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2014 GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Priorities are budget and eminent domain

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Higdon, Floyd say Bluegrass Pipeline a big issue for Nelson

By Randy Patrick

Protecting Nelson County landowners from the Blue Grass Pipeline is state Sen. Jimmy Higdon’s number one priority in the 2014 regular session of the legislature that begins next Tuesday.

The Lebanon lawmaker and his fellow Republican, Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, have pre-filed identical bills in the House and Senate that would prevent the companies constructing the natural gas liquids pipeline, Williams and Boardwalk Partners — or any company not regulated by the state Public Service Commission — from condemning landowners’ property in order to put the pipeline through it.

Higdon and Floyd also have companion emergency provisions that would the first bill retroactive to Oct. 1, 2013.

Both would amend KRS 278.502, which grants eminent domain authority to use eminent domain to build pipelines for “transporting or delivering oil and gas, including oil and gas products, in public service,” but it does not define public service.

Attorneys for the Williams and the state Energy and Environment Cabinet differ over whether the eminent domain right would extend to pipelines intended to carry natural gas liquids, which are used in the manufacture of plastics and other products, rather than as an energy source.

The Public Service Commission regulates energy utilities, including natural gas and oil pipelines, but not natural gas liquids pipelines.

Higdon said his bill would also exclude from the right of eminent domain companies that do not pay a severance tax.

Higdon said the only county in his district that would be affected by the pipeline’s path is Nelson County. Casey and Jefferson counties wouldn’t be affected, so most residents there aren’t concerned.

“You get outside of the counties affected by this, and there’s little information or awareness of this project at all,” he said.

The senator said he thinks Boardwalk and Williams “have decided not to come through” his home county of Marion, so there is less concern there than there was.

In Nelson County, though, it’s a big issue, and based on those concerns, he has it at the top of his to-do list for the 2014 session.

Floyd, in a phone interview, said Friday afternoon the eminent domain legislation is also a priority for him.

“I fully intend to press that one,” he said.

Floyd said he has discussed the issue with Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has also introduced an eminent domain bill that is somewhat different from his.

“What I would like to do is combine my eminent domain bill with his bill, which would probably be the main bill,” Floyd said. “If we can get it through the House, then I think passage by both chambers is assured.”

Higdon, too, said he expects the final bill to be a combination of Tilley’s bill with the companion bills he and Floyd have filed.

Higdon and Floyd were asked by the Standard in an email to say what their top three priorities would be for the session.

“Priority one is the eminent domain piece for this district,” Higdon said. “The next big thing is the budget. The third priority would be the a whole multitude of things. I don’t know that I have really narrowed it down.”

Floyd replied in an email Thursday:

“My three top priorities for this session:

• Be available to constituents

• Do my best to make sure constituents know ‘the rest of the story’

• Pass a budget”

On Friday, he clarified the “rest of the story” comment by explaining that in his columns and in his Saturday coffees with constituents, he tries not only to tell what legislation would do but go into more detail, explain the motives behind it, tell where he stands on it if he has taken a position, and “try to give a story” about the bill.

Higdon said the budget has to be a priority because money is going to be tight this year, despite a better-than-expected revenue forecast going into the new year and beyond.

In 2012, for the first time, Kentucky’s state government took in more than $9 billion, and it is expected to go higher. But the Affordable Care Act, which expands the Medicaid rolls, allocating more money to the state and local employees’ pension funds under an agreement worked out last year, and channeling more money into elementary and secondary education will demand all of the new money.

“Our revenues are growing, they’re just not growing fast enough to deal with all these things that are thrown at us,” Higdon said. “Basically, we’re going to have to priorities. The needs are unlimited and the resources are limited.”

Floyd said that passing a budget on time is “job one in any even-year session.”

The representative said he and fellow legislators had a “good briefing” from the state Consensus Forecasting Group, and his take on the situation mirrored Higdon’s.

“While revenue is anticipated to grow, the demand for revenue outstrips what is anticipated,” he said.

Floyd said he thinks the commitment legislators made to state and local retirees regarding their pensions “will be fulfilled.”

“And standing right behind them will be those who are crying for more funding in education, and rightly so, and I think that will be satisfied,” he said.

“Everybody’s been cut over the last four budgets,” he mentioned, so it isn’t surprising that there are many who are “waiting in line for the additional revenue.”

Higdon said he and Floyd have scheduled a joint town hall-style meeting with constituents at 8 a.m. on Jan. 16 in the Nelson County Fiscal Court’s meeting room in the Welcome Center (the old courthouse). He also urged constituents to call the legislative message line, which is open until 11 a.m. on nights the legislature is in session. The toll-free number is 1-800-372-7181.

“We certainly encourage people to stay in touch with us and give us a call,” the senator said.

Floyd said he will be doing his Saturday coffee meetings with constituents differently during this session. For one thing, they’ll be at 9 a.m. instead of 10. And instead of establishing the location of each meeting at the beginning of the session, he’ll announce them throughout the session based in part one where he gets requests to meet.

The first Saturday coffee, he said, will be Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. at Tom Pig’s in Bardstown.