Our Opinion: Make Most of Session to Adopt Legislation

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KENTUCKY NEW ERA | OP-ED | FEBRUARY 18, 2015

The Kentucky General Assembly, which meets for a shorter session that’s limited to 30 legislative days in odd-numbered years, has seen its schedule disrupted this week by severe winter weather. Both the House and the Senate were in recess Wednesday, and House leaders decided late Wednesday to send representatives home until Monday afternoon so they could attend to their families.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said there are no plans to change the legislative calendar, adding, “We have more than enough time to complete the work before us.”

He’s correct — assuming lawmakers are able to reach some middle ground on several important bills in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, negotiating compromise has not been the General Assembly’s strong suit in recent years. Too often, the Republican majority in the Senate and the Democratic-held House have let legislation languish without that final push for an agreement.

This year, several promising measures before will require some give and take between the two chambers to win passage.

One is the local option sales tax bill, which would put a constitutional amendment before voters to allow a temporary local sales tax for special projects. These would have to be approved by a local referendum, and the sales tax could not exceed 1 percent. This legislation has our support. The House passed it. A Senate vote is pending.

Lawmakers should also adopt a dating violence bill to extend protective orders. These protections should not be limited to people who are married. The bill passed 98-0 in the House, and it looks like the Senate will also pass it.

The House and Senate have a way to go before they agree on a heroin bill. Both chambers have passed a bill, but they disagree on penalties for dealers, and the House version would allow local health departments to set up needle exchanges in hopes of getting more addicts into treatment programs.

A statewide public smoking ban has broad support among Kentucky adults and the business community — and a smoke-free bill narrowly passed last week in the House. But it faces a harder path in the Senate. If this bill fails in 2015, lawmakers will have neglected an opportunity to reduce one of the most serious health hazards in the commonwealth.

Another measure that needs additional Senate support to win passage is House Bill 70, the voting rights bill. Under this constitutional amendment, voting rights could be restored to convicted felons of certain non-violent crimes after they serve their sentences and complete probation.

Among bills we don’t support is one to legalize medical marijuana. While we acknowledge that marijuana may be beneficial for some medical issues — including pain and complications suffered during cancer treatment — state laws advancing so-called medical marijuana are often the first step to legalizing recreational marijuana. Kentucky doesn’t need to open the market to another addictive substance.

Another measure that’s not in the state’s best interest is the minimum wage increase. Although the House approved a bill that would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over the next two years, the Senate opposes the legislation. It would be a serious burden on many small businesses.

The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on March 24, and even if that schedule holds with a few snow days, there’s plenty of time for the General Assembly to pass meaningful legislation this session.

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