FRANKFORT — Lobbyists spent $4.3 million in the first two months of the 2014 General Assembly, with the healthcare industry leading the way in spending on lawmakers.
Health care companies spent more than $888,000 from Jan. 7 to Feb. 28, according to lobbying data released by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. Hospitals paid the lion’s share of the healthcare lobby, at more than $205,000.
Energy interests are among the biggest lobbyists this year so far, with natural gas company EQT spending more than $20,000. Boardwalk Pipelines, the company pushing the controversial Bluegrass natural gas liquids pipeline, gave $20,000. And Pikeville-based Coal Operators & Associates paid more than $19,000.
All told, coal companies spent nearly $59,000 lobbying lawmakers during a session that saw industry-friendly legislation sail through both the House and Senate. House Bill 338, which permits coal-fired power plants to regulate their own emission levels of carbon dioxide in advance of federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. And another bill cleared the House which would permit new tax incentives for the coal industry; it has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.
Tobacco companies spent $188,380, led by Altria, which spent $107,809 of that amount. A pair of bills that would have enacted a statewide smoking ban in public places and some private businesses died as a result of lobbying pressure, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, as well as a reluctance by many lawmakers to vote against tobacco interests during an election year.
Telecommunications companies forked over $128,350, with AT&T leading the pack at $38,380 in expenditures. The company has been heavily lobbying the legislature in support of a Senate bill that would permit phone service providers to eliminate basic landline operations for exchanges with more than 150,000 customers, and allow them to abandon some landlines altogether to save maintenance costs.
The fate of that bill, SB 99, has been put into question due to political maneuverings on the part of House Democrats, whom have amended it to include language that would raise the state’s minimum wage. The move was in response to an amendment made by SB 99’s original sponsor, Republican Sen. Paul Hornback, which he attached a House bill sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo that would provide scholarships for students in the state’s coal counties.
Other industries that have spent heavily include alcohol and beverage interests, at $121,695, and the gaming and casino companies, which spent $81,100 despite various expanded gaming bills failing to gain much traction in either chamber.