The Bills That Failed to Pass in the Kentucky General Assembly's 2015 Session
The Kentucky General Assembly passed several important pieces of legislation in the just-concluded 2015 session, including a comprehensive heroin bill and a freeze to the state’s tumbling gas tax.
But with the session’s snow days, missed deadlines and divisive political views, several bills failed to make it to the finish line.
Here’s a rundown of some of the legislative casualties of the 2015 Kentucky General Assembly.
Teachers' Pension System Bailout
A compromise proposal to authorize $3.3 billion in bonding to bail out the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement Systems and study the program’s weaknesses failed in the final hours of the legislative session.
KTRS is facing a $14 billion shortfall and only has 53 percent of the money it needs to make payments current and future retirees.
Leaders from the Democratic-led House walked away from the table when members of the Republican-led Senate offered shoring up the system with $50 million in cash, instead of borrowing billions.
Senators said the state’s credit rating would suffer if lawmakers borrowed the money.
Northern Kentucky lawmakers staved off another proposal to let the state engage in public-private partnerships, a funding model that would allow companies to front money for major state projects and collect tolls or user fees once completed.
Gov. Steve Beshear has indicated that a “P3” model would be used to finance the $2.6 billion replacement of the Brent-Spence Bridge, which connects Covington and Cincinnati.
Tolling on the bridge has been unpopular with Northern Kentuckians, who say they would be disproportionately affected.
A P3 bill with a ban on tolling the bridge passed both chambers in 2014, but was vetoed by Beshear.
Local Option Sales Tax
Under the proposal, local governments would have been allowed to add as much as 1 percent onto the sales tax to fund local projects.
Supporters included the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. But supporters had an uphill battle convincing the Republican-led Senate that the provision didn’t constitute a statewide tax raise.
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Manchester Republican, went on the record several times calling the tax option “democracy in its truest form.”
But the bill lost momentum mid-session as industry groups began to seek exemptions from the additional tax.
The Democratic-led House has passed a minimum wage hike for the past two years, but the bill has been a non-starter in the Republican-led Senate.
The bill would have increased the minimum wage Kentucky businesses could pay employees from $7.25 to $10.10 over the course of three years.
In November 2014, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted to raise the minimum wage in their states.
A statewide smoking ban passed the Democratic-led House, but never got taken up in the Senate. The Senate sponsors of the bill said the chamber had enough votes to pass the ban, but leadership assigned the bill to a committee that didn’t have enough votes to send it out for a floor vote.
The House amended the bill exempting cities that had already passed smoking bans and leaving the door open for local governments to pass more lenient bans before the law took effect.
Felon Voting Rights
For the last eight years the state House passed a bill to grant voting rights to an estimated 186,000 non-violent felons who have served their time.
Presently, only the governor of Kentucky can restore voting rights to a felon.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has proposed similar legislation at the federal level.
The issue has been a nonstarter in the Senate, though in 2014, that chamber passed a restrictive version of the bill that wasn’t taken up in the House.
Campaign Contributions Limits
In the last minutes of the session, lawmakers nearly passed a law that would have doubled the amount individuals can donate to a candidate running for statewide office from $1,000 per year to $2,000 per year.
The bill would have gone into effect in the middle of this year’s governor’s race.
Opponents said there was enough money in politics already and took issue with the last-minute timing of the bill’s vote. Supporters pointed out that individual contribution limits pale in comparison to the amount candidates receive from political organizations.
Medical Review Panels
The Senate passed a bill that would have a panel review medical malpractice lawsuits before they could be tried in court.
The panel would determine if malpractice cases have “legal merit.” Supporters, such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, say the panels reduce the number of fraudulent lawsuits from the legal system, which would benefit the healthcare industry.
Opponents said panels would skew rulings toward doctors, nursing homes and hospitals and away from plaintiffs who have legitimate claims.
The Democratic-led House never took up the bill. Similar laws have passed in other states.
Right to Work
Riding on a wave of county governments that have passed “right-to-work” policies, the state Senate passed a bill early on this session that would have allowed employees to opt out of union membership at unionized businesses.
The bill never made it out of a House committee hearing packed with union members. Supporters argue that Kentucky is losing jobs to surrounding states that have such laws on the books.
Twenty-six states currently have right-to-work laws, including neighboring Indiana and Tennessee.
Student Voice/ Transgender Bathroom
A bill that would add a student member to screening committees for school district superintendents had a healthy start but a troublesome demise in this year’s session.
A group of Lexington high school students proposed the bill and shepherded its passage through the state House. But the legislation began to collect Senate amendments, including a bill that would forbid transgender students from using a bathroom different from their birth sex.
The transgender bathroom amendment was pulled on the last day of session, but replaced with an amendment that would protect “religious speech” in public schools.
The House never took up the amended bill.
The state Senate passed a bill that would have addressed the 41 counties that have elected and salaried jailers but no jailers.
The bill would have required jailers to submit quarterly reports on their job duties, require fiscal courts to establish jailer job requirements, and allow county governments to only make jailer salary adjustments based on increases in the consumer price index.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that no-jail jailers are paid annual salaries ranging from $20,000 to $70,398, but often had few responsibilities.
A House committee took up the issue late in the session. The committee didn’t have enough votes to pass the bill to the full House.