of election rather than two current county clerks — and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday.

Whether or not the House will vote to give the bill final approval is another question.

Thayer has made the bill about Grimes — who is being investigated by the Kentucky Personnel Board, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and an independent counsel appointed by Attorney General Andy Beshear — but she is term-limited and will be out of office this time next year.

That’s given Democrats and some Republicans in the House room to criticize the bill.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, voted against the bill in committee, saying he’s generally opposed to “revenge” legislation and that he believes Grimes’ elections director, Mary Sue Helm, when she says the bill will hurt the state.

Sex crimes

There are two bills waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives that would increase the number of sex crimes in Kentucky.

SB 67 would ban any sex act between a person and an animal for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, abuse or financial gain while SB 102 would make it a crime to manufacture, sell, distribute, transfer or possess a doll, mannequin or robot intended for sexual stimulation that looks like a child.

Both bills have cleared the Senate and passed a House Committee and are just waiting on a vote from the full House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor for his signature.

Daniel Desrochers has been the political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader since 2016. He previously worked for the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia.


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