As the Kentucky General Assembly begins the final two days of its 2018 session Friday morning, the biggest question on everyone’s minds is if both Republican-dominated chambers choose to override Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes of the two-year budget and tax revenue bills passed last week. If not, legislators will have to scramble to create and pass two new bills from scratch, or else push these important measures off to a special session.
Another bill on the veto override watch is HB 362, which would have given relief to local school boards and governments — like Louisville Metro Government — that are due for pension cost increases of up to 50 percent by capping such increases to 12 percent over the next 10 years.
Bevin also vetoed this bill — which passed nearly unanimously in both chambers — and legislators will either have to buck the governor and override it or make his suggested changes and pass it in another form.
While everyone will be watching these potential veto overrides, there are also some other important bills that could pass in these two final days, dealing with issues like solar panel reimbursements, cracking down on criminal gangs and creating tax credits for private K-12 scholarships.
House Bill 227 — Net Metering
Homeowners and businesses investing in solar panel installations on their roofs have been able to sell their surplus energy to utility companies in Kentucky for years, but HB 227 — backed heavily by utility industry lobbyists this session — would dramatically roll those back.
The utility companies argue that this “net metering” process is unfair to them, while environmentalist argue that it would decimate investment in clean and renewable energy in the state. The bill passed the House with a slim majority and can be taken up in the Senate at any time.
House Bill 6 — Tax Credits
This bill to create $60 million in tax breaks for banks investing in rural businesses passed with a large majority in the House, despite the fact that it would not require proof that investors taking advantage of it created the promised jobs.
While this tax credit was the major component HB 6, on the last day before the governor’s veto period began last week, the Senate attached a provision that would create a 95 percent tax credit on donations made to organization providing scholarships to private K-12 schools. Similar bills filed in the House and Senate did not even receive a hearing, but nonetheless could find their way into law if the Senate passes their version and the House concurs.
Proponents of the private scholarship tax credit argued that it would advance school choice and end up paying for itself by shifting costs away from public schools, but opponents call these backdoor vouchers that would further bleed the budget of money that could be invested in those public school.
The Legislative Research Commission’s fiscal note of the House version of the bill said there would be a negative impact of $60 million to the state’s General Fund after the first two years of the tax credit, with that increasing to $133 million over the next three years. The LRC noted that the potential savings from the tax credits were “indeterminable.”
“School choice” advocates are also watching to see if a funding formula for charter schools pops up in any legislation, which could happen if legislators choose not to override the vetoes of the budget and revenue bills and start that process over again.
House Bill 169 — Gangs
Expanding the legal definition of a criminal gang and increasing mandatory sentences for gang members who commit crimes, the sponsors of HB 169 view it as a way to target those who are recruit young people causing the recent increase in violent crime seen in cities like Louisville.
While Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and police chief Steve Conrad both support the bill that passed by a significant majority in the House, several local Democratic Metro Council members, the ACLU of Kentucky and the Louisville Urban League are staunchly opposed to HB 169, arguing that it could be used to racially profile young black men like similar bills in other state, costing $19 million to ramp up incarcerations.
The Senate — where the measure is assumed to have solid support — has slightly amended the bill, meaning the House would also have to approve that versions.
House Bill 9 — Sexual Harassment
In the wake of the sexual harassment scandal that rocked the state House and its Republican leadership over the past year, HB 9 was passed by a large majority in that chamber, detailing rules for how LRC claims are reported and adding such harassment as an offense in which a legislator could be punished.
However, this bill has ground to a halt in the Senate, where it has not even received a committee vote. If the Senate doesn’t take up and vote on the bill, the status quo in the halls of Frankfort will remain until 2019.
Senate Bill 4 — Moving Elections
This proposed amendment to the Kentucky constitution would move the 2023 election for constitutional officers — such as the governor, attorney general, auditor and secretary of state — to 2024, with proponents saying that such a move from off-year elections to presidential years would save local governments money.
As Kentucky has voted solidly for Republicans in presidential elections since 2000, and such turnout would assuredly help the party’s candidates for state office, support for the bill is split along partisan lines.
The House has yet to vote on the bill, which would have to then be approved by a voter referendum in order to amend the constitution.