Lawmakers Go Home After Raising Speed Limit, Minimum Wage

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Lawmakers concluded a 30-day legislative session on Tuesday, but not before tackling several issues, including raising the speed limit on interstate highways, increasing the minimum wage and passing a sweeping coal mine safety measure.

The Senate adjourned shortly after 10 p.m. EDT on Tuesday. The House was expected to follow suit shortly after 11 p.m. EDT. Hundreds of other initiatives fell to the wayside, including a proposal that would have required middle school girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher has already signed most of the major initiatives approved by lawmakers into law. He said several other important proposals didn't survive the legislative process.

"That's unfortunate," he said, "but it is part of the political process."

The speed limit on rural interstate highways and parkways will increase from 65 to 70 mph. State Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Paintsville, said the increased speed limits won't go into effect until after the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has conducted engineering studies to determine where the higher speeds will be safe.

Collins said the law excludes congested urban highways from the higher speed limit. The House specifically identified the routes that would be considered for higher speed limits. They include all the major interstate highways.

The minimum wage will increase from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 when the law takes effect in late June. In July 2008, it will increase to $6.55 an hour, and on July 1, 2009, it will rise to $7.25 an hour.

Kentucky's minimum wage increase came at a time when Congress is pondering a similar move. If the federal minimum hourly wage is increased more than Kentucky's minimum hourly wage, the legislation provides that Kentucky's minimum hourly wage will increase simultaneously by the same amount.

The mine safety law will require inspectors to double their visits to underground operations.

State inspectors will be required to conduct at least six inspections per year, up from the three inspections now required. Two of the annual inspections must focus on electrical work inside mines.

The legislation also calls for at least one member of every underground crew to have a detector to monitor for the explosive gas methane. Miners working alone also would have a detector.

The bill requires two medics to be on duty. Ventilation fans would always stay on except for maintenance. A vehicle would be kept near working crews to get injured miners to the surface quickly.

The bill follows one of the deadliest years in recent history for Kentucky coal miners. In all, 16 miners were killed in 2006, five in a methane gas explosion in Harlan County in May.

State Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said the mine safety bill and the minimum wage bill are among the most notable accomplishments of the legislative session.

"It tells the working people that we acknowledge and appreciate them and we want to work toward more parity in income levels," Webb said.

The cervical cancer legislation, which passed the House, died in the Senate after becoming politicized. It would have required a three-shot vaccination to protect girls from the human papilloma virus.

Kentucky has the 12th highest cervical cancer incidence rate nationally and the second-highest cervical cancer death rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill would have allowed parents or guardians to withhold the vaccinations for any reason without the need for a written, sworn statement. Forms allowing parents to opt out of the vaccinations would have been available at schools.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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