Bills bottleneck in legislature's final week

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Associated Press

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 9:02 AM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 25 at 9:02 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The federal government is holding an estimated $200 million of Kentuckians' money, and state treasurer Todd Hollenbach wants it back.

The Democrat is pushing legislation in the state General Assembly that would reclassify about $200 million worth of unclaimed U.S. savings bonds, making the state of Kentucky the official owner of the money - modeled after similar legislation in Kansas.

The bill passed unanimously in the Republican-controlled state Senate last week. But its fate in the House is uncertain. It is one of 259 bills that are in limbo as state lawmakers enter the final week of the 2014 legislative session. Of the 824 bills filed this year, only 26 have passed both bodies and eight have become law - a byproduct of Democrats controlling the House and Republicans controlling the Senate.

"Anything perceived to be of importance to one chamber is kept (from passing)," said Gene McLean, a veteran statehouse lobbyist. "You have 60 legislative days and as you've witnessed not much has happened, nothing really of significance. And everything comes down to the end and then you see a lot of trading back and forth. I don't think anybody ever perceived that it should work that way, but it's just kind of the political reality."

Kentucky is one of five states - including Iowa, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia - where political control is split among the House and Senate. Nebraska has a nonpartisan, unicameral legislature.

Kentucky lawmakers have one week to pass a $20 billion biennial budget, a $4.5 billion biennial plan to improve the state's roads and bridges and a bill setting state revenues for the next two years that includes a gas tax increase in the House version. The Senate passed its version of the spending plans on Monday, while the revenue bill is likely to pass on Wednesday.

Also pending is:

-HB.70: a bill that would restore voting rights to convicted felons. The bill gained national attention when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul testified before a Senate committee about it. Different versions have passed the House and Senate, but the two sides have yet to work out a compromise.

-HB.1: a bill that would increase the minimum wage. It has passed the House but not the Senate.

-HB.31: a bill that would ban private natural-gas companies from seizing private land for pipeline projects. The bill passed the House last week.

-SB.5: a bill that would increase penalties for high-volume heroin dealers. The bill has passed the Senate.

-SB.5: a bill that would stop state lawmakers from increasing their public pension benefits by taking a high-paying state job toward the end of their careers. The bill has passed the Senate.

"I'm optimistic that we will look back on this session as a productive one," House Speaker Greg Stumbo wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "I think you will see agreements on legislation battling the heroin epidemic, improving the state's juvenile justice system and giving our schools some relief for their snow days. It's too soon to say what will happen beyond that."

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said there is always a flurry of activity in the last week of session, adding: "But we don't want to have too much flurry."

Hollenbach said if the bill pertaining to the estimated $200 million in savings bonds is passed, it will enable him to track down the bonds' rightful owners and return the money to them. If the owners can't be found, the state government would keep the money to help plug some of the $1.6 billion in budget cuts since the recession.

"This is one that makes a lot of sense and there is not really a good reason I can think of not to proceed with it," Hollenbach said. "It's just a question of is there too much trying to come through the pipeline at the same time so this one might not come out on the other end."

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