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January 9, 2015

This Week at the State Capitol

General Assembly wraps up a busy first week of 2015 session

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT – Though regular sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly are yearly events, in many ways each one signals a fresh start.

That was clear this week as the 2015 legislative session convened with numerous new faces in both the House and Senate. The larger-than-usual freshmen class includes six new senators (two of whom previously served in the House) and 11 new House members (one of whom previously served in that chamber.)

The beginning of the session also started anew the journey scores of bills will follow toward become state law. The starting line is the same for all bills: introduction in a legislative chamber. That starting line was a crowded place this week with more than 250 bills filed in the Senate and House combined.

Political observers often pay particularly close attention to the first few bills filed in the House and Senate – a good sign of measures are top priorities of chamber leaders. In the House, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow local-option sales taxes was filed as House Bill 1. The measure would let voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to help permit communities to implement a temporary sales tax of a penny or less to raise money for a specific project.

At the other end of the Capitol, Senate Bill 1 got off to a fast start by earning approval of the Senate during the first week of the session. The measure would make Kentucky a right-to work state, meaning that people could work at unionized shops without paying dues to an organized labor group. Supporters argue that right-to-work states have a strong edge in job creation while opponents question the quality of life in right-to-work states. SB 1 now goes to the House for consideration.

Although numerous bills started moving through the legislative process this week, there was also much attention on what’s known as the “organizational” work that takes place in the first week of odd-year sessions. Committee assignments were made, rules of procedure were adopted and chamber leaders were selected.

There was a mix of both change and continuity in leadership elections. The top leaders in both the Senate and House remain the same with this week’s re-election of Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo to their leadership posts. But there were changes in each chamber’s “pro tem” positions – the leadership spots with duties to preside when a chamber’s top leader is absent or unavailable.

Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, was selected as Senate President Pro Tempore. Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, -- a former House Speaker – was chosen to serve as House Speaker Pro Tempore.

Democratic and Republican caucuses also announced their leadership lineups in each chamber.

In the Senate, leaders are: Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown; Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones of Pikeville; Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum of Louisville; Minority Caucus Chair Gerald Neal; Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon and Minority Whip Julian Carroll.

The House lineup includes: Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, Minority Floor Leader Jeffrey Hoover of Jamestown; Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris; Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee of Lexington; Majority Whip Johnny Bell of Glasgow; and Minority Whip Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

The first week of the session also brought House and Senate members together for a joint session in which they heard Gov. Steve Beshear’s final State of the Commonwealth address – a one-hour speech with a signature line declaring: “Kentucky is back, and we’re back with a vengeance.”

The governor outlined his goals for the legislative session in his speech, just as numerous lawmakers have in talks throughout the state and in meetings and interviews since they returned to Frankfort this week. One issue all seem to be talking about is the toll heroin is taking on Kentuckians. Members of both the House and Senate have looked at approaches in dealing with this issue, with one approach already put into the form of legislation approved in a legislative chamber during the first week of the session.

SB 5, approved by the Senate, calls for stronger punishments for heroin dealers as well as better support for treatment programs. The bill also provides for administration of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of an overdose, by first responders and provides immunity for those individuals and their employers when the drug is administered. The legislation now goes to the House for consideration.

Now that lawmakers have closed out the first week of the session, they are scheduled to return to the Capitol on Feb. 3. That makes this an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues lawmakers will be voting on during the remainder of the session. There are several easy ways citizens can stay in touch with the General Assembly.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305.

You may also write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.

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January 9, 2015

Senate approves informed consent legislation

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed an abortion-related measure by a 30-5 vote today.

Senate Bill 4, introduced by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, calls for a face-to-face meeting between the pregnant woman and a healthcare provider at least 24-hours before an abortion takes place.

Adams said current law states a physician, licensed nurse, physician assistant or social worker must verbally inform the woman of the medical risks and abortion alternatives at least 24-hours before an abortion, but it does not specify that the information be given in a face-to face meeting. She said it is sometimes done via a recorded telephone message.

“The importance of a face-to-face medical consultation prior to consenting to a surgical procedure is a widely accepted medical standard of care – and Kentucky woman deserve no less,” Raque said.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said abortion-related measures always prompt a lot of discussion about women’s rights but not about a baby’s rights.

“Somebody has to be the voice of those children … ,” he said. “Life begins at conception.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he was compelled to publicly explain his vote since he was the only medical doctor currently serving as a Senator. He said informed consent is basically an ethics doctrine.

“I don’t see how anyone could possibly want to restrict this from an individual,” he said. “Informed consent should be looked on as a process rather than a signature … .”

Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, voted for the bill but complained legislators “never include daddies’ rights” in abortion-related measures.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, explained why she voted against the bill.

“This bill is just another annual assault on women’s right to make a personal decision,” she said. “It is demeaning to all women and particularly burdensome on working women and women in rural areas. Politics don’t belong in the exam room.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, was also against the bill.

“I don’t know why it is we have to impose upon these women a guilt trip … ,” he said.

The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

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January 9, 2015

Senate approves proposal to increase oversight of administrative regulations

FRANKFORT – The state Senate today passed a bill that its supporters said would curtail overreaching administrative regulation from being enacted while the General Assembly is not in session.

“No matter if the governor is a Republican or Democrat, we don’t need an emperor in Frankfort,” Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington said in support of the bill. “We need a two-party system with three branches.”

She was among 24 senators who voted for the legislation, designated Senate Bill 2. Eleven senators voted against it.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said the legislation is a proposed constitutional amendment that would ultimately need to be approved by voters before being enacted. SB 1 grants the General Assembly the power to, by statute, delegate the authority to halt regulations found to be deficient, he said.

Currently, when the General Assembly isn’t in session, lawmakers on a review panel can vote to find administrative regulations deficient. The executive branch can choose to enact the administrative regulations anyway.

“In my mind, Senate Bill 2 provides for the most basic tenet of a democratic form of government – that is a balance of power,” Bowen said.

State Sen. Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he regularly meets constituents who are surprised to learn the General Assembly has no power to stop administrative regulations.

“We have executive orders being implemented with no legislation passed to authorize them,” he said. “I think this is an appropriate step in the right direction to rein in the executive branch and return the balance of power that should exist, according to our Constitution, between the executive, judicial and legislative branches.”

Bowen said: “This is indeed one of those issues where both sides ought to come together and give the people what they really deserve, and that is a balance of power in this process. That is what Senate Bill 2 does.”

Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, said SB 2 was unnecessary legislation.

“Senate Bill 2, in my opinion, is a solution in search of a problem,” he said, adding that the bill would damage the balance of power the state has enjoyed for many years under its current Constitution.

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he has championed a strong General Assembly during his long political career but that SB 2 was not a way to strengthen the legislative branch.

“You have to be careful about blaming a regulatory body for something they do because you cannot avoid the fact that the legislature allowed the act to be passed in the first place to give them the authority to even write the regulation,” he said.

SB 2 now goes to the Kentucky House of Representatives for consideration.

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January 8, 2015

‘Right-to-work Act’ passes Senate after lengthy debate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate today passed a bill – dubbed the Kentucky Right to Work Act – to allow people to work at unionized shops without paying dues to an organized labor group.

State Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said it isn’t state government’s role to create jobs, adding that was for the private sector.

“But it is the job of government to create an environment where jobs can flourish, where we have current employers wanting to stay in Kentucky and expand their operations and, of course, to attract employers from other states and countries to come here to Kentucky,” he said. “There is no question in my mind that the passage of SB 1 is the absolute best step this General Assembly and governor can take to create a better environment for the creation and retention of jobs here in the commonwealth.

Thayer said nine of the top 10 states experiencing job growth and economic expansion at a greater rate than Kentucky are right-to-work states.

The legislation, designated Senate Bill 1, passed on a 24-12 vote.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, spoke out against the legislation during the debate. He said the states with the highest quality of life are not right-to-work states and states with the lowest quality of life are right-to-work states.

“My biggest fear is if we pass this legislation, are we again encouraging a race to the bottom by Kentucky – that we want people to be paid less, earn less, have less money to spend on their families, spend for education, spend for healthcare,” said Thomas. “Isn’t that what we are doing by passing this legislation?”

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said many of the states listed as having a high quality of life have the distinction of also having some of the highest cost-of-living prices in the nation. He cited a 560-square-foot flat in New York that recently sold $325,000 as an example of out-of-control cost-of-living prices.

“One thing I can tell you … is that when you look at where the jobs are being created … one of the main factors is whether you are a right-to-work state. That’s not an assumption. That is a reality.”

The bill will now go to the state House for consideration.

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January 8, 2015

Anti-heroin bill passes state Senate

FRANKFORT – Saying they’ve heard the call to fix Kentucky’s exploding heroin epidemic, state Senate members passed a bill without opposition Thursday that would provide more treatment for abusers while increasing penalties for dealers.

“It is no secret to the members of this body, those in the audience or the people of the commonwealth that heroin use has reached epidemic levels here in Kentucky,” said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who introduced the legislation known as Senate Bill 5. “Its use and distribution has become a major issue for our citizens, our employers and our families. We frequently cite the fact that heroin-related overdoses have more than tripled in the past three years. What we don’t is the unspoken path of additional destruction.

“We don’t talk about the careers that are ruined, parents and spouses who are left hopeless and bankrupt trying to help their loved ones. And we don’t talk about the hundreds of children without one, and in some cases, both parents.”

The bill calls an additional $13.3 million for treatment programs. County jails would get $7.5 million to administer treatment programs for their inmates. Community mental health centers would get the remaining $5.8 million to fund treatment programs for addicts not locked up. To help state officials monitor heroin abuse and measure its response, the bill increases reporting requirements for deaths related to heroin abuse and how treatment beds are being allocated.

It further provides for administration of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of an overdose, by first responders and provides immunity for those individuals and their employers when this life-saving drug is administered. In 2009, the Louisville-Metro EMS administered naloxone 24 times, McDaniel said. In 2014, the first responders in that same community administered naloxone 550 times.

The bill also provides the ability for police officers to not charge suspects who are truthful about whether they have needles or other sharp objects on them during a search.

On the punishment end, the bill reduces the quantity of heroin or fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often unknowingly substituted for heroin, someone has to possess to be charged with trafficking. The bill also requires someone convicted of trafficking to serve 50 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the bill will address the lack of treatment availability in many parts of the state.

“This was an issue I dealt with day after day,” he said, in reference to his former career as a felony prosecutor. “I’m excited about this bill, not just because of the trafficking levels but the second part of it – the treatment side.”

The freshman Senator said while it was only his third day on the job, he has a feeling one of his greatest moments, in what he hopes is a long career in public office, will be to vote for the bill.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said the fact the heroin legislation was the first bill voted out of the chamber shows how everyone came together to work toward a complicated solution.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said. “It is a Kentucky issue.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a criminal defense lawyer, expressed concerned that a section of the omnibus bill – referred to the Good Samaritan provision – to shield heroin addicts from being prosecuted if they report an overdose might not be honored by prosecutors.

She was also concerned with the mandatory minimum sentences required under the bill. She recounted an Iraq combat veteran addicted to heroin. That client would be sent to prison instead of being referred to a special program for veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law, under the proposed law.

“I don’t want to preclude options for individuals like her,” Webb said, “and require incarceration that isn’t beneficial.”

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said his fellow Senators should be open to revisions of the bill.

“There are previsions of this bill that are open for debate about how we truly tackle the heroin problem,” he said, adding that naloxone should be made available to more than first responders.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, a former jailer and federal marshal, said the bill just increases the penalties for trafficking heroin to 1990 levels. Penalties were lowered several years ago as part of judicial reform.

“This definitely is an emotional issue,” he said. “There is no question about it. It is very emotional in my home community, and it is something we have been wrestling with for three years.”

The bill was endorsed by the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Team, Kentucky Association of Professional Firefighters, state Fraternal Order of Police, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Jailers Association.

The bill will now go to the state House for consideration.

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December 4, 2014

Kentucky farms benefiting from Agricultural Development Fund, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT— Kentucky’s annual agricultural output now stands at over $5.6 billion thanks in part to Kentucky’s tobacco-funded Agricultural Development Fund, state lawmakers were told yesterday.

“Without the Agricultural Development Fund investments, I suspect we wouldn’t be where we are today in agricultural output,” Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Roger Thomas told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.

The 14-year-old Agricultural Development Fund—created by the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly as a repository for the state’s agriculture share of a multi-billion 1998 master tobacco settlement—has invested over $425 million in county, state, and regional projects since 2001, according to the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. The fund is overseen by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, also established by lawmakers in 2000 to help the state diversify its heavily tobacco-reliant agricultural economy.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, a farmer and co-chair of the oversight committee, said the fund has a role in “taking Kentucky from where it was in 2001 … to where we are now, and I think we should be appropriately proud of that.”

Tobacco production was a $1 billion industry in Kentucky in 1998 with 118 of the state’s 120 counties growing the plant, Thomas said. Today, tobacco “is still very, very important” in Kentucky, but its economic impact has lessened while the agricultural economy has grown.

“You look at the ag economy and how it’s grown from 1998 to where it is now—no, the (Agricultural Development Fund) didn’t have all that effect, but it certainly had a part of that effect,” Thomas stated.

Committee Co-Chair and farmer Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, thanked the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy for its work with farmers including those in his district.

“They have the ability in the future to benefit a number of other farmers…and our changing world of food production,” said Hornback.

A total of 17 agricultural diversification and rural development programs and projects totaling $1.73 million were approved for Agricultural Development Fund funding by the state Agricultural Development Board last month. Among them is an indoor farmers market planned for Henry County that will operate under oversight of the Pleasureville Economic Development Council LLC.

Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said the Agricultural Development Fund has done a lot for farmers markets and farm produce across the state. “Look how many farmers markets we have,” said Parrett. “The farmers markets across the state really probably wouldn’t be where they are today without (the fund),” he said.

Agricultural development funds totaling $11,500 were approved for the Pleasureville project to help renovate a building for year-round use. Additionally, all products sold in the new market will be marketed as “Kentucky Proud” by the state Department of Agriculture, says the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy.

The connection of the Agricultural Development Fund to programs like Kentucky Proud shows how broadly the fund has impacted Kentucky agriculture over time, said Thomas.

“It has provided many, many opportunities for former tobacco farmers and current tobacco farmers to enter into other enterprises to sustain their farmers,” he said.

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December 1, 2014

"Topics Before The Kentucky General Assembly" book available

FRANKFORT – A book containing information on topics that may confront lawmakers during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2015 session is now available in print and online.

"Topics Before The Kentucky General Assembly" contains 37 issue briefs prepared by staff members of the Legislative Research Commission. The book is not meant as an exhaustive list of issues that lawmakers will consider, but reflects a balanced look at some of the main topics that have been discussed in legislative committee meetings.

The publication can be viewed online at: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/IB245.pdf.

Printed copies can also be picked up at the LRC Publications Office in the State Capitol, Rm. 83.

The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session begins on Jan. 6 and is scheduled to adjourn on March 24.

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September 19, 2014

Calendar set for General Assembly’s 2015 session

FRANKFORT – The 2015 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to begin on Jan. 6 and will last 30 legislative days.

As usual during an odd-numbered year, in which sessions are half as long as in even-numbered years, the session will have two parts. The first four days of the session – Jan. 6 to Jan. 9 – will focus on organizational work, such as electing legislative leaders, adopting rules of procedure and organizing committees. The introduction and consideration of legislation can also begin during this time.

The second part of the session begins on Feb. 3, with final adjournment scheduled for March 24.

Legislators will not meet in session on Feb. 16 in observance of Presidents’ Day.

The veto recess – the period of time when lawmakers commonly return to their home districts while the governor considers possible vetoes – begins on March 10. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on March 23 and 24 for the final two days of the session.

The 2015 session calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/sch_vist/15RS_calendar.pdf.

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August 22, 2014

Prosecutors share ideas with state lawmakers in Lexington

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Stealing a renewal decal off a motor vehicle is a Class D felony in Kentucky. So is fourth-offense DUI, and possession of child pornography, according to Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron.

The penalty for having a stolen license plate decal and fourth offense DUI or possession of child pornography should not be the same, Cohron told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary at its monthly meeting, held yesterday in connection with the Kentucky Prosecutors Conference at the Lexington Convention Center. And possible hiccups in the state’s criminal code are only some of many prosecutorial issues that Cohron and fellow prosecutors from across the state told lawmakers their offices must navigate under existing law.

Christian County Attorney Mike Foster said his office and other prosecutors will spend time next year working on full implementation of changes to the state’s juvenile criminal code as required with the 2014 passage of Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. (SB 200 is expected to save Kentucky $24 million over the next five years by forgoing juvenile detention for less costly community-based solutions.) At the same time, however, Foster, Cohron, and other prosecutors will be responsible for cases stemming from what Cohron called an “explosion” of synthetic drug abuse in the Commonwealth.

Foster told lawmakers he estimates at least 75 percent of the 15,000 cases his office handles each year are drug related—whether the drugs be prescribed, synthetic street drugs, or other abused substances.

“We have a large jail in Christian County and I dare say…the basis for (most charges) is drug abuse,” said Foster. He said his county has a drug court, juvenile drug court, and is in the process of establishing a veterans treatment court to handle veterans’ substance abuse issues. To ensure the courts work efficiently, prosecutors needs enough staff to work the cases, Foster said.

“These programs don’t work unless we have proper staffing,” he told lawmakers. And the need for more funding for staff is another issue his office faces, said Foster.

As far as synthetic drugs are concerned, Cohron said the kinds of substances available “seem to change daily.” The General Assembly has passed legislation in recent sessions to stem Kentucky’s synthetic drug trade—House Bill 8, which expanded the types of synthetic substances banned under Kentucky law, became law in 2013—but House Judiciary Chairman Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who sponsored HB 8 in 2013 said the issue may need revisiting during the 2015 Regular Session.

The committee also heard from Kentucky Assistant Deputy Attorney General Mitchel Denham on prosecutorial bar issues facing the Attorney General’s criminal divisions. Those divisions investigate a variety of cases, from election complaints to Medicaid fraud to drug crimes.

Denham said the Office of Attorney General has provided millions of dollars in settlement money for drug treatment, including: $2.5 million for Recovery Kentucky scholarships; $1 million to support substance abuse treatment for pregnant women; $1.5 million to UK to develop best practices for juvenile treatment; $250,000 to build a database for evaluating outcomes of juvenile drug treatment; $1 million for development of a school-based drug screening tool; $500,000 to complete the Ashland Recovery Kentucky Center; $560,000 to create drug free transitional homes; $6 million to upgrade the state’s KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) system, and; creation of the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Committee.

Other testimony included a presentation from Ohio Municipal Court Judge Frederick Moses on use of the drug Vivitrol to avoid opioid relapse and a presentation from Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown on the state’s penal code and parole reform.

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August 13, 2014

Kentucky taps the latest alcoholic beverage trend

LEXINGTON -- A change this summer in a Kentucky law has allowed the state’s burgeoning microbrewery industry to tap into the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage category in the nation – hard cider.

That’s what Country Boy Brewing co-owner Daniel “DH” Harrison testified to before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations on Tuesday in Lexington.

“Thank you so much co-chair (Sen. John Schickel, R-Union) for championing the cider initiative last year,” said Harrison. “We are extremely grateful for having the support of people like yourself and the committee. We hear horror stories from other states with what happens with micro-breweries and initiatives they are trying to get done.”

Schickel sponsored legislation (Senate Bill 83) that made it legal for microbreweries to produce some types of hard cider.

SB 83 redefined ciders that contained less than 7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) as “weak cider,” and treated the product the same as malt beverages. That type of cider is not regulated by the Federal Alcohol Act, so the change did not conflict with federal law. That also meant distributors and licensed retailers could sell the weak cider where malt beverages were sold.

“The Kentucky aspect is what is going to make our cider stand out,” said Harrison. “We have partnered with Evans Orchard in Scott County. That is where we are sourcing most of our apples right now. Kevan Evans, who runs the orchard, almost had a heart attack on the phone when I told him how much juice I needed for a week. And that is just to get started.”

The apples are crushed at the orchard and the juice is trucked to Harrison’s brewery, located in Lexington. The brewery has invested more than $100,000 strictly on cider equipment and infrastructure and hired the equivalent of three fulltime employees.

The committee hearing was held at Kentucky Eagle Inc., which is the sole distributor for Harrison’s cider, named Kentucky Proud Cider.

Schickel asked if Country Boy Brewing hoped to expand. Harrison said the brewery has added four tanks strictly for cider. He said the plan was to start bottling, or canning it, next year.

The comeback of cider, which was America’s beverage of choice during colonial times, has been fueled by young professionals in their 20s, Harrison said. Large brewers such as Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and The Boston Beer Company have all introduced their own brands of cider in recent years.

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August 12, 2014

State legislators hear how public schools are improving

FRANKFORT – State legislators got an initial look yesterday at how some of Kentucky’s persistently low achieving schools are improving the education provided to students.

There are 39 of the schools in Kentucky, referred to in education circles as priority schools, said Kelly Foster, the associate commissioner for the Office of Next Generation Schools and Districts in the Kentucky Department of Education. She testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

While the education department’s annual priority schools report will not be completed until after school report cards come out in late September, Foster said 21 of the 30 high schools considered priority schools are expected to achieve their College Career Ready Delivery Targets. The goal of the targets is to increase the percentage of high school students prepared for college or careers.

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, said the only high school identified as a priority school in his district has been working hard to improve.

“I’m lucky to be part of what they have done out there,” he said. “We developed a thing called the Principal’s Cabinet. Basically it’s an engagement of students, parents and community leaders – folks of faith and business people. We normally meet once a month and discuss the issues going on.”

Donohue said it empowers the teachers and students.

“It gives them ownership of the school,” he said. “I would encourage my counterparts, that if you have an opportunity to do something like that, you should do it. We have really done well out there.

To help priority schools improve, the state conducts what’s called diagnostic reviews of the institutions every other year. Foster said 19 of the reviews were conducted in the spring. She said 13 of the 19 reviewed schools or districts were making progress toward meeting improvement goals they have been asked to hit.

Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said he was alarmed six of the 19 were not making progress.

“I’m curious to know if there is anything common among those six that points to consistent organizational ineffectiveness?” he said.

Foster said it came down to one thing: leadership.

“You can tell the schools that are making the largest gains, and are moving the fastest, have very strong leaders at the district level and at the principal position,” she said. “Having that leader with capacity in place makes a huge difference.”

Foster said the districts have the authority to change leaders.

“Those districts are on the hot seat,” she said. “They feel the pressure. The principals feel the pressure. I’ve had many principals break down and cry when they saw the results. The pressure to move that school is right on top of them.”

Givens said as uncomfortable as it can be, removing ineffective school leaders is the right thing to do.

“The children’s futures are at risk,” he said, “so thank you for doing that.”

Rep. Derrick Graham, co-chairman of the committee, said innovation to turn around a school can’t happen without strong leadership.

“It is very important that that leadership is there and in place and will to put forth those innovative methods that are need to help to improve,” said Graham, D-Frankfort. “For us as a commonwealth we can’t afford to let any of these kids slip through the cracks. We have to be prepared to educate all kids – whether they are from Eastern Kentucky or an urban area. If they succeed Kentucky succeeds.”

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July 17, 2014

Lawmakers hear testimony on houseboat industry’s concerns

FRANKFORT -- Kentucky’s multimillion-dollar houseboat industry is being threatened by the unintended consequences of several public policy changes, industry leaders told state legislators on Thursday in Jamestown.

Issues including the collection of personal property taxes on boats are sending Kentucky’s houseboat industry into choppy waters, said Kentucky Marina Association President Bill Jasper.

Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism and Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry traveled to Lake Cumberland State Resort Park to hear the concerns firsthand and take a houseboat tour of the lake.

Concerns in the industry grew a couple years ago when cash-strapped Kentucky started aggressively pursuing and collecting its personal property tax on houseboats, said Jasper, who operates the State Dock at the state resort park.

While the state’s tax is only 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, schools, counties and special taxing districts are now imposing additional taxes on boats.

“Tourists have become very angry as they were assessed large tax bills to pay for schools and other services in counties where they did not and could not use services,” said Jasper. “For example, it is illegal to live on the lake so they could not be residents and live on a boat yet they pay school taxes.”

He said the taxing scheme is unfair.

“Since it is up to the county to charge on the boats or not, rates vary drastically between marinas on the same lake depending on what county they are located,” Jasper said. “The tourist does not receive more services in the county with high taxation than they do in the one with low taxation.”

He said the tax on a $200,000 houseboat docked at his marina is $1,900 per year while the owner of the same houseboat would pay $578 less if they docked their boat at Grider Hill Marina in neighboring Clinton County.

Marinas located on waterways that cross state lines have an additional problem. Tennessee, for example, has no personal property tax on boats.

“We need a solution that will provide a fair and reasonable tax or fee on boats for the services that the tourists could use, that is not so high as to force tourists out of boating and that provides a fair and consistent tax rate of these moveable items around Kentucky,” Jasper said.

Jerry Harden, president of houseboat manufacturer Stardust Cruisers of Monticello, told the legislators that houseboat owners drive through Kentucky from southeast Michigan to dock their boat in Tennessee.

“Our policies are driving people to drive through Kentucky,” he said.

The state marina organization proposed replacing the personal property tax on boats with a registration fee similar to Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Florida.

Jasper said another option would be to make houseboats only subject to state taxation or establishing a standard tax rate for counties and taxing districts.

“We believe that we can achieve solutions that protect tourism – Kentucky’s third largest industry – while meeting the goals of the commonwealth,” he said. “We are suggesting that a task force be appointed to work with the (marina association) to develop a new taxing and registration strategy that would be revenue neutral while protecting the marina and boating industry.”

Carolyn Mounce, executive director of the Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Center, told the legislators that early school start dates have also negatively affected Lake Cumberland resorts, marinas and attractions since the school year was expanded in Kentucky.

“It’s causing use to lose tourists,” she said.

She said most Kentucky schools began summer vacation in May, before the weather was conducive for houseboat vacations, and will end in early August when it’s still hot outside.

The final concern the marina association had was proposed legislation to prohibit swimming within 50 yards of a boat docked or marina where houseboats receive electrical power.

“Marinas that installed electrical systems prior to 2010 would be forced to replace much of the equipment,” Jasper said.

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July 1, 2014

New laws go into effect July 15

FRANKFORT -- New laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2014 regular session go into effect on July 15.

That means victims of domestic violence who want concealed carry permits for protection will find them easier to obtain. Adult care employers will soon be able to check a new adult abuse registry to see if prospective employees are listed. And some Kentucky nurses will have broader prescription writing authority.

The state constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature, except for general appropriation measures and those containing emergency or delayed effective date provisions. (For example, a bill to prevent electronic cigarettes from being sold to children contained an emergency clause that allowed the measure to take effect as soon as it was signed into law on April 10.)

The General Assembly’s 2014 session adjourned on April 15, making July 15 the day that most laws will take effect.

Laws taking effect that day include measures the following topics:

Acupuncture. Senate Bill 29 will require acupuncturists to be licensed.

Adult protection. SB 98 will create an adult abuse registry to help employers in the adult care profession determine if a prospective employee has a previous history of substantiated adult abuse, neglect or exploitation.

All terrain vehicles. House Bill 260 will allow an ATV operator 16 years of age or older to cross a public roadway if the speed limit is 45 miles per hour or less without protective headgear in order to get from one ATV trail to another.

Boaters. SB 66, known as the “Boater Freedom Act,” will require boating enforcement officers to have a reasonable suspicion of violation of the state’s boating laws before boarding and inspecting a boat on Kentucky waterways.

Bullying. SB 20 will designate October as Anti-Bullying Month and a purple and yellow ribbon as the symbol for anti-bullying awareness. The bill was the idea of students at Madison Middle School in Richmond.

Child abuse. HB 157 will require more training for doctors on recognizing and preventing abusive head trauma among children.

Concealed weapons. HB 128 will allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional concealed carry permit in one business day. The petitioners would undergo the same background checks and application requirements as other applicants but would have up to 45 days to complete the necessary training for a full concealed carry license.

Consumer protection. HB 232 requires businesses and other entities to notify consumers if a security breach might have resulted in the unauthorized acquisition of consumers’ personal or financial information.

Diabetes. HB 98 will allow school staff trained by health professionals to assist diabetic students with insulin administration.

Driver safety. HB 90 will require parents or guardians to make a court appearance when a driver under 18 is cited for a traffic violation.

Ethics. HB 28 will tighten legislative ethics rules to prevent a lobbyist from buying food or drink for an individual legislator. It will also prevent interest groups from paying for lawmakers’ out-of-state travel and prohibits legislators and legislative candidates from accepting campaign contributions during General Assembly sessions from political action committees or organizations that employee lobbyists.

Health care. SB 7 will broaden the prescribing authority of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.

Human trafficking. SB 184 will allow a person’s record to be cleared of a non-violent offense if a judge determines the offense resulted from being a victim of human trafficking.

Invasive plants. SB 170 will update and expand the state’s list of invasive and noxious plants, such as kudzu and poison hemlock, targeted for eradication from roadsides and public right-of-ways.

Jobs retention. HB 396 expands eligibility for Kentucky Jobs Retention Act benefits to include manufacturers of appliances. The legislation is expected to help GE invest up to $325 million in its Appliance Park operations in Louisville.

Newborn health. SB 47 will require periodic reporting of health statistics relating to drug-addicted or dependent newborns.

Road plan. HB 237 outlines the state’s $5.2 billion plan for road and bridge projects throughout the state for the next two fiscal years.

State parks. HB 475 will allow residents near state park lodges and golf courses in counties where alcohol sales currently aren’t allowed to vote on whether by-the-drink alcohol sales should be allowed at the facilities.

Tax zappers. HB 69 would make it a Class D felony to possess a “tax zapper,” a device that could be used on a computerized cash register to help a retailer hide sales subject to tax from tax collectors.

Veterans. HB 337 will make it easier for veterans with applicable military experience to become licensed as an HVAC professional.

Voyeurism. SB 225 will update the state’s voyeurism laws to outlaw a practice called “up-skirting” in which a cell phone is used to take pictures underneath a woman’s skirt without her consent.

Wineries. SB 213 will allow Sunday alcohol sales at small farm wineries if authorized by a fiscal court vote or a local option election.

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June 19, 2014

Lawmakers told black lung issues may require further legislative action

FRANKFORT—A 2011 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s method for determining black lung claims to be unconstitutional may require further legislative action, the commissioner for the state Department of Workers’ Claims told lawmakers today.

Commissioner Dwight Lovan told the Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry that the ruling in Vision Mining, Inc. v. Gardner left portions of statutes covering workers’ compensation on the books that the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.

The 2011 ruling addressed the use of “consensus” readings of X-rays to determine benefits for coal miners who had filed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (or black lung) claims. The Court agreed with previous rulings that the procedure required by the state for proving that someone has black lung and the statutory requirement to rebut a consensus on a claim were unconstitutional.

Lovan put together a work group to discuss possible legislative recommendations to address the issue, but said an agreement could not be reached within the group. One of the largest issues facing the work group was how to handle black lung cases that had been finalized before the 2011 ruling, he said.

Those cases had been decided based on a 2002 state law that created the consensus requirement.

The work group tried to look at “whether any new changes would be applicable to the already-decided cases,” Lovan said. “But that’s an issue that’s going to be out there whether there’s legislation or not.”

What is clear based on the 2011 ruling, Lovan said, is that Kentucky must treat black lung claim determinations the same way it treats other pneumoconiosis claims.

“It was our ultimate conclusion at the Department of Workers’ Claims and it remains our decision today and our conclusion today that the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear that black lung – coal workers’ pneumoconiosis—should be handled identically to every other occupational pneumoconiosis claim. And so that’s what we began doing,” he said.

Committee Co-Chair Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, asked Lovan what the sticking points are for the work group, and when the group will meet again to try to resolve those issues. Lovan said he’s not sure the group will reach a resolution.

“The major sticking point…was what to do with those roughly 3,000 cases that were decided after 2002 and became final before Vision Mining. The significance is that they became final,” he said.

State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, asked why any cases decided based on an “unconstitutional act” are not readjudicated by the court. “Because if the law was unconstitutional as written, then their case is wrongly decided,” he added.

The cases were decided based upon the law at the time, Lovan said. Once a law is found unconstitutional, “generally speaking…except in extraordinary circumstances, the Supreme Court has held that if a party did not appeal challenging constitutionality of their decision at the time, then (the decision) stood. In essence the statute was not void from the beginning…”

Lovan said he believes the issue will go back to the Supreme Court at some point.

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April 18, 2014

This Week at the State Capitol

General Assembly’s 2014 session ends, new laws’ impact will be far-reaching

FRANKFORT – When the final gavel falls on a legislative session, it’s often seen as a time to start looking back – a chance to review what passed, what failed, who won and who lost.

We’ve had a few days for such assessments since the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly adjourned. So, now, let’s turn our gaze forward and see the ways lawmakers’ recent work will touch Kentuckians’ lives in the days and years to come.

School kids across the commonwealth will be attending better-funded schools, thanks to a two-year state budget that provides increases the funding schools get for each student. Students will also see improvements from increased funding for education technology. Teachers will get raises, too.

On university and college campuses, students will see physical improvements since many capital construction projects were authorized to go forward. The postsecondary schools’ operating budgets, however, might still feel tight since the schools will experience 1.5 percent budget cuts. Whether this could have a future effect on tuition prices remains to be seen.

Senior centers and others who provide services to elderly citizens will be better safeguarded against those who aren’t suitable to work in the adult care industry. An adult abuse registry will be created so that these employers can better vet potential employees and ensure they don’t have a history of adult abuse or neglect.

Children with uncontrollable seizures may have a promising new treatment within reach since doctors at UK and U of L will be allowed to prescribe cannabis oil for medical purposes. Researchers at the schools will also be able to learn more about the oil and its potential to alleviate medical problems since they will now have authority to conduct research on the product.

Domestic abuse victims who feel like they need to better protect themselves will have quicker access to concealed deadly weapons permits. A change to state law will allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional concealed carry permit in one business day. The petitioners will undergo the same background checks and application requirements as other applicants but will have up to 45 days to complete the necessary training for full concealed carry licenses.

Residents near some state park lodges and golf courses in counties where alcohol sales currently aren’t allowed now might get to vote on whether by-the-drink alcohol sales should be allowed at the facilities.

Tax cheats will have a new reason to worry: It will soon be a Class D felony to possess a “tax zapper,” a device that could be used on a computerized cash register to help a retailer hide sales subject to tax from tax collectors.

Kentucky’s small farm wineries might soon be able to lure in more weekend visitors and sell their products on Sundays. By mid-summer, Sunday alcohol sales at small farm wineries could be authorized by a fiscal court vote or a local option election.

Parents will be in the loop if their children are caught driving in an unsafe manner. The parents will now be notified and expected to appear in court if a child under 18 receives a traffic violation.

Just as children aren’t able to buy cigarettes, they soon won’t be able to buy electronic cigarettes that are growing in popularity. A change in state law will make it illegal for retailers to see e-cigarettes to those under 18.

There may be a bit less kudzu and other invasive plants along Kentucky roads in the days ahead. The list of plants targeted by the state for eradication from public right-of-ways is set to grow to include these and other nuisance plants.

Victims of the underground crime of human trafficking will have a little more help from the state when they come forward. A new law will ensure the victims can have their records cleared of a non-violent offense if a judge determines the offense resulted from being a victim of human trafficking.

Those served by the juvenile justice system also have reason to expect better results. The state is now on track to increase and strengthen evidence-based early intervention programs and services provided to young offenders of certain non-violent crimes, such as truancy. Recently approved legislation will also increase education and training of certain employees in the juvenile justice system and data collection that will help point out areas for future improvements.

While the impact of lawmakers’ work this year will be felt across the state for years to come, the 2014 session – like all sessions – left some issues unresolved. Many of those issues will no doubt continue to be discussed in the days ahead and may again be proposed in the form of a bill in a future legislative session.

With that in mind, citizens are encouraged to stay connected with their lawmakers and activity at the State Capitol. Your feedback can be shared with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305.

You may also write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.

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April 15, 2014

General Assembly’s 2014 session ends

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2014 regular session ended this evening, capping off a session in which lawmakers approved the state’s next two-year budget and measures that will impact people throughout the state.

Since the session’s start in early January, lawmakers have approved measures to allow medical use of cannabis oil, create an adult abuse registry, prevent children from buying electronic cigarettes, establish a two-year plan for road and bridge construction, improve the juvenile justice system, and establish legal protections for victims of human trafficking.

Most new laws – all that don’t come from legislation with emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in 90 days.

Bills approved this year by the General Assembly include measures on the following topics:

Acupuncture. Senate Bill 29 will require acupuncturists to be licensed.

Adult protection. SB 98 will create an adult abuse registry to help employers in the adult care profession determine if a prospective employee has a previous history of substantiated adult abuse, neglect or exploitation.

All terrain vehicles. House Bill 260 will allow an ATV operator 16 years of age or older to cross a public roadway if the speed limit is 45 miles per hour or less without protective headgear in order to get from one ATV trail to another.

Boaters. SB 66, known as the “Boater Freedom Act,” will require boating enforcement officers to have a reasonable suspicion of violation of the state’s boating laws before boarding and inspecting a boat on Kentucky waterways.

Budget. HB 235 is the $20.3 billion budget that will guide state spending for the next two years. Many state agencies will face 5 percent budget cuts, though some critical areas, such as Medicaid, will be protected from reductions. Per pupil school funding at K-12 schools will go up. Funding for universities and community and technical colleges will be cut by 1.5 percent, though plans for bond-funded capital construction can go forward on many campuses. State employees and teachers will get raises and full contributions will be made to the state employee pension system.

Bullying. SB 20 will designate October as Anti-Bullying Month and a purple and yellow ribbon as the symbol for anti-bullying awareness. The bill was the idea of students at Madison Middle School in Richmond.

Cannabis oil. SB 124 will allow doctors at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to research and prescribe cannabis oil for medical purposes, such as treatment of pediatric epilepsy.

Child abuse. HB 157 will require more training for doctors on recognizing and preventing abusive head trauma among children.

Concealed weapons. HB 128 will allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional concealed carry permit in one business day. The petitioners would undergo the same background checks and application requirements as other applicants but would have up to 45 days to complete the necessary training for a full concealed carry license.

Consumer protection. HB 232 requires businesses and other entities to notify consumers if a security breach might have resulted in the unauthorized acquisition of consumers’ personal or financial information.

Cybersecurity. HB 5 will improve electronic safeguards in state agencies and require that people be notified if a security breach occurs on a government computer system.

Diabetes. HB 98 will allow school staff trained by health professionals to assist diabetic students with insulin administration.

Driver safety. HB 90 will require parents or guardians to make a court appearance when a driver under 18 is cited for a traffic violation.

Electronic cigarettes. SB 109 prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18.

Health care. SB 7 will broaden the prescribing authority of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses.

Human trafficking. SB 184 will allow a person’s record to be cleared of a non-violent offense if a judge determines the offense resulted from being a victim of human trafficking.

Invasive plants. SB 170 will update and expand the state’s list of invasive and noxious plants, such as kudzu and poison hemlock, targeted for eradication from roadsides and public right-of-ways.

Jobs retention. HB 396 expands eligibility for Kentucky Jobs Retention Act benefits to include manufacturers of appliances. The legislation is expected to help GE invest up to $325 million in its Appliance Park operations in Louisville.

Juvenile justice. SB 200 will increase and strengthen evidence-based early intervention programs and services provided to young offenders of certain non-violent crimes, such as truancy. It will also increase education and training of certain employees in the juvenile justice system. The measure calls for data collection and reporting to measure the effectiveness of programs and policies, and would create a committee to oversee implementation of the legislation, monitor effectiveness and make recommendations for improvements based on outcomes.

Legislative Research Commission. HB 81 will implement an employee suggestion system for employees of the Legislative Research Commission and require that the national motto, “In God We Trust,” be prominently displayed in legislative committee rooms.

Newborn health. SB 7 will require periodic reporting of health statistics relating to drug-addicted or dependent newborns.

Road plan. HB 237 outlines the state’s $5.2 billion plan for road and bridge projects throughout the state for the next two fiscal years.

School calendar. HB 211 gives schools flexibility in adjusting their calendars to make up for the unusually high number of days schools were closed due to snow in recent months. The bill will allow school districts to increase the length of their school days to a maximum of seven hours for the remainder of this school year. Schools that aren’t on track to reach the number of instructional hours required annually by the state by June 6 can ask the commissioner of education to waive the requirement for some of their instructional hours.

State parks. HB 475 will allow residents near state park lodges and golf courses in counties where alcohol sales currently aren’t allowed to vote on whether by-the-drink alcohol sales should be allowed at the facilities.

Tax zappers. HB 69 would make it a Class D felony to possess a “tax zapper,” a device that could be used on a computerized cash register to help a retailer hide sales subject to tax from tax collectors.

Veterans. HB 337 will make it easier for veterans with applicable military experience to become licensed as an HVAC professional.

Voyeurism. SB 225 will update the state’s voyeurism laws to outlaw a practice called “up-skirting” in which a cell phone is used to take pictures underneath a woman’s skirt without her consent.

Wineries. SB 213 will allow Sunday alcohol sales at small farm wineries if authorized by a fiscal court vote or a local option election.

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April 14, 2014

Juvenile justice bill heading to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT -- The General Assembly passed a measure today that would update the state’s juvenile justice system.

Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, is the result of work by the bi-partisan Unified Juvenile Code Task Force. It would increase and strengthen evidence-based early intervention programs and services provided to offenders of certain non-violent crimes, such as truancy. It would also increase education and training of certain employees in the juvenile justice system.

SB 200 would require data collection and reporting to measure the effectiveness of programs and policies, and would create a committee to oversee implementation of the legislation, monitor effectiveness and make recommendations for improvements based on outcomes.

According to Westerfield, the measure could save $24 million in the next five years. It would also help identify and address underlying issues facing juvenile offenders, he said.

“It is a step towards getting better outcomes for our kids and doing so for less taxpayer money,” Westerfield said.

Changes made to the bill by the House include provisions that would allow school boards to collaborate with stakeholders in identifying and using truancy diversion and other early intervention programs. House changes would also increase reporting requirements of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Administrative Office of the Courts to the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council.

The amended measure cleared the House by an 84-15 vote on March 27. The Senate passed the bill 30-8 today.

Senate Bill 200 now goes to the governor’s desk.

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April 4, 2014

This Week at the State Capitol

Lawmakers reach agreement on state’s next two-year budget

FRANKFORT – A statement on education.

That’s one way the state budget approved this week by the General Assembly has been described.

After years of holding steady, the primary funding source for kindergarten through twelfth-grade education will receive a much-welcomed boost under the two-year, $20.3 billion spending plan lawmakers approved this week. The school funding formula -- known as Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK – guarantees a set funding amount to schools for each student. While SEEK funding has been protected from the budget cuts that hit many parts of state government in recent years, schools have been increasingly feeling the pinch from the flatlined appropriations combined with enrollment increases and rising expenses

Close to $6 billion in state general fund support will go toward SEEK funding over the next two years. The SEEK base is slated to rise from $3,827 per student in the current fiscal year to $3,911 in the next fiscal year and $3,981 the year after that. Teachers and other school employees will see 1 percent raises in the first year of the biennium and 2 percent raises the next year.

The budget includes a $10 million increase in education technology funding and provides an additional $18.7 million in FY 2016 for preschool services for four-year-old children whose family income is within 160 percent of the federal poverty level.

While funding for universities and community and technical colleges will be cut by 1.5 percent, the budget will allow plans for bond-funded capital construction to go forward on many campuses.

Many state agencies will face 5 percent budgets cuts, though some critical areas, such as Medicaid, will be protected from reductions. Funding for child care subsidies for low income families will be restored for households with incomes up to 125 percent of the federal poverty levels in 2015 and expanded to families earning up to 160 percent of the poverty level in 2016.

The budget also includes raises for state employees and full contributions to the state employee pension system.

Lawmakers have now left Frankfort and returned to their home districts for the ten-day veto recess, the period of time in which lawmakers wait to see whether the governor vetoes any recently approved bills. The governor has the authority to veto a bill in its entirety or veto specific lines in legislation that make appropriations, such as the budget bill. Lawmakers can override any vetoes cast by the governor with the votes of a majority of members in both the Senate and House.

Members of the General Assembly will return to the State Capitol on April 14 and 15 for the final two days of the 2014 legislative session. Citizens who want to stay connected with legislative action have several easy ways to stay in touch with the General Assembly.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

By going to The LRC Public Information eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305.

You may also write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

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March 31, 2014


Budget, revenue bills go to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT--The Kentucky General Assembly today approved a two-year spending plan that authorizes $20.3 billion in spending for education, public safety, Medicaid, and other state government services while cutting spending in many state agencies by 5 percent through fiscal year 2016.

House Bill 235, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, was granted final passage by a vote of 89-11 in the House. It had passed the Senate by a vote of 37-1 earlier in the day. The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, called the agreement a “budget that, I believe, sets us on a good stead for the future.”

“It makes me feel good about what you all will face in the next biennium,” Leeper said.

“We did what you paid us to do,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said of the state budget process. “It was democracy in its purest form, but it worked.”

The Executive Branch budget agreement adds around $189 million in guaranteed base per pupil funding (or SEEK funds) for schools, protects funding for Medicaid, PVAs and prosecutors, and adds $743 million in new General Fund debt and $721 million in new agency bond debt—mostly for postsecondary education. That is less than the nearly $2 billion in new General Fund and agency bond debt proposed by the House and more than the $533 million in new General Fund and agency bond debt proposed by the Senate earlier this month.

HB 235 will also require smaller cuts to postsecondary education than originally proposed. State university budgets will be cut by 1.5 percent rather than 2.5 percent as proposed by the governor, with bond authorizations for many university projects restored. Community and technical college budgets will also be reduced by 1.5 percent instead of 2.5 as earlier proposed, with those institutions’ capital projects paid for with student fees and private donations culled by the colleges.

Also included in the bill are pay raises for state workers of at least 2 percent over the biennium—with the lowest-paid workers receiving higher raises in the first year—and 3 percent raises for teachers of 1 percent in fiscal year 2015 and 2 percent in fiscal year 2016. A total of $3.3 million in 2015 and $6.6 million in 2016 for K-12 education technology are also found in the budget rather than the $50 million bond issue that had been proposed in an earlier budget version.

HB 235 also includes: full funding of the actuarial required contribution (ARC) to Kentucky’s public pension system; funding for expanded preschool for four-year-olds statewide in 2016 totaling $18 million; additional funding to boost foster care rates; and restoration of child care subsidies for low-income families that had been cut from the state budget last year by adding $39 million for the subsidies the first year of the biennium and $58 million in the second year. Families with household incomes of up to 125 percent of the federal poverty level would receive the subsidies under HB 235 in 2015, with subsidies expanded to families making up to 160 percent of the poverty level in 2016.

The House also voted 99-1 for final passage of the amended state Judicial Branch budget, which had passed the Senate unanimously earlier in the day. An amended Legislative Branch budget also passed the Senate unanimously today and also received final passage in the House by a vote of 99-1

The House voted 91-9 for agreed-upon changes to HB 445, the session “revenue bill” that will provide some new dollars to fund state needs over the biennium. Provisions in that bill include, but are not limited to, a phased-in barrel tax credit for distilled spirits, an angel investor tax credit, an expanded historic preservation tax credit, and “new markets” tax credit to help underserved areas of Kentucky. The revenue measure had passed the Senate by a vote of 35-3 earlier in the day.

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March 31, 2014

Legislature gives final approval to cannabis oil bill

FRANKFORT -- The Senate today agreed to final passage of the bipartisan legislation that would allow medical use of cannabis oil to treat certain medical conditions, including pediatric epilepsy

The bill allows the procurement of cannabis oil through a research university under the supervision of a physician

In a number of cases the results of using the oil are “nothing short of a miracle,” said Rep. John Tilley, who carried the bill in the House. “It relieves their suffering. It relieves the seizures they encounter every day.”

Senate Bill 124 is sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville and passed both chambers without dissent.

“This is most directly being presented to assist those who have, sometimes, hundreds of seizures a day,” Sen. Denton said earlier this month when the Senate considered the bill

Today, the Senate concurred with a House amendment that simply renames the bill for Clara Madeline Gilliam, a Kentucky baby that has experienced the type of seizures that medical cannabis oil is meant to treat

The bill also allows the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville medical schools to conduct studies of the oil which can be derived from industrial hemp or marijuana plants, but legislators stressed that the legislation does not legalize marijuana use

“We know that folks suffering from epilepsy will gain hope from this substance,” Rep. Tilley said.

SB 124 now goes to the governor’s office to become law.

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March 28, 2014

This Week at the State Capitol

March 24 – 28, 2014: State budget negotiations continue as clock ticks on 2014 session

FRANKFORT -- There are usually three main drivers of state budget negotiations during the late days of a legislative session: the Senate, the House and the ticking clock

Lawmakers from each chamber had already passed their preferred spending plans when they arrived at the negotiating table this week to hammer out a budget compromise. They arrived with a veto recess scheduled to begin April 1 drawing ever-closer. (Sending a budget to the governor before the veto recess preserves lawmakers’ ability to override vetoes cast by the governor.)

As you’d expect with a $20 billion, two-year spending plan, there are plenty of areas for agreements and differences among members of the Senate and House. The version of the budget approved by the House two weeks ago resembles the plan Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled in January in many ways. Additional changes were made as the plan moved through the Senate this week, most notably a reduction in the amount of debt the state would incur through bond funds for construction projects

The Senate also removed a proposed 2.5 percent budget cut for universities, while scaling back construction plans at the schools. Community and Technical Colleges would still face 2.5 percent cuts under the Senate plan, but could move forward on many capital projects as long as projects funded by increased student fees were located at the school where the fees were collected

The Senate also proposed stashing an additional $25 million in the state’s “rainy day” budget reserve trust fund

Areas of agreement between the Senate and House versions of the budget plan include raises for state employees, full contributions to the state employee pension system, 5 percent cuts for many state agencies, and an increase in per pupil funding for public schools

At the time of this writing, budget conference committee members still had differences to iron out before arriving at a deal that both chambers could agree on

In other General Assembly activity this week, the Senate and House reached a compromise on the “snow days” bill that will give schools flexibility in adjusting their calendars to make up for the unusually high number of days schools were closed due to snow in recent months. In many districts, schools were closed more than 20 days this winter, leading to questions about how long students would need to attend classes before summer break would begin

House Bill 211 will allow school districts to increase the length of their school days to a maximum of seven hours for the remainder of this school year. Schools that aren’t on track to reach the required number of instructional hours required by the state by June 6 can ask the commissioner of education to waive some of their instructional hours

Some of the big issues of the 2014 session – including juvenile justice reform and an anti-heroin measure – are still moving through the process and might clear final hurdles before the veto recess starts next week. Citizens can follow these and other issues on the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Feedback on the issues under consideration can be shared with lawmakers by calling the toll-free legislative message line at 800-372-7181.

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March 28, 2014

School ‘snow days’ bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House gave final passage today to the so-called “snow days” bill that would give school districts until June 6 to make up instructional time lost due to this winter’s snow, ice, and cold.

House Bill 211 was the result of an agreement between the House and Senate. It passed the Senate by a vote of 36-1 on Thursday, and was given final passage in the House this afternoon by a vote of 97-1

Under HB 211, school districts will have until June 6 to complete all 1,062 instructional hours required by the state per school year. Districts may choose to extend school instructional time for the remainder of the school year to make up the lost time, as long as instructional time does not exceed seven hours a day. Districts that are unable to meet all 1,062 hours before June 6 must request assistance from the Kentucky Commissioner of Education no later than May 1 for help to reach the requirement, per the bill.

If the school districts still cannot complete the 1,062 required hours by June 6 after consulting with the commissioner, HB 211 allows a waiver of any remaining instructional hours that are required.

Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, who served on the House and Senate conference committee that reached agreement on the bill, said school districts will be required to make “a good faith effort to get in all hours.”

Some school districts in Kentucky, especially in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, have missed more than 30 days of school this school year due to winter weather

The districts “will work with the department to get the maximum instruction time out of the calendar this year,” Stacy said.

The snow days provisions were attached to HB 211, which was filed and sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook as a reorganization bill. The legislation as passed would also confirm the governor’s order to reorganize offices within the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

A news release from Gov. Steve Beshear’s office says the governor expects to sign HB 211 into law on Monday.

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March 26, 2014

Senate approves state road plan bills

The Kentucky Senate approved two-year and six-year road plans today that would direct transportation projects across the state

House Bill 237 was approved on a 28-0 vote, with 10 lawmakers passing. As amended by the Senate, it would authorize $5.4 billion worth of road and bridge projects and improvements in the upcoming biennium. Included in the plan is the Louisville bridges project, West Kentucky bridges project, Brent Spence Bridge project in Northern Kentucky, as well as work on I-65, I-69, the Mountain Parkway, and many others.

According to Senate Transportation Chair Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, the Senate version of the bill cut or moved some projects to the six-year Road Plan to reduce “over programming” and eliminate the need for a motor fuels tax increase

“The plan we are submitting today is balanced,” he said.

House Joint Resolution 62, which includes the last four years of the six-year road plan, was approved by a vote of 29-0. Nine lawmakers passed on that vote

Senate Democratic Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said he was casting a pass vote because he did not have time to review the entire bill and was disappointed at the exclusion of the Eastern Bypass project in his district. “That gives me great concern. So I cannot do anything other than pass at this time,” he said

The House of Representatives did not agree with changes to the measures made in the Senate. The Senate has appointed members to a conference committee to work with House members in ironing out differences in the proposals

The measure that would fund the transportation projects in the two-year Road Plan, House Bill 236, was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee today. It will now go to the full Senate for further action.

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March 26, 2014

Anti-bullying bill heading to Governor

The House has unanimously passed a bill designating October as Anti-Bullying Month in Kentucky

Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, also designates a purple and yellow ribbon as the symbol for anti-bullying awareness

“We know that bullying is a major problem,” said Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond. “We’ve had several bills in committee related to bullying, and this bill will just create an awareness to help us someday end this problem that we have in our society.”

The idea for the legislation was proposed by students at Madison Middle School, located in Madison County where both Carpenter and Smart reside.

The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

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March 25, 2014

Revenue measure clears Senate

A day after approving a state budget plan, the Kentucky Senate amended and passed a measure that would increase general fund revenues by more than $20 million in the next biennium

Most of the revenue increases would come from provisions relating to waste tire fees and the sale of abandoned property that were also included in the House-approved plan. House Bill 208, as amended in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, also adds a revenue-generating provision that would allow the state Treasurer to take ownership of and redeem old U.S. savings bonds currently in the state’s custody.

The Senate version does not include a motor fuel tax increase that was part of the House-approved plan. It also doesn’t include $3 million the House had assumed would come from increased lottery ticket sales if the lottery is allowed to advertise that its earnings help fund education

Other changes in the Senate plan would remove the sunset provision on the film industry tax credit. Under the Senate plan, that credit would not be capped.

Instead of a blended instant racing tax as proposed by the House, the Senate version would impose a flat 1.5 percent retroactively and going forward. It would provide full distribution to the Thoroughbred Development Fund and would keep instant racing and pari-mutuel tax distributions to other funds at current levels

House Bill 208 was approved by a vote of 30-0 with seven legislators passing. It now goes back to the House of Representatives for consideration of the changes.

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March 25, 2014

E-search warrants bill receives final passage

A bill that would allow electronic search warrants to be used in Kentucky has received final passage in the state House by a vote of 80-8

Senate Bill 45 is sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. The legislation would allow Kentucky’s courts to authorize the use of electronic or e-search warrants where constitutional. It also requires that a paper copy of a search warrant be produced at the time the warrant is served

House Judiciary Chair Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said case law makes electronic search warrants possible by allowing the orders to be issued outside the presence of a judge

“There is case law on the books that says (the warrant does not have to be sworn) in the presence of a judge. It can be done electronically and can be in the presence of a notary and not the judge,” Tilley said.

SB 45 now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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March 24, 2014

Senate-amended budget plans head to House

FRANKFORT -- The state’s biennial budget plans are one step closer to becoming law after being amended and approved by the Kentucky Senate today.

Many of the changes made by the Senate to House Bill 235 -- the operational budget for the executive branch -- were aimed at reducing the state’s level of debt. The Senate’s version of the bill would authorize $263 million in general fund debt, compared to more than a billion dollars in the House-approved version. Proposed agency bonds were cut by more than $700 million to $270 million over the biennium. Any debt restructuring during that time would be prohibited.

The plan would not authorize the Rupp Arena and Lexington Convention Center renovation project, nor the Kentucky International Convention Center expansion in Louisville.

As amended, the Budget Reserve Trust – or “rainy day” – Fund would increase to $125.2 million. Any unexpended debt service authorized by the measure would also be transferred to the fund

“The result of the strategies in the Senate budget do a number of positive things,” Senate Appropriations and Revenue Chair Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said.

Beyond trimming the proposed state debt ratio from 7.05 percent in the House version to 6.26 percent, the proposal would also shift some educational spending projects. The Senate plan removed proposed expansions to preschool funding, the Governor’s Scholars program and the Governor’s School for the Arts, as well as proposed funding for the creation of Commonwealth College. It added funding for vocational education, educational technology, need-based student financial aid and the public library construction fund.

The amended bill would prohibit the use of general funds for a health benefits exchange or for expansion of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky.

The Senate version concurred with proposed five percent cuts to many executive branch agencies found in the Governor’s recommendation and House-approved plan. A proposed 2.5 percent cut to the Kentucky State Police and Revenue Cabinet was also included. Critical areas, such as secondary education, student financial aid, Medicaid and corrections, were exempt from cuts. The Senate plan would also exempt state universities from cuts.

Both the House and Senate version of the budget proposal included the Governor’s recommendations for salary increases for state employees and full funding of the actuarially required contribution to Kentucky’s public pension system.

The measure was approved on a vote of 25-2, with 11 members passing. Several lawmakers casting pass votes expressed a desire for more time to closely review the bill.

The judicial branch operational budget, found separately in House Bill 238, was approved by a 31-0 vote, with seven lawmakers passing. That measure was amended to exclude authorizations for capital projects, including the construction and renovation of judicial centers included in the previous plan.

Approved by the same vote count, House Bill 253 would authorize the legislative branch budget over the next biennium. As amended, the measure would cut that operational budget by $6 million over the biennium, a number legislative leaders said is comparable to the five percent budget cut proposed for many executive branch agencies.

The bills now go back to the House of Representatives for consideration. If House members do not agree with the changes, lawmakers from both chambers will likely meet in conference committee to iron out differences.

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March 21, 2014

This Week at the State Capitol

March 17 – 21, 2014: Ice has melted, but snow days still a focus in Frankfort

FRANKFORT – The green sprouts pushing up through the soil in front of the State Capitol signal that several thousand red and yellow tulips will soon greet visitors like a dazzling welcome mat

Amid these signs of spring, lawmakers inside the Capitol are still debating one of the big questions left over from a harsh winter: How should school districts make up for the unusually high number of days schools were closed due to snow?

Teachers, students and parents are all awaiting answers, and wondering how much of the school year will bleed into summer to make up for snow days. Many districts have missed more than 20 days of school. They now face scheduling challenges since schools are required to provide students with 1,062 hours of instruction each school year

Both the House and Senate have stated differing preferences on dealing with the situation. A plan approved by the House would waive up to 10 school days upon a school district’s request. The Senate plan would allow districts to keep classes in session an additional 30 minutes or more each day to make up for snow days. If districts still can’t meet requirements, the commissioner of education would be allowed to waive some instructional hours for districts on a case-by-case basis

The absence of an immediate agreement between the two chambers sets the stage for a conference committee, where members of the Senate and House will work to iron out their differences. They face time pressures since a veto recess is scheduled to start April 1 and final adjournment is slated for April 15

Other issues that lawmakers considered this week include:

Eminent Domain. HB 31 would prevent eminent domain from being invoked to claim land for the construction of pipelines that carry natural gas liquids. Supporters say the legislation will protect landowners without preventing construction of the Bluegrass Pipeline, which is proposed to run through some Central Kentucky counties. The legislation was approved by the House and sent to the Senate for consideration

Legislative sessions. SB 195 would let voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment to shorten legislative sessions. Regular sessions during even-numbered years would be reduced from 60 to 45 working days. Regular sessions in odd-numbered years would be cut from 30 working days to five. An additional 10 days could be used to extend an odd-numbered year session, or for a special session called by legislative leaders anytime during the biennium. Supporters of the legislation say shorter sessions would save money and help the General Assembly better resemble the citizen-legislature envisioned by the state’s founders. After passing the Senate this week, SB 195 was sent to the House for consideration

Dual elections. SB 205 would specify that a political candidate can appear on a ballot twice if one of the two offices sought was either president or vice president. While the possibility of Sen. Rand Paul running for president was the impetus for the bill, it would apply to anyone running for office on a Kentucky ballot who also wants to simultaneously make a bid for the White House

Intervention in court cases. SB 221 would allow the Senate President or House Speaker to intervene in legal proceedings if they determine that the state’s Attorney General isn’t adequately defending the State Constitution or state law. It would also allow the leaders to intervene if funds awarded in a court case were not directed to the state’s general fund

Road plan. A two-year construction plan for road projects was approved by the House this week and is awaiting Senate action. HB 237 includes around $4.5 billion in planned state and federal road and bridge projects through fiscal year 2016

Alcohol at state parks. HB 472 would allow by-the-drink alcohol sales at state parks and golf courses in dry counties if approved by a local option election. The legislation has been approved by both chambers and sent to the governor to be signed into law

Citizens can keep up with these and other legislative issues through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. In addition to providing contact info for lawmakers, the website allows citizens to read bills and track their progress. Citizens are also welcome to observe the General Assembly in person. Committee meetings are open to the public, as are the galleries in the Senate and House chambers.

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March 21, 2014

Pipeline bill passes House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—Eminent domain could not be used to build pipelines that transport natural gas liquids through the Commonwealth under a bill that cleared the House today, 75-16.

House Bill 31, as amended, would work by excluding natural gas liquids, or NGLs--including ethane, propane, butane, isobutene, pentane, or any combination of those liquids--from the definition of oil or gas and oil or gas products under current law. Use of eminent domain, or the taking of private property for public use, is allowed under Kentucky law for construction of oil or gas pipelines.

The only exception for natural gas liquids in the proposed statutes would be for those NGLs that are produced incidentally, or as a result, of oil and gas production within the state

HB 31 as proposed by the House was also amended to take effect retroactively to Jan. 1, 2014 so that it would cover any eminent domain court action filed on or after that date. It would also include an “emergency clause,” meaning the bill would take effect upon approval by the governor.

HB 31 sponsor Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said that his bill would not prevent NGL pipelines—such as the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline which would travel through several Central Kentucky counties—from being built, but would prevent companies from using eminent domain to build those pipelines.

“Kentucky landowners are being approached everyday regarding easements to purchase, with the companies sadly trying to claim the power of eminent domain for negotiating power,” said Tilley. “However many, including the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, our own Governor, agree that House Bill 31 is needed, and that current law does not grant the right of eminent domain to natural gas liquids pipelines.”

Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, proposed an amendment that was narrowly defeated by a vote of 44-47 which would have removed the retroactive provisions, and the emergency clause, from HB 31.

HB 31 now goes to the Senate.

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March 19, 2014

Legislative calendar bill moves to House

FRANKFORT – A measure that would let voters decide on proposed changes to the legislative session calendar of the Kentucky General Assembly was approved by the Senate today

Senate Bill 195, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, proposes an amendment to the State Constitution that would reduce the number of working days during regular legislative sessions. Regular sessions during even-numbered years would be reduced by 25 percent to 45 working days. Final adjournment would be required as it is currently, by April 15. Odd-numbered year regular sessions would be cut from 30 working days to five.

Under the bill, an additional ten legislative days could be used to extend an odd-numbered year regular session, or for a special session called by legislative leaders anytime during the biennium. Currently special sessions can only be called by the governor

As amended, the proposal would require the Senate President, House Speaker and minority floor leaders in both chambers be involved in determining a legislative call for special session. The Governor could still call special sessions without time limits

According to Stivers, the measure is an attempt to reflect the original Constitutional intent of a citizen legislature by making legislative offices more accessible to Kentuckians with work, family and other time constraints

“It truly opens up the system, it saves money and it gives us the ability that we do not lose our (legislative) influence within the process,” he said.

SB 195 was approved 34-3 and now goes to the House of Representatives for further action. If the measure becomes law, the question will be posed to voters for final ratification in the 2014 general election in November.

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March 19, 2014

Road Plan, Transportation budget head to Senate

FRANKFORT—The House voted yesterday to approve a two-year state Road Plan and nearly $5 billion to fund the plans projects and state Transportation Cabinet operations and needs over the next two years.

The House voted 52-43 to approve House Bill 236, the funding bill that would pay for the $4.5 billion 2014-2016 Road Plan found in HB 237, which was amended and passed by the House by a 51-43 vote. HB 236 would also fund administrative and capital project needs of the Cabinet over the biennium

Additionally, the House voted to pass House Joint Resolution 62 which includes the last four years of the state’s six-year road plan, or 2016 through 2020. That legislation passed the House on a 51-44 vote

All three pieces of legislation are sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford

Of the road projects in the two-year Road Plan found in HB 237, Rand said $1.86 billion are state-funded and $2.7 billion are federal projects. Around $182 million of the projects in the Road Plan are projects backed by previously-authorized state bonds, Rand said

House Transportation Budget Review Subcommittee Chair Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said the Road Plan includes several major projects, notably the Louisville bridges project, work on I-65 and the West Kentucky bridges projects, work on the Mountain Parkway, and work on the I-69 corridor

There is no new debt in the road plan, Combs said. “It is all authorized in previous bienniums.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, expressed concerns over the planned allocation of transportation projects and said that the Road Plan had been brought up for a vote before all members had a chance to properly review it

Hoover said the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee “had less than 15 minutes to look at a 200-and-20 some page bill, and take a vote. And now, a couple of hours later, we’re being asked on this floor to vote on this same bill that was amended by committee substitute.”

Hoover ultimately made a motion that HB 237 be “laid on the Clerk’s Desk,” which would have postponed a vote on the bill. That motion was defeated on a 46-51 vote.

Both HB 236 and 237 now go to the Senate, as does HJR 62.

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March 18, 2014

Senate committee approves preschool “Books for Brains” bill

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would create a statewide reading program for preschoolers was approved by the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee today

House Bill 341, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, would establish a public-private partnership to provide age-appropriate books to Kentucky children age five and under.

“Books for Brains” – as the project is called – would be based on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Directed through the Department of Library and Archives, partners in counties across the state would help coordinate local initiatives

The measure does not appropriate funds for the program, but would rely on private donations and grants. HB 341 would provide a statewide framework and support successful implementation methods for interested community partners, Tilley said

According to Tilley, several dozen counties are already involved with this type of initiative, including Trigg County which has already distributed 20,000 books. Kindergarten readiness scores have increased ten to 15 percent annually since the project started in that county, he said.

Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz told lawmakers his son benefited from books through the program in Trigg County before entering kindergarten

“We feel excited about the opportunity to have this program across the state,” he said.

HB 341 now goes to the full Senate for further action.

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March 14, 2014

March 10 – 14, 2014: House puts its stamp on budget, sends proposal to Senate

FRANKFORT – “Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak…”

As debate on the state budget stretched into Thursday evening, House members rose from their seats and took their turns. Maybe there was a new idea to share. Or a need to respond to another member’s comments. Or a point that deserved emphasis before votes were cast

For any number of good reasons, lawmakers kept their discussions going, eager to provide a voice for their constituents. Point. Counterpoint. Dinner hour came and went with lawmakers still making cases for and against the $20.3 billion spending plan in front of them

This is what a marketplace of ideas looks like

In the end, the House passed its version of the proposed budget on a 53-46 vote and sent it to the Senate, where more changes are likely to come quickly. There are only two weeks before the lawmakers’ scheduled veto recess, and they intend to get the budget to the governor’s desk before then. Considering that it usually takes tremendous efforts and negotiations to iron out difference between the House and Senate on budgets, it’s likely that lights will be burning well into the night at the Capitol in the days to come

At this point, the budget plan still looks a lot like the one submitted by the governor in January. Per pupil school funding would go up more than $70 million in the first year of the budget cycle and an additional $30 million the next year. Spending would increase on textbooks and preschool programs, but at levels lower than the governor proposed. Capital construction plans at postsecondary schools would go forward. Most state agencies would see 5 percent cuts. Universities, community and technical colleges and the State Police would see 2.5 percent funding reductions to their operating budgets

On the Senate side of the Capitol, this week’s activity included the passage of SB 124, which would allow medical use of cannabis oil to treat pediatric seizures and other diseases. In recent weeks, lawmakers have heard emotional testimony from parents desperate for a new treatment for their children’s seizures. SB 124 was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for further action

Other bills that were approved in legislative chambers this week include:

SB 170, which was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee, would allow more poisonous weeds and invasive plants to be targeted for eradication from state right-of-ways. Supporters of the legislation note that some plants that no longer pose a major threat are on the list for eradication while noxious plants that cause bigger problems are not on the list. In addition to targeting plants like kudzu and poison hemlock for removal from roadsides and other areas, the legislation also would give the Department of Highways authority to regularly review and make changes to its list of unwanted plants.

SB 108 would prevent those convicted of rape from claiming parental rights to children born as a result of the assault. The bill, which has been approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration, would require child support to be ordered in those cases unless waived by the mother

SB 157 would create a pilot program to encourage transparency in certain juvenile court proceedings by allowing in members of the public. Those viewing the proceedings would not be allowed to share with others the identity of children involved in court cases. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration

HB 207 is aimed at curbing the growing number of complaints against roofing contractors by requiring them to be licensed, insured, bonded, and knowledgeable of roofing issues. Supporters of the legislation say botched roofing jobs are a top source of complaints reported to the Better Business Bureau.

HB 410 would allow school districts to excuse up to 10 instructional days missed this school year due to snow days and other weather-related emergencies. Although students would be excused on the waived school days, teachers and other school employees would still work

There are several easy ways citizens can stay in touch with the Kentucky General Assembly. The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

Feedback on the issues can be shared with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305.

Citizens may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.

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March 14, 2014

Snow day waiver bill clears House, 82-8

FRANKFORT—School districts would be allowed to excuse up to 10 instructional days missed this school year under legislation that today passed the Kentucky House

House Bill 410, sponsored by Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, would take effect immediately upon becoming law. Although students would be excused on the waived days, teachers and other school employees would still work

Many of the state’s 173 public school districts have missed over 10 days of school this winter due to snow, ice, or bitter cold.

“HB 410 is simply the bill that allows some relief for our struggling school districts after the disastrous winter that we’ve had,” Stacy said. “It allows them to go ahead and plan the remainder of their school year.”

Supporting the bill was Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, who explained that it will be a help rural school districts like his that “don’t have delays (when there is bad weather). If the weather is bad, we miss the whole day.”

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who voted against the bill, said that in the eight years he has served in the Kentucky House “this is the third time we will have forgiven 10 days. And I vote against it every time. And it’s bound to catch up with us at some point.”

HB 410 passed the House 82-8 and now goes to the Senate.

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March 14, 2014

Roofing bill heads to Senate on 52-37 vote

FRANKFORT—Roofing contractors would be required to be licensed, permitted, insured, bonded, and knowledgeable of roofing issues under legislation that has cleared the Kentucky House.

The legislation would “make the industry more professional by licensing and requiring some education of the proper way to do roofing,” said Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, the sponsor of the proposal, House Bill 207. He said shoddy roofing construction has become and problem in the state

“It is a problem in Kentucky, and the reason why we know it’s a problem is the Better Business Bureau says it’s their number-one source of complaints,” Riggs said

The legislation would exempt building owners or farm owners and tenants doing roofing work on their own property from the requirements to be established under HB 207 by the proposed board, which would be called the Kentucky Board of Roofing Contractors

A permitting system established under HB 207 would be located online. Contractors would be required to apply for and receive a permit before beginning any job except for new construction, jobs valued at less than $1,500, emergency repairs requiring immediate attention, and—per an approved amendment sponsored by Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello—any other permitted construction projects.

The education requirements under HB 207 would be approved by the state Department of Housing, Building, and Construction with input from the new board, and would require passage of a final exam that would carry a fee of up to $100 per test. Contractors would have to receive a “minimal passing score” on the exam before they could be licensed.

Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mt. Sterling, who voted against HB 207, explained that he feels the bill would be a burden on business.

“It appears to me that we’re going to regulate another part of the construction business. We don’t have that problem in my neck of the woods; the market takes care of that,” Henderson said of the bill, adding that contracts and the ability to sue in court are already available for the protection of property owners.

“I feel this is another attack on an industry that is already suffering,” he said

Licensing fees of up to $250 for the initial license and up to $200 for renewal would also be required by the bill. Those who contract to do roofing work without a license would face state fines of up to $2,500 for a first offense, up to $5,000 for a second offense, and a fine of up to $10,000 for each offense thereafter under HB 207

HB 207 cleared the House by a vote of 52-37 and now goes to the Senate.

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March 13, 2014

House passes state budget, revenue bill

FRANKFORT--The Kentucky House today gave approval to a proposed new state budget that would authorize over $20 billion in spending for education, public health, state universities and other needs between 2014 and 2016 while implementing nearly $100 million in cuts across state government

House Bill 235, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, was amended and passed by a vote of 53-46. It now goes to the Senate.

As amended and passed by the House, HB 235 would add $189 million in guaranteed base per pupil funding (or SEEK funds) for schools, beef up Medicaid with help from over $166.7 million made available through the federal Affordable Care Act, and provide nearly $1 billion in new General Fund-supported debt for capital construction while fully funding required contributions to the state’s pension systems.

Other appropriations in the bill would expand preschool for over 5,000 more four-year-olds, increase funding for school textbooks and increase rates for foster care parents and private child care. Pay for state workers and teachers would also be increased over the next two years under the bill, which would be paid for with five percent cuts across most of state government, a projected average General Fund revenue increase of 2.8 percent, fund transfers, use of the state’s $69.5 million ending balance from this fiscal year, and other fiscal resources and lapses outlined in the bill.

New General Fund dollars for HB 235 appropriations would come from a separate revenue bill, HB 445, also sponsored by Rand and passed by the House 53-44 on Wednesday. The legislation would increase General Fund dollars by around $25.5 million over both years, boost state Road Funds by $46.5 million in 2015 and $60.8 million in 2016 through a proposed increase in the motor fuel tax, and boost restricted funds by at least $4.5 million.

A fiscal note on HB 445 state the proposed additional Road Fund dollars would be derived by holding the minimum, or “floor,” of the average wholesale price of gas at the pump at $2.878 a gallon, thereby increasing the motor fuels tax by 1.5 cents per gallon—a 2.2 cent per gallon increase over the rate that would take effect otherwise.

In reference to the spending plan, Rand told the House, “We are changing people’s lives. … This is an important budget, and I think anyone who votes yes on this budget today can feel good about that vote.”

Rep. John Will Stacy, D-West Liberty, said the House’s actions will help create new opportunities across the state. “This provides for the future of this state. It provides jobs for Kentuckians. It provides educational opportunities for Kentuckians. It provides health care for Kentuckians.”

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, who voted against HB 235, expressed concerns about proposed state spending levels. “One of the things we have to do as a co-equal branch (of government), the one that is responsible for appropriating the money, is to set priorities, and the stark reality is we don’t have enough money to do everything we’d like to do. We just don’t,” Lee said. “The rate of increase in revenues is once again being outpaced by an increase in the spending.”

Lee called for a vote on his floor amendment to require the Attorney General’s office to cover any state expenses associated with hiring special counsel to appeal the recent federal same-sex marriage ruling affecting Kentucky. That proposed amendment was stopped after a House procedural vote

A floor amendment was also called by Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, to restrict Kentucky’s implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. That proposed amendment was also stopped after a House procedural vote

In addition to passing the executive branch budget, the House also approved a nearly $840 million two-year judicial branch budget found in HB 238 and a nearly $117 million two-year legislative branch budget found in HB 253, each by a vote of 99-0. Those proposed budgets also include five percent operational cuts, the same reduction that would be required for most executive branch agencies and programs under HB 235.

All of the bills now go to the Senate for further action.

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March 13, 2014

HPV vaccination bill heads to Senate

Legislation aimed at getting more children vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) was amended yesterday so that children would only receive the vaccinations if their parents or guardians took steps to indicate their approval

Adults who receive HPV vaccinations as children have a lower risk of becoming infected with the virus, which can spread through sexual contact and cause cervical cancer and other diseases

The original version of the HPV vaccine legislation, House Bill 311, sponsored by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, called for vaccinations for girls from 9-16 years old and boys ages 10-16 enrolled in the sixth grade unless their parents or guardians provided a written statement opting out

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said his amendment, which was adopted on a 50-45 vote, “simply adds language that requires the school district to send home information on the HPV vaccine … and it requires a parent to opt-in as opposed to opting out.”

The amended version of the legislation requires that parents received information on the HPV virus from their children’s schools upon a child’s enrollment in sixth grade. It further states that “a parent of legal guardian of a child shall always be privileged to decide whether he or she wants his or her child to be immunized against human papillomavirus, and shall only be requested to opt-in to a vaccination program…”

In opposing the amendment to his bill, Watkins emphasized that his original proposal would provide parents a chance to opt children out of the vaccinations. “I feel this amendment is intrusive (and) adds additional burden to all our school systems which already are burdened by too much expense,” he said.

After being amended, HB 311 passed the House on a 60-37 vote. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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March 12, 2014

Senate approves cannabis oil bill

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Senate unanimously approved a bill today that would allow research and limited medical use of cannabis oil

Senate Bill 124, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would allow doctors at the state’s two university research hospitals to prescribe cannabis oil to patients. The bill also would allow the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville medical schools to conduct studies of the oil which can be derived from industrial hemp or marijuana plants

Supporters of the measure say it is an effective treatment for certain medical conditions, including pediatric epilepsy

“This bill is designed to be one more tool in the toolbox for those children to help preserve their quality of life and help preserve their life,” Denton said

SB 124 now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.

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March 12, 2014

Legislative calendar bill clears Senate committee

FRANKFORT -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee unanimously approved a bill today that would let voters decide on a proposed change to the Kentucky General Assembly’s annual legislative session calendars

Senate Bill 195, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, proposes an amendment to the State Constitution that would reduce the number of working days during regular legislative sessions

Under the proposal, regular legislative sessions during even-numbered years would be reduced from 60 to 45 working days. Final adjournment would be required as it is currently, by April 15. The bill also proposes cutting odd-numbered year regular sessions from 30 working days to five working days. An additional ten legislative days could be used to extend an odd-numbered year regular session, or for a special session called by legislative leaders anytime during the biennium

According to the bill’s sponsor, the governor’s authority to call a special session without time limits would not be affected by this legislation

The bill would save up to $7 million dollars annually and is an attempt to make legislative offices more accessible to Kentuckians unable to get involved in the process due to work, family or other time constraints, Stivers said

“This is an attempt, I believe, to return us back to what the framers of our Constitution believed our role should be. And that is of a citizen legislature,” he said

SB 195 now goes to the full Senate for further action. If the measure becomes law, the question will be posed to voters for final ratification in the 2014 general election in November.

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March 11, 2014

House budget committee passes state budget, revenue bill

FRANKFORT--The House budget committee today gave its approval to a nearly $20.3 billion two-year state budget proposal that would trim funding for most of state government, leave some areas untouched, and offer modest increases for foster parents and private child care providers

Most of the spending in House Bill 235, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, closely mirrors the budget proposed by the Governor in January. Like that budget, the House proposal would ensure an additional $189 million in guaranteed base per pupil funding (or SEEK funds) for schools, protect Medicaid, and provide nearly $1 billion in new General Fund-supported debt for capital construction while fully funding required contributions to the state’s pension system. HB 235 also would expand preschool for over 5,000 more four-year-olds, and increase funding school textbooks, though at levels lower than originally proposed in the governor’s spending plan

The House also proposes five percent cuts across most of state government —leading to cumulative cuts of 41.5 percent for some agencies since 2008—with lesser cuts of 2.5 percent for the universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the Kentucky State Police. At the same time, teachers and state employees would receive pay raises over the biennium with higher amounts given to lower-paid state workers in 2015.

Yet while the House’s proposal is similar to the Governor’s, it is not identical.

The House proposal would include nearly $30 million over the biennium for the Kentucky Pride environmental program, spend nearly $32 million in General Funds to restore the state’s PVAs to base level funding without reliance on new fees, appropriate $1.2 million to hire more 15 social workers for the Department of Public Advocacy, and boost private child care provider rates by $6 million over the next two years, among other provisions.

The additional General Fund dollars for HB 235 would come from a separate revenue bill, HB 445, which is also sponsored by Rand and was both amended and approved by the budget committee. That bill would add $23.4 million to the General Fund, $60.8 million to the state Road Fund, and $4.5 million in restricted funds through specific revenue measures.

The debt capacity ratio, which basically indicates the state’s ability to borrow, under HB 235 would be the same as proposed by the Governor. The amount of new debt proposed by the Governor over the next biennium is around $1.9 billion.

The state’s rainy day fund, officially called the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, would not be tapped under HB 235. Instead, HB 235 would add around $1.5 million to the trust fund, bringing the fund total to around $99.5 million.

The House budget committee also approved the nearly $840 million two-year Judicial Branch budget found in HB 238 and nearly $117 million Legislative Branch budget found in HB 253. Those budgets also include five percent operational cuts as required for the Executive Branch in HB 235.

All four bills now go to the House for further action.

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March 7, 2014

This Week at the State Capitol

March 3 – 7, 2014

FRANKFORT – The 58 granite steps leading to the State Capitol’s front doors mark a place where Kentuckians arrive with hope

This is where they come aspiring to make their voices heard and see their ideas for a better future become reality as statewide public policy.

These steps were a backdrop to a historic scene 50 years ago as 10,000 Kentuckians, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., completed a march through a late-winter chill up Frankfort’s Capitol Avenue. Newspaper reports of the day say marchers arrived at the Capitol steps united in purpose, with hopeful and soaring hearts, making a full-throated call for Kentucky’s governor and lawmakers to support a ban on discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations

“It was the greatest demonstration this Capitol has ever seen,” The Courier-Journal said on the next day’s front page.

Two years later, the Kentucky Civil Rights Act was signed into law, making Kentucky the first southern state with a civil rights law.

Kentuckians inspired by Dr. King’s message converged on Frankfort again this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Frankfort. On Wednesday morning, a crowd stretching several city blocks followed the path to the Capitol taken by King and the original marchers

Once again, messages of hope were spread through freedom songs, chants, banners, speeches, smiles and laughter, and optimism that Kentucky is moving toward a brighter future.

Some marchers climbed the Capitol steps after the celebration to see their representative democracy at work. Many met with lawmakers, others attended legislative committee meetings, some stayed to witness Senate and House proceedings that afternoon.

Those who visited the Capitol that day – and every day the General Assembly was in session this week – had much to see. With the 2014 session in its final half, the legislative process is picking up speed with each passing day

Bills that took steps forward this week include the following:
  • SB 109 would prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. E-cigs resemble traditional cigarettes and use vapors or aerosols to deliver nicotine to users without the usual cigarette smoke. SB 109 was approved by the Senate on a 36-2 vote and sent to the House for consideration.
  • HB 145 would allow an end-of life order known as a “medical order for scope of treatment” to be used by Kentuckians. Such orders summarize patients’ preferences on life-sustaining measures and end-of-life medical care in the form of physicians’ orders. The bill passed the House 86-7 and awaits the Senate’s consideration
  • SB 100 would expedite the processing of applications for concealed deadly weapons licenses by creating an electronic application process. Electronic applications would be processed in two weeks or less. Currently, paper applications must be processed within 60 days. The Senate approved the bill 37-0 and sent it to the House for further action
  • HB 256 would create an adult abuse registry to help employers find out if applicants for adult-care jobs have been caught abusing, exploiting or neglecting adults. The legislation was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee and sent to the House chamber.
  • SB 106 would allow domestic violence victims who have been granted emergency protective orders to receive provisional concealed deadly weapon permits in one business day. Petitioners would undergo the same application process as others but would have 45 days to complete the training required for a full concealed carry license. The bill passed the Senate 35-0 and awaits action in the House.
  • HB 62 would prevent those convicted of first-degree rape from claiming parental rights to children born as a result of the assaults. The House passed the measure 92-0 and sent it to the Senate for consideration
  • HB 222 would prohibit gas chambers from being used to euthanize animals in Kentucky animal shelters. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against routine use of gas chambers in shelters unless they meet stringent standards and criteria that are considered difficult for many Kentucky shelters to meet. The bill passed the House 84-6 and awaits Senate consideration.

This week also marked the arrival of the session’s deadlines for introducing new bills in the House and Senate. All told, more than 800 bills have been filed for consideration in this year’s 60-day session. With the passing of the deadline to add to that number, Capitol observers now have a clearer picture of the range of issues lawmakers will be considering in the days to come

The granddaddy of this session’s issues is expected to take a significant step forward next week. The House budget committee is plans to take up the state budget and put its own stamp on the $20.3 billion, two-year spending plan proposed by the governor before sending it to the full House for consideration. Once approved there, the spending plan will receive its turn in the Senate.

That makes this a crucial time for Kentuckians to stay in close touch with their lawmakers and offer feedback on the issues of the day. Citizens can see which bills are under consideration and keep track of their progress by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. Kentuckians can also share their thoughts with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

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March 6, 2014

End-of-life care bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—An end-of-life order known as “medical order for scope of treatment” would be allowed in Kentucky under a bill that passed the Kentucky House today on an 86-7 vote.

Medical orders for scope of treatment spell out a patient’s wishes for their end-of-life care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be physician’s orders and are signed by both the patient or patient’s legal surrogate, and the patient’s physician.

A standard form for the orders would be developed by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure for use statewide, according to the bill, House Bill 145

“As a physician, I want to help people live and have a quality of life as long as they can,” said Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, the bill’s sponsor. “But I sure don’t want to prolong suffering and agony … it’s our duty to make sure we keep our people in the final hours and final days of their life as comfortable as possible, and also to follow their wishes as close to the letter of the law as we can.”

If a patient whose care is directed by a medical order for scope of treatment is not competent to sign the document his or her self, someone else would be chosen to speak for the patient, Watkins said

Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, proposed an amendment that was voted down that would have prohibited such orders from allowing food and water to be withheld from a patient unless death was “inevitable and imminent.”

“When a person is in a dire physical condition, who may not know what they are doing, that decision to withhold food and water should not be made unless a power of attorney is granted, or a guardianship is appointed,” said Fischer. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 18-69.

HB 145 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

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March 6, 2014

Senate approves e-cigarette bill

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would limit the sale of electronic cigarettes cleared the Kentucky Senate by a 36-2 vote today

Senate Bill 109, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes and vaporized nicotine to minors. The measure would put the electronic devices and alternative nicotine products under the same rules and regulations as tobacco products. Retailers would face the same fines and penalties for selling e-cigarettes to anyone less than 18 years old as they would for selling tobacco products to minors

E-cigarettes have a battery, electric circuit, or other component that allows them to produce vaporized or aerosol nicotine

“Since the FDA hasn’t taken a stance on these e-cigarettes and other types of vapors that are being used by a lot of people these days, this (would) protect our youth,” Hornback said

SB 109 now goes to the House of Representatives for further action

Legislation that would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, House Bill 309, was approved by a House committee last month.

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March 6, 2014

Public-private partnership bill clears House budget committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow the use of public-private partnerships, or P3s, to finance major government projects in the Commonwealth has cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

P3s are public services or private ventures financed through partnerships between the public sector and one or more private companies.

House Bill 407 would impact a wide range of government projects, said Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, who sponsors the legislation with House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris

“It’s intended to do things all over the Commonwealth of Kentucky in several different areas,” which may include higher education and transportation projects, Combs said.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said the bill will be “enabling legislation” for public-private partnerships to help fund multiple high-cost projects. Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, mentioned one project that could be affected is work on the aging Brent Spence Bridge linking Northern Kentucky and Ohio.

“The mere possibility of the utilization of this bill as a device to toll the bridge that lies in Northern Kentucky I feel is an affront and am really somewhat taken aback by it,” said Simpson. He asked Hancock if the bill could lead to tolls to fund construction of the Brent Spence Bridge project

Yes, according to Hancock, who said, “tolls will be a part of this project; otherwise there simply isn’t the money to accomplish the project.”

Combs said she understands concerns that Simpson (who presented a committee amendment that was not taken up by the committee) and others may have about HB 407 and how it could affect the Brent Spence Bridget project. But she also said the bill affects “far more” than the Brent Spence Bridge

“Whether they build that bridge, or not, is up to the Northern Kentucky people,” Combs said.

Another Northern Kentucky legislator, Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, said she believes in the importance of public-private partnerships but passed on voting for the bill until, she said, she sees Simpson’s proposed amendment.

The bill now goes to the House for further action.

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March 3, 2014

Kentucky Senate and House will not meet in session today

FRANKFORT – Due to inclement weather and concerns about hazardous road conditions, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will not convene today

Both chambers are scheduled to reconvene tomorrow (Tuesday, March 4.) The Senate is scheduled to go into session at 2 p.m. and the House will reconvene at 4 p.m.

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February 28, 2014

House approves bill to restrict phone use in highway work, school zones

FRANKFORT -- Making phone calls when driving through highway work zones or school zones with flashing school-zone lights would be outlawed by a bill that cleared the House today, 62-32.

House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Terry Mills, would add the proposed offense—which would include reading, selecting, or entering names or phone numbers into a device to make a phone call—to the state’s no-texting-while-driving law. It would also increase fines from $25 to $50 for a first offense and from $50 to $100 for each subsequent offense for anyone violating the law.

The bill was amended by the House to exempt drivers with hands-free communications devices like Bluetooth from HB 33’s requirements. Drivers of emergency or public safety vehicles would also be exempt

“The evidence is clear: distracted driving kills and injures too many people on our roadways,” said Mills, D-Lebanon. He said the number of deaths caused by distracted driving now exceeds deaths from accidents caused by DUIs

It is illegal for anyone to text while driving in Kentucky, and for those under 18 to use a cell phone while driving in Kentucky. Those age 18 and over, drivers of safety and emergency vehicles, and those calling for help or reporting illegal activity are currently allowed to make calls while driving anywhere in the Commonwealth

Fines collected from violators of HB 33 would go to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Kentucky for injury prevention research, according to the bill.

HB 33 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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February 27, 2014

Medical marijuana bill passes House committee

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana by Kentuckians with certain medical conditions has cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee on a 9-5 vote

If House Bill 350 becomes law, the use, distribution, and cultivation of medical marijuana would be permitted under Kentucky law to alleviate the symptoms of patients diagnosed by a medical provider with a debilitating medical condition. A licensing and registration system to allow the use, growth, and distribution of the drug would be established through protocols set out in HB 350, which is sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.

Conditions that would be allowed to be treated with medical marijuana under HB 350 include a terminal illness, peripheral neuropathy, anorexia, cancer, glaucoma, HIV positive status, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, diabetes, fibromyalgia, autism, ulcerative colitis, injuries that significantly interfere with daily activities, treatment of specific symptoms of a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or other medical conditions added by the state.

While the use, sale, and possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, the laws of 20 states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use and cultivation of medical marijuana, according to the HB 350.

Marzian said she has heard from citizens across the state “that this is something that could possibly relieve, if not alleviate and eradicate, symptoms of many, many diseases and conditions.”

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who explained he feels the legislation would allow the “notion of medical marijuana” with a lack of prescribing guidelines or thorough study. “These are the things have to be studied,” said Benvenuti. “We can work together to try to encourage the FDA to do true clinical trials in this area.”

HB 350 now goes to the full House for further action.

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February 26, 2014

Pipeline legislation clears House Judiciary

FRANKFORT—Private property could not be taken by eminent domain for the transport of natural gas liquids under a bill approved today by the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee substitute to House Bill 31 approved by the committee would prohibit the taking of private land by eminent domain for the construction of a natural gas liquids pipeline, such as the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline that could possibly run through 13 Kentucky counties

HB 31 is sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Rep. David Floyd, D-Bardstown

“I think there are multiple reasons why there is legal justification and common sense justification” for excluding natural gas liquids from eminent domain powers, Tilley said. “The most overriding factor is that the statutes have never contemplated natural gas liquids. We have a new player in the game, essentially.”

Tilley said he would be open to amendments to the legislation on the House floor, where the bill is now headed

Floyd clarified that the legislation will not “kill the Bluegrass Pipeline,” but that the pipeline builders “won’t be able to use eminent domain to condemn property from people who don’t want it to be done.”

The committee’s vote on HB 31 followed about three hours of public testimony in the House Judiciary Committee. One of those speaking against use of eminent domain for the Bluegrass Pipeline project was Scott County resident Cindy Foster, who told the committee that she was approached by a pipeline representative who told her land could be taken by eminent domain

“Please, please think about us. It’s not about jobs today, it’s not about environmental impact. Today it’s about our rights,” Foster told the committee.

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February 25, 2014

School calendar bill clears House Education Committee

School districts would have more flexibility in dealing with snow days and other events that require changes to the school calendar under legislation approved yesterday by the House Education Committee.

House Bill 383, sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, would maintain the same requirement for 1,062 instructional hours annually that schools have now. The minimum number of student instructional days would go from 175 to 170 annually, but school boards that have to to amend school calendars would be given the flexibility to adjust school days by 30 minutes or more if needed to ensure that they are meeting state requirements on student instruction.

“It does not diminish or take away the 1,062 instructional hours that we require…but allows (districts) flexibility in planning their school calendar,” Wuchner said

The minimum school term of 185 days—including student attendance days, teacher professional days, and school holidays – would not change if HB 383 becomes law

Wuchner and others testifying on the bill said the legislation would help schools that have lost student attendance days this winter due to bad weather.

HB 383 would also prohibit a district from scheduling a student attendance day on election days

The bill would also clarify that the commissioner of education can waive up to 10 days from a school calendar when bad weather or other emergencies cause a district to create an approved alternate instructional plan “so that no education is lost during that process,” Wuchner said

The bill now goes to the full House for further action. It would take effect immediately if it passes both the House and Senate and becomes law.

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February 25, 2014

Panel approves bill to stop drivers from using phones in work, school zones

Making phone calls while driving through state highway work zones when workers are present or in school zones when lights are flashing would be prohibited under a bill that cleared the House Transportation Committee yesterday.

House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, also would increase fines for anyone violating the state’s no-texting-while texting law from $25 to $50 for a first offense and from $50 to $100 for each subsequent offense.

“We are here with this bill for one reason. And that is that distracted driving kills,” Rep. Mills said.

The bill calls for 50 percent of all fines collected from violators to go to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Kentucky for injury prevention research.

Drivers who use hands-free devices like Bluetooth would be exempt from the legislation under an amendment approved by the committee. The amendment was submitted by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence.

“Many of these devices now are so sophisticated that your phone rings and it says, ‘Do you want to answer?’ and you say ‘yes’ and it answers, or it’s within your car system so that you’re not dialing, picking up your phone, or even looking at your phone,” Wuchner said

The new prohibitions included in HB 33 would not apply to drivers of safety or emergency vehicles

It is illegal for anyone to text while driving in Kentucky, and for those under 18 to use a cell phone while driving in Kentucky. Those age 18 and over, drivers of safety and emergency vehicles, and those calling for help or reporting illegal activity are currently allowed to make calls while driving anywhere in the Commonwealth

HB 33 now goes to the House chamber for further action.

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February 21, 2014

Preschool book bill goes to Senate

FRANKFORT -- Kentucky would launch a statewide initiative to foster an appreciation for books among its preschoolers under a bill that cleared the House today by a vote of 97-0

House Bill 341, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, would create the “Books for Brains” program to provide age-appropriate books for children age five and under who are registered to receive the books through an arrangement with a private nonprofit. The nonprofit would be in charge of book selection and mailing, while local partners in Kentucky counties would help coordinate the program

The program—which would be governed by a seven-member board appointed by the Governor—would be based on the popular Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program, which provides books to preschool age children in the U.S. and other countries.

“Print-rich environments are a good thing,” Tilley said. “In fact, one particular study says that kids from print-rich environments enter school with seven times the vocabulary of kids who don’t have books in the home.”

HB 341 would also create a restricted fund to be administered by the state. No funds have yet been appropriated for the program, said Tilley, who pushed an amendment through the House that clarifies the Board would only be required to provide funding for the program as private donations, grants and other funds become available.

Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, who, like Tilley, represents part of Trigg County where a similar program is underway, said “it is just truly awesome the effect (this program) has on the community, on kids, and if we’re serious about education this is a foundational plate that I think we’d start with.”

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February 20, 2014

School insulin bill heading to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT—A bill that would require schools to have an employee on duty to administer insulin and epilepsy medication to students is on its way to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 98, sponsored by Rep. Robert Damron, D-Nicholasville, received final passage today in the House by a vote of 96-2. The bill would require that a licensed health worker, non-licensed health technician, or trained school employee be on duty at schools to administer or help with self-administration of insulin, other approved diabetes drugs, and seizure rescue drugs approved by the federal government.

Written permission from a child’s parent or guardian and instructions from the child’s health care provider would be required before any of the medications could be administered, according to HB 98. The legislation states that schools would have to implement the training requirements in the bill beginning this July 15

Damron said Kentucky is poised to become the 34th state to adopt legislation similar to HB 98.

The legislation would also allow children to perform their own blood glucose checks and self-administer insulin at school upon written request of their parents or guardians and authorization by a child’s health provider.

HB 98 includes an emergency clause that would make the bill effective upon being signed into law.

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February 20, 2014

Adult abuse registry bill heads to House

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Senate approved a measure today that would create an adult abuse registry in the state

Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, would direct the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to maintain the adult abuse registry of substantiated cases of abuse or neglect by paid caregivers. The bill would require personal care agencies, including nursing home facilities, to check the registry as part of the background check process prior to hiring an individual

SB 98 would create due process protections for individuals accused of abuse or neglect and would allow them to appeal their cases to civil court. The bill would also permit individuals to provide their registry information to families or others seeking to hire a personal caregiver

“It is about protecting those elderly and disabled, vulnerable adults who are not in a position to be able to protect themselves,” Gregory said

SB 98 was approved unanimously and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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February 20, 2014

Senate passes concealed weapon bill

The Senate passed a bill, 30-4, today that would make changes to the concealed carry law in Kentucky

Senate Bill 60, sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, would allow those with concealed carry permits to bring their guns into bars as long as they do not consume alcohol.

The legislation allows Kentuckians with concealed carry permits to “legally defend themselves in a setting where they may have to do that,” Schickel said

The measure would also allow firearms safety instructors to issue certificates of completion, rather than the Department of Criminal Justice Training. This would help expedite the permit process, Schickel said

Another provision of the bill would eliminate the requirement that applicants clean their weapon during the concealed carry class and replace it with a demonstration of proper weapon cleaning techniques by the instructor.

Lawmakers opposing the bill cited concerns about permitting concealed loaded weapons at drinking establishments

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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February 20, 2014

Bill to require fingerprinting of potential long-term care providers advances

FRANKFORT— Those applying to work in long-term care facilities or with long-term care providers in Kentucky would be fingerprinted as part of a national and state background check under legislation passed today by the House Health and Welfare committee.

House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, would mandate the fingerprint checks, registry checks and a check of professional licensure board information as part of a National and State Background Check Program mandated by the bill. That program would be overseen by the state, with hospitals exempt from the legislation.

“We believe that this is going to be a great improvement over the name-based check,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services representative Eric Friedlander, whose Cabinet would establish the program. “We believe that we should get a response time of (24 to) 48 hours.”

The fingerprint checks required by HB 277 would be performed by the Kentucky State Police and the FBI, according to the bill.

Those who appear on a registry, whose professional license is not in good standing, or who are otherwise disqualified based on the state’s determination would be prohibited from working with long-term care facilities and providers or from performing state inspections of such workplaces, according to the legislation.

The bill now returns to the House chamber for further action.

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February 19, 2014

Senate approves felon voting rights bill

FRANKFORT -- The Senate approved a measure today that would allow Kentuckians to vote on the next general election ballot on whether or not to restore voting rights of some convicted felons

House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, and House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, proposes an amendment to the state Constitution that would restore voting rights to non-violent felons who have completed their sentence, probation or parole and paid any restitution required

Currently, convicted felons in Kentucky can appeal to the Governor for an executive branch pardon that would restore their voting rights

HB 70 would provide a “second path” for voting right restoration, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said

A committee substitute on the bill, approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee, would require felons to wait five years after completing all terms of their sentences before being allowed to vote. Anyone convicted of an additional crime during the waiting period would become ineligible for the restoration of voting rights without a pardon from the governor, as would those convicted of multiple felonies

“(This) would give them a chance to re-immerse themselves in society, to prove that they (will) not commit another crime, at which time their voting rights will be automatically restored,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said

Some lawmakers expressed concern regarding what they called limitations in the committee substitute. According to Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, the committee substitute would reduce the number of felons eligible for voting right restoration under HB 70 by nearly 100,000 people. “Those people paid their debt,” he said

HB 70 cleared the Senate on a 34-4 vote and now goes back to the House of Representatives for consideration of the Senate’s changes to the bill.

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February 19, 2014

Felony expungement bill heading to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow low-level, one-time Kentucky felons to ask the courts to erase—or “expunge”—their felony records cleared the House today on a 79-21 vote.

House Bill 64, sponsored by Rep. Darryl T. Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, would apply to a Class D felon whose conviction was not based on a sex crime, elder abuse, or a crime against a child; who completed a sentence or probation at least five years prior; and who has not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or violation since the felony conviction they want erased. It would also apply to those whose felony charges did not result in an indictment

Provisions in the original bill that would have made it “unlawful discrimination" for an employer to refuse to hire, to suspend, or otherwise "discriminate against” someone who had a Class D felony expunged under HB 64 were removed from the legislation by the House.

A Class D felony is a low-level felony that carries between a year and five years in jail or prison, according to current law.

An amendment to the bill approved by the House would still require those with an expunged criminal record to reveal that record as required by federal or state law or regulation. Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, asked what law or regulation would require disclosure.

Owens said in the banking and securities industry there are some federal regulations “which basically exceed the requirements of this.” A similar situation may arise in the drug industry, he said. “In those cases, if an individual wanted to, let’s say, get employment as a securities agent or one of those positions and work in a pharmacy, they would have to reveal what their past was and that agency would make the determination as to whether they qualify to perform that job.”

Lee said he has concerns about some private employers being allowed to require disclosure of an expunged record on an application for employment while others don’t have that ability. “There’s an inequity there—we’re not treating all employers equally.” Questions were also raised by some lawmakers about access to expunged records given to government agencies in special cases.

As many as 94,000 individuals could be eligible for expungement under the legislation, according to testimony provided by Owens in committee earlier this session. Current Kentucky law only allows expungement in misdemeanor cases that are not based on sex crimes or crimes against children

Speaking on the bill on the House floor, Floyd told his colleagues: “Every one of us wants justice to be done, so let justice be done. And then let it be done.”

The legislation would be retroactive, meaning it would allow any eligible Class D felons to ask the court to expunge their records. It would also allow anyone convicted of an eligible non-felony offense to ask the courts to expunge that record.

Felons whose records are expunged by the state under HB 64 would also be able to own firearms. Current state law forbids any Kentucky felon to possess a firearm.

HB 64 now goes to the Senate.

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February 19, 2014

E-cigarette bill clears House panel

FRANKFORT—Electronic cigarettes would be regulated as tobacco products in Kentucky under legislation that passed the House Licensing and Occupations Committee today.

House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would include the relatively new product among cigarettes, cigars, and other types of tobacco products that are state regulated. It would also make e-cigarettes off limits to anyone under age 18.

E-cigarettes have a battery, electric circuit, or other component that allows them to produce vaporized or aerosol nicotine. The nicotine is derived from tobacco grown in India and China, said National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids regional director Amy Barkley, who testified on the bill with Jenkins before the committee.

Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, questioned whether e-cigarettes would be taxed as tobacco products if redefined under HB 309. Jenkins said that would be up to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, which is now working on a state budget proposal for the next two years.

Concerns about how broadly the legislation could be interpreted were expressed by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who asked Jenkins, “… why don’t we just have a bill that says, e-cigarettes: You can’t buy them if you’re 18.”

“I guess because the industry is constantly changing, and if we just say e-cigarettes next year there’ll be a another product very similar but that’s not exactly an e-cigarette,” Jenkins said.

HB 309 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

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February 18, 2014

‘Books for Brains’ preschool program passes House panel

The House Education Committee today passed a bill that would establish a statewide “Books for Brains” program to encourage reading among Kentucky’s preschoolers.

The program, which would be created with passage of House Bill 341, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, would provide age-appropriate books to children age 5 and under statewide through an arrangement with a private nonprofit that would select and mail the books. The program would be based on the popular Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program, which partners locally to provide books to preschool age children in the U.S. and other countries.

Imagination Library has delivered nearly 40 million books to children in the US, Canada, and the UK since it began operations in 1996, according to the organization’s web site.

Books for Brains would be administered by the state Department for Libraries and Archives, which would also oversee a trust fund that would be established by the bill. Tilley said no moneys have been appropriated for the program, said Tilley.

In response to a question from Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, Tilley said the bill could be amended on the House floor to clarify that language in HB 341 regarding appropriation of funds would serve only as what Tilley called “a placeholder” until money is actually appropriated.

According to Tilley, 49 Kentucky counties are already engaged in some way with the Imagination Library program.

Trigg County optometrist Dr. Scott Sutherland, who is involved with the Imagination Library program in Trigg County and testified alongside Tilley, said around 90 percent of Trigg County preschoolers participate in that county’s Imagination Library program. Over 7,000 books were distributed to preschool age children through the Trigg County program over the past year, Sutherland said. The cost per book, he said, was $2.06

HB 341 was reported back to the House for further action.

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February 14, 2014

Early childhood bill clears House on 79-11 vote

FRANKFORT—A bill that spells out how, and who, will play a role in developing a quality-based early child care and education rating system with help from around $44 million in federal grant funds passed the Kentucky House today, 79-11.

House Bill 332, sponsored by Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, and Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, sets out that early care and education providers would work with the state, family resource centers, Head Start, and others statewide to develop a quality-based graduated early care and education program rating system for licensed child care and certified family child-care homes, state-funded preschool, and Head Start. Full implementation of the rating system for those entities would be required under the bill by the end of June 2017.

The $44.3 million in federal funds to carry out HB 332, Graham said, would come from the federal “Race to the Top” early learning challenge fund grant that Kentucky received after being allowed to compete for the grant with the approval of the 2010 Kentucky General Assembly

“This legislation will give Kentucky families a system to clearly show the quality of early childhood programs across the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Graham said. “We are not changing the requirements for the programs—what we are doing is providing additional support to those who want to achieve at a higher level of quality. The end goal is that more children will be in a high-quality early childhood program, and, as a result, they will be ready for kindergarten when the time comes,” Graham said.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, asked how the program would be funded when the grant funding runs out over the next four years. He filed an amendment—which was narrowly defeated by a vote of 42-47—that would have required the rating system be discontinued after the Race to the Top grant funds are depleted.

“Who’s going to pay for it once the money runs out?” DeCesare asked on the House floor. “I’ve never gotten an answer on that.”

Graham said the purpose of the grant is “to lay a foundation that would allow the school districts to sustain it once that foundation is in place.” He said properly-trained child care providers would then train those coming into the system from that point on.

DeCesare expressed concern that program could end up being “another not-only unfunded mandate on the state but our school districts as well…I do have concerns about how it’s going to be paid for after that three or four years when the $44 million is gone.”

HB 332 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

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February 13, 2014

Booster seat bill passes House 65-32

FRANKFORT—Children under age nine who are between 3 feet three inches and 4 ¾ feet tall would be required to use booster seats in automobiles under a bill is on its way to the Senate.

House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, and Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mt. Sterling, passed the House today by a 65-32 vote. The measure would change the state’s current requirement of booster seats for children under age 7 who are between 40 and 50 inches tall.

Any child—no matter his or her age—who is over 57 inches tall would be allowed to ride in an automobile without using a booster seat if HB 199 becomes law.

Passage of HB 199 would put Kentucky in line with 32 states that currently have the requirements it proposes, including the seven states surrounding the Commonwealth, Hall said. He added that 70 percent of traffic-related child injuries fall in the seven-to eight-year-old age group based on a report from a University of Kentucky trauma specialist.

“This legislation would protect our children. If you believe the words of Lincoln, that our greatest resource is our children, then it’s our duty to protect them,” he told the House.

HB 199 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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February 10, 2014

Coal county scholarship bill passes House

FRANKFORT—Students from Kentucky coal counties who are trying to complete their bachelor’s degree would have access to the state’s Coal County College Completion Scholarship program under a bill that passed the House today, 92-0.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, would expand and put into law the KCCCC pilot program implemented by the Executive Branch for nine Eastern Kentucky counties in 2012. The scholarships would be expanded to students in the state’s 34 coal counties in both east and west Kentucky under HB 2.

“Students in these counties are going to college,” said Combs. “They’re going to college, and most of them are going away to college, but they are not completing their baccalaureate degree. What we’ve proven through the pilot program (is) that indeed, if they stay at home, and they go to one of those institutions closer to home, they are more likely to complete that baccalaureate degree.”

In order to qualify for a scholarship under HB 2, a student would have to be at least a one-year resident of a coal-producing county, have earned at least 60 credit hours toward a four-year degree, and be enrolled at an eligible college or university with at least half of their course load at the upper-division level. Most of the scholarships would go toward students attending postsecondary colleges or universities in coal counties; only five percent of total funds would be set aside for scholarships for students from coal counties who attend an approved program outside the coal regions.

A total of $4 million in multi-county coal severance funds for the scholarships is in the Governor’s Executive Branch budget proposal, which has been filed for legislative consideration as HB 235 this legislative session.

HB 2 would also create student services grants for the state’s community and technical colleges located in the coal regions. Grant amounts would total $150,000 per institution per year.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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February 6, 2014

Senate Bill 1 advances to House

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate approved a measure today that would let Kentuckians vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to prohibit the adoption of administrative regulations it finds deficient.

Currently, when the General Assembly isn’t in session, lawmakers on a review panel can vote to find administrative regulations deficient. The executive branch can choose to enact the administrative regulations anyway.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, proposes amending the State Constitution to give the General Assembly the authority to block those regulations it finds lacking

“It is the legislature’s responsibility as the law-making body of government to determine what public policy should govern the people,” Bowen told lawmakers. Currently, lawmakers don’t fully have that authority, he said.

The measure would allow the full General Assembly or a committee appointed by the legislature to review and approve or reject administrative regulations proposed by the executive branch throughout the year. Supporters of the bill say this expands the ability to address deficient regulations legislatively outside of the annual sessions

“It preserves one of the most basic tenants of a democratic form of government: A balance of power, a system of checks and balances,” Bowen said.

Some lawmakers said the measure would give the legislative branch too much power and expressed concern that it could possibly allow a committee smaller than the full General Assembly to void administrative regulations that could have statewide implications.

The legislative branch “has achieved a sufficient degree of legislative independence to fulfill our constitutional duty,” said Senate Democratic Whip Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville. “This proposed amendment would usurp the executive branch and take on elements of all three branches.”

Senate Bill 1 was approved on a 24-14 vote and now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

As with any amendment to the Constitution, it would be posed to voters on the November ballot for final ratification before it could go into effect.

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February 6, 2014

Minimum wage increase bills pass House

FRANKFORT—The state’s hourly minimum wage would increase for the first time since 2009 under a bill that passed the House today by a 54-44 vote.

Under House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, Kentucky’s minimum wage would increase in increments from the current rate of $7.25 up to $10.10. The bill calls for the minimum wage to rise to $8.20 an hour this year, then to $9.15 an hour in July 2015, before ending at $10.10 an hour in 2016. It would also require Kentucky workers be paid equal wages for equal work, regardless of sex, race, or national origin, with a few exceptions.

The bill was amended by the House to exempt employees of what Stumbo called “mom-and-pop businesses” with average annual gross sales of $500,000 or less for the last five years (excluding excise tax) from the proposed wage increase.

Stumbo said a minimum wage worker in Kentucky currently earns around $15,080 a year. More than 400,000 Kentuckians—which is a little over 9 percent of the state’s total population—would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage, Stumbo said, adding that a large percentage of affected workers would be women.

“I believe those are small increases for the increased morale and work productivity you will see,” said Stumbo.

Opponents of the legislation included House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who said HB 1 would ultimately increase the state’s minimum wage by 39 percent. That, he explained, would burden entities like local governments and public school districts—the latter which he said would be impacted by more than $40 million over the next decade, should HB 1 pass.

While HB 1 does not address an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, another bill passed by a vote of 57-40 in the House today that would. HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, would raise that wage from $2.13 an hour to $3 an hour this year, then incrementally each year until the wage is 70 percent of the state minimum wage for non-tipped employees, addressed in HB 1.

Both bills now go to the Senate.

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February 4, 2014

Coal county scholarship and grant bill heads to House

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would help college students from Kentucky’s coal counties complete four-year degrees in their home areas with help from a “Kentucky Coal County College Completion Scholarship” has cleared the House Education Committee.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, would fund scholarships mostly for students living and attending school in the state’s coal-producing counties in both Eastern and Western Kentucky. The bill would provide five percent of total scholarship funds for students who want to attend an approved program outside of those coal counties, according to the bill

Scholarships available to eligible students under HB 2 for the 2014-15 academic year would total a maximum of $6,800 per academic year for students attending an independent college or university in the coal counties, $2,300 per year for students of a public extension campus or regional postsecondary center in those counties, or $3,400 per year for those students eligible to attend a program located in Kentucky but outside the coal counties.

The legislation would also create student services grants for Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges located in the coal regions. Grant amounts would total $150,000 per institution per year, according to HB 2

Stumbo said HB 2 is designed to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees earned in coal regions—especially those coal counties in deep Eastern Kentucky. While the Eastern coalfields graduate as many two-year degree holders as any other region of the state, there is a lag in four-year degree attainment because of “accessibility,” Stumbo said

“What we’re trying to do is obviously open the door for those who want to get the four-year degree,” he Stumbo.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, who said she is familiar with scholarship-to-work arrangements in the medical field, asked if HB 2 contains a provision to obligate those receiving scholarships to pay back some of that money if certain conditions aren’t met. Combs said that idea has been discussed, but since these are general four-year undergraduate degrees “there’s not really a good way right now that we can come up with to do something like that.”

Wuchner offered the suggestion that “there be an understanding of obligation if you don’t complete two years.” She said students would then feel they have an obligation to “at least complete a minimum of two years in the process.”

Funds for the program proposed in HB 2 would be distributed from a “coal county college completion scholarship fund” to be administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. According to HB 2, that fund would include coal severance tax dollars, gifts and/or grants from public or private sources, or federal funds. It would not include state General Fund dollars, the bill says.

HB 2 now goes to the full House for consideration.

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January 31, 2014

THIS WEEK IN FRANKFORT

By Scott Payton

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

It was written 414 winters ago that ‘If’ was the key word in politics. And not as a bad thing

‘Much virtue in If.’

Now that January has mercifully blown through – and with it Tuesday’s candidate filing deadline -- the landscape in Frankfort should clear of its cold, uncertain fog. Time to address the virtue in questions of If

We can wonder:

If last year’s bipartisan cooperation will be sustained through a longer, more rigorous full session, with a budget on the table and elections in the air?

If a budget can go through both chambers and gets the governor’s signature without a session’s-end trainwreck?

If tax reform will be discussed or dismissed, again?

If casino gambling is seriously debated – or, a historic long-shot, passed? And if passed, will that profoundly change Kentucky’s treasure and Treasury and soul?

If dozens of issues important to someone, or to many, will make it through a process deliberately designed to throw up slowing speedbumps?

Because our shared future is at stake and no public act of law should be undertaken casually or too easily. If the process seems ponderous and hard, it’s meant to be. There are no Kingly dictates in a peoples’ democracy. We meet on shifting ground. We live in civic possibility, in the word ‘if.’

The week in Frankfort saw a stepped up committee meetings schedule, and a clear sense of purposeful movement with the session a fourth over. It’s time

One interesting piece of news relating back to last session came down from Washington this week. It seems the Feds are indeed going to allow pilot projects in growing industrial (non-marijuana) hemp.

Since the last Legislature passed enabling legislation allowing us to proceed in that eventuality, experimental hemp farming may without further legislative action be a reality in Kentucky as soon as this year. Tobacco farmers, wrecked by loss of the old Tobacco Program and looking for ways to feed their kids, are well equipped to transition to hemp if they choose. That story will unfold

Administration budget officials told the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee this week that their spending recommendation includes $19.8 billion in expected General Fund revenues. But their overall proposal is a complex affair. It includes $370 million in fund transfers, $166.8 million in savings from the federal Affordable Care Act, $98.6 million in state spending cuts (including five percent cuts for most state agencies and 2.5 percent cuts for state universities and the Kentucky State Police), a carryover from fiscal year 2014, and other money from other resources or funding lapses.

There’s lots of digging, and moving parts. And plenty for lawmakers to look at in coming weeks of hopeful thaw till a budget’s drawn in March

The budget as proposed from the Administration does not count on funding from casinos or expanded gaming. Nor the Rainy Day Fund, more formally known as the state Budget Reserve Trust Fund, which has $98 million socked away for the worst of times. Nor tax reform money either.

But there’s more than a budget happening in Frankfort

The Senate this week passed an interesting bill that reflects the digital age all kids seem to understand instinctively, but we grownups struggle with. It’s a bill that would allow computer-programming language courses to meet the foreign-language requirement in high school. It’s estimated more than a million good-paying software-programming jobs will be unfilled by 2020. Kentucky kids should be lined up for them. This may help

Another education bill in the Senate would ensure that SEEK funding – the formula used to calculate General Fund dollars to local school districts – could not be withheld from schools as a punishment for perceived transgressions.

A House committee approved a measure to raise the state minimum wage. The bill would raise it from the current $7.25 an hour by 95 cents on July 1 and by another 95 cent each of the next two years. It will land at $10.10 on July 1, 2016. This seems to be an emerging issue nationally, and one worth watching in Kentucky. We may feel like a bellwether

If it happens.

Always in politics, if

For questions, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

If you’re reading this, you have Internet access, so you can log on to www.lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules, and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the Commonwealth. If you need help navigating that site, call LRC Public Information at 502-564-8100.

By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly regularly posts news briefs on its Capitol Notes page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure

You may access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at www.ket.org.

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:
  • A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650
  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835
  • To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Your input is needed, welcome, and crucial to the success of this continuing experiment is representative democracy, and lawmakers welcome your calls.

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January 30, 2014

Minimum wage measures move to full House

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would raise the state’s minimum hourly wage of $7.25 to $10.10 by July 2016 has cleared the House Labor and Industry Committee.

The wage would be increased incrementally to $8.10 an hour this July, $9.15 per hour in July 2015, and $10.10 an hour the following July under House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. The legislation also proposes a prohibition on wage discrimination, specifying that Kentucky workers be paid equal wages for equal work, regardless of sex, race, or national origin, with a few exceptions based on seniority, merit pay, or productivity measures.

Stumbo said approximately 391,000 working Kentuckians earn less than $10.10 an hour—including parents of one in five Kentucky children. He added that the current state minimum wage rate translates roughly to $15,080 in gross annual pay for many full-time Kentucky workers.

HB 1, he explained, would raise that to $16,209 a year for those workers.

“This is about the people who are earning the absolute lowest wage that a citizen…can make,” said Stumbo.

Among the members of the committee with concerns about HB 1 was Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, who said he wants everyone to earn a decent wage but added, “I’m also very concerned about jobs.” He said the impact of federal health care reform combined with Social Security and other costs would significantly increase costs for a small business—a cost equal to that of 2.6 employees in the first year alone, Bechler said.

Kentucky would join 21 states and the District of Columbia that have a minimum wage above the federal minimum wage, also now $7.25 an hour, should HB 1 become law

While HB 1 includes no proposed increase for wages of tipped employees, an increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees—which includes mostly restaurant employees—is included in HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Will Coursey, D-Benton, which also passed the committee today. That bill would raise the current tipped employee state minimum wage from $2.13 an hour to $3 an hour this year, then incrementally each year until the wage is 70 percent of the state minimum wage for non-tipped employees, now $7.25 an hour.

Both bills now go to the full House for consideration.

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January 30, 2014

School finance bill clears House, 58-41

FRANKFORT—A House bill that would require certification of Kentucky school finance officers, change annual in-service training requirements for school board members and superintendents, and require both monthly and yearly public financial reports from districts has passed its first major hurdle.

House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, cleared the House by a 58-41 vote today. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

New annual in-service training for school board members required by the bill would be 12 hours for members with up to 8 years of board service and 8 hours for members with more than 8 years’ service. All board members would be required to have two hours of school finance training, two hours ethics training, and two hours superintendent evaluation training annually. Superintendents would have to complete at least three hours of annual training in school finance and at least three hours of ethics training annually.

Annual district financial reports would be required by the state within six months of the close of the fiscal year, and would be required by local school boards on a monthly basis. Both the monthly reports and yearly reports would be posted online.

The state Department of Education would be required to review each district’s annual financial report and, within two months, respond to the local board of education with a written report on the financial status of that district.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called for what is known as a “fiscal impact statement” to be attached to the bill because of the potential cost of proposed changes, including the increase in annual in-service training for school board members. A fiscal impact statement shows what costs, if any, would be incurred by government by enacting a bill

Rep. Jim DeCesare said increasing annual training for school board members will cost money, as would paying the cost of certification of school finance officers. “I’m all about transparency, and I believe that we should put our checkbook online and we should let the taxpayers of Kentucky know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “However, by adding the continuing ed part to this bill, you’re basically putting an unfunded mandate on our local school districts. They’re going through a period right now where they’re struggling to make ends meet.”

The motion to require a statement on HB 154 was narrowly defeated. Denham and some other members had said in response to the motion for the statement that review of the legislation by legislative staff showed no need for one

“We put the minimum requirements in here,” said Denham. “We need this transparency bill. We need this accountability bill.”

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January 29, 2014

Felony expungement bill clears committee

FRANKFORT--A bill that would allow low-level one-time Kentucky felons to ask the courts to seal—or “expunge”—their felony record has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 64, sponsored by Rep. Darryl T. Owens, D-Louisville, would apply to “Class D” felons whose conviction was not based on a sex offense, crime against the elderly, or crime against child; who completed their sentence or probation at least five years prior; and who was not convicted of a felony before their conviction and has not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or violation since. It would also apply to those for whom felony charges did not result in an indictment, and would provide discrimination protection for felons whose records have been expunged.

The bill would apply to any eligible felon, regardless of how many decades have passed since their conviction. As many as 94,000 individuals could be eligible for expungement under the legislation, according to Owens.

Current Kentucky law only allows expungement in misdemeanor cases.

Among those testifying in favor of HB 64 was Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, who explained how the Information Age has made it impossible for any felon to escape a mistake made as many as 30 or more years ago.

“No matter where you want to go to recreate your self-worth…the information about you and your past will be there before you get there,” said Justice Scott. “Today, because we’re in the Information Age, opportunity (today) for an offender to recreate their self-worth is severely hampered. And when the opportunity is severely hampered, resentment abounds. And when resentment abounds, you attack what you resent—society—and then we’ve gone right back to where we are with that person.

Those who did not support the bill in committee include House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, the co-sponsor of felony expungement legislation (HB 70) also co-sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington. That bill, which would allow Kentucky voters to approve automatic restoration of felon voting rights in the November election, cleared the House early this session

“I have always supported the expungement of nonviolent Class D felonies,” said Hoover, but added “…this bill does much, much more than that,” speaking specifically about a new section that would be created regarding discriminatory practices.

HB 64 now goes to the full House for consideration.

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January 24, 2014

Frankfort Week in Review

By Scott Payton

LRC Public Information

A governor’s Budget Address is a momentary snapshot defining a version of reality. It has also, for ten years or more, been a painful picture from a bad family trip, often rock-back-on-your heels disturbing.

But it’s also the necessary opening statement in a discussion that will consume Frankfort’s deep Capitol winter, throwing terms of debate on the table, and saying ‘Now what?’ Only the Legislature can write the budget. The governor can just propose.

So now we launch.

The limited money available is explained. The felt needs and priorities are laid out, with challenges to make you sigh. That’s what happened in a joint session Tuesday night, with 138 lawmakers packed in the House Chamber to hear a fifty-minute gubernatorial speech that told the terms of their coming, bloody budget work

A budget’s like an amoeba, moving but soft, not hard and fast. The state Constitution requires it to be balanced. But there’s tricks to do that. Not long ago, state employees were paid one day late at the end of the Fiscal Year. It saved enough money to keep the previous year in balance. That’s called ‘structural imbalance.’ There’s not really enough money for what everyone wants. But we do one-time stuff to patch the holes

The governor proposed a form of that legerdemain this year in the face of our drearily predictable shortfalls. It will balance the budget. But some may feel pain

The tactic? Take money from one place to put another. The newspapers call it ‘raiding funds.’

The budget before us targets 51 government funds specified for certain things to move $370 million to the General Fund, to kick start funding for K-12 education – a main gubernatorial priority -- and give state workers and teachers long-lost and longed-for raises.

Examples: $93 million from the Public Employee Health Insurance Trust Fund (which is said to be sound and able to absorb that) to comparatively minor nips like $100,000 from the Board of Chiropractic Examiners

Actual plain spending cuts total $99 million, proposed. State universities would stare down the barrel of a 2.5 percent cut, though bonded debt for construction on campuses statewide might alleviate the sting. Other state agencies, many of them, face 5 percent cuts. Another grim picture in a steady march of cuts stretching back years.

Budget officials say fund transfers are a normal and accepted practice in the budgeting process, and have been routine in past years. Still, this year’s transfers seem to have significant scope. They reflect the gravity of this session’s challenge: Though revenues are indeed trending up, the proposed new commitment to education -- $474.4 million in new money for elementary and secondary education – means something has to give, given the pension and Medicaid obligation already claimed

House budget review subcommittees are assembling. The January’s-end filing deadline is near. This General Assembly is about to get deeply real, real fast

--30--

For questions, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

If you’re reading this, you have Internet access, so you can log on to www.lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules, and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the Commonwealth. If you need help navigating that site, call LRC Public Information at 502-564-8100.

By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly regularly posts news briefs on its Capitol Notes page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure

You may access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at www.ket.org.

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:
  • A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650
  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835
  • To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Your input is needed, welcome, and crucial to the success of this continuing experiment is representative democracy, and lawmakers welcome your calls.

Top

January 17, 2014

This Week in Frankfort

By Scott Payton

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT -- Any description of any Legislature begs for metaphor, or, if you like, simile. Here’s one: Full legislative sessions, 60 working days with a budget to write and an election year ahead, are like supertankers. Slow to start. Slow to turn. Not graceful at launch. But once on high seas, pure, heavy momentum, straight with purpose and intent.

By February and March, this 2014 General Assembly will be at flank speed. The Orders of the Day will grow longer. Bills will flow and fly. But this month, it’s mainly a matter of getting this huge thing, this Kentucky Legislature, out of dockage and into free water

Much of that is the simple challenge of process.

A legislature is and ought to be a deliberative body. It takes time for committees to call up bills, debate them, hear from citizens, amend them, and trickle them to the full chamber floors for further debate, passage -- or death, however temporary or permanent.

Passed bills are then sent across the marbled Third Floor, to the other Chamber, where the whole process is repeated. And then there’s working out differences between Chamber versions, in conference committees. And even that’s not the end. A governor must sign or veto, and if the latter, the Chambers vote again, to override or not

That’s process. But part of January’s seeming early lull is simply political.

The filing deadline for this year’s legislative races is month’s end. Controversial bills normally wait till the electoral landscape is in focus, especially true this year with districts now redrawn

Last week’s opening days were mostly taking care of business, the usual housekeeping and administrative matters, ethics training, saying hello to old friends, and digesting a Governor’s report, in a joint session speech, of how he surveys the Commonwealth’s landscape. It was, however, just a foretaste. The meat will be served in his Budget Address this coming Tuesday

This week was different than last. It saw a hothouse bloom of committee meetings, and the first floor votes on a few bills. Senate committees considered measures representing that chamber’s priorities. The House was similarly active, getting business up to speed, with bills already on the floor and budget subcommittees readying for what may be bloody work

A leader in both Chambers discussed casino gambling, a perennial gubernatorial priority but a legislative no-go for years, positively this week, with bills filed. That’s a tale unfolding we’ll surely revisit here. An unsure ‘stay tuned’ moment, but intriguing in its implications

This is just a beginning that, as described above and here before, is a journey of many hurdles, hills and rivers. The trip to the law books is a long one. A bill that wants passage stands in the rain for months till the door opens and it’s accepted into law. It may never be, or may take years. But at week’s end several important measures were on their way

One of the first major bills approved in one chamber this year was a Senate bill, a forceful but thoughtful move in our never-ending war on drugs. It addresses what might be called an unintended consequence of earlier legislative crackdown on so called Pill Mills, where addictive painkillers were dispensed freely to addicts. Street heroin emerged over time as the drug of choice among the painkiller-deprived. Heroin overdose deaths have jumped more than sixfold since 2011. Senate Bill 5 takes a many-pronged approach to combat the new epidemic

It increases treatment funding for heroin and opiate addiction, requiring Medicaid to cover it. It also allows emergency first-responders to administer Naloxone, a life-saving breath-restoring drug to overdose victims. And it gives Good Samaritans some shield of legal immunity when seeking medical care for someone who’s overdosed.

Other provisions of SB 5 address drug peddling. It puts new backbone in penalties for big-time heroin -- and methamphetamine -- traffickers. They’ll have to serve at least half their sentence before being eligible for probation. Prosecutors have more leeway to charge traffickers with criminal homicide in cases of fatal overdose.

A second Senate bill moving this week would help give Kentuckians in medically underserved areas better access to quality healthcare. Senate Bill 7 would allow some nurse practitioners to independently prescribe non-scheduled – or routine non-narcotic, non-addictive – medicines. Nurse practitioners with at least four years’ experience would be cut loose to prescribe common daily medications without a doctor’s collaborative consent. Many Kentuckians, especially in rural parts of the state, rely on nurse practitioners for routine care.

Across the Capitol, House Bill 70, a long-sought House measure that would allow Kentucky voters to decide whether to automatically approve restored voting rights for nonviolent felons who’ve paid their debt to society, passed the full Chamber

This being a budget session, and since the budget bill must originate in the House, the hot center of House action will be in budget review subcommittees that will soon begin hearing from state agencies and others concerning their financial needs for the next two years. Given revenue growth said to be already claimed by existing necessities, the subcommittees’ work will be, at best, challenging

As mentioned, lawmakers will also hear from the governor on Tuesday, Jan. 21 when he outlines his take on the state’s biennial budget needs and his suggestions to meet them, in his Budget Address. That should be a pivotal moment, at this outset, as the session gets to fourth gear

Then this session will define itself, as history watches

For questions, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

If you’re reading this, you have Internet access, so you can log on to www.lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules, and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the Commonwealth. If you need help navigating that site, call LRC Public Information at 502-564-8100.

By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly regularly posts news briefs on its Capitol Notes page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure

You may access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at www.ket.org.

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:
  • A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650
  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835
  • To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Your input is needed, welcome, and crucial to the success of this continuing experiment is representative democracy, and lawmakers welcome your calls.

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January 16, 2014

Heroin treatment and trafficking bill clears Senate

FRANKFORT – A bill that would increase treatment options for heroin and other opiate addiction and stiffen penalties for trafficking the drugs passed the Senate today.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, would dedicate to substance abuse recovery programs a quarter of funds saved through correction reforms passed by the legislature in 2011. The bill would also require Medicaid programs to cover addiction treatment options.

According to Stine, the bill was prompted by a sharp increase in heroin trafficking, abuse and overdose in Northern Kentucky in recent years but is also a problem in other parts of the state and nation as well.

A report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy stated that heroin samples collected and analyzed by Kentucky State Police increased from 433 confirmed submissions in 2010 to 1,349 in 2012. Heroin deaths increased from 22 in 2011 to 143 in 2012.

The bill would increase the availability of naloxone, a potentially life-saving antidote administered to heroin overdose victims, and would give criminal immunity to “good Samaritans” seeking medical attention for overdose victims

“We hope to save lives,” Stine said.

Stine told fellow lawmakers the bill takes a “three-pronged approach of education, intervention and interdiction” in addressing opiate abuse in the state. Under the bill, traffickers convicted of selling more than two grams of heroin or methamphetamine would be required to serve at least half of their sentence before becoming eligible for probation.

Other provisions of the bill would help facilitate the prosecution of dealers for criminal homicide in the event of a fatal overdose, Stine said

“The bill targets two different groups: The trafficker who needs to be run out of Kentucky or locked up, and the addict who has broken the law but who has created their own personal prison of addiction that is worse than any jail the state could design and needs treatment,” she said.

Senate Bill 5 passed the chamber on a 36-0 vote with one lawmaker abstaining and now goes to the full House for consideration.

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January 16, 2014

Felon voting rights bill clears House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bipartisan bill that would allow Kentucky voters to restore voting rights to more than 180,000 nonviolent felons across the Commonwealth has passed its first hurdle this legislative session.

House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, cleared the Kentucky House today by a vote of 82-12. Should it become law, voters will be able to decide by statewide ballot in the next general election (scheduled for Nov. 4) whether or not to approve a state constitutional amendment that would automatically restore the right to vote for Kentucky’s nonviolent felons

The amendment would apply only to nonviolent felons who have served their sentences or completed the requirements of probation or parole. It would exclude felons convicted of rape, sodomy, intentional murder, or sexual contact with a minor

Crenshaw said it’s a matter of fairness that those who have paid their debt “be able to take part in their own governance. And, ladies and gentlemen, that is what House Bill 70 does.”

HB 70 received vocal support from Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, who has supported similar legislation filed by Crenshaw in past sessions. Floyd told the House that there “is no political consideration that can push aside my sense that a debt paid is a debt satisfied.”

HB 70 now goes to the Senate for consideration

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January 10, 2014

Frankfort Week in Review

By Scott Payton

LRC Public Information

Let me have audience for a word or two … about this fair Assembly.

So said the Bard, in another context but it still applies

For the next three and a half months, there’ll be lots more than a word or two written about the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly, including more than 16,000 in coming weeks right here. A poet like Shakespeare might do it in a word or two. But lesser writers need more to tell the winter’s tale

It’s a tale worth telling in many thousand words. Kentucky’s unfolding civic history is largely writ in the 60 working days of a full budget session in even-numbered years. And from its brutal subzero opening this week to – we can hope – its gentle springlike final adjournment in mid-April, we’ll discover what winds carry the Commonwealth, and where, and how

It will be a journey of many hills and hurdles, tied mainly to money as a two-year budget is wrenched from stretched revenues and many declared needs. But here’s a snapshot of its prospects this first week, with 13-plus yet to come:

First, mood. The Kentucky General Assembly opened its 2014 session Tuesday, optimistic that the new bipartisan spirit in Frankfort, evinced in last year’s short session, would carry forth. And in fact, there seemed common ground between chambers and parties on some key issues

The Republican-controlled Senate’s top policy priority -- an effort to limit the governor’s power to act though executive order when the Legislature is not in session -- was not dismissed out of hand by Majority Democratic House leadership.

The issue is philosophical. Call it separation of powers, legislative independence, whatever you prefer. It’s the constant tug between the legislative and executive branches envisioned by the Founders more than two centuries ago, and specifically in Kentucky governance since the 1970s. There will be friction in a system like ours

Senate Bill 1 — the honorific number 1 usually a designation of chamber priority – is a constitutional amendment to allow lawmakers to overturn a governor’s executive orders though a joint committee when the Legislature isn’t in session. That discussion will be historic, on many levels

The Democratic-led House has as its priority House Bill 1, raising the state minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over a three-year period, a proposal to help working families slapped and stunned economically by the Great Recession, but with a bit more push-back because of its potential impact on small business

Beyond that, let’s concede this is a deeply politicized year. The entire House and half the Senate are up for re-election, and the majority-minority split in the House has significantly narrowed. A hot U.S .Senate race is already on TV. It’s not hard to see deep politics in play this session -- politics defined as the people expressing their wishes and their will through representation and elections, not a bad thing in any sense

Other issues with front burner status, at least for debate: A statewide smoking ban, legalizing medical marijuana, regulating law-enforcement drone flights over citizens just living their lives, and extending domestic-violence protection to dating partners, a bill that in the session’s first week passed a House committee.

Mayors – especially Louisville’s mayor – are calling for a local-option sales tax that could be imposed for specific projects

The governor is once again pushing expanded gambling. Its chances may be slightly better than in past attempts, but still in deep doubt. The last (and only) time a casino gambling bill had an up-down vote on the Senate floor, it was beat, badly

The recent emergence of a heroin epidemic, in a state previously concerned with meth and prescribed painkillers as abuse drugs of choice, will also likely be discussed. That’s another significant issue that seems to have bipartisan, bi-chamber support

If you live in a certain slice of the state, surely you’ve seen ‘No Eminent Domain’ signs tacked on trees. Opponents of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline will be vocal in support of a bill that restricts developers of the proposed natural gas liquid pipeline so they don’t have condemnation powers to seize the easements they need

But, as has been drearily true for many years, the main focus will be on the budget, where many say too few dollars chase too many perceived needs. Whether dollars or needs are the true issue is a debate that will play out as it always does, in dueling perspectives and ideologies.

One plain statement is already on the table, though: The administration’s Budget Office says every dollar of new revenue growth next year – and we’re seeing some -- will be eaten up by current obligations like public-employee pensions and Medicaid. The newspapers are full of their usual budget clichés: Austere, bare-bones, lean. We'll eschew those for simply: challenging

The governor, in his State of the Commonwealth address on the session’s opening day, once again called for tax reform to raise public money more effectively. Most consider that a long shot. Many a blue-ribbon commission has proposed reforms similar to the ones on the table now, and – as the governor noted in his speech, though not with these words -- all have flamed out like meteors over Russia. In this charged political and recession-gashed environment, it’s a reach at best to predict major tax reform this session

For questions, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

If you’re reading this, you have Internet access, so you can log on to www.lrc.ky.gov for the latest on the status of bills, meeting schedules, and other information to help you be a participating citizen of the Commonwealth. If you need help navigating that site, call LRC Public Information at 502-564-8100.

By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly regularly posts news briefs on its Capitol Notes page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure

You may access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at www.ket.org.

You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action these ways:
  • A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650
  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835
  • To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Your input is needed, welcome, and crucial to the success of this continuing experiment is representative democracy, and lawmakers welcome your calls.

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January 7, 2014

Kentuckians encouraged to follow legislative action

FRANKFORT – With the convening of the General Assembly’s 2014 session, citizens once again are welcome to observe their government in action from the legislative chamber galleries. But those unable to make the trip to Frankfort have many ways to stay in close touch with the legislative process

The Kentucky Legislature Web Page (www.lrc.ky.gov) is updated daily to give citizens the latest legislative updates. Web surfers also can see for themselves the issues before lawmakers by browsing through bill summaries, amendments, and resolutions. The website is regularly updated to indicate each bill’s status in the legislative process, as well as the next day’s committee meeting schedule and agendas

The website also provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including their phone numbers, e-mail contact information, addresses, and legislative committee assignments

The Kentucky General Assembly also maintains toll-free phone lines to help citizens follow legislative action and offer their input

People who want to give lawmakers feedback on issues under consideration can do so by calling the Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. People who prefer to offer their feedback in Spanish can call the General Assembly's Spanish Line at 866-840-6574. Anyone with a hearing impairment can use the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 800-633-9650
  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835
  • To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 800-896-0305
  • You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

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December 16, 2013

LRC to host lobbyist workshop

FRANKFORT -- The Legislative Research Commission will hold a Jan. 8 orientation session for lobbyists who will be working in Frankfort during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2014 session

The orientation will last from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Annex, Room 149

The session is aimed primarily at assisting legislative agents who are new to the Kentucky General Assembly or those interested in a refresher course on the legislature's operating procedures. Those attending will have an opportunity to listen to presentations from legislative leaders, staff members of the Legislative Research Commission and a veteran lobbyist on the inner workings of the legislative process and the role that legislative agents play in that process

The Legislative Ethics Commission will also offer a presentation

There is no charge for attending the orientation session and no pre-registration is required

The General Assembly's 2014 session starts on Jan. 7 and is slated to end April 15.

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November 21, 2013

Pension funding issues persist, state lawmakers told

FRANKFORT—A prohibition against “pension spiking” approved by state lawmakers with the passage of Senate Bill 2 during the General Assembly’s 2013 Regular Session drew questions from a state legislative committee yesterday.

The prohibition was mentioned in a presentation to the Interim Joint Committee on State Government by Kentucky Retirement Systems Executive Director William Thielen, who said the policy change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, as will implementation of a hybrid cash balance plan for new state hires. All policies will be implemented by KRS.

The pension spiking prohibition states, explained Thielen, that the actuarial cost to the retirement system created by an annual salary increase of greater than 10 percent during a retiree’s last five years of KRS-covered employment is the responsibility of their last KRS-participating employer. Implementing those provisions, said Thielen, “has been particularly problematic for our staff.”

“We’re having to design various features of our technology system to deal with that, but we will complete that as well to the extent necessary as of Jan. 1,” he said. “There are some issues related to the pension-spiking provision you may be asked to consider during the upcoming session in 2014.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who sponsored 2013 SB 2, said he doesn’t foresee any change to that policy.

“I don’t foresee any roll-back of any of the provisions of SB 2 occurring in 2014, (or) until the bill goes into effect for a while and we see how it works,” said Thayer.

Thielen said KRS will likely recommend legislation to clear up some “ambiguities” in the legislation, but that KRS itself “has no plans to try to do anything to that provision.”

Of the approximately 80 public pension plans nationwide, Theilen said Kentucky ranks in the middle in terms of rate of return. He said the average rate of return is around 8 percent; Kentucky’s rate of return is 7.75 percent.

KRS’s Kentucky Employee Retirement System for non-hazardous employees (the largest of the KRS systems) was only 27.3 percent funded as of June 2012. Total unfunded liability for KRS plans which exclude teachers was $13.9 billion last year, according to a Sept. article on the website BenefitsPro.

The committee also received an in-depth report on the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System from KTRS Executive Secretary Gary Harbin, who said that system’s liability is growing at a rate of 7.5 percent and must be addressed—to the tune of $386 million in fiscal year 2014 and over $400 million in fiscal year 2015, Harbin said—to help meet KTRS’ actuarial needs.

Harbin said KTRS’ current $12 billion unfunded liability will grow to $23 billion “if a funding plan is not put in place.”

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November 15, 2013

"Issues Confronting the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly" book available

FRANKFORT – A book containing issue briefs on topics likely to confront lawmakers during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2014 session is now available in print and online

"Issues Confronting the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly" contains 46 issue briefs prepared by members of the Legislative Research Commission staff. The book is not meant as an exhaustive list of issues that lawmakers will consider, but reflects a balanced look at some of the main topics that have been discussed in legislative committee meetings

The publication can be viewed online at: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/IB242.pdf

Printed copies can also be picked up at the LRC Publications Office in the State Capitol, Rm. 83

The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2014 session begins on Jan. 7 and is scheduled to adjourn on April 15.

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November 14, 2013

Kentucky uncertain how much state tobacco money could be lost in MSA dispute

FRANKFORT—Kentucky could lose half, all, or none of its tobacco settlement payment next year due to a Sept. 11 ruling that found the state “nondiligent” in upholding statutes requiring escrow payments by nonparticipating cigarette manufacturers

The decision, in which an arbitration panel named Kentucky among six states found “nondiligent,” leaves the state uncertain about just how much it will receive next spring for calendar year 2014, Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Roger Thomas today told the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture yesterday. Kentucky had anticipated receiving approximately $90 million in tobacco settlement dollars next year, with agriculture getting half of whatever dollars are received.

“It’s pure speculation at this point…” said Thomas. “It all depends on these various state MSA courts and what their rulings are on motions to vacate.”

“It could be $45 million, it could be $5 million, it just depends on the actions of the state MSA courts…” Thomas said. There is even a possibility that the state’s payment due in March 2014 will not be reduced, pending court actions, he said.

Since tobacco settlement payments fund Kentucky’s popular Agricultural Development Fund, Thomas told the committee the outcome would “have a very dramatic effect” on state agricultural programs. Still, he emphasized that it is too early to say exactly what the Sept. decision will mean for 2014 and throughout the next budget cycle.

“(But) it’s easy to see we have our challenges before us,” he said

According to the arbitration panel, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Indiana did not adequately enforce collections from nonparticipating manufacturers, or NPMs, who were not original signers to a 1998 multi-billion-dollar master tobacco settlement agreement between the four largest tobacco companies (at that time) and 46 states. NPMs are expected by law to make escrow payments.

The original signers—which lost market share in 2003—blamed the loss on inadequate enforcement of NPMs, according to a Nov. 7 article on the issue on the web site Law360. Those original signers, or “participating manufacturers,” felt sales by nonparticipating companies had increased more than they should have because Kentucky and the other states did not adequately enforce collections from NPMs.

To shield themselves financially, the participating manufacturers invoked what is called an “NPM adjustment” under law and withheld money from the settlement agreement. The adjustment, says the Law360 article, allows participating manufacturers to reduce payments to states “if they (the companies) lose market share to their nonparticipating colleagues because of the multistate settlement’s obligations.” States that are found to have closely followed their model laws were shielded from reductions, while those found “nondiligent” will have their tobacco settlement payments reduced.

Although Kentucky feels “like we were diligent in our enforcement,” says Thomas, the arbitration panel judged otherwise, he said.

Appreciation for the impact the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund has had on the state’s farms was voiced by Committee Co-Chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville.

“Without that foresight by those of you who sat here and (developed) HB 611… I don’t think our agriculture in this state would be nearly as far along as it is,” he said. HB 611, passed by the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly, determined how agriculture would benefit from Kentucky’s $3 billion share of the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Fellow Committee Co-Chair Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, offered some praise of his own.

“It was an honor for me to work with you and many other legislators to help develop these programs,” McKee said to Thomas, himself a former member of the Kentucky House of Representatives. “I think if you travel the state, if you go out on the rural roads of Kentucky, you’re going to see fence that wouldn’t be there; you’re going to see cattle handling facilities that wouldn’t be there (with the ADF).”

The committee also received testimony from Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, subcommittee reports on rural issues and horse farming from Subcommittee on Rural Issues Co-Chair Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, and Subcommittee on Horse Farming Co-Chair Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington. Representatives from Kentucky Farm Bureau were also expected to testify, as were officials from AT&T who were scheduled to speak on telecommunications and modernization.

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