Despite a second snow-shortened week, the General Assembly passed some major legislation last week, including a bill to strip Anheuser-Bush of two beer distributorships, another to deregulate the
telecommunications industry and one to help construct a health
research facility at the University of Kentucky.
The legislative sessions for Thursday and Friday were cancelled in
the wake of a major winter storm that dumped around 16 inches of snow on the Capitol and as much as 21 inches in other parts of the state.
But on Monday, the state Senate followed the House's lead in
approving the so-called "AT&T bill" which will free major telephone
carriers from the requirement to offer basic landline in exchanges of
15,000 or more residential customers.
Backers like Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, have pushed the bill
for years, but in the past rural lawmakers resisted out of fear that
older and more isolated customers would lose their landline service.
This year's bill attempted to answer that concern by restricting the
deregulation to exchanges of 15,000 or more.
Consumer advocates claim that customers who move or give up
landlines and then regret it will not have the option of regaining
landline service. They also say wireless and Internet-based phone
service isn't as reliable. Supporters say the change is necessary to
allow companies like AT&T to invest in wireless technologies and
broadband demanded by the public.
The Senate also agreed with the House in passing a bill to strip
Anheuser Bush of two distributorships, one purchased last fall in
Owensboro and another the company has owned for 37 years in
Louisville. Kentucky has traditionally relied on what is called the
three-tiered system which separates distillers and brewers from their
distributors and retail outlets.
But a loophole in the law had been ignored for years as AB operated
a distributorship in Louisville. But when it purchased a second one,
based in Owensboro, small brewers complained the company would
squeeze out their products. Opponents saw the bill as unfair and an
infringement on property rights, but it passed both chambers and
Beshear plans to sign it.
On Wednesday, the Senate also approved HB 298 authorizing $132.5
million in bonds for a new University of Kentucky health research
building, although this is a non-budget session. UK will fund the
other half of the $265 University officials and lawmakers say the
project is needed to combat Kentucky's woeful health status—the
commonwealth leads the nation in incidence of cancer, heart disease
and diabetes. The building will house teams of scientists researching
treatments and ways to diminish deaths from those diseases.
Leaders of both chambers, led by Judiciary Chairs Rep. John Tilley,
D-Hopkinsville, and Whitney Westerfiled, R-Hopkinsville,, continued
to try to work out a compromise on perhaps the most high-profile
issue in the 215 General Assembly—legislation to combat the rising
tide of heroin addiction and trafficking.
The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor
Mill, which would treat any sale of heroin in any amount as a Class D
felony. The House measure, sponsored by Tilley, would differentiate
between small sales of 2 grams or less by "peddlers" selling the drug
to fellow addicts or to finance their own habits and larger sales by
"commercial traffickers." Tilley's bill would also allow local
communities— if they chose—to offer needle exchange programs in an
attempt to cut down on blood borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis.
Each side has shown resistance to the penalty structure in the
other's bill and the Senate doesn't like the needle-exchange
provision. Still, Tilley and Westerfield as well as House Speaker
Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-
Manchester, said they expect lawmakers will work out some sort of
The House gave final passage to an "end-of-life care bill" sponsored
by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville. A medical order for scope of
treatment would spell out a patient's wishes for their end-of-life
care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be
physician's orders and are signed by both the patient or patient's
legal surrogate, and the patient's physician.
The Senate passed a bill which would set a minimum salary of $20,000
but establish additional oversight for the 41 jailers in counties
without jails. The bill is in response to an investigation by the
Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting which showed some jailers
in counties with no jails did little work for higher salaries and
often employed family members as deputy jailers. The bill now goes to
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a House bill sponsored by
Tilley which would extend civil protective orders to dating couples
in cases of abuse. The Senate committee made slight changes to the
bill—with no objection from Tilley—which would create a separate
chapter of Kentucky law for the new protections for dating couples.
The General Assembly is scheduled to complete legislative work by
Wednesday. After an interim period while Gov. Steve Beshear decides
to sign or veto legislation, the legislature will come back on March
23 and 24 to consider any veto overrides.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort.
Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on
Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.