A bill that would allow Corbin to annex into portions of southern Laurel County where it has infrastructure was approved late Tuesday evening by the Kentucky House of Representatives by a vote of 62-25, and will be headed to Gov. Andy Beshear for his signature.
82nd Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, helped usher Senate Bill 274, which was sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, through the House Local Government Committee on Monday by a vote of 12 to one with two members passing, and then onto the House floor where it was called up for discussion at 11:14 p.m. Tuesday.
Tuesday was the last day that legislators could pass a bill and still have time this legislative session to override any vetoes by Gov. Andy Beshear.
Huff reiterated Stivers’ statements in the Senate noting that the bill would permit Corbin to annex only the area that is currently served by its utilities.
She noted that in the late 1960s, the American Greeting Corporation wanted to locate a plant in southern Laurel County, and Corbin officials bonded $40 million to fund the water and sewer project necessary to make this happen.
“Exit 29 on I-75 is a direct result of Corbin’s investment,” Huff told the House Tuesday evening. “All businesses located off the Exit 29 corridor are considered Corbin businesses with Corbin addresses, but are unable to officially become part of the city of Corbin due to an antiquated 1930s case law that states a city cannot annex into a county it was not officially chartered.”
“Because of Corbin’s unique geographic situation, this exit has not had the opportunity to be annexed omitting the opportunity for large, full service restaurants that require the opportunity to sell alcohol. As a result, the exit has been stagnant for decades.”
Huff added that the Exit 29 corridor has already lost an economic development opportunity, which would have generated 200 new jobs, because the property that the development would have been part of couldn’t be annexed into Corbin.
The bill was supported by the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Association of Firefighters, and the Magistrates and Commissioners Association. The Kentucky League of Cities took no stand regarding the bill, Huff noted.
Several Laurel County representatives spoke out in opposition of the bill.
“I rise in strong opposition to this power grab,” said 89th Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, who represents part of northern Laurel County. “This bill is simply an attempt at a land grab.”
Goforth noted that the London City Council, Laurel County Fiscal Court, Laurel County Chamber of Commerce, and several other Laurel County groups all oppose this legislation.
Goforth and others pointed out that they didn’t believe the bill should be voted upon while a lawsuit is currently pending in Laurel Circuit Court where Corbin is challenging London’s annexation of parts of the Exit 29 area.
Goforth asked that the bill be tabled until after the lawsuit is resolved, but that motion died by a vote of 48-21.
85th Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, who represents part of western Laurel County, noted that the legislation doesn’t really affect him whatsoever, but he noted he had been contact by 11 elected officials in Laurel County or London asking him to oppose this bill in addition to a couple dozen constituents making a similar request.
“I stand behind the officials in Laurel County … This is a local issue and I urge my colleagues to vote no today,” added 90th Rep. Derek Lewis, R-London who also represents part of eastern Laurel County.
86th Rep. Tom Smith, R-Corbin, who represents Knox County and a portion of Laurel County, countered that this was “important legislation” that needed to be passed “today.”
About one dozen legislators in all spoke out regarding the bill either prior to the vote, or to explain their vote afterwards.
Various representatives from outside southeastern Kentucky asked whether this legislation would impact the proposed horse racing track that Keeneland plans to build in Corbin, to which Huff replied that it would not and the track is slated to be located on the Knox County side of Corbin.
Huff added that if London is victorious in the lawsuit Corbin filed challenging London’s annexation of the area, then this legislation would be mute.
“It does seem to me this is something we should be in support of,” said 44th Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, of Jefferson County. “In eastern Kentucky, the need for jobs is very real.”
94th Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, of Letcher and Pike counties noted that she was swayed by comments that this could lead to investment in the area.
“I hope it will bring some commerce to eastern Kentucky,” Hatton said.
34th Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, of Jefferson County voted no on the bill noting she didn’t think local communities should be bringing their fights to Frankfort.
38th Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, of Jefferson County said she found the legislation troubling because, in part, it was being brought up at 11 p.m. on the last day bills could be passed with the ability to override a gubernatorial veto, and there was a lawsuit going on concerning the area in question.
(The bill had been scheduled to go to the House floor for a vote since Monday.)
Cantrell added that she also gives a lot of deference to local officials noting that numerous Laurel County officials were opposed to this bill.
About 11:47 p.m., House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, announced the results of the vote.
Corbin officials were happy with the vote.
“SB274 has passed the House and will go to the Governor’s desk! Thank you Senator Stivers, Representative Huff, and Representative Smith for all you’ve done to move our region forward! The Tri-County area is gonna be making some WAVES in the Bluegrass state!!,” Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus wrote on Facebook minutes after the vote was finalized.