By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
A much-watched bill to limit the use of eminent domain by pipeline companies easily passed the House Friday while some other controversial bills remained in a holding pattern.
The House passed Hopkinsville Democratic Rep. John Tilley’s bill which would prohibit companies seeking to construct a natural gas liquids pipeline across parts of Kentucky from invoking the power to take private property against the owner’s wishes for its route.
The Williams Company and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners want to connect parts of an existing natural gas pipeline with new construction to transport NGLs, ethane, propane, butane and other by-products of natural gas.
The companies have been negotiating for easements with private property owners but have said they can invoke the principle which allows the taking of private property for public uses. Others, including the Attorney General, Governor and Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet say eminent domain cannot be used for such projects.
That’s why, Tilley said Friday, his bill is needed “to clarify” the law which he contends never included NGLs.
He said the law will not prevent construction of the pipeline but will prevent the companies from “threatening” private property owners with eminent domain.
“Our neighbors are being threatened with: ‘Negotiate with us on our terms or we’ll take your property anyway,’” Tilley said.
The bill would be retroactive to January to prevent the companies from “rushing to the courthouse” to file eminent domain actions before the law takes effect, Tilley explained. It also includes an emergency clause to make it effective upon final passage and the signature of the governor.
Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, offered an amendment to remove the retroactive clause but it failed to pass. House Bill 31 then passed 75 to 16 and will now go to the Senate. Boardwalk is headquartered in Owensboro.
Mike McMahon, Senior Vice President of Boardwalk, said the company is disappointed by the House action which he said “could bring significant harm to future economic development.” He encouraged the Senate to reconsider the House action.
In other action Friday, the House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, to allow that city to increase its transient room tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent to finance the renovation of Rupp Arena where the University of Kentucky plays basketball and the city’s convention center.
Crenshaw said the bill would increase the cost of a room in Lexington by only $3 per night but would generate $3.5 million annually. As Lexington Mayor Jim Gray who has promoted the renovations project watched from the gallery, Crenshaw’s bill passed 52-49.
Still awaiting action by both chambers is a constitutional amendment to allow local governments to submit to voter referendum a time-limited, project-specific 1 percent local sales tax. Both Gray and especially Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer have pushed for the bill but some lawmakers are leery of anything which might be characterized as a tax increase in an election year.
Stumbo opposed the measure for most of the session but said Thursday he’s been persuaded by Gov. Steve Beshear to support it and is now trying to round up 60 votes which are required to pass an amendment and put it on this fall’s ballot.
He said Friday he’s still counting votes. Asked how many he has, Stumbo said, “Not enough.” He needs several Republican votes to get to 60, because there are only 54 Democrats in the House and several of them oppose the measure, including Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville.
With time running out in the 60-day session — Friday was day 51 — several pieces of major legislation await action by one or the other of the chambers.
Topping that list is the budget which the House passed last week and which Senate budget committee chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said will be taken up by his committee on Monday. It could go to the Senate floor as early as Tuesday but it won’t be the same as the House version and the two chambers will have to appoint a conference committee to work out a compromise.
Other bills waiting action by one chamber include a bill to restore voting rights to ex-felons who complete their sentences; one to largely de-regulate telephone and telecommunications services; an amendment to shorten the legislative calendar; and a minimum wage bill.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.