Legislative Updates Archives - Lynn Bechler, State Representative

Final Days: Weekly Update March 18

The final few days of the 2013 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly wound down as a flurry of bills were passed back and forth between the House and Senate.  Work remains though  on other bills when we return next week for the final two days of the session.

The House began debate on Senate Bill 1, a bill to allow Kentucky’s military men and women serving overseas an easier way to cast their ballots in future elections.  The intent of the bill had broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, but there was one sticking point.  The bone of contention was how the votes would be cast.  The Senate voted 37 – 0 to have the ballots sent to the troops via email and returned by regular mail while certain members of the House wanted to have the ballots returned by email and offered a substitute to the original bill with that change.

The reason for wanting the ballots returned by United States Postal Service was to assure the privacy of the votes.  The Kentucky Circuit Clerk Association said that there was no way to assure that the returned email ballots would not be seen and if they were seen it would be in conflict with statute and the constitution and thus violate the principle of a secret ballot.  There was also the very real possibility of cyber terrorism and identity theft.

The difference of opinion came to a head when the Speaker Pro-Tem of the House gaveled Representative Lt. Col. David Floyd (U.S. Air Force Retired) out of order for equating this substitute to other actions by the House majority that he felt violated the Constitution.   Rep. Floyd is the most senior member of the military among the House ranks and in my opinion the Speaker Pro-Tem’s action was an insult to both the military and the House of Representatives.  Rep. Tim Moore, a current member of the Air Force Reserves also spoke in opposition to the House substitute but to no avail.  The substitute was approved in the House along mostly party lines, but it is doubtful that the Senate will change its mind.  I voted against the House substitute.

Industrial Hemp legislation remained stalled when House leadership would not allow the bill to be brought up for a vote.  Unbelievably, minutes before the House adjourned for the “veto session”, the Majority Floor Leader announced that he had filed an amendment to the full Senate and House Agricultural & Small Business Committee approved bill.  Under the new scheme, the licenses would be issued by the Kentucky State Police and oversight for the projects would be transferred to the University of Kentucky.

This new scheme will be addressed when the House reconvenes next week for a two day session that was supposed to be for consideration of any gubernatorial vetoes.  It was made clear after adjournment that the proposed changes had not been discussed with either the State Senator who sponsored the original bill or with Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner who championed this legislation.  This is radically different than what had previously been authorized and I doubt it will be approved.

The Religious Freedom Act is still awaiting the Governor’s signature.  It is my hope and prayer that he sees fit to sign this important piece of legislation.

The two day veto session begins March 25 and will be the final days of the 2013 Regular Session.  As of now neither Pension Reform nor Tax Reform legislation has been agreed to by both legislative chambers.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you; your input is most welcome.  I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext 665, or by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov  and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link.  You can also keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and clicking on the “2013RS Record” link

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Regular Session Complete: Weekly Update March 11

By the time this week’s column is printed, the 2013 regular session of the legislature will be essentially complete. There will be two days left at the end of March to review and possibly override what if anything the Governor has vetoed, but there won’t be any days left to pass additional legislation. As this is written, neither tax reform nor pension reform has been passed in both chambers.

Licensing of industrial hemp and House redistricting did move forward in committee, with redistricting making it to the full House for a vote, but the industrial hemp issue still undecided.
A redistricting plan drawn by House leadership was approved along partisan lines with all Republicans and one Democrat in opposition and the remainder of the House (all Democrats) voting yes. The plan totally redraws our current district. Should it ultimately become law, the new plan leaves Caldwell County and Crittenden County joined, but removes Livingston County and McCracken County and replaces them with a large portion of Hopkins County. This new district would be District 5. Livingston County and some of McCracken County currently in District 4 would remain joined, but would add some new area precincts in McCracken County as well as a portion of Graves County and would be District. The remainder of McCracken County currently in District 4 would be shifted to District 3 which includes most if not all of Paducah.

The new plan pits eleven Republican incumbents, including me, against each other, one Republican incumbent running against the Majority (Democrat) Floor Leader, and no Democrat incumbents running against each other. As you can see, it is politics at its worst, so it isn’t surprising why all 45 Republicans voted against the plan.

On a more positive note, SB 50 the industrial hemp framework bill passed in Committee with only one no vote. I was proud to be able to vote yes for the bill which I hope will eventually lead to more jobs in our district. I should point out that the fact that we were able to actually get to vote on the bill in committee is directly attributable to the citizens of our great Commonwealth. The outcry over the unconscionable refusal of the Agriculture Committee Chairman to allow a vote the previous week is what finally turned the tide. Hopefully, the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader will allow the bill to come to a vote in the full House. If that happens, I am confident that the bill will pass with overwhelming support.

You may recall that I reported last week that HB 279 the Religious Freedom Act of which I was a cosponsor, passed the full House last week and was sent to the Senate for concurrence. I am happy to report that the Senate passed the bill and it will go to the Governor for signature.

Several Senate bills are waiting on House action. One of those is SB 129 which prohibits the enforceability of any new federal law, rule, regulation, or order relating to the ownership or registration of certain firearms, magazines, or other firearms accessories. Since the House Bill I drafted saying the same thing was never called for a committee vote, I am trying to get the Senate bill to be called for a vote. Toward that end, I have signed a discharge petition with several of my colleagues to force the bill to the House floor for an up or down vote. Hopefully there are enough like minded Representatives who will vote to bring the bill out of committee.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you; your input is most welcome. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext 665, or by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link. You can also keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and clicking on the “2013RS Record” link

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Weekly Update: Will we finish?

This week is the last full week of the 2013 Regular Session, but because of the lack of progress on either Pension Reform or Tax Reform I’m afraid that the Governor will call us back to Frankfort for an Extraordinary (Special) Session later this year.

As I reported in one of my earlier updates, a pension reform bill, SB 2,  passed out of the Senate and was sent to the House.  The bill took the results of the Governor’s Pension Reform Task Force as is and put them into language required for law.  After getting to the House, however, the bill languished in the State Government Committee for over two weeks until finally being scheduled for a hearing.

During the committee meeting a committee substitute was presented.  The committee substitute for this important issue, 53 pages long, was presented to committee members a half-hour before the start of the committee meeting.  The substitute was so new that when  questioned by committee members, the legislator presenting the substitute had problems finding some of the data in the bill.

It is important to note that the Governor’s Task Force was comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and the findings were approved by a vote of 11 – 1.  This task force spent nearly all of last year hearing testimony and reviewing thousands of pages of information and data to draft a plan to deal with what one national publication said is the worst public pension system in the nation.  Unbelievably, the committee substitute which drastically changed the intent of the bill and gutted most of the Task Force’s recommendations was approved along party lines by the full House on a vote of 55-45 the day after the substitute was presented in committee.  I voted no.

More troubling to some was a plan, HB 416,  offered by the Speaker of the House to expand gaming through the Kentucky Lottery Commission in order to make up the pension shortfall.  The Speaker explained that he plan would not begin providing any funds to offset the shortfall until 2014, and even then the plan would generate less than one third of what is needed to fund the Public Employees Pension Plan.  The bill passed the House by a 52 – 47 margin, far shy of the 60 votes required for a revenue bill in a non-budget session.  Since the required 60 votes weren’t attained, the Senate will not consider the bill.  I, along with all the other Republicans and several Democrats, voted no to this expanded gambling initiative.

A similar situation took place with SB 50, a bill dealing with industrial hemp; a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate.  Seven days before he planned on taking up the bill, however, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee told the press that he planned on filing a committee substitute to the bill.  For some unknown reason, though, he waited until the night before the committee meeting to submit copies of his substitute to members of the committee of which I am one.  The thrust of his substitute was to require yet another study.  I was looking forward to hearing testimony – both pro and con – and then casting a vote.  The Committee Chairman did allow testimony, but refused to allow a vote to be taken.  It was obvious to all who took part in or watched the proceedings that the bill had broad support among the committee members and would have easily passed.    The chairman’s actions unfortunately are quite possibly the death knell for legislation on industrial hemp this session.

On a more positive note, HB 279 the Religious Freedom Act, passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 82 – 7.  I proudly cast a yes vote for this piece of legislation.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you; your input is most welcome.  I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext 665, or by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov  and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link.  You can also keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and clicking on the “2013RS Record” link

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Energy Rates Editorial

An issue that has generated more Crittenden County contact with my office than most has been the issue of electric rates. Like many, I received a “robo call” from Kenergy telling me that Senate Bill 71 and House Bill 211 would increase my electric rates if passed. I was then urged to call my legislator and tell him or her to vote to oppose these bills. The good citizens of Crittenden County have responded to Kenergy’s request. On the surface the Kenergy request seems reasonable. However, Kenergy is only telling half the story. The other half is that rates will also go up if the bills do not pass. That’s righ… if the bill passes, rates will go up and if the bill doesn’t pass, rates will go up.

What is driving this is the fact that on August 12, 2012 Century Aluminum of Hawesville, KY, an aluminum smelter plant, gave a one year notice to Big Rivers Electric Corporation of Henderson, KY, an electric transmission company, that Century would no longer be purchasing power from Big Rivers. Century said that if it could not purchase power from the wholesale market it would close its plant. In response, on January 13, 2013, Big Rivers followed with a request to the Kentucky Public Service Commission for a rate increase that would amount to a little under $22 per month per household. Subsequently, Rio Tinto Alcan in Sebree, KY, another aluminum smelter, said it would close its doors because it could no longer afford the price of electricity.

The reason Kenergy is involved is because Kenergy, along with Jackson Purchase Electric and Meade County Rural Electric, is one of three equal owners of Big Rivers.

In last week’s Crittenden Press, a Public Notice was printed showing that Kenergy has petitioned the Kentucky Public Service Commission for a rate increase of 20%. This is on top of a 16% Kenergy rate increase not too long ago.

The reality is that this issue should not be before the Kentucky Legislature. It is an issue that Big Rivers, Century, and Alcan should solve on their own like grownups – not like little kids on the playground. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the CEO of Kenergy, management of Big Rivers, and the General Counsel of Century and I not too gently told them to “put on their big boy pants and get to the negotiation table.” Fortunately, they’ve now done so, but a solution still hasn’t been reached.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to talk to Alcan, but I do know that Big Rivers has been having some financial trouble and Century lost money last year. It is my feeling that we – you and I – are caught in the middle of a game of chicken and I personally don’t like it.

I am not taking sides on this because I hope that the negotiations are fruitful, and a legislative solution will not then be necessary. If the bills came to the House floor tomorrow, I’m not sure how I would vote because no matter what happens, jobs will be lost and our electric rates will increase.

Please don’t take everything you hear from Century and Big Rivers/Kenergy at face value. Both sides are “spinning” the facts to make the other side look bad. In my opinion, there are no “good guys” in this fight. I appreciate your interest and hearing from you. I ask that you work with me to keep the pressure on all parties to negotiate in good faith.

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Halfway there? Weekly Update: February 25

We’re now more than halfway through the 2013 Regular Session, but we aren’t halfway through what needs to be done.

Last Thursday the House State Government Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 2, which is the bill addressing our public pension systems.  Sadly the committee only discussed the proposal, and didn’t vote on whether or not to pass it out of committee and on to the full House.

As I’ve noted in the past, the system has an unfunded liability of more than $33 billion and continues to grow.  We must focus on passing legislation that will get the Commonwealth out of the hole we’re in.  I hope that the House State Government Committee will put aside partisan bickering and do right by Kentucky.  Kicking the proverbial can down the road once again would be a terrible disservice to the citizens of our great state.

In addition to pension reform, the other big issue we face is  comprehensive tax reform.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will be addressed during this session.  It is troubling that some continue to allow these problems to grow and fester in our Commonwealth because of a lack of leadership.  We must stop this tactic of delay and deny.  You deserve better.

Despite those setbacks, we did get several bills passed over the week.  The first bill to gain approval from both the House and Senate was House Bill 7, which authorizes the issuance of bonds to pay for construction and renovation projects at most of Kentucky’s public universities.  The universities will issue their own bonds and be responsible for paying them off.  There will be no charge to taxpayers as a result of this legislation.  I was pleased to see that one change to the original bill was made; it bans the schools from raising tuition to pay for construction and renovation of the 11 authorized projects.  Among these projects are a major renovation of Commonwealth Stadium at the University of Kentucky, and academic buildings and dorms at other colleges.  I voted for the bill.

House Bill 361 also passed.  This bill changed the way taxes are levied on certain tobacco products.  It would replace the tax imposed on wholesalers of moist snuff and other tobacco products with an excise tax on distributors.  The bill’s sponsor said that he thought it would actually lower the tax, but the only study I saw indicated that it was unknown what the change would do.  I initially voted for the bill but changed to voting against it because I was concerned that the sponsor was overly optimistic and I felt no change was a better vote.

Another bill that gained approval this past week is one that will be beneficial to Kentucky’s agricultural industry.  House Bill 273 would allow the operation of mini-trucks on Kentucky’s public highways.  The proposal treats mini-trucks the same as ATV’s, and would allow farmers to drive on roadways for short distances to transport supplies from one farm to another.  I voted for the bill.

With two weeks to go, bills dealing with allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky,  religious freedom and abortion remain to be addressed.  It appears the end of the 2013 Regular Session may not be the only time the legislature is called to Frankfort this year.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you; your input is most welcome.  I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext 665, or by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov  and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link.  You can also keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and clicking on the “2013RS Record” link

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