Friday, March 6, 2015

Legislative session nearing its end

When the first race horse crosses the finish line, others usually aren’t far behind.

The same can be said about bills passing into law. Once Kentucky lawmakers are far enough into a legislative session to deliver a bill to the governor’s desk, other bills soon follow.

On Tuesday, a phone deregulation bill became the first bill of 2015 to reach Gov. Steve Beshear’s office. The next day, two more bills landed on the governor’s desk. Four more bills have also passed both chambers and are ready to soon be delivered from the third floor of the Capitol to the governor’s first-floor office.

The telephone deregulation bill, House Bill 152 would end phone companies’ obligations to provide landline phone services to customers in urban and suburban areas if they provide service through another technology, such as cellular or an Internet-based phone service. Rep. Lynn Bechler (R-Marion) and Sen. Dorsey Ridley (D-Henderson) both voted to pass the measure.

Supporters describe this as a modernization step to improve Kentucky’s telecom infrastructure by encouraging phone companies to invest in newer technologies like broadband networks. Opponents warn that some customers could end up with higher-priced, less-reliable phone service.

While rural customers can keep landline phones they already have, newly constructed homes in rural areas won’t be guaranteed landline services. If a rural customer cancels landline service and doesn’t decide to bring it back within 60 days, the company won’t be obligated to restore it.

Another bill sent to the governor this week would give Kentuckians a new kind of health care directive to consider using when planning end-of-life care. Senate Bill 77 (Ridley, yes; Bechler, no) would allow Kentuckians to use what’s known as “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for 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.

Lawmakers also sent the governor a bill this week to fund the construction of a state-of-the-art medical research center to target prevalent diseases in Kentucky, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. House Bill 298 (Bechler, no; Ridley, yes) would authorize the issuance of $132.5 million in bonds for the construction of the building at the University of Kentucky. The university would raise money for the other half of the $265 million building.

At the time of this writing Friday, the governor had not yet signed the bills that have been delivered to his office, but a signing of HB 298 is scheduled for Monday. Under the Kentucky Constitution, he has 10 days (excluding Sundays) after receiving a bill to veto it or sign it into law. If no action is taken within ten days, a bill goes into effect without the governor’s signature.

The record-breaking snowfall that created hazardous driving conditions throughout the state this week prompted legislative leaders to adjust the schedule for the 2015 session. Chamber proceedings were called off for Thursday and today. Under the adjusted calendar, the Senate and House will convene Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before starting a veto recess. Lawmakers will return to the State Capitol for the final two days of the session on March 23 and 24.

With the 2015 session nearing its final days, this is an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues. There are several easy ways citizens can provide feedback.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page,, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service and committee meeting schedules.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at (800) 372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may reach lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at (800) 896-0305.

Citizens can also write to any legislator by addressing a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601.

Want to contact your lawmakers on an issue? Simply click on the links below: