FRANKFORT – Members of the Kentucky General Assembly returned to Frankfort this week for the beginning of a short session of the legislature, and state Rep. Fitz Steele, of Hazard, has prefiled several bills he hopes will be brought for a vote this year.
Steele told the Herald his top priority will be a bill relating to coal severance tax revenues that would return all of the severance tax to coal counties based upon the amount of coal produced.
In Perry County, which in the past has been the state’s No. 2 coal producer, coal severance represents a significant part of the county budget and has paid for things like waterline extension and funded local fire departments among others. Steele blamed what he called the “war on coal” for what has led to Perry and every other coal-producing counties to expect a major shortfalls in coal severance because receipts are well below normal levels.
“The war on coal has been so brutal to our area, that the receipts are so far down that we’re going to have to do something,” Steele said.
Steele compared coal severance to tobacco settlement money, which amounts to millions of dollars paid annually to Kentucky following a settlement with the tobacco industry in 1998. A good portion of those funds goes to tobacco counties.
And while millions of dollars in coal severance do return to the coal counties, roughly half goes into Kentucky’s general fund. Steele said he feels that only coal-producing counties like Perry should benefit from the severance tax revenues.
“That’s the reason that I filed this bill,” he said, “and there will be more bills to follow dealing with coal severance to fill the single-county coal severance back up, because there’s such a shortfall.”
Steele said he can’t predict the bill’s future in the General Assembly, but he added that he’ll begin discussing the legislation with other members of the state House this week.
Rep. Steele prefiled several other pieces of legislation as of press time, including one bill that would expand on Kentucky’s hunting laws regarding coyotes.
Though coyotes are not native to the state, the animal’s numbers are growing in Kentucky, and Steele said they are a nuisance. Hunters can already hunt coyotes year round, but Steele’s bill will allow for hunters to call or bait the animals during the nighttime as well. Hunters would be limited to the use of a 10 to 20-gauge shotgun, and his bill would not allow for the use of a spotlight.
“We have such a problem with coyotes across the whole state, that it’s time for something to be done about them, daytime and nighttime,” he said.
Steele has also prefiled two familiar bills that he filed last year, one a drug-related bill and the other would create a tax holiday.
The tax holiday bill would exclude certain school related items from the state sales tax during the first weekend of August each year as parents purchase these types of products before the new school year begins.
Several neighboring states, such as Tennessee, already have tax holidays, and Steele said it’s apparent that these states are seeing a lot of business from Kentucky residents that local businesses could be attracting with a similar tax break.
“We’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars (in business),” Steele said, adding that several local business leaders approached him about the bill before he originally filed it.
Another of Steele’s bills will seek tighter controls on a synthetic drug used in over-the-counter medications that in past years has been abused mostly by teenagers, he said.
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is widely used as a cough suppressant in many popular cough syrups, but can also be consumed for what Steele referred to as an alcohol like effect. When abused, potential side effects can include brain damage and even death.
Steele’s bill seeks to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing cough syrups containing DXM, and would require a valid ID to that shows proof of age.