This week at the state capitol

FRANKFORT — Taxes, felony expungement, and election laws were among the high-profile issues under the spotlight this week as the General Assembly’s 2019 session neared its final day.

This week was the busiest of the year at the state capitol as lawmakers worked into the evening to put the final touches on bills that they wanted to get across the finish line by the end of the night on March 14, their final working day before the start of a veto recess. The recess runs to March 28, when lawmakers will return to the Capitol for the session’s final day.

Bills that took steps closer to becoming law between March 12 and March 14 include measures on the following topics:

Felony expungement. Legislation to expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records was delivered to the governor’s office after a 36-1 final vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 57 would expand discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies, except those that involve a breach of public trust, sex offenses, crimes against children and violent crimes that may cause serious bodily injury or even death. The bill also outlines how the state would handle expungement requests for crimes committed before 1975 when Kentucky changed its penal code.

Abortion. Senate Bill 9, known as the “fetal heartbeat bill,” is ready to be delivered to the governor following a 71-19 House vote. The legislation would prohibit abortion once an unborn child’s heartbeat is detectable.

Another measure, known as the “Human Life Protection Act” was delivered to the governor’s office following its 32-5 approval in the Senate. House Bill 148 would outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases if the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade is reversed. The bill would allow exceptions to save the life of a mother.

Student vaping. A Senate panel gave its approval to a bill that would ban the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes by students, school personnel, and visitors at Kentucky’s schools. The legislation, House Bill 11, would give local boards of education three years to opt out of the ban if they choose. The measure now goes to the full Senate to see if that chamber wants to consider the legislation on March 28, the final day of the legislative session.

Taxes. House Bill 354 would change a number of tax laws and includes measures to provide relief to Kentucky banks and nonprofit organizations. The measure started off as a proposal to clarify that nonprofits and charitable organizations do not owe taxes on charitable admissions sales. Along the way, it was amended to include banking tax reforms meant to help the state’s smaller community banks by removing the banks’ franchise tax and instead require payment of the state corporate income tax. The legislation would also exempt income earned by National Guard members while in training, lower the property tax on heavy equipment rental, allow taxation of remote sales by online retailers, and exclude poultry from a sales tax on veterinary services. The measure has been delivered to the governor’s office following the Senate’s and House’s agreement to a final version of the legislation proposed by a free conference committee.

Crime. A bill has been delivered to the governor that would increase penalties against strangulation by making it a felony. Senate Bill 70 received final approval in the Senate on a 35-1 vote. If the measure becomes law, Kentucky would join 47 other states with such laws.

Midwives. Legislation is on the way to the governor after the Senate accepted amendments to a proposal to create recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives. Senate Bill 84 would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.

Elections. House Bill 114, approved by the House on a 56-39 vote, would require candidates for state offices and most local offices to officially declare their candidacies via “statement-of-candidacy” forms no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline is April 1. With amendments that were added to the bill, the measure would also remove the Secretary of State as a voting member of the State Board of Elections and would make it a misdemeanor if an election official willfully misuses the state’s voter registration roster. Since the bill contains an emergency clause, it would take effect immediately upon being signed into law.

Citizens can share feedback with state lawmakers on the issues confronting Kentucky by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181