House sends local-option sales tax, dating violence and felon voting rights bills to the Senate

02/12/2015 07:29 PM

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House of Representatives passed bills establishing a local-option sales tax, granting greater protections for partners in dating relationships and restoring voting rights for some felons Thursday.

House Bill 1, a constitutional amendment for local-option sales taxes sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, faced the stiffest opposition in the chamber, passing 62-35 and clearing the three-fifths majority required to amend the state Constitution by two votes.

Seventeen Republicans voted for the local-option sales tax, which would be placed on the 2016 ballot if it clears the GOP-led Senate, while seven Democrats opposed the bill. House Bill 344, legislation enabling the local-option sales tax if enacted, passed by a narrower 57-38 margin.

HB 1 would allow local governments to levy a sales tax of up to 1 percent for specific bonded projects. Once the project is complete, the additional sales tax would be removed.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called HB 1 “democracy in its purest form,” a sentiment echoed by other supporters. House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, a co-sponsor of HB 1, called the proposal “democracy at its best.”

“The voters decide their fate, the voters decide how much and what project it is that they deem worthy of paying more taxes in their local communities for,” Stumbo said in a floor speech.

“… As the pool of money becomes more and more difficult to spread out in small, rural communities in Kentucky, more and more they’re going to have to look, mister speaker, to fund water projects, community centers, things that we’ve been able to all too often, or maybe not as much as we would have liked, help them with.”

Despite the earnest support from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, not all Jefferson County Democrats were on board with the legislation.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, dismissed the sales tax as disproportionately affecting low-income residents, particularly without an earned income tax credit to cushion the potential financial blow.

Rep. Larry Clark said the funds raised by a 1 percent increase in the sales tax could fund significant needs for the state.

He warned that legislators would abdicate their powers to county judge-executives and mayors across Kentucky if HB 1 becomes law and ratified in the Constitution.

“We as state lawmakers need to make a decision,” said Clark, D-Louisville. “Do we want to relinquish our ability to be a state policymaker and fund state projects and make the commitment to our constituents who sent us up here to fund education, to fund teachers’ pensions, to fund issues like that. That’s the burden on our shoulder.”

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said the bill would put more power in the hands of small towns that don’t elect multiple representatives to the General Assembly and, thus, don’t have as much influence as more urban counties like Jefferson or Fayette.

What’s more, voters would have a direct say in how their tax dollars are spent, he said.

“It gives a chance for smaller communities with less power to do a project that is important to them, but only if they want to,” Floyd said.

The House also passed House Bill 8, which would allow people in dating relationships to seek protective orders in cases of abuse, by a unanimous 98-0 vote.

Rep. John Tilley, sponsor of HB 8, said the bill represents a collaboration among legislators, law enforcement officers, judges and advocates, and civil protective orders offer a more direct response to a harmful situation than pressing charges against someone.

“Maybe that victim doesn’t want to go through the criminal justice process,” said Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. “You know, it takes courage to be a victim. Think about it, a young woman on a college campus raped, sexually abused, attacked, beaten.

“Does she want to be victimized again in the criminal justice system? Because as a prosecutor I can tell you it doesn’t move that quickly. It can last for a year, likely two, maybe three and through a jury trial where she has to sit in front of a jury and tell that story all over again. Maybe she just wants that abuser to stay away.”

Another bill, House Bill 70, passed by the House would restore voting rights for felons convicted of non-violent crimes.

Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment, which had been championed by retired Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington in recent years. The Senate voted on an amended version of the bill with a five-year waiting period during last year’s legislative session, and a floor amendment by GOP Rep. Mike Harmon of Danville calling for a three-year waiting period died on a 37-57 vote.

Crenshaw left the General Assembly after last year’s session, and his successor, Rep. George Brown, signed on as a co-sponsor of HB 70.

“It is time for House Bill 70 and for Kentucky to come out of the dark ages,” said Brown, D-Lexington. “… The question bears reason to ask is how long does a youthful indiscretion equate to a lifetime sentence for the citizens of our state?”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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