Politics & Government

At the Capitol, bills are repeated on Groundhog Day

FRANKFORT — In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, actor Bill Murray played a man who repeated the same day again and again and again.

It was like that on Groundhog Day at the state Capitol on Wednesday as House and Senate committees approved several bills that had been put to votes during previous sessions. The bills never cleared both the House and Senate.

It remains to be seen whether the cycle will be broken — as it ultimately was in the movie.

The measures with return engagements from previous sessions included raising the dropout age from 16 to 18.

The vote in the House Education Committee to send it to the full House was marked by a return appearance by first lady Jane Beshear, who testified before the committee last year on the bill's behalf.

Homage was paid to the groundhog on the day of repeats.

Before voting on a bill that would allow dating partners to obtain domestic violence and protective orders, Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville, joked that she was voting yes, "in honor of Groundhog Day."

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, noted that her vote against a bill dealing with nuclear power had a quality of déjà vu. The measure has been before the lawmakers in each of the past four years.

It's not unusual for Kentucky's General Assembly to consider a bill over several sessions, said Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville.

"It takes a long time for some bills," he said.

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee approved House Bill 225 to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18.

Similar bills have been up for votes for nearly seven years, but they never were approved by both chambers.

The Senate Education Committee passed the measure last year but the full Senate did not vote on it.

Dating partners

Also Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved the domestic violence measure, HB 35.

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow dating partners to obtain protective and domestic violence orders. Currently, only married couples, couples who live together and couples who have a child together may obtain domestic violence orders in Kentucky.

The House Judiciary Committee also voted to pass HB58, which would require those convicted of drunken driving to blow into a device that would lock the ignition of their cars if they'd been drinking.

A similar bill was passed unanimously in the House last year, but the Senate never heard it.

Bath salts

The House Judiciary Committee signed off on a bill that would ban possession, trafficking or manufacturing of a synthetic form of methamphetamine that is commonly sold as bath salts or plant food and sometimes referred to as "Dove," "White Lightening" or "Blue Silk."

The synthetic drug that mimics the effects of methamphetamine or cocaine is sold at gas stations and other shops. It can cause severe paranoia and delusions, and other physical ailments.

The unanimous passage of HB121 came on the heels of last year's legislation to ban synthetic forms of marijuana.

Dr. Henry Spiller, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center, told the committee there were 17 trips to emergency rooms in Kentucky last year because of the synthetic drug.

In January alone, he said, hospitals reported 26 cases of potential overdoses of the drug. Spiller said a Taser had to be used on one person in Frankfort recently before he could be taken to a hospital for treatment.

"It's about one a day," Spiller said of the reports of possible overdoses or emergency room visits caused by the drug.

Nuclear power plants

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved a bill Wednesday sought by Western Kentucky lawmakers and backed by the Beshear administration that would lift a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in the state.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 70, Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said the measure would put Kentucky on an equal footing with about 40 states.

A 1984 state law bans construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky until the federal government determines how to dispose of nuclear waste safely. Nuclear plants store waste temporarily at their facilities, but there are no permanent storage or disposal facilities in the country.

Environmentalists have opposed the measure, saying it's premature to allow more nuclear waste before scientists know how to dispose of the toxic material.

Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group, told the committee the waste would have to be managed for hundreds of thousands of years.

Independent voters

Registered independents would be allowed to vote in a party's primary election under a bill the Senate State and Local Government approved Wednesday.

It would require independents to register by Dec. 31 to vote in a primary held the following May to pick party nominees. It would take effect in May 2012.

Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is identical to a measure the Senate approved last year. The House did not consider it.