Kentucky Lawmakers Go Home after Adopting Key Safety Measures

April 18, 2008

Children will be barred from operating thrill rides at amusement parks and street carnivals in Kentucky in the wake of a legislative session that ended Wednesday.

The General Assembly approved legislation that requires people hired to operate the rides – whether Ferris wheels or roller coasters – to be at least 18 years old. The move came less than a year after a grisly accident that severed the feet of a girl at Six Flags-Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville. A 16-year-old was operating the ride at the time.

While hundreds of other initiatives fell to the wayside during the legislative session that began in January, lawmakers salvaged some key safety measures, including one signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear on Wednesday that requires children under 7 to ride in automobile booster seats.

“There’s a lot of good things that came out of this session,” Beshear told reporters on Wednesday morning after signing legislation aimed at opening up private land to public recreational uses like horseback riding and hiking, a major initiative for the Democratic administration.

Beshear also signed a bill into law Tuesday banning what he described as “potentially deadly” devices that vaporize alcoholic beverages so that people can inhale the intoxicating fumes. The devices, which look like asthma inhalers, had already been banned in more than 20 other states, including Tennessee, home to Jack Daniel’s whiskey, and California, the nation’s leading wine producer.

The laws take effect in July.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that holds teachers, priests and others in positions of authority more accountable for child sexual abuse by increasing penalties and extending the statute of limitations on bringing charges.

Another measure Beshear signed this week will protect students from being bullied by classmates by changing the legal definition of harassment to include student behavior that causes physical harm, intimidation or humiliation to fellow students.

Some of Beshear’s top issues didn’t clear the legislative process, including a proposal to legalize up to 12 casinos in the state. The measure cleared a House committee but was never called up for a floor vote.

Beshear said allowing casinos to open, then taxing them, could have raised up to $600 million a year for the state budget. If lawmakers had approved the proposal, voters would have had an opportunity to ratify or reject the decision in a ballot referendum.

Lawmakers also rejected Beshear’s call to increase the state’s cigarette tax to $1 a pack to generate about $200 million a year to help offset the state’s financial problems. Economists are projecting a $900 million shortfall in the state budget over the next two years.

State Sen. Joey Pendleton, D-Hopkinsville, said the state’s financial problems will become apparent in the near future, especially when human service programs have to be cut for the poor and elderly.

“There’s a lot of pain with this budget,” he said Wednesday.

Beshear said the cigarette tax and the casino proposal could have eased the state’s financial woes.

“We’re left with a budget that is going to be very tight and difficult to work with,” he said.

Lawmakers also adjourned without approving a Beshear proposal to toughen ethical standards for the governor and other high-ranking state officials. The proposal, amended in weeks of debate and negotiations, would have barred elected official and top executive branch employees from accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors. A proposal aimed at protecting the state’s pension program for public employees also failed to pass.

House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the legislature simply ran out of time to agree on those proposals. Beshear wasn’t happy with that. He talked Wednesday of “dysfunction” in the legislature.

“It’s gotten so partisan that it’s difficult to get anything done,” Beshear said. “It seems that many times the partisanship trumps good government.”

One of the Beshear administration’s legislative victories involved the bill aimed at boosting recreational activities. First Lady Jane Beshear championed the bill in the legislature, leading the governor to muse on Wednesday that he should make her his chief legislative aide.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said during a Capitol ceremony that the measure passed both the House and Senate without a single dissenting vote.

“Once Election Day is over, we must come together to govern for the betterment of our people, and that’s exactly what we did in this situation,” Mongiardo said.

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