Two bills to pass, two to kill

▪  House Bill 121, sponsored by Reps. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, would make state highways safer and more welcoming for cyclists. The bill requires a car or truck passing a bicycle to stay at least three feet away until safely clearing the bike. This may seem like government codifying common sense, but consider that cyclists account for about one percent of all vehicles on the road but two percent of traffic fatalities. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety figures that almost half of cyclist deaths involve unsafe passing.

Kentucky has dropped in rankings of bike-friendly states, from 27th in 2009 to 49th last year. That’s a shame, since Kentucky has such beautiful and varied landscapes to attract leisure cyclists, and bicycles offer a cheap, environmentally friendly commuting alternative. In recent years, 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted three-foot clearance laws to protect their cyclists. Kentucky should join them.

▪  If state law hasn’t stopped lawmakers from raiding lottery funds set aside for need-based college financial aid, a resolution won’t stop them either. Still, Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, is right to challenge the legislature on its habit of diverting lottery funds to balance the budget. According to House Joint Resolution 100, an additional 15,000 low-income students would have received financial aid in 2015 if the lottery proceeds had been used as the law mandates. Gov. Matt Bevin also is calling for an end to “sweeping” lottery funds, though he wants to divert the money to workforce development programs he creates. Kay has the best idea: Use the lottery to help low-income Kentuckians pay for the higher education of their choice, as the law requires.

▪  As cities all over the country spend millions to create pedestrian trails, in part to compete for college graduates and corporate executives who demand outdoor amenities, Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, wants to destroy a great natural asset by opening the Pine Mountain Trail and the Kentucky side of Breaks Interstate Park to off-road vehicles. ATVs are noisy, create erosion and are incompatible with the trail and park. Also, businesses on private land already cater to ATV enthusiasts. Why tear up public land to create competition for these entrepreneurs? Jones has amended Senate Bill 102 to require just a feasibility study. But there’s no point in wasting time or money on such an obviously bad idea.

▪  Upon switching parties, Rep. Jim Gooch, R nouveau -Providence, lost the committee chairmanship that had made him a gatekeeper on environmental and energy legislation, though he probably hopes to regain that post should the GOP take control of the House. Let us consider his House Bill 291.

Gooch, vice president of a family business that builds equipment for the coal industry and power plants, no doubt intended to continue his unquestioning defense of the coal industry by barring utilities from recovering the cost of complying with Clean Air Act rules until all legal challenges have been resolved. (He must have been thinking of last year’s Supreme Court-ordered delay in curbs on mercury and other toxins which came after many utilities had installed controls for the substances.)

The bill applies to the state’s environmental surcharge, which is available only for coal-fired generation. Rather than temporarily eat the expense of retrofitting a coal plant, as the bill requires, a utility could use the rate-setting process to build a natural gas generator, which produces far less pollution, and have no delay in recovering the cost of compliance from ratepayers. In other words, Gooch is sponsoring a bill that would give utilities even more financial incentive to switch from coal to natural gas.