Still miffed at this year’s heroin flop, Stivers hopes politics won’t doom bill in 2015

12/31/2014 02:49 PM

Nothing disappointed Senate President Robert Stivers more last session, or any for that matter, than watching the clock tick toward sine die as a bipartisan heroin bill met its unexpected demise across the Capitol.

Stivers unsuccessfully asked Gov. Steve Beshear to call a special session with a resolution within reach, and the Manchester Republican says he hopes politics and “pride of authorship” won’t delay or derail the 2015 session’s heroin bill.

But that may be easier said than done with a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Sen. Chris McDaniel of Taylor Mill, the lead sponsor of a pre-filed bill closely resembling this year’s heroin legislation crafted by retiring Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate. Democratic Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat running for governor alongside House Majority Caucus Chairwoman Sannie Overly, backed this year’s heroin bill.

Conway, however, has said he will not support a particular piece of legislation, instead laying out criteria for a heroin fix supported by law enforcement, while Tilley worked with McDaniel and two other lawmakers on cobbling together a compromise. Tilley has advocated for needle-exchange programs as part of the heroin legislation, but some have balked at the idea.

For Stivers, lead sponsors don’t matter as long as lawmakers deal with the growing drug issue. He said he expects the Senate will work quickly to move its version of the bill to the House and start seeking a compromise, which he believes came close with this year’s Senate Bill 5.

“That which we can’t reach a consensus on we need to wait for another day,” Stivers said.

The Senate president said he didn’t “want to poison the well” by declaring one piece of legislation or another the heroin bill.

“I know — and again, I’m just dealing in reality — that Chris McDaniel has worked on this and that he’s involved, but he was heavily involved in it last year, and he’s a candidate for lieutenant governor,” Stivers said.

“Hopefully people will say he’s here and I truly believe Chris is doing this because he believes in it and it’s not something that’s a resume builder, but if the House wants to treat it that way, well, we can look to other avenues of accomplishing our goals. But we want to see the results of a bill and not bound to the pride of authorship delaying something that should have been passed a year ago.”

Other priorities

Despite exceptionally long odds, Stivers said Senate Republicans will unveil a tax reform proposal as part of the chamber’s top legislative agenda during next year’s session.

Stivers said he expects “a lot of discussion” on tax reform in the next two sessions as the state elects a new governor in 2015.

“Do I believe there will actually be any tax reform from that perspective? No, I don’t. Let’s just be candid about that,” he said.

Still, Stivers said the topic shouldn’t die, especially with a new gubernatorial administration taking office before the 2016 session. Gov. Steve Beshear’s tax reform commission, empaneled after his re-election in 2011, didn’t spark an overhaul of Kentucky’s outdated tax system, but a number of ideas from the commission have been implemented throughout the years, such as generating $120 million for state pension payments and repealing a tax on aging bourbon barrels.

The next governor, Stivers said, should have an upper hand in advocating for tax reform.

“This is really a daunting task, and I think it’s going to take somebody that comes in with very good political capital, which will be right after you just got elected, and sit down and try to put together a mechanism that will be fair and proportional and send a message that Kentucky is open to create jobs,” he said.

Other high priorities outlined by Stivers include education and job creation, with some previously considered pieces like charter schools and right-to-work legislation again on the table. He mentioned an interest in long-distance learning opportunities for Kentucky’s schools as part of “a plethora of ideas that will deal with education initiatives.”

Warren County became the first county to circumvent the legislature and pass a local right-to-work ordinance, an issue feverishly opposed by labor groups but touted by many conservatives as a potential economic boon. Eldon Renaud, president of Bowling Green’s United Auto Workers Local 2164, called Warren County’s ordinance “an anti-union movement, nothing more” and said the fiscal court didn’t have the authority to enact such a measure.

Simpson and Fulton counties have also considered right-to-work ordinances, and Stivers said he’s heard of “close to a dozen counties” that are looking to follow suit.

Stivers said he expects the Warren County’s ordinance will pass muster in court, though a challenge would likely culminate in the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The political battle has been fought in Kentucky’s legislature, with little chance of the Democrat-led House passing a right-to-work bill.

“I don’t think it will prod us because we’re already there,” Stivers said. “I think you have to ask the speaker if he’s going to be doing things that are going to create opportunities to create jobs.”

Stivers, however, did not say which issue will be designated Senate Bill 1 in 2015.

“What the Republicans want to do, and I think it’s going to be a theme that we’re going to have, is creating Kentucky jobs and having quality Kentucky families, and when we come out with our priorities and our legislative initiatives, it’s going to reflect that,” he said.

Best chances

A number of issues will cross the legislative finish line in next year’s 30-day session, but beyond heroin, Stivers sees bipartisan middle ground on a number of high-profile topics that have stalled in recent legislative sessions, particularly dating violence and telecommunications modernization.

Stivers said he has worked with Tilley and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, on a civil protective order that would cover domestic disputes between individuals in dating relationships.

He prefers creating a new civil protective order rather than making dating partners eligible for emergency and domestic protective orders.

“People say there are not protections for a young lady or a young man who are in a dating situation if violence occurs or is threatened or fear takes place. Well, there is,” Stivers said. “It’s called a criminal warrant. Everything you would allege to get an EPO (emergency protective order) is the same thing you would allege to get a terroristic threatening, harassment, assault warrant, wanton endangerment.

“All the same things are the same things that would be alleged, but what this does is it would allow, and the theory, the concept is that if you don’t fall within that definition of the domestic realm … you are finding another mechanism other than a criminal charge to give you some protections.”

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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