With clock ticking toward sine die, Gov. Beshear urges lawmakers to pass heroin, gas tax bills

03/24/2015 12:23 PM

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear challenged lawmakers to put politics aside on Tuesday and pass comprehensive measures addressing the state’s heroin scourge and plummeting gas tax.

Beshear, speaking to reporters after a series of rapid-fire ceremonial bill signings, said the General Assembly needs “to get the job done today” on heroin and other unresolved topics as lawmakers prepare to adjourn sine die by midnight Tuesday.

The Democratic governor planned to continue talks with leading lawmakers in the final scheduled day of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers must “fish or cut bait,” Beshear said, adding that Kentuckians “are going to be very, very disappointed and may be disappointed at the polls the next time some of these folks come around if they don’t address this heroin epidemic right now.”

The Senate passed separate bills — House Bill 412 and House Bill 413 — Monday evening, one of which includes contentious measures like increased penalties for heroin traffickers, needle-exchange programs and a no-charge Good Samaritan provision while the other carves out those pieces. That action came once talks between conferees on Senate Bill 192 stalled after House members declined the Senate’s compromise on trafficking penalties over the weekend.

Beshear said he remains optimistic a comprehensive deal can be reached and bristled at a question on calling lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session if no such compromise is reached on heroin legislation.

“The last thing on my mind today is costing the taxpayers of this state an extra $60,000 a day in some kind of special session,” he said. “These folks have been up here for three months. They’ve had ample opportunity to get the job done.

“… They’re very close on a number of these bills. There is no reason and there should be no excuse for not acting today and getting bills on my desk that I can sign, so I don’t want to hear any talk about any special sessions.”

The governor also urged the legislature to pass a gas tax fix, a matter that has sparked debate behind closed doors on whether a plan to freeze the current rate would constitute a tax increase.

Advocates on boths sides have ramped up pressure as midnight nears, with the Transportation Cabinet warning lawmakers that the expected 5.1-cent-per-gallon drop in the gas tax will open a $250.4 million hole in the current road budget.

The Courier-Journal’s Tom Loftus reported Monday that one compromise under consideration would set a new gas tax floor at 26 cents per gallon. That’s lower than the current 27.6-cents-per-gallon rate but above the expected 22.1-cent-per-gallon rate that will take effect April 1 without action.

Beshear called the projected $250 million drop in gas tax receipts “unconscionable” given the state of Kentucky’s roadways after a harsh winter.

“I think the vast majority of the senators and representatives understand this issue,” he said.

“Some of them are allowing politics to get in the way of the right thing to do here, and they need to put politics aside today. They need to be thinking about their folks back home who need good roads to drive on, and the only way to do that is to take some action to preserve money that is produced by the gas tax.”


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