2014 GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN REGULAR SESSION: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Posted: May 30, 2014
Each year, we provide a brief wrap-up of the significant bills that the Council supported or opposed, a description of changes to those bills made in response to KRC’s concerns, and the outcome of those bills and resolutions. They are listed below under the headings “The Good,” “The Bad,” and “The Ugly.”
The Board and staff of the Council are deeply appreciative of the members and supporters of KRC who continue to make this work possible.
Ethics reform got a boost from House Bill 28, which strengthens the code of legislative ethics governing political contributions from employers of lobbyists, requires reporting of advertising spent to support or oppose legislation, and limits provision of food and beverages and cost of attendance for legislators to in-state conferences.
Regulation of wind turbine siting was clarified in House Bill 291. The jurisdiction of the state siting board for merchant electricity facilities over wind farms was clarified, and two additional public meeting opportunities were created for such projects. KRC worked with the sponsor and other stakeholders to redraft the bill and to strengthen public involvement and mitigation authority of the siting board.
The mission of the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center has been expanding in recent years to include energy efficiency, and the enabling statute was modified to reflect this important addition in Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Senator Ernie Harris, the sponsor of net metering of electricity in a previous session.
Removal of electric power lines from reclaimed mine sites would be required in House Bill 336 unless approved as being needed for post-mining land use.
AT&Ts third effort in as many sessions to end the right to stand-alone basis local phone service, was unsuccessful. The AT&T Bill, Senate Bill 99, was in play until the evening of the last day of the session, when the Governor’s office attempted to revive the bill. This year’s version of the AT&T bill would have ended the obligation to offer basic local exchange phone service for exchanges with 15,000 or more housing units, and for all other exchanges, would allow AT&T, Windstream, and Cincinnati Bell to substitute less reliable internet protocol or wireless service to new customers and in many cases to people moving from one home to another.
The nuclear plant moratorium remains in place with the defeat of Senate Bill 67, which would have lifted the moratorium on new nuclear plant construction that requires a permanent disposal strategy be in place before licensing, and allow new nuclear plant construction provided that a storage plan was in place. KRC has long opposed lifting the ban.
Zoning recommendations will be subject to a 60-day limit under Senate Bill 144. The Kentucky League of Cities advocated for the bill, imposing statewide time limits when local governments could have done so if they felt it necessary without changing state law. The original bill would have required the planning commission to make a recommendation on zoning requests within 60 days and would forward requested rezoning to legislative body for action if commission action not taken within 60 days unless timeframe is waived. The bill also allows board of zoning adjustment review and revocation of conditional use permits previously issued, in certain circumstances, and allows revocation of conditional use permit if the board is not informed of certain modifications. KRC believes this power already exists.
KRC did not support the original bill, but the Sponsor and KLC agreed to language sought by KRC to not start the time clock (which was expanded to up to 120 days under a floor amendment) until the rezoning application is administratively complete, with all other agency stamps or approvals, and is ready for technical review. With that change, planning commissions should have sufficient time to process cases.
The 2014 Session had fewer “bad” bills become law than any recent session. Among those opposed by KRC which did not become law were:
House Bill 94, which was amended in the Senate to allow commercial haulers of livestock and ag products to exceed weight tolerances by 10%. KRC opposed the allowance, which would significantly broaden a limited exception intended for small farms, and create greater risk to public safety;
House Bill 560, which would require ratepayers to fund the build out of infrastructure necessary to deliver natural gas to fueling stations. KRC supports efforts to increase deployment of natural gas vehicle fleets, but does not believe that ratepayers should be required to underwrite that expansion;
Senate Bill 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the General Assembly to delegate to a committee the power to stop implementation of a regulation found to be “deficient.” KRC provided testimony in opposition to this significant change in the separation of powers as being unnecessary and unwise;
Senate Bill 31, which would have prohibited any state or local government from “implementing any part of the United Nations Agenda 21 that is contrary to the United States or Kentucky Constitution.” Agenda 21 is a set of principles adopted developed from the United Nations Conference on Environment & Development held in Brazil in June, 1992 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development;
Senate Bill 35, which would have made Public Service Commissioner an elected position and increase the number of Commissioners for the Public Service Commission to 7. KRC has opposed the bill due to the lack of evidence from other states that electing rather than appointing Commissioners presents a better outcome for the average ratepayer;
Senate Bill 152, which would have allowed Kentucky-American Water Co. and other for-profit water providers to include in its rate base the fair market value of public water systems that it acquires, including costs that currently are not allowed to be passed along to customers;
Senate Bill 181, which would require appeals of planning and zoning decisions to the Circuit Court to reach a final decision within 120 days of being submitted for decision and to require that appeals from the Circuit Court be accompanied by a supersedeas bond of an amount calculated to offset any losses sustained by an appellee due to an unsuccessful appeal. Bill would have had a chilling effect on even meritorious appeals of zoning decisions;
Senate Bill 214 would have reduced post-judgment interest paid on court’s judgments from 12% to the lesser of 12% or 1% above prime, and would preclude interest on those portions of the judgment that represent loss of future earnings, noneconomic damages, and punitive damages. The effect of the bill would have been to encourage losing defendants to delay payment of court-ordered judgments.
The Executive Branch Budget, House Bill 235, continued the pattern of serial cuts to essential air, land, and water programs that has been a hallmark of the Beshear Administration. Hit particularly hard was the Environmental Quality Commission, which lost dedicated funding and must rely on the current Cabinet Secretary for funding from elsewhere within the agency budget. The Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission budget was also hard-hit. The Office of Mine Safety and Licensing was severely cut, necessitating a reorganization of that agency.
Plans for controlling carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants will be hamstrung under House Bill 388, which seeks to micromanage the criteria by which the Energy and Environment Cabinet can establish performance standards for the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. The bill is very premature, since the EPA standards have not yet even been proposed, and will not be finalized for a year or more. The most likely outcome of the bill will be development of a federal implementation plan for Kentucky if the Cabinet cannot develop an approvable plan due to interference from the mandates of this bill.
The session will perhaps best be remembered as one in which many opportunities to advance the quality of life for Kentuckians and the environment of the Commonwealth, were missed. Bills to:
• increase the state minimum wage
• restore voting rights
• assure gender equity in executive branch appointments
• require immunization against the human papillomavirus for tweens and teens
• require radon testing for child-care centers
• bring natural gas liquids pipelines under the state siting board
• clarify eminent domain law regarding oil and gas pipelines
• improve standards for euthanasia for animal shelter
• establish an income tax credit for donations of conservation easements
• adopt a Rare Plant Protection Act
• establish a Timber Theft and Trespass Reduction Task Force
• provide tax breaks for honey production and beekeeping
• increase the threshold for net metering from 30 to 500 kilowatts
• and many others were acted on by one chamber but did not become law.
Additionally, a number of important bills either received a hearing but no vote in the committee to which they were assigned, or were not heard, included a bill requiring renewable and energy efficiency portfolios for electric utilities, the “stream saver” bill, and many others.