Capital conclusions: Takeaways from the 2015 session of the Ky General Assembly

For The Oldham Era
Published: April 2, 2015

By RAE HODGE

Photo by Rae Hodge

Photo by Rae Hodge

Heroin

The main priority for the state legislature this year was to resolve the state’s heroin epidemic, which has seen a 600-plus percent increase in the last two years as it has gone unaddressed by legislators.

The solution came only after ferocious debate, but passed just before midnight on the final day of the 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Included in the bill, which has now been signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear are several key provision.

Counties can now establish their own local needle exchanges if they choose. Emergency first responders will be equipped with, and trained on the use of, anti-overdose medicine.

Medicaid money will be allocated for the treatment of small-time addicts, while major drug traffickers will be put in the hot seat with mandatory minimum sentences and elevated felony charges.

Dating Violence

Among Kentucky high-schoolers, one in five say they’ve been in an abusive dating relationship. The rates rise after graduation, with one of every four Kentucky college students reporting being assaulted or abused by a dating partner, many incidences occurring on campuses.
Up until the passage of this year’s domestic violence bill, Kentucky was the last state in the nation where a victim of dating violence couldn’t obtain a civil protection order.

An emergency protective order couldn’t be taken out against an assailant unless the victim seeking it met one of three conditions: they either had to be married to, live with, or have children by their assailant.
Under the new law, parents of high-school abuse victims can seek emergency protective orders against their children’s assailants.

And college students can seek the same type of orders against their on-campus assailants.
Ronnie Ellis, Frankfort reporter for CNHI News, offered the most succinct explanation of why the bill experienced some resistance, during his March 27 appearance on KET’s Comment on Kentucky:

“The real problem was the fear on the conservative end of the spectrum that we would be defining something that really is not marriage as the conservative side of the society defines it. And, in fact, that was the key compromise on that bill,” said Ellis.

“They created a separate law so it can not be used to define what is a marriage. And that made it palatable in the Republican ranks of the Senate, and it passed.”

Beer, babies, and building

This session the legislature decided that in order to prevent Budweiser from obtaining a monopoly, they would pass a law forbidding any brewing company from owning its own distributorship.

Oldham County residents will now have to make their children ride in a booster seat until they are at least eight years old or 57 inches, or risk being cited by law enforcement under a new law. If children are younger than eight but taller than 57 inches, they are exempt.

A midst the roughly 120 bills that were passed during the brief convening in the Capitol, a number of high-profile bills that were expected to go through sank despite wide support among members.

Among them, P3 (or Public-Private Partnership) legislation which aimed to connect public works projects with private companies to lower project costs. Teacher pensions remain in jeopardy post-session, as no bill or study to resolve the state’s $14 billion unfunded liability passed the chambers.

House Bill 1, a designation given every year to the House’s top priority bill, was one that would allow cities to enact a Local Option Sales Tax.

The tax was slated to be a temporary measure that would allow cities to put a vote on Nov. ballots, where city residents could vote whether to use the $0.1 tax for a limited time to fund a specific project.

Despite being criticized by some as a measure that would disproportionately affect low-income residents, the measure enjoyed widespread support among House and Senate leadership, though it fizzled in the last weeks, never quite making it across the finish line.

The final bill that would fail during the session came to its vote at roughly 3:00 a.m. on the last day.

What started out as a bill aiming to clean up and make uniform the various levels of campaign contributions across the state’s elected officers became an opportunity for legislators to pad campaign funds.

The bill would have not only allowed candidates for office to double their own individual and caucus campaign contribution amounts but would have allowed campaign funding to pay for political party buildings, while mirroring federal law and adjusting for inflation.

The measure was initially only an amendment, and never actually a bill in its own right. It never got a hearing in any committee, and was snuck into another bill in the middle of the night without any public disclosure.

When she saw what was happening to her clean-up amendment, Rep. Tanya Pullin pulled the bill. Then House and Senate leaders adjourned, finally pulling the plug on the 2015 session.

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