Politics

The clock is ticking on several pieces of legislation as state lawmakers convene for the last time today.

Legislators went home Monday night locked in a stalemate on some major proposals.

Bills that would deal with the state’s heroin problem, extend emergency protective orders to dating violence victims, steady the state’s plummeting gas tax and bail out the teacher pension system are all in limbo.

Heroin

Last week it looked like a compromise was in sight for members of a committee assigned to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the high-profile heroin bill.

That compromise disappeared over the weekend.

“We thought we had an agreement when we left here Friday and we were informed the next day that there was not an agreement,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican.

Senators attempted to hammer out a deal late Monday night.  A Senate committee went ahead and passed two new heroin bills with the hope that the one would pass, even if it’s a scaled-back version.

One bill includes compromise language that senators say House members reneged on over the weekend, the other bill is a watered-down version that doesn’t deal with penalties, needle exchanges, or legal immunity for overdose reporters.

The House and Senate has been at odds over how to best punish heroin dealers.

The Senate wants to punish all heroin traffickers with a Class C felony. The House wants to maintain Kentucky’s reprieve for low-level traffickers.

The House also wants to allow local health districts to set up needle exchanges and include a Good Samaritan provision that would provide immunity to those who report heroin overdoses—provisions that the Senate has been slow to accept.

Lawmakers in both chambers remain confident that a comprehensive heroin bill will pass. That bill might only include what the House and Senate agree on so far: more funding for heroin treatment and making an overdose-reversing drug called Naloxone more available.

“There is a substantial portion of the issues we do have consensus on and I believe it would behoove the legislature to go ahead and make a conference committee or make an amendment to a bill to get those portions codified that we have agreed to,” Stivers said.

Gas Tax

Perhaps even hazier than the heroin issue is what lawmakers plan to do, if anything, about the state’s plummeting gas tax.

Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet has warned that money collected from the state’s gas tax is dwindling as gas prices have plummeted, leading to a critical shortage in the state’s road fund.

Many lawmakers agree that the shortage is a critical issue, but no specific gas tax legislation has been publicly presented or debated for over a month.

Solutions that have been mentioned include setting a minimum rate for the gas tax or allowing the gas tax to change only by 10 percent each year.

Teacher Pensions

Lawmakers continued to go in circles over bailing out the state’s teacher pension system with a $3.3 billion bond, the largest amount ever authorized by Kentucky.

Like the heroin issue, lawmakers appeared poised to come to a compromise at the end of last week. But at the end of a Monday morning meeting, Senators left the table saying they needed more financial information.

Lawmakers wouldn’t say what information was needed.

“We’ve just got some important financial information that’s forthcoming, it’s not at our disposal yet and as soon as we have it it’ll be key to how we proceed,” said Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican.

A possible compromise, floated last week, called for the authorization of a $3.3 billion bond, with $1.9 billion used to immediately shore up the teacher pension fund. About $1.4 billion of would be put to use after a study of the system is completed.

The Senate stripped the bonding provision from the bill and replaced it with a study of the system earlier this session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat, said that senators have become more receptive to bonding.

“Members on the committee are understanding what a huge problem that it is not only for the system but for things like our bond rating going forward,” Stumbo said. “It needs to be addressed in some significant manner in this session.

Dating Violence

Three weeks ago, the House unanimously passed a bill that would allow victims of dating violence to file a protective order against an abusive partner.

The bill has the support of Governor Steve Beshear and hasn’t had any vocal opposition. The legislation has languished in the Senate.

When asked why the bill hasn’t been brought up in his chamber, Senate President Stivers hinted that the bill held up for reasons besides having enough votes.

“It’s just the fact that we’re dealing with everything else that needs to be communicated between this chamber and that chamber,” Stivers said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.