Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Legislature had hits, misses

Cut in car tax didn't happen

BY Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Kentucky lawmakers left the State Capitol last week with a two-year budget, millions of dollars in new projects for their districts, a bill reforming workers' compensation and legislation allowing the Ten Commandments in schools.

        But legislators did not pass a promised cut in the car tax, bills related to abortion, or a measure that would have required a deposit on glass and plastic containers.

        And lawmakers are likely to be called back to Frankfort in January. Gov. Paul Patton said late last week that a special session he plans to convene will deal with more changes to workers' comp and possibly tax reform and other issues.

        Northern Kentucky lawmakers were in the thick of the biggest battle of the session — how to spend, fund and balance the state's two-year-budget. This is what they won for their constituents.

Worker's comp
        A bill made changes to reforms enacted three years ago. The bill, which came out of a committee chaired by Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, increases benefits, provides training for injured workers and streamlines bureaucracy in the system.

        Mr. Patton said some changes, including how coal miners with a breathing ailment called black lung are dealt with in the system, will have to be addressed in the special session.

        Several Northern Kentucky lawmakers were disappointed that none of the bills dealing with abortion — including legislation that would have established criminal and civil liability for anyone causing the death of a fetus — were called for a final House vote.

        The GOP-controlled Senate tacked five abortion-related amendments on bills, but leaders in the House, where Democrats hold the majority, refused to call the bills.

        “It's very frustrating when pro-life bills are just swept away without a vote,” said Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, who sponsored some of the bills.

Vehicle tax
        Rep. Paul Marcotte, R-Union, said he has heard frustration from his constituents that the General Assembly didn't pass a cut in the state tax on vehicles.

        “What makes people even more upset is that they gave us the authority to cut that tax when they passed a (constitutional amendment) in 1998,” Mr. Marcotte said.

        Voters also will decide in November if the General Assembly should meet every year or, as it does now, every two years.

Finished business
        • Early childhood funding: House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, said one of the most important bills passed by the General Assembly was Gov. Patton's early-childhood development initiative, which will use $56 million in federal tobacco settlement money to pay for a variety of programs designed to improve the health and intellectual development of children. Money will also go toward helping needy parents pay for child care, expanding immunizations and improving childrens' nutrition.

        “That was such an admirable effort,” Mr. Callahan said.

        • Crime: Mr. Callahan was a primary co-sponsor of one of the most notable pieces of legislation dealing with crime, a bill that lowers the blood alcohol level used to charge someone with drunken driving from .10 to .08.

        Other crime bills included the outlawing of so-called “date rape” drugs and a requirement that college campus police departments improve their methods of reporting and tracking crime.

        • Health care: Lawmakers cre ated a high-risk pool for chronically ill people who are not covered by an employer or group health plan. The pool will be funded with $33.8 million from the federal government's settlement with tobacco companies.

        The legislature also passed a measure, sponsored by Mrs. Stine, that requires insurance companies and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to promptly pay or contest health bill claims.

        • Education: Bills that require schools to close on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, allow parents to pre-pay their children's college tuition at current rates at Kentucky universities, expand adult education and literacy programs, and establish training funds for middle school math teachers were also approved.

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