2014 Kentucky Legislative Update

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Last night, I attended the Greater Louisville Sierra Club's annual legislative update, presented by Tom Fitzgerald, Director of the Kentucky Resources Council (KRC) and an adjunct professor at the law school.

The Kentucky legislature convened for its regular session on January 7 and will adjourn on March 31. Tom provided a list of legislation that the KRC is monitoring. Many pertain to power providers, coal mining, ethics, and eminent domain. The one Fitzgerald's watching closest is SB 99 relating to telecommunications, aka "The AT&T Bill". The latest version would end the obligation to offer basic local exchange phone service for exchanges with over 15,000 or more housing units in rural Kentucky, thereby increasing the digital divide.

Tom said the state's budget shortfall has been especially difficult for conservation programs because they aren't governed by federal mandates. He also mentioned that each agency's expenses have increased since the pension reform that was passed last year.

The following may be of particular interest to environmentalists and social justice advocates:

HB 28: relating to the Code of Legislative Ethics, to amend KRS 6.611 to implement the "no cup of coffee" rule for legislators.

HB 31/SB 14 & HB 60/SB 21: each relating to eminent domain. 

HB 36: relating to tax credits for noise abatement, to establish a tax credit for noise insulation installed in a residential structure that is located within a designated airport noise contour.

HB 63: relating to utilities, to create a new section of KRS Chapter 278 to require retail electric suppliers to maintain a 30-day supply of fuel for electricity generation. Opposed by the Sierra Club (watch recap at KET).

HB 195: relating to energy, to create new sections of KRS Chapters 278 and 96 to require retail electric suppliers to use increasing amounts of renewable energy.

HB 203 & HB 394: both relating to outdoor advertising devices. Tom referred to HB 203 as the perennial "trees v. billboards" bill that has yet to leave a committee. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, quoted the late Representative Paul Mason, D-Whitesburg, who also opposed the bill, “Laws are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

HB 241: relating to the disposal of coal combustion wastes. 

HB 288: relating to surface mining, to prohibit disposal of overburden in streams. Written by Tom Fitzgerald.

HB 376: relating to tax credits promoting land conservation.

HB 381: relating to the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, to remove for-profit water company representative from Kentucky Infrastructure Authority Board.

HB 387: relating to natural gas liquids pipelines.

HCR 17/SCR 95: to urge Congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America authorizing legislation to establish reasonable limits on contributions and expenditures in political campaigns and to prohibit noncitizen contributions and expenditures. One of the Sierra Club members in the audience who authored the orginal version of the bill, referred the group to Bill Moyer's collection of reports on campaign finance reform

HCR 93: to direct the LRC to establish a Timber Theft and Trespass Reduction Task Force to study issues regarding timber theft and trespass and to develop consensus recommendations to address those issues.

HR 126: a simple resolution to urge the Transportation Cabinet to withdraw recently filed administrative regulations covering outdoor advertising devices and work with the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation and Economic Development and Tourism to craft regulations with public input prior to the drafting of regulations.

SB 10: relating to voter identification. If passed, Kentucky would become a "strict" voting law state.

SB 31: relating to the prohibition against implementing the United Nations Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

SB 35: relating to the Public Service Commission. Tom said this was a reaction to serial rate increases by power providers.

SCR 131: to establish a task force to study the costs of administering the death penalty in Kentucky.

The list of proposed legislation is quite exhaustive and runs the gamut from alcoholic beverages & casino gaming (HB 52), to dog ownership (SB 78), medical cannabis (SB43) and even a few related to attorneys and the bar association. HB 1, a proposal to raise the state's minimum wage, has received a lot of press. One that hasn't received enough in my opinion is SB 5, which relates to controlled substances and would increase treatment options for heroin and other opiate addiction.

Those that interest me most pertain to civil rights. HB 70 seeks to restore voting rights for felons. Oddly, an amendment to HB 8 that would allow dating partners to obtain domestic violence orders also calls for strict changes to Kentucky's abortion laws.

Since I'm concerned about the future of my family's farm, I'm also monitoring some agricultural bills, especially those related to eminent domain that Tom mentioned and hemp production. As a librarian, I'm also intersted in legislation relating to education. HB 341 would provide funds for the "Books for Brains" project, SB 20 seeks to increase anti-bullying awareness, and SB 16 would allow computer programming language courses to meet foreign language requirements in the public schools. 

At last year's meeting, Tom Fitzgerald implored the crowd to action by stating, "It's never been easier to get involved." This year, he reiterated that the Commonwealth is one of the more favorable states with regards to welcoming citizen input. He provided the following tips for contacting your legislators and mentioned that phone calls and personalized correspondance are much more effective than online petitions and pre-packaged messages. Since we're already half way through the current session, it's best to call or email rather than send snail mail.

How to Take Action