Bills on Smoking, Beer, Casinos Advance in Ky

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THE COURIER-JOURNAL | TOM LOFTUS| FEBRUARY 8, 2015

In a week where America celebrated Groundhog Day, the General Assembly provided vivid flashbacks of its actions of recent years, with the Republican Senate moving priorities sure to die in the House and the Democratic House moving bills that will die in the Senate.

But that pattern was not true in all cases, as the week saw developments on bills dealing with beer, dogs, marijuana and telephone deregulation. Even the casino issue, expected to get little attention this year, surfaced. Here’s a look at the week’s action:

Smoking Ban: House Bill 145, which would ban smoking in all workplaces and indoor public places, passed the House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday and sponsor Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, is optimistic about its chances. But if the bill gets a House floor vote, it appears dead in the Senate.

Medical Review Panels: Senate Bill 6 would require panels of health care providers to examine malpractice claims before the claims proceed to court. The bill got express-lane treatment in the Senate, which sent it to the House where — as in recent sessions — it is expected to go nowhere.

Minimum Wage: The House Labor and Industry Committee passed Speaker Greg Stumbo’s House Bill 2, which would raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 in steps to $10.10 an hour by July 2017. The bill passed the House last year and will probably do so again this week. But it has little if any chance in the Senate, which blocked it last year.

Abortion: The Senate voted 31-5 to pass a bill requiring doctors to perform ultrasound before abortions and to describe what the image shows to pregnant women. It is likely to be blocked by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

Charter Schools: Senate Bill 8, which would start charter schools on a pilot basis in Kentucky, also zipped down the Senate express lane and was sent to the House, where Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said it will not go far.

AT&T Bill: House Bill 152 has a fair shot at passing both chambers. This bill, which would deregulate landline telephone services and allow carriers like AT&T to drop basic service to customers in urban areas, cleared a House committee last week. It now goes to the House floor. This bill was passed by the Senate in recent sessions.

Beer distributorships: House Bill 168, which would force Anheuser-Busch to sell its two Kentucky distributorships, may get a hearing in the week ahead. Stumbo has said he’s working on a compromise but hasn’t provided details. The bill was assigned to the economic development committee — rather than the licensing and occupations committee, where all liquor bills generally go. Asked if he lacked the support to get it out of L&O, Stumbo said the reason was that the bill is an economic development bill.

Casinos: Stumbo filed a constitutional amendment on Wednesday to allow casinos in Kentucky. HB 300 would allow up to six casinos in counties of at least 85,000 people that have approved expanded gambling in a local-option vote. Most funds would go for education, and 10 percent would benefit horse racing purses. Its chances appear slim, at best. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the issue “has lost a lot of momentum.”

Dog Fighting: Stumbo’s HB 154 would make it a crime for anyone to own, possess, breed, train, sell or transfer a four-legged animal for fighting purposes. It passed the House Judiciary Committee last week and is expected to get a floor vote in the House this week.

Medical Marijuana: House Bill 3 was expected to move last week, but the House Health and Welfare Committee delayed its consideration. Meanwhile, a chief supporter of the bill said it is worthless in its current form because if passed, the new law would be blocked by federal regulators.

Week ahead

The major development this week comes Monday afternoon when Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, will unveil his bill to combat the growing heroin problem that has ravaged parts of the state. Both the Senate and House — along with Gov. Steve Beshear — consider this the top priority of the 2015 legislative session. But the two chambers were unable to reach agreement on the bill last year.

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