By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT Don’t put too much faith in all the professions of bi-partisanship coming out of the state capitol these days.
With the passage of Tuesday’s filing deadline for this year’s legislative elections, there will be more frequent displays by members of both parties trying to gain a partisan advantage on issues going into the election season.
On Thursday Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, took to the floor to say, “It bothered me,” to see Gov. Steve Beshear as an invited guest of President Barack Obama during Tuesday evening’s State of the Union speech.
Stivers has made it a point publicly to work with Beshear in a more cooperative manner since becoming Senate President and has received credit for doing so from Beshear, Democrats, his own party and many in the media.
Stivers said the Obama administration is “strangling my region of the state” with what Stivers and many coal industry supporters contend is the administration’s anti-coal environmental policies, even reminding the other Senators and press that Beshear once announced in a State of the Commonwealth he wanted federal regulators “to get off our backs.”
But Stivers wasn’t finished. He then launched into a critique of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, quoting numbers and anecdotes which he said showed what a disaster the law is for the country and for the state.
When he finished, Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, responded by saying there is nothing the Kentucky Senate can do to repeal the law but it could take action to make it work better in Kentucky. Palmer was followed by Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who commended Stivers’ defense of coal but then pointed out that Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee “came out against mountaintop removal.”
That should have been a clear signal the speeches were more about partisan advantage than substance, but it didn’t prevent several other senators from taking to the floor to press their party’s side. In all, the debate took more than an hour.
When the Senate finally got around to the business before it on the orders of the day, it passed Senate Bill 99, the so-called “AT&T bill,” because it is supported by the giant communications company and others in the communications industry.
Sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, the measure has twice previously passed the Senate but failed in the Democratic controlled House and would largely deregulate the industry in urban areas.
Companies like AT&T, Cincinnati Bell and Windstream want the freedom to move into the wireless and Internet protocol or IP communications. But critics fear those companies will no longer guarantee land line service, especially in rural areas and to older customers.
While much of the service buying market moves to wireless services, landlines remain more reliable and frequently preferred by older customers.
Hornback, however, said most of those concerns have been addressed in this year’s bill: the companies must continue to provide land lines to those who have them in rural areas. They would be free to offer alternative service, however, to new or first-time customers in those areas and would not be required to offer land lines in exchanges of 15,000 or more housing units.
In the end, the bill passed with far less debate than in previous years with four senators voting no: Democrats Denise Harper Angel of Louisville and Robin Webb of Grayson and Republicans Stan Humphreys of Cadiz and Albert Robinson of London.
Robinson said he actually favors the bill but his constituents “overwhelmingly” wanted him to vote no and he’d promised to do so.
“I’m voting the way the people of my district have overwhelmingly told me,” Robinson said. “But I believe they are wrong because AARP has deceived them.”
AARP, which advocates on behalf of retired persons, opposes the bill. The bill now goes to the House.
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.