FRANKFORT—Kentucky lawmakers squabbled until midnight, turning the final day of the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly into a last-minute dash that saw many promising bills fail to clear the House and Senate.
High-profile measures that would enact tougher heroin laws, restore voting rights to felons and bolster state ethics enforcement all failed to pass in the waning moments of the session, which were dominated by posturing in both chambers.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, meanwhile, said that lawmakers should be “proud” of their work passing a new budget, which is the only legislation they are required to pass. Both chambers approved a largely-intact version of Gov. Steve Beshear’s $20.3 billion biennial state budget, which funded K-12 education at the expense of many other state programs and departments.
“On balance, I thought—and I said it when we passed the budget bill here—that the system worked,” Stumbo said. “We came here to do the jobs that the people elected us to do and pay us to do, and I think that they can go home proud of the fact that they did that.”
In the House, Republicans spent the waning moments of the session accusing Democrats of covertly amending bills at the last minute. But Democrats alleged such debate amounted to a filibuster that would run out the clock on a vote for a bill that would raise penalties for heroin traffickers and expand treatment for opiate addiction.
Rep. John Tilley, a Hopkinsville Democrat who shepherded the measure through the House, said that Republicans brought a “confusing ending to the session” by focusing their debate on an amendment to an unrelated bill, pushing a vote of the measure well past ‘sine die.’ (A Latin phrase used on the last day of the session, which means “indefinitely,” and roughly translates into the Frankfort vernacular as “When 138 lawmakers get to go home.”)
“It had a lot more to do with that, running out the clock on us, than it did any confusion with the heroin bill,” Tilley said, referencing a parliamentary misstep that further delayed the chamber’s proceedings.
In the Senate, Sen. Paul Hornback, a Shelbyville Republican, decried House leadership for refusing to pass a bill of his that would deregulate landline telephone services that has been heavily lobbied for by AT&T, earning it the moniker “The AT&T Bill.”
That chamber also did not vote on a bill containing an amendment filed by Louisville Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins that would update the enforcement powers and bring diversity to the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission in the wake of criticism over that panel’s recent “not guilty” verdict in the John Arnold sexual harassment ethics case.
On the collapse of the heroin bill in the House, Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said Beshear should order a special session to reconsider the heroin legislation.
“I think it’s tragic,” Stivers said. “This was a bill that everyone in the legislature and the governor’s office knew needed to be passed.
He added that 26 people have died from heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky—the center of the state’s burgeoning heroin epidemic—since the beginning of the General Assembly in January.
Tilley said he is optimistic that the bill could be revived in the future
Special sessions have been called in nearly year over the past decade, and cost taxpayers $65,000 a day.