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Teacher Protesters Worry As Kentucky Tax Bill Hammered Out Behind Closed Doors

Liz Schlemmer

Leaders of the Kentucky House and Senate have begun meeting behind closed doors to hammer out a final version of a bill that re-opens the two-year tax bill that passed last year.

A “free conference committee” is created when the two legislative chambers disagree on a final version of a bill. The process gives lawmakers wide latitude to make other additions to legislation.

But opponents of a separate bill that would give tax credits to people who make donations that go to private school scholarships are worried that the larger bill will wind up including the credit language.

Senate President Robert Stivers, the Senate’s leader and one of the lawmakers in committee, declined to weigh in on what ends up in the final version of the tax bill, saying that would be “pure speculation”

“There’s a lot of things that could appear, there’s a lot of things that may not appear,” Stivers said. “We did not have a discussion about it in the conference committee last night. That’s just where we are.”

The legislature normally considers budget and tax bills in even-numbered years and doesn’t deal with them in odd-numbered years, when it requires more votes to pass such legislation.

But House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steve Rudy proposed House Bill 354 this year. It would restore a tax exemption for nonprofit admission tickets that was deleted last year and creates several corporate tax exemptions.

The Senate passed its own version of the bill that would restore the state’s policy of taxing net gambling winnings instead of gross winnings.

The disagreement means that leaders of each chamber will hammer out their differences in the free conference committee.

With only five more working days in this year’s legislative session, the bill could become a vehicle for other proposals — a practice that has been used in previous years.

House Bill 205, the legislation dealing with scholarship credits, is one of a handful of education and pension-related bills that have triggered protests from teachers in recent weeks.

Because it deals with taxes, the scholarship credit bill would also need to meet the 60-vote threshold in order to pass. House Majority Floor Leader Bam Carney, the bill’s sponsor, said earlier this week that reaching the 60-vote threshold would be “difficult.”

Gov. Matt Bevin has indicated he would sign the bill if it passed.

Jefferson County Public Schools has canceled classes twice in the last week after a large number of teachers called in sick to protest in Frankfort. Last week a handful of other school districts canceled classes as well.

The next meeting of the free conference committee on House Bill 354 will be after the House and Senate adjourn on Thursday.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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