Friday, February 13, 2015

Ky. House passes local option sales tax legislation, other bills

Two proposed amendments to the Kentucky Constitution and a bill to give immediate protections to dating violence victims passed the state House Thursday and now rest with the Senate.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown), is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow statewide voters to authorize state lawmakers to give local voters the right to approve up to a one-cent temporary sales tax on agreed-to local projects. The other, HB 70, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville) and Rep. George Brown Jr. (D-Lexington) would allow statewide voters to decide on the automatic restoration of voting rights for certain non-violent felons who have served their sentence.

HB 8, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) and Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Shively), would for the first time under Kentucky law, allow dating couples to receive immediate civil protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking in the form of an “interpersonal” protective order. It would also streamline the process to obtain protective orders for other victims, and would allow an order to be expunged from someone’s record if the order is dismissed by a judge.

HB 1 passed on a vote of 62-35 and HB 70 passed on a vote of 86-12. Rep. Lynn Bechler (R-Marion) voted against both measures. HB 8 passed by a vote of 98-0, with Bechler's support. All three proposals are now before the Senate for its consideration.

HB 1, unofficially called the “LIFT bill” for the name of its advocacy group Local Investments for Transformation (LIFT), would add Kentucky to the list of 37 other states that allow for a local option sales tax for specified projects, should local voters agree to the levy. Stumbo said the amendment could free up state dollars for required services like education by allowing local communities to cover the cost of local projects themselves.

Hoover added that a local option sales tax could only be levied with “direct consent” of those affected, not to exceed one percent per dollar for specific projects.

“I have been a supporter of this idea from the beginning because I view this… as democracy at its best, where local people make a decision on what they want to do,” he stated.

Rep. Mike Harmon (R-Danville) proposed an amendment to HB 1 that would prohibit the use of tax dollars to promote a referendum on a capital project in association with the legislation. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 38-53.

Following the passage of HB 1, the House also voted 57-38 to approve HB 344, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson (D-Owensboro) which would set requirements for a local option sales tax levy should the proposed amendment allowing such a tax be approved during the Nov. 2016 general election. Rep. Bechler opposed this legislation.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, HB 344 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Legislation similar to HB 70, the felons’ voting rights bill that passed the House Thursday, has been filed in the House for at least nine years, but has not yet won the support of both chambers needed to put the issue on a statewide ballot.

Before passing HB 70, the chamber voted 37-57 to reject a proposed amendment to the bill filed by Harmon what would have required felons to wait three years to have their voting rights restored, unless the person has been pardoned.

“It’s time for HB 70 and for Kentucky to come out of the dark ages,” Brown said of the measure.

During often somewhat emotional debate on HB 8, Tilley said Kentucky would become the last state in the U.S. to include domestic violence protections for dating couples in its statutes should HB 8 become law. Only victims who are married to their abuser, have lived or currently live with the abuser, or who share a child with the abuser can file for protective orders under current Kentucky law.

The measure passed the chamber with an amendment filed by Rep. Thomas Kerr (R-Taylor Mill) that would allow protective orders issued on the basis of domestic violence and abuse to be referred to by the court as “emergency protective orders” and “domestic violence orders.” It would take effect in Jan. 1, 2016 should it become law.

One concern with HB 8 voiced by Rep. Donna Mayfield (R-Winchester) who ultimately voted for the bill, is that the orders may be used in spats between teenage couples. “I just fear that this (could) open the floodgates to some situations that dilute the purity of the way we have it in the courts right now,” said Mayfield.

Tilley said persons under age 20 are “four times” more like to be abuse by a partner than others.

“The purpose of this bill,” he said, “is to protect lives.”

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