This past Tuesday, Governor Andy Beshear revealed his budget proposal, which sets the priorities for the next two years. For KCC, we had been laser-focused on two major items of concern: That the proposed budget remove the crippling “funding sweeps” from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, and that any proposals in the budget would also help support the goal of converting the transportation sector to cleaner electric vehicles (see KCC’s Green Transportation page for details).

We THANK YOU for responding to our request for contacting the Governor and asking him to “stop the sweeps” during the past several weeks.

  • Actions: Now we ask that you thank Governor Beshear for preventing the raiding of the state’s only fund for supporting our natural lands.

This by no means gets us out of the woods with this important source of funding, however. During the next few weeks, lawmakers could modify the Governor’s spending proposal, so we will particularly be watching for changes in house budget bill HB352. Meanwhile, YOU can help support land conservation funding by helping to promote the sale of “Nature’s Finest” license plates. The impact of the sweeps in previous years has contributed to the decline in sales of these plates, but plate funds are now protected from sweeps and are essential monies that the program needs.

One area where we were disappointed in the budget bill was how spending was allocated from the approximately $20 million in funds that the state will receive from the Volkswagen emissions settlement. Much of the funds have been earmarked toward the replacement of school busses—something that KCC supports, however we filed comments last year asking for the state to consider prioritizing electric fleets. Instead, the state chose to purchase what they are calling “clean diesel” vehicles. The Union of Concerned Scientists authored an excellent summary on electric vs. diesel vs. natural gas bus fleets and climate impacts in 2018, see story here.

Other Bills, and Events of note: Last Friday, we mentioned the filing of another “net metering” bill, HB323 (KCC Strong Support). This is a republican-driven bill which would allow a “phase in” of any new net metering rates approved by the Public Service Commission. All customer generators beginning service before a new net metering rate is approved will continue to be grandfathered for 25 years at the 1:1 credit, and all customer generators beginning service after the a new net metering rate is approved, but before December 31, 2024, will continue with the 1:1 credit until Dec. 31, 2029.

We also saw movement on HB44, which could impede the right of citizens to peacefully protest around what is being identified as “key infrastructure” such as pipelines.

This bill, as currently written, could stifle the ability of farmers to defend their properties from utilities and corporations wanting to take their property to build pipelines. Farmers and others should have the right to peacefully protest these pipelines, and this bill will impede that right for above-ground “key infrastructure.” Such protests are warranted, as in the last 20 years, pipeline incidents have killed five and injured more than 30 people in Kentucky according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. See  WFPL story here.  

We believe current laws address trespass and damage concerns. Overall, the penalties are too high in this bill, the language is too broad, there are too many unintended consequences, and the trade-offs are too uneven, especially when language would potentially allow for the criminalization of peaceful protests. If the bill cannot be defeated, KCC is asking for the following language changes:

  • Deleting Section 2(1)(b) at lines 25 and 26 in its entirety. The language “tampers with, impedes or inhibits operations of ” is too broad and vague, making that provision likely unconstitutional. Furthermore, such language would stifle peaceful protests and unreasonably interfere on property owners first amendment rights, especially with the threat of a felony looming. The existing penalties for trespass on these key infrastructure assets – Class A and Class B Misdemeanors – are the appropriate penalties for such trespass (See page 2, lines 19-20 of the bill).
  • Deleting Section 3 in its entirety (Line 3-7). “[K]nowingly compensate or renumerates a person” is unconstitutionally vague and will have a chilling effect on persons and entities supporting people who are peacefully protesting and exercising their first amendment rights. Again, we believe the existing penalties for trespass on these key infrastructure assets – Class A and Class B Misdemeanors – are the appropriate penalties for such trespass (page 2, lines 19-20 of the bill).
The bill did pass out of committee this week, but we anticipate a floor amendment which will address some, but likely not all, of the concerns with this bill. In the meantime:
  • Actions to take: Please contact all members of the House (1-800-372-7181 or email) and let them know that you oppose this unnecessary bill that could impede your first amendment rights to peacefully protest due to its vague language and excessive penalties. While amendments are proposed, the bill is simply unnecessary.