FRANKFORT — Two proposed changes to Kentucky's Constitution — allowing voters to decide whether they want to temporarily increase their sales tax to finance specific projects and restoring voting rights to most ex-felons — sailed out of a House committee Tuesday.
Both are expected to be approved by the Democrat-led House, but their fate in the Republican-led Senate is uncertain.
The full House might vote on House Bill 1, the so-called local-option sales tax measure, later this week, said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.
A similar proposal was approved by a House committee last year, but the full chamber never voted on it.
Passage in the House requires a two-thirds majority, meaning it would need 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to stay alive and be sent to the Senate.
The House is made up of 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans, but House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, supports the bill.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, also said Tuesday that he supports the bill but has not advocated for or against it with his Senate colleagues.
"Allowing communities to decide what they want and how to pay for it is the purest form of democracy," Stivers said of the measure.
He said he did not know what the Senate will do with the bill.
The bill also has the support of Gov. Steve Beshear and all living former governors, the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer told the House Election, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Tuesday that 37 states already give communities the ability to finance their own infrastructure and capital projects through a local-option sales tax.
He said that the tax increase, if voters approve it, is capped at one percentage point and goes away when the project is paid off.
If communities vote to increase the tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, it would not be placed on food, medicine or utility bills, he said.
Speaking against the bill was Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville. He said the measure "hurts those who are most vulnerable."
"Without other tax reform, this is not good for Kentucky," Wayne said.
Also opposing HB 1 was Tod Griffin, president of the Kentucky Retail Federation. He said that it would be a burden to small businesses and that communities would still have to pay for maintenance of the projects even after the tax increase expires.
The committee vote was 6-1, with one member not voting. The no vote was cast by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas. Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, did not vote, saying committee members were not notified of a committee substitute for the bill in advance of the committee meeting.
The committee approved HB 70, the felon voting rights measure, on a 5-0 vote. Fischer did not vote.
The state Constitution now requires felons who complete their sentences to get a pardon from the governor before they can vote.
The bill would affect an estimated 186,000 felons who have completed their prison sentences. It would not apply to those who have committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sexual offense with a minor.
The House has approved the measure every year since 2007. It was strongly pushed by former Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington, who retired in December.
The Senate approved a version of the measure last year but changed it to require that former felons wait five years before they could get their voting rights. The House refused to accept that change.
Any constitutional amendment approved by this year's legislature would not go on the ballot for voters' consideration until November 2016.