By Kentucky Chamber President & CEO Dave Adkisson
The 2015 session of the General Assembly is being heralded by some as a great success due to the passage of bills addressing heroin, the road fund and other issues. Without question, there is cause to acknowledge and celebrate those accomplishments.
But there is another chapter to this session’s story for Kentucky’s business community, and it is one of disappointment because of the many pro-business bills that were left hanging in the balance when the final gavel fell.
First, the positive results of the session that will advance Kentucky:
- Our telecommunications systems can now be modernized more quickly.
- The state road fund was stabilized by creating a “floor” under the declining state gas tax revenue.
- Legislation to curb the lethal threat of heroin was passed and likely will save lives.
- On the most pressing issue facing state government – our underfunded public pension systems – a few bills passed that should help put a brighter light on the operations of the systems, but more work is needed here.
- And, always of particular interest to those we represent, there were no bills passed in this session that were particularly harmful to the broad business community.
But on the disappointing side:
- Public-private partnerships had amazing support last year in the House and Senate and strong bipartisan support going into this year’s session, but fell in the Kentucky Senate without even getting a committee hearing or a vote on the floor (where many are confident the bill would have passed).
- Local option sales tax authorization for cities and counties, which is favored two-to-one among business leaders we surveyed, passed in the House only to die in the Senate without even a committee hearing or a floor vote.
- Smoke-free legislation favored by a nine-to-one margin by Chamber members passed the House, only to die in the Senate without a committee hearing or a floor vote.
- An independent study of the teacher retirement system, which the Chamber has been advocating since early 2014, was championed by the Senate but died in negotiations with the House.
- Right to work legislation, enacted by most of Kentucky’s competitor states and gaining traction in local communities, won passage in the Senate but failed to get a hearing in the House.
- A Senate-passed bill to allow the creation of charter schools to give parents a broader choice for their children’s education once again failed without even a House committee hearing.
- Legislation to create an impartial process of medical review panels to deter meritless lawsuits against medical providers passed the Senate but failed without a hearing in the House.
The failure of some of these measures, such as charter schools or right to work, was not particularly surprising due to the longstanding alignment of partisan interests on both sides of the debate. Other legislation, however, had substantial bipartisan support. That made their failure particularly jarring.
Anyone working to advance Kentucky can expect to encounter some obstacles, and we continue to hope that, as Kentuckians with a shared goal of making progress for our state, we can take at least two steps forward for every one step backward.
But it’s tough to celebrate a few successes when important issues with strong bipartisan support fail due to the clumsy nature of the legislative process or a lack of commitment to finding ways to overcome those barriers.