General Assembly off to slow start

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By Bryan Marshall

The 2014 session of the General Assembly has gotten off to a slow start, but discussions over issues and bills will no doubt heat up soon.
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, discuss several specific bills under consideration by lawmakers.

Gov. Steve Beshear recently gave his State of the Commonwealth address. What was your reaction to what he had to say?

Thayer: I think he laid out the difficulties we face with the current budget. I look forward to (this week) when he’s going to give us specific proposals regarding spending cuts as we dig into the budget process.

Linder: The last half of his speech, he kind of laid out a little bit of an agenda, so to speak. This was a little bit surprising to me, he said he was going to present a tax-reform packet to legislators. That was the first just about anybody (in Frankfort) had heard about it. Typically, when a governor has an initiative like this, they spend the previous year traveling the state trying to lay a foundation for whatever that initiative is. In the halls in Frankfort, there has been a little criticism of the governor for kind of springing something on the legislature at the last minute without going throughout the state and laying the foundation for tax reform.

Senate Bill 5 would help increase treatment options for heroin and stiffen penalties for trafficking in the drugs. What is your stance on the bill and why?
Thayer: SB 5 was the first bill the Senate passed this year. I voted for it. I am a strong supporter. It passed the Senate 36-0. I’m hopeful that the House will act on it quickly because we can’t waste anymore time trying to come up with better ways to deal with this heroin epidemic.

Linder: I think it’s very important. Unfortunately, the term used for the drug problem we deal with here in the legislature is called “whack a mole.” The legislature in the past before I was here dealt with oxycontin and those types of drugs. They’ve passed laws to kind of curb that abuse. Well, the next mole that popped up was prescription drug abuse. We’ve kind of whacked that mole. Now, we’ve got a heroin problem that’s popped up. What I’ve heard and what I think is the best argument to stiffening the penalties to dealers is we have weaker penalties than the state of Ohio. Therefore, it’s easier for heroin dealers to come across the river into Kentucky because the penalties if they get caught are not as strict. We’ve got to fix that.

House Bill 70 would allow Kentucky voters to restore voting rights to more than 180,000 non-violent felons across the state. Do you support this bill? Why or why not?

Thayer: I am opposed to this bill in its present form, but I may consider a version in the Senate where we add a five-year wait period before felons can get their voting rights back. That gives them an opportunity to immerse themselves in society and prove that they can stay out of trouble and be good citizens before they automatically get their voting rights restored.

Linder: It passed (Jan. 16) in the full House. I voted for it. I’m a firm believer that most Christians are imperfect people and we are forgiven people by God. I think there are people in our society who have made a mistake and they’ve paid their price. This is not a bill that they get their rights as soon as they walk out of prison. All paperwork has to be done. That means there is some time that passes between when they get out of jail and when they get their voting rights restored. The one thing that was not in the bill that I wish was is repeat offenders. I think the bill overall is good, but I would have liked to seen that maybe after a second or third of the same offense that those voting rights would not be restored that point.

House Bill 1 would raise testate minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour over a three-year period. Do you believe this bill should be approved? Why or why not?

Thayer: I’m opposed to HB 1 because it’s bad economic policy and will essentially cost jobs. As government increases the cost of doing business for companies, it will actually result in a job loss. Quite frankly, we have a lot of people looking for jobs here in Kentucky. We don’t want to take steps to make it harder for them to find jobs.

Linder: That’s one of those bills that sounds good on the surface. But, you’ve got to look under the surface and see the long-term effects. It will actually cost people jobs. As an example, there may be four people who work at a small business. If we raise the minimum wage, for that small business, to meet the raise of the minimum wage, they’re going to have to fire somebody and the other three get a raise. I’m not going to support the minimum wage increase simply because wages should be set by the market and not the government. When the government gets their hands into things, they mess things up.

What is another proposed bill that has not received as much publicity, but you feel Kentuckians should keep an eye on?

Thayer: We’ve got a bill that we’re going to take up that moves our gubernatorial elections to even-numbered years. It would save state and county governments millions of dollars. I believe it would also lead to increased voter turnout during the elections of our statewide offices. We’re also going to vote (this week) on SB 3, which I co-sponsored. That’s our pro-life bill that we pass every year that would require a woman to meet with their doctor face-to-face when considering an abortion. We believe more education is needed in these instances. It will pass the Senate with a wide majority and I hope the House will take it up this year.

Linder: I have filed a bill (HB 196) that would allow juniors and seniors in high school to access KEES money to help pay for dual credits. The dual credits are where juniors and seniors can actually take college classes while they’re in high school. It’s at a reduced cost compared to if they were in college. This bill would allow them to access that KEES money, money that is accumulating for them due to good grades and ACT scores that they will use in college.