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June 16, 2015

New state laws go into effect June 24 

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2015 regular session go into effect next week.

The state constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature. The General Assembly’s 2015 session adjourned on March 25, making June 24 the day for new laws to take effect.

There are some exceptions. Bills that contained an emergency clause, such as this year’s measure to fight heroin abuse, went into effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. A handful of bills also specified their own effective dates, such as a measure that goes into effect early next year to offer some civil protections to victims of dating violence.

But most new laws – 98 of the 117 passed this year – will go into effect on June 24. Laws that take effect then include measures on:

Beer distribution. House Bill 168 states that beer brewing companies can’t own beer distributorships. The measure is meant to affirm that beer is not exempt from the state’s three-tier system of regulating – and keeping separate – alcoholic beverage producers, distributors and retailers.

Charitable gaming.  Senate Bill 33 will allow electronic versions of pull-tab Bingo tickets at charitable Bingo halls.

Child abuse. SB 102 will allow a death caused by intentional abuse to be considered first-degree manslaughter.

Child booster seats. HB 315 will require booster seats to be used in motor vehicles by children who are less than eight years old and are between 40 and 57 inches in height.

Crowdfunding. HB 76 will help Kentucky entrepreneurs to gain investors through crowdfunding. The bill will allow people to invest up to $10,000 through a crowdfunding platform while helping businesses raise up to $2 million.

Drug abuse. HB 24 will prevent youth from misusing certain cough medicines to get high -- sometimes called “robotripping” – by restricting access to medicines that contain dextromethorphan. The bill will prevent sales of dextromethorphan-based products, such as Robitussin-DM or Nyquil, to minors.

Drunk driving. SB 133 will expand the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol. An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted of driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

Early childhood development. HB 234 will require early child care and education programs to follow a state quality-based rating system.

Emergency responders. SB 161 will authorize the governor to order that U.S. flags be lowered to half-staff on state buildings if a Kentucky emergency responder dies in the line of duty.

End-of-life care. SB 77 will allow Kentuckians to use a health care directive known as a “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for 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.

Hunters. SB 55 will ensure that game meat can be donated to not-for-profit organizations to feed hungry people as long as the meat was properly field dressed and processed and is considered disease-free and unspoiled.

Kentucky Employees Retirement System. HB 62 will make sure the agencies that want to leave the Kentucky Employees Retirement System pay their part of the system’s unfunded liability.

Newborn health screening. SB 75 will require newborn health screenings to include checks for Krabbe Disease, an inherited disorder that affects the nervous system.

Retirement systems. HB 47 will add the Legislators' Retirement Plan, the Judicial Retirement Plan, and the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System to the Public Pension Oversight Board's review responsibilities.

Spina bifida.  SB 159 will require health care providers to give information about spina bifida and treatment options to parents whose unborn children have been diagnosed with the disorder.

Stroke care. SB 10 will improve care for stroke victims by requiring the state to make sure local emergency services have access to a list of all acute stroke-ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers, and primary stroke centers in Kentucky. Emergency medical services directors would be required to create protocols for assessment and treatment of stroke victims.

Tax check-offs.  SB 82 will place check-off boxes on tax forms to give people getting state income tax refund the option of donating a portion of their refund to support child cancer research, the Special Olympics or rape crisis centers.

Telephone deregulation. HB 152 is aimed at modernizing telecommunications and allowing more investment in modern technologies by ending phone companies’ obligations to provide landline phone services to customers in urban and suburban areas if they provide service through another technology, such as a wireless or Internet-based phone service. While rural customers can keep landline phones they already have, newly constructed homes in rural areas won’t be guaranteed landline services.

 

--END--

March 27, 201

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Anti-heroin bill among measures approved in session’s final hours

 

FRANKFORT – The most talked-about issue of the opening days of the General Assembly’s 2015 session was also a main focus of the late-night closing hours of the session as lawmakers struck a bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive bill to battle the state’s heroin epidemic.

Heroin is devastating Kentucky families in a number of ways, and the legislation lawmakers approved strikes back against the deadly drug on a number of fronts. The multi-prong approach includes stronger penalties for dealers and traffickers and better treatment options for addicts seeking help.

Lawmakers approved the legislation, Senate Bill 192, just hours before adjourning the 2015 session in the early morning of March 25. The bill was signed into law later that morning by Gov. Steve Beshear. Since the bill contained an emergency clause, it took effect as state law as soon as the governor signed it.

Under the new law, importing heroin into Kentucky with intent to distribute or sell is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Those convicted of selling between 2 grams and 100 grams of heroin will not be eligible for parole before serving at least half of their five to ten years sentences. Those caught selling even more would face sentences of up to 20 years.

The new law also recognizes the health crisis that heroin poses and provides new funds to make treatment more widely available to those seeking help. The state’s addiction treatment system will receive an immediate $10 million boost followed by $24 million annually.

Another newly established tool in the fight against the health problems associated with heroin will permit clean needle exchanges at health departments, if a local jurisdiction approves. Supporters say the needle exchange programs show success in curbing the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV infection from shared needles. The programs also bring addicts into health departments where they’ll be closer to the state’s network of care and more likely to seek help for their addictions.

SB 192 will increase the availability of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose if promptly administered. The bill also encourages people to call for help when overdose victims need it by including a “Good Samaritan” provision. That will shield people from prosecution when they seek help for someone who overdoses.

Other bills approved this week and sent to the governor to be signed into law include measures on:

Child booster seats. House Bill 315 will require booster seats to be used in motor vehicles by children who are less than eight years old and are between 40 and 57 inches in height 

Dating violence. HB 8 will expand civil protective orders to cover dating violence victims, as well as victims of sexual abuse and stalking.

Gas tax. HB 299 will protect the revenue stream for road projects by preventing the state gasoline tax – which rises and falls with the price of gas – from dropping below 26 cents per gallon when fuel prices are low.

Tax check-offs.  SB 82 will place check-off boxes on tax forms to give people getting state income tax refund the option of donating a portion to funds that support child cancer research, the Special Olympics or rape crisis centers.

Drunk driving. SB 133 will expand the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol. An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted of driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

Now that the 2015 legislative session is complete, lawmakers are interested in getting feedback on the issues they acted on this year, as well as the matters that still need to be addressed in future legislative sessions. To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305. 

--END--

 

 

March 25, 2015

 

General Assembly's 2015 session ends

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session came to a close tonight after Senate and House members reached an agreement on comprehensive anti-heroin legislation and a measure to expand protective orders to include dating violence victims

Lawmakers also gave late-night approval to a bill that will safeguard the revenue stream for the state’s road projects by limiting how far gas taxes can drop when fuel prices fall.

Bills approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor will go into effect as state law in 90 days from today’s adjournment, except for those that specify a different effective date or include an emergency clause that makes them effective as soon as they are signed into law.

Legislation approved by the 2015 General Assembly includes measures on the following topics:

Beer distributors. House Bill 168 will prevent beer distributorships from being owned by beer brewing companies. The bill is meant to affirm that beer is not exempt from the state’s three-tier system of regulating – and keeping separate – alcoholic beverage producers, distributors and retailers.

Breeders’ Cup. HB 134 will reinstate a tax break for the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in Lexington this year. The legislation will waive the state’s excise tax on live pari-mutuel wagering for the event. The waiver of the pari-mutuel excise tax was reportedly worth about $750,000 the last time the event was at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

Charitable gaming.  Senate Bill 33 would allow electronic versions of pull-tab Bingo tickets at charitable Bingo halls.

Child abuse. SB 102 will allow a death caused by intentional abuse to be considered first-degree manslaughter.

Child booster seats. House Bill 315 will require booster seats to be used in motor vehicles by children who are less than eight years old and are between 40 and 57 inches in height.

Crowdfunding. HB 76 will help Kentucky entrepreneurs to gain investors through crowdfunding. The bill will allow people to invest up to $10,000 through a crowdfunding platform while helping businesses raise up to $2 million.

Dating violence. HB 8 will expand civil protective orders to cover dating violence victims, as well as victims of sexual abuse and stalking.

Drug abuse. HB 24 will prevent youth from misusing certain cough medicines to get high -- sometimes called “robotripping” – by restricting access to medicines that contain dextromethorphan. The bill will prevent sales of dextromethorphan-based products, such as Robitussin-DM or Nyquil, to minors.

Early childhood development. HB 234 will require early child care and education programs to follow a state quality-based rating system.

Emergency responders. SB 161 will authorize the governor to order that U.S. flags be lowered to half-staff on state buildings if a Kentucky emergency responder dies in the line of duty.

End-of-life care. SB 77 will allow Kentuckians to use a health care directive known as a “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for 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.

Gas tax. HB 299 will prevent the state gasoline tax – which rises and falls with the price of gas – from dropping below 26 cents per gallon when fuel prices are low.

Gambling. SB 28 will make it clear in the law that it’s illegal for so-called Internet cafes to sell Internet access to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes.

Heroin. SB 192 will increase prison sentences for heroin traffickers and expand addiction treatment programs. The measure will also allow local-option needle exchange programs, establish a “Good Samaritan” provision to shield from criminal charges those who call for help for an overdose victim, and expand the availability of Naloxone, which can reverse the effects of heroin overdoses.

Hunters. SB 55 will ensure that game meat can be donated to not-for-profit organizations to feed hungry people as long as the meat was properly field dressed and processed and is considered disease-free and unspoiled.

Kentucky Employees Retirement System. HB 62 will make sure the agencies that want to leave the Kentucky Employee Retirement System pay their part of the system’s unfunded liability.

Medical research center. HB 298 will make possible the construction of a state-of-the-art medical research center to target prevalent diseases in Kentucky, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The legislation authorizes the issuance of $132.5 million in bonds to help build the research center at the University of Kentucky. The university will raise an equal amount for the $265 million research building.

Newborn health screening. SB 75 will require newborn health screenings to include checks for Krabbe Disease, an inherited disorder that affects the nervous system.

Retirement systems. HB 47 will add the Legislators' Retirement Plan, the Judicial Retirement Plan, and the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System to the Public Pension Oversight Board's review responsibilities.

Schools. SB 119 will give schools flexibility to deal with the unusually high number of “snow days” caused by a harsh winter. The bill would give school districts until June 5 to complete all 1,062 school instructional hours required by the state. Any remaining hours that cannot be made up could be waived by the state. School days would not be allowed to exceed seven hours or be held on Saturdays. SB 119 also contains provisions that would require school administrators, teachers, office state, teaching assistants, coaches and other employed by a school district to receive training on ways to recognize and prevent on child abuse.

Sexual assault. Senate Joint Resolution 20 would direct the Auditor of Public Accounts to study the number of sexual assault examination kits in the possession of Kentucky police and prosecutors that have not been sent to the state’s forensic lab for testing. The resolution is aimed at helping state officials know the scope of a backlog that needs attention.

Spina bifida.  SB 159 would require health care providers to give information about spina bifida and treatment options to parents whose unborn children have been diagnosed with the disorder.

Stroke care. SB 10 would improve care for stroke victims by requiring the state to make sure local emergency services have access to a list of all acute stroke-ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers, and primary stroke centers in Kentucky. Emergency medical services directors would be required to create protocols for assessment and treatment of stroke victims.

Telephone deregulation. HB 152 is aimed at modernizing telecommunications and allowing more investment in modern technologies by ending phone companies’ obligations to provide landline phone services to customers in urban and suburban areas if they provide service through another technology, such as mobile or an Internet-based phone service. While rural customers can keep landline phones they already have, newly constructed homes in rural areas won’t be guaranteed landline services.

Veterans. HB 209 would create “Gold Star Sibling” specialty license plates for Kentuckians with siblings who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. The plates would be based on the Gold Star plates already available to the parents and spouses of those who died while serving in the armed forces.

--END--

 

 

March 25, 2015

 

Road fund bill receives final passage, goes to governor

FRANKFORT—A bill designed to potentially save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in road funds received final passage in the state House tonight.

House Bill 299, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Rick Rand, would set a 26-cent “floor,” or minimum, for the state gas tax. The gas tax rate is currently 27.5 cents a gallon, but is expected to fall on April 1 without the new floor due to changes in the average wholesale price of gasoline.

HB 299 received final passage in the House by a vote of 67-29. It passed the Senate earlier in the evening on a 29-9 vote. The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

The 26-cent base rate will take effect immediately upon being signed into law by the governor.

The bill was called the “Road Fund stabilization plan” by Rand. “As we all know, our fuel tax has been in free fall, and this will help us stabilize that by setting a new floor,” he said.

The legislation will allow for an annual—rather than the current quarterly—fuel tax adjustment and will allow the gas tax to rise or fall up to 10 percent per year.

Among those opposing the bill in the House was Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who described the bill as a temporary fix for funding Kentucky’s roads. He said that he will likely file legislation to require a look at new road funding mechanisms for the state.

“It’s my opinion that we need to fund our roads not based upon how much gas you buy but on how many miles you drive,” said Koenig.

Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, was one of nine senators who voted against the bill.

“I voted on this gas tax floor twice before and both times I was told you will never have to vote on this again. When the price goes up, yes, the tax will go up. But when the price goes down, the tax will go down too. That is how it was sold.”

Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, voted for the bill.

“We are coming through one of the worst winters in recent history,” he said. “If we don’t provide the money to make sure we can get our roads fixed and taken care of, that’s when you are really going to hear from your constituents,” he said.

-END-

March 25, 2015

 

Dating violence bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT – Legislation is heading to the governor that would allow Kentuckians in dating relationships to go to court and get immediate civil protection against an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend.

House Bill 8, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would allow dating violence victims—whether they are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking—to get a civil protective order as of Jan. 1, 2016. An order could be erased from someone’s record if it is ever dismissed by the court.

Provisions relating to domestic violence would be distinguished from dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault in the bill under Senate language agreed to by the House.

Currently, victims of dating violence in Kentucky must file criminal charges against their partner in the hope of preventing ongoing abuse. Only victims who are married to, have a child with, or live with their abuser can seek civil protection from domestic violence or abuse, physical violence, or stalking as specified under Kentucky law.

Tilley said in House debate on HB 8 earlier this session that Kentuckians under age 20 are “four times” more like to be abused by a partner than others. “The purpose of this bill,” he said, “is to protect lives.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, commended the passage of the legislation, which he has worked on in various forms since 2013.

“It’s been a slow march, but it’s been worth every single step,” Westerfield said. “And it’s better late than never at all.”

National survey data from the Centers for Disease Control found that 638,000 Kentucky women had been raped, stalked, or suffered some form of physical attack by a romantic partner in the Commonwealth as of 2010.  The survey data also revealed that Kentucky led the nation in forms of sexual violence or abuse as of that year. 

House Bill 8 received final passage by a vote of 100-0 in the House. The bill had passed the Senate by a vote of 37-1 earlier in the evening.

-END-

 

 

March 25, 2015

 

Ignition interlock legislation heading to Governor

FRANKFORT – The state General Assembly passed a bill late last night that would expand the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 133, would reduce the number of habitual drunken drivers, said Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. SB 133 would supplement hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks.

An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

Supporters of the bill said that the 24 other states with a similar law have seen a 30 percent decrease in fatalities due to drunk driving.

Unlike previous versions of the bill, McGarvey said it doesn’t require first-time DUI offenders to purchase an ignition interlock unless they were found guilty of aggravating circumstances, like having a child in the car, going more than 30 mph over the speed limit.

-- END --

 

March 24, 2015

 

Anti-heroin bill passes General Assembly with bipartisan support

FRANKFORT – State lawmakers reached a compromise today on anti-heroin legislation that supporters said balanced the need for tough penalties for traffickers with treatment options for addicts.

“The people of Kentucky fighting for public safety and people fighting … addiction have been crying for help,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “This is the help they need.”

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 192, passed the state Senate by a 34-4 vote. Earlier in the day, the state House had passed SB 192 by a 100-0 vote. The governor has said he will sign legislation tomorrow. Because it contains an emergency clause, it will take effect immediately upon being signed.

Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, called SB 192 a “comprehensive piece of legislation that will save lives.”

He said the bill allows heroin users to exchange dirty needles for clean ones at the state’s regional health departments – but only if a local jurisdiction approves. Tilley said SB 192 also contains the so-called “Good Samaritan provision.”  It shields heroin addicts, if they provide their name and address, from being prosecuted if they report an overdose.

“It eliminates barriers to treatment, and it does so much more,” Tilley said.

SB 192 will immediately infuse Kentucky’s addiction treatment system with $10 million followed by $24 million annually from money saved from prior judicial reforms designed to reduce prison costs by providing lawbreakers with drug treatment, among other things.

It further provides for administration of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of an overdose, by first responders. There is also money for Vivitrol, a drug to help narcotic dependents who have stopped taking narcotics to stay drug free. 

The tougher penalties in SB 192 are reserved for the “worst traffickers,” Tilley said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the legislation creates a new crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, of importing heroin into Kentucky with the intent to distribute or sell it.

He said SB 192 targets “dealers of death,” or people who distribute heroin.

Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, voted against SB 192. He said provisions, such as needle exchanges, just enable addicts.

“We have always had drugs around,” Hornback said. “We are going to continue to have drugs around. We are not going to eliminate heroin.

“A lot of my constituents are tired of paying for people’s bad decisions. That is what this does.”

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, defended SB 192.

“We look down our nose and want to criminalize everything,” he said. “Let me tell you something, if this needle exchange prevents one person from getting HIV or Hepatitis C, it is a well done effort. If it saves one life it is something we should be proud of.”

-- END --

 

 

March 13, 2015

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Flurry of bills pass Senate and House as 2015 session nears end

FRANKFORT – The three days that the Kentucky General Assembly was in session this week started on Monday with news that the first new law of 2015 had taken effect and ended Wednesday night with a flurry of bills passing both chambers before the Senate and House adjourned shortly before midnight.

Lawmakers are now in a nine-day recess and will return to the Capitol for the final two days of the 2015 session on March 23 and 24.

One of the first bills of the current session that lawmakers sent to Gov. Steve Beshear gained his signature on Monday, becoming the first new state law of the year. House Bill 298 will make possible the construction of a state-of-the-art medical research center to target prevalent diseases in Kentucky, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The legislation authorizes the issuance of $132.5 million in bonds to build the research center at the University of Kentucky. The university will raise money an additional amount so that the $265 million research center can be built.

HB 298 contained an emergency clause, which allowed the bill to take effect as soon as the governor signed it.

At the time of this writing, the governor had also signed into law a telephone deregulation measure and a bill to allow Kentuckians to use a new kind of health directive to specify their wishes for end-of-life care.

Lawmakers sent a handful of other bills to the governor to be signed into law this week, including measures on the following:

Breeder’s Cup. House Bill 134 would reinstate a tax break for the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland in Lexington this year. The legislation would waive the state’s excise tax on live pari-mutuel wagering for the event. The waiver of the pari-mutuel excise tax was reportedly worth about $750,000 the last time the event was at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

Charitable gaming.  Senate Bill 33 would allow electronic versions of pull-tab Bingo tickets at charitable Bingo halls across the state.

Crowdfunding. House Bill 76 would help Kentucky entrepreneurs to gain investors through crowdfunding. The bill would allow people to invest up to $10,000 through a crowdfunding platform while helping businesses raise up to $2 million.

Drug abuse. House Bill 24 would prevent youth from misusing certain cough medicines to get high -- sometimes called “robotripping” – by restricting access to medicines that contain dextromethorphan. The bill would prevent sales of dextromethorphan-based products, such as Robitussin-DM or Nyquil, to minors.

Early childhood development. House Bill 234 would require early child care and education programs to follow a state quality-based rating system.

Gambling. SB 28 would make it clear in the law that it’s illegal for so-called Internet cafes to sell Internet access to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes.

Kentucky Employees Retirement System. House Bill 62 would make sure the agencies that want to leave the Kentucky Employee Retirement System pay their part of the system’s unfunded liability.

Newborn health screening. SB 75 requires newborn health screenings to include checks for Krabbe Disease, an inherited disorder that affects the nervous system.

Sexual assault. Senate Joint Resolution 20 would direct the Auditor of Public Accounts to study the number of sexual assault examination kits in the possession of Kentucky police and prosecutors that have not been sent to the state’s forensic lab for testing. The resolution is aimed at helping the state know the scope of a backlog that needs attention.

Schools. SB 119, as amended, would help schools deal with the unusually high number of “snow days” caused by a harsh winter. The bill would give school districts until June 5 to complete all 1,062 school instructional hours required by the state. Any remaining hours that cannot be made up could be waived by the state. School days would not be allowed to exceed seven hours or be held on Saturdays. SB 119 also contains provisions that would require school administrators, teachers, office state, teaching assistants, coaches and other employed by a school district to receive training on ways to recognize and prevent on child abuse.

Spina bifida.  SB 159 would require health care providers to give information about spina bifida and treatment options to parents whose unborn children have been diagnosed with the disorder.

Strokes. Senate Bill 10 would improve care for stroke victims by requiring the state to make sure local emergency services have access to a list of all acute stroke-ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers, and primary stroke centers in Kentucky. Emergency medical services directors would be required to create protocols for assessment and treatment of stroke victims.

Veterans. House Bill 209 would create “Gold Star Sibling” specialty license plates for Kentuckians with siblings who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces. The plates would be based on the Gold Star plates already available to parents and spouses.

Lawmakers have now returned to their home districts for the veto recess, the period of time in which lawmakers wait to see if any of the bills they passed are vetoed by the governor. The recess allows lawmakers to use their time in session after the recess to consider whether or not to override vetoes before adjourning the session.

There are bills that many lawmakers hope to see passed after the veto recess, most notably some form of anti-heroin legislation. Both chambers have passed bills to strengthen sentences against traffickers and to provide more treatment options to addicts, but some of the differences between each chamber’s bills are still being negotiated. Leaders in both chambers have expressed optimism that an anti-heroin bill will be approved before the 2015 session adjourns.

State lawmakers are eager to receive feedback from citizens on the issues confronting Kentucky. Citizens can provide their input by calling the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may contact lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

--END--

 

 

March 11, 2015

 

Bill to define bees, address dog fighting returns to Senate for vote

FRANKFORT—Provisions to combat dog fighting were attached by the House today to a Senate agriculture bill.

Dog fighting is already illegal in Kentucky, but supporters of the House amendment say additional steps should be taken to prosecute those engaged in it. The amendment would classify the ownership, breeding, training, selling, possessing, or transferring or four-legged animals—including dogs—for the purpose of fighting as first-degree cruelty to animals.

“Kentucky is the only state in the nation that does not regulate dog fighting like every other state,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, the sponsor of the amendment that was attached by a vote of 62-33 to Senate Bill 143.

Jenkins said that the amended bill would not affect legal activities involving dogs including field trials, hunting, dog training, and other legal activities.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, asked the House to rule on whether the amendment was relevant, or “germane,” to SB 143. House Speaker Greg Stumbo ruled that the amendment is relevant, stating that dogs are used in agriculture. That ruling was or challenged, by Hoover and Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, and the ruling stood by a vote of 43-55. Other challenges to the amendment were also defeated.

Among those lawmakers opposing the amendment and voting against the bill was Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson. York said she feels the amendment could impact legal activities, such as hunting.

“I suppose everyone in here recognizes the need to protect our animals from being used in a perverse fighting environment. The trouble is that while our intentions are pure, I believe that, in this instance, our words are flawed and inadequate,” said York.

The amended version of SB 143 retains the original provisions of the legislation, which would define bees as “livestock” under Kentucky law. SB 143 is sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville.

SB 143 was returned to the Senate by House members on a 75-13 vote.

-END-

 

March 11, 2015

 

House adds anti-heroin provisions to bill

FRANKFORT— Sweeping changes to the treatment and prosecution of those involved in Kentucky’s heroin trade were unanimously approved by the House tonight and returned to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate, which passed its own anti-heroin measure in January, swiftly voted against concurring with the House proposal, setting the stage for continued efforts to pass a bill that both chambers can agree on during the final days of the 2015 legislative session.

The House proposal, attached tonight to Senate Bill 192, includes essentially all of House Bill 213, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. That bill, which passed the House 98-0 last month, contains substance abuse treatment options for addicts, tiered penalties for traffickers, “good Samaritan” immunity for those who call for emergency help in case of an overdose, better access to the rescue drug naloxone, and the option for local needle exchange programs authorized at the local government level, among other provisions.

Additionally, a second amendment was attached to the bill that would appropriate $10 million in state funds for substance abuse treatment and drug-related prosecution. The amendment, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, was added to the bill by voice vote.

The original provisions in SB 192, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, were removed by the House. Those provisions dealt with health care service contracts for inmates.

Tilley said SB 192, as amended by the House, represents “the most comprehensive, common sense, evidence-based, data-driven approach to what is a public health epidemic.” He said the funding component found in Overly’s funding amendment would allow the drug treatment and other anti-heroin provisions added to SB 192 by the House to be funded sooner rather than later.

Overly said funding was proposed in HB 213 for seven different drug treatment and related services beginning in the next state budget cycle. “What (this amendment) would do would be to provide immediate funds beginning in fiscal year 2016 for treatment,” said Overly.

Recent news reports indicate that there were nearly 200 deaths caused by heroin overdose in the Commonwealth in the first nine months of 2014.

-END-

March 11, 2015

 

Lawmakers crack down on illegal gambling halls

FRANKFORT -- Legislation that would shutter Internet cafes doubling as gambling halls received final passage today in the state Senate.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 28, included an amendment from the state House expressing legislative intent to remain neutral in a pending legal dispute regarding historical horse racing.

Internet cafes are for-profit businesses that sell Internet access for a chance to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes, said SB 28 sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. He said the cafes are located in buildings that contain banks of computers with Internet access. Each purchase at the cafe entitles a customer to a certain number of sweepstakes entries. The customer then determines whether the sweepstakes entries are winners by logging onto a computer.

Officials from Kentucky cities previously testified that they have seen an increase in these businesses throughout the state, often in cities bordering Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio – states that have cracked down on such business. One of the first Internet cafés in Kentucky opened in Bowling Green several years ago. In the last few months, an Internet café opened in Covington.

Wilson said the cafes advertise they are “better than bingo.” Non-profit bingos in his district have seen revenues decline as much as 40 percent because of the competition, he said.

-- END --

March 11, 2015

 

Child abuse prevention bill amended with ‘snow days’ provisions, returned to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill to require child abuse prevention and reporting training in Kentucky’s public schools and allow “snow days” to be waived in school districts hardest hit by this winter’s storms was approved today by the House.

SB 119, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, was passed by the Senate last month to require school administrators, teachers, office state, teaching assistants, coaches and other employed by a school district to receive child abuse and neglect prevention, recognition and reporting training through the state by Jan. 31, 2017 then every two years thereafter. Those hired after Jan. 31, 2017 would be required to complete the training within 90 days of being hired, then every two years.

The House adopted those provisions (which mirror language in HB 301, passed by the House 94-0 last month) after adding the “snow days” provisions to the bill. Those provisions would give school districts until June 5 to complete all 1,062 school instructional hours required by the state. Any remaining hours that cannot be made up could be waived by the state.

The adding provisions also clarify that instructional days cannot exceed 7 hours, cannot include Saturdays, and that school districts can be open on primary election day if no school in a district is used as a polling place.

“It’s … the exact same bill that the House and Senate agreed upon last year when we came upon this same problem,” according to House Education Committee Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who presented the amendment for a vote.

Speaking in opposition to the amendment was Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who was concerned that considerable instructional time is being lost in some districts.

“If we’re going to demand that our kids go to school and that every high school diploma is the same everywhere, then we need to figure out how to make sure these kids are able to go to school for the full term every year,” said Koenig.

School instructional time waivers were allowed last school year with the passage of HB 211 by the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly.

The snow days waiver provisions in SB 119 include an emergency clause, which would make those provisions effective immediately should SB 119 become law.

The bill passed the House on an 87-8 vote. It now goes back to the Senate for consideration of the changes the House made to the legislation.

-END-

 

March 11, 2015

 

Senate passes bill to address growing pains of pain management clinics

FRANKFORT – A bill that would tightly control the expansion of pain management clinics received final passage today in the state Senate.

House Bill 329 would allow existing doctor-owned pain clinics to expand to the maximum of two additional facilities, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

He said the bill is needed because of the success of the 2012 “Pill Mill Bill” that cracked down on renegade pain management clinics that were accused of promoting the abuse of prescription pain pills.

Wilson said in the wake of the Pill Bill Mill, Kentucky was left with five legitimate pain clinics. He said as physicians weaned patients off narcotics to alternative therapies offered by these pain clinics, the clinics could not keep up with the demand.

-- END --

March 11, 2015

 

Senate panel aims to heighten safety with booster seat bill

FRANKFORT – The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a booster seat bill today.

House Bill 315, as amended by the committee, requires booster seats to be used by children who are less than eight and are between 40 and 57 inches in height. HB 315 also clarifies that a child of any age who is over 57 inches in height shall not be required to be in a booster seat.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, who sponsored the bill, said it just adds an additional year and seven inches to the current state law.

“The reasons we need to do this is because all the interested groups – like engineers, medical professionals and car manufacturers – tell us that our current height limit is just wrong,” Riggs said. “It needs to be fixed.”

He said the seat belt does not correctly fit across the shoulder and lap of a child who is less than 57 inches. Riggs said the seat belt goes across the neck and abdomen of children who are shorter than that.

“Right now our law is telling our parents to do this incorrectly,” he said. “We have to fix the law.”

Riggs said all of the states neighboring Kentucky have adopted the new height limit.

Bill Bell, director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, brought his young son, Ryder, to demonstrate to committee members how booster seats do not properly protect children under 57 inches.

Lexington police officer Brandon Muravchick also testified in support of HB 315. He was 8 when he was riding in a vehicle that wrecked in Frankfort. Muravchick said the seat belt he was wearing likely saved his life but caused internal injuries because he was under 57 inches in height.

“I just had my tenth surgery in 2012,” he said, “which hospitalized me when I was in the police academy in Lexington. I’m still having issues from this wreck 25 year later. It’s very important the seat belt fits properly. The booster seat does that.”

HB 315 has already been approved by the state House and received its first reading in the Senate.

-- END --

 

March 10, 2015

 

State Senate passes bill to study teacher pension plan

FRANKFORT – The Senate voted today to establish a task force to examine the state’s underfunded teacher pension plan in lieu of issuing $3.3 billion in pension obligation bonds.

House Bill 4 passed with a 26-10 vote after the Senate adopted a committee substitute that removed language about the bonds and replaced it with language creating a bipartisan task force.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said the committee substitute represented the “measured approach” that would ensure the pension plan would remain solvent in the long term. He said the bonding plan would be just a short-term fix that would not address the systemic problem of an underfunded plan.

“We are willing to go on that journey to see what we can do to make sure of one thing: That is the current teachers that are in the system and the retirees … will receive their benefits, not just for 10 or 15 years, but … in perpetuity,” Stivers said.

He predicted the task force would come back with a set of recommendation in nine months that both chambers could agree upon. Stivers said he was seeking to recreate a similar process that resulted in to the overhaul of the Kentucky Employees Retirement System in 2013.

Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, a critic of not issuing the bonds, said the Senate was “kicking the can down the road.”

“A lot of us have some concerns borrowing $3.3 billion,” said Jones, the minority floor leader. “That is a lot of money, but at some point we have to ante up. There will be a day of reckoning.”

He said the problem with the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System is the unfunded liability, which stood at $14 billion as of June 30. Jones said that represents benefits that have already been earned but for which there are not enough assets to pay.

“We can talk about studying this issue … but when you are in a hole the first thing you need to do is stop digging,” he said. “If we put off this decision for even one more year, it will cost the taxpayers of this commonwealth … .”

Stivers said he hoped opponents were not trying to couch the debate as a pro- or anti-teacher.

“I doubt there are many people in this body that have as many teachers in their family as I do,” Stivers said. “My mom spent 37 years teaching. We are committed to our teachers, which is why we must ensure that any KTRS investment is viable in perpetuity.”

-- END --

 

March 10, 2015

Pension measure heading to governor

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow certain employers to voluntarily leave the Kentucky Retirement Systems or be forced out if they no longer qualify to participate is on its way to becoming law.

House Bill 62, sponsored by House State Government Committee Chairman Brent Yonts, was amended with Senate changes and given final passage in the House by a vote of 96-1. The bill spells out a clear pathway for “nonstock nonprofit corporation” agencies—or nonprofit agencies not owned by stockholders—to voluntarily leave the state pension system or be forced out if they don’t meet qualifications determined by the KRS board of trustees.

“This is the buyout bill where an agency can buy its way out or finance its way out in case the Internal Revenue Service makes rulings that may put in jeopardy the status of some of the quasi-governmental agencies we have,” said Yonts, D-Greenville.

HB 62 was filed in response to federal bankruptcy protection awarded last year to Louisville-area mental health agency Seven Counties Services which allowed the agency to withdraw from the public pension system. KRS has since appealed the federal bankruptcy judge’s decision, arguing that the agency owes the pension system at least $90 million in “unfunded liabilities” along with unpaid retirement contributions.

To protect employees of agencies that leave KRS, HB 62 would require agencies that leave KRS to set up another pension system in its place. It would also give those agencies as much as 20 years—up from 10 years originally proposed in HB 62—to buy their way out of KRS, with the understanding that the KRS may seek legal action against the agency to recoup any payments owed.

-END-

March 10, 2015

  

House OKs tax check-offs for pediatric cancer research and rape crisis centers

FRANKFORT—State income tax refund check-offs to support pediatric cancer research and Kentucky’s rape crisis centers would be placed on state individual income tax forms beginning next tax year under a bill that cleared the Kentucky House today.

The bill is Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, which passed the House by a vote of 97-0 and was returned to the Senate for consideration.

SB 82 was originally focused solely on creating a tax check-off to support pediatric cancer research. The House added an amendment today to include a check-off for rape crises centers.

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, who sponsors a bill that passed the House last month aimed at creating a tax form check-off to fund rape crisis centers.

The check-off boxes for pediatric cancer research and rape crisis centers would appear on tax forms for the 2015 tax year, should SB 82 become law.


     -END-

March 9, 2015

 

State Senate passes ignition interlock legislation

FRANKFORT – Saying it would reduce the number of habitual drunken drivers, a majority of state senators voted today for legislation that would expand the use of ignition interlocks for people caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 133, would supplement hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks.

An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

“Drunk driving kills,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey, who is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “In 2013, over 10,000 people lost their lives at the hands of a drink driver.”

McGarvey said while legislators across the country have not found a way to eradicate drunken driving, lawmakers in 24 states have found ways to reduce it through the use of ignition interlocks.

“The states that have done this have seen a 30 percent decrease in fatalities due to drunk driving,” McGarvey said.

Unlike previous versions of the bill, McGarvey said ignition interlocks would only be available to people convicted of drunken driving with aggravating circumstances, like having a child in the car, going more than 30 mph over the speed limit or having prior drunken driving convictions.

McGarvey said a special fund would be set up to supplement the costs of ignition interlocks for the poor to address concerns raised by the state’s public defenders. In response to a question by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, concerning who would pay for the indigent fund, McGarvey said the companies who provide the ignition interlocks to the state would subsidize the fund.

SB 133 now goes to the House for consideration.

-- END --

 

March 6, 2015

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Telecommunications bill becomes first of 2015 delivered to governor

 

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT -- When the first racehorse crosses the finish line, others usually aren’t far behind.

The same can be said about bills passing into law. Once Kentucky lawmakers are far enough into a legislative session to deliver a bill to the governor’s desk, other bills soon follow.

On Tuesday, a phone deregulation bill became the first bill of 2015 to reach Gov. Steve Beshear’s office. The next day, two more bills landed on the governor’s desk. Four more bills have also passed both chambers and are ready to soon be delivered from the third floor of the Capitol to the governor’s first-floor office.

The telephone deregulation bill, House Bill 152, would end phone companies’ obligations to provide landline phone services to customers in urban and suburban areas if they provide service through another technology, such as cellular or an Internet-based phone service.

Supporters describe this as a modernization step to improve Kentucky’s telecom infrastructure by encouraging phone companies to invest in newer technologies like high-speed broadband networks. Opponents warn that some customers could end up with higher-priced, less-reliable phone service.

While rural customers can keep landline phones they already have, newly constructed homes in rural areas won’t be guaranteed landline services. If a rural customer cancels landline service and doesn’t decide to bring it back within 60 days, the company won’t be obligated to restore it.

Another bill sent to the governor this week would make possible the construction of a state-of-the-art medical research center to target prevalent diseases in Kentucky, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. House Bill 298 would authorize the issuance of $132.5 million in bonds for the construction of the building at the University of Kentucky. The university would raise money for the other half of the $265 million building.

Lawmakers also sent the governor a bill this week that would give Kentuckians a new kind of health care directive to consider using when planning end-of-life care. Senate Bill 77 would allow Kentuckians to use what’s known as “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for 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.

At the time of this writing, the governor had not yet signed the bills that have been delivered to his office. Under the Kentucky Constitution, he has ten days (excluding Sundays) after receiving a bill to veto it or sign it into law. If no action is taken within ten days, a bill goes into effect without the governor’s signature.

The record-breaking snowfall that created hazardous driving conditions throughout the state this week prompted legislative leaders to adjust the schedule for the 2015 session. Chamber proceedings were called off for Thursday and Friday of this week. Under the adjusted calendar, the Senate and House will convene on March 9, 10 and 11 before starting a veto recess. Lawmakers will return to the State Capitol for the final two days of the session on March 23 and 24.

With the 2015 session nearing its final days, this is an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues. There are several easy ways citizens can provide feedback.

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 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may reach lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

 

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


--END--

 

March 6, 2015  

Senate and House scheduled to convene Monday at 2 p.m.

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives are each scheduled to convene at 2 p.m. on Monday, March 9. It will be the 24th day of the General Assembly’s 2015 session.

The schedule for Monday’s legislative committee meetings is available online (http://www.lrc.ky.gov/legislative_calendar/index.aspx) or by calling the General Assembly’s Calendar Line at 1-800-633-9650.

Legislative leaders agreed yesterday to adjust the 2015 legislative calendar in response to disruptions caused by the winter storm. The General Assembly is now scheduled to convene three days next week before starting a veto recess on March 12, with the final two legislative days of the 2015 session on March 23 and 24.

The revised 2015 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/calendars/15RS_calendar.pdf.

 

--END--

  March 6, 2015

 

Kentucky Senate and House will not meet in session today

FRANKFORT – Due to the winter storm, power outages, concerns about hazardous road conditions and sub-zero temperatures, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will not convene today, Friday, March 6, 2015.

Today’s legislative committee meetings have been canceled.

Legislative Research Commission offices are open on today. Staff and legislators who can safely travel will be working in the Capitol and Capitol Annex offices.

Due to the disruption in the General Assembly’s schedule, legislative leaders have agreed to adjust the 2015 legislative calendar.  The General Assembly is now scheduled to meet on March 9, 10 and 11. The veto recess is scheduled to begin on March 12. Lawmakers will hold the final two days of the 2015 session on March 23 and 24.

--END--

March 4, 2015

 

State Senate says “cheers” to the beer distributor bill

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation today banning breweries from owning beer distribution networks – a move expected to force Anheuser-Busch to sell its two Kentucky distributorships.

The legislation, known as House Bill 168, passed with a 23-13 vote – ending what has been dubbed the “beer wars” in the General Assembly. HB 168 would affirm that the state’s three-tier system of regulating alcoholic beverage producers, distributors and retailers applies to beer.

“HB 186 is about the three-tier system in regards to alcohol distribution in the state of Kentucky,” said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. “A three-tier system specifically prevents interlocking ownership between the tiers. The three-tier system prevents monopolies, but to be effective, the tiers must be independent of one another.”

He said 37 other states have endorsed the three-tier system and none of those governments has given into Anheuser-Busch’s request to deregulate the beer business.

“Anheuser-Busch wants a monopoly, not a free market,” Schickel said. 

He said a diverse group of special interests joined forces to support HB 168. The groups included breweries such as Yuengling & Son and MillerCoors, business groups like the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce and The Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce, and the Temperance League of Kentucky.

“HB 168 is perfectly consistent with the historical approach Kentucky has taken with alcohol regulation,” Schickel said. “For good reason, the alcohol beverage industry has always been highly regulated. That goes all the way back to Prohibition when the alcohol industry was taken over by organized crime. When we came out of Prohibition, we wisely established the three-tier system in Kentucky.”

Opponents to the bill included Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, where Anheuser-Busch owns one of its two Kentucky distributorships.

“Make no mistake; House Bill 168 is a punitive bill that seeks to punish Anheuser-Busch,” she said. “It retroactively takes from Anheuser-Busch what they lawfully obtained. It will require divestiture of its assets. This bill is the ultimate assault on private property rights.”

She said no one in the chamber could claim victory with the passage of HB 168, especially when it comes to Anheuser-Busch’s almost 200 employees, many of whom live in and around the district she represents in Louisville.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, also spoke out against the bill. He lives in the city where Anheuser-Busch’s second distributorship is located. He said HB 168 “pulls the rug out from under” Anheuser-Busch.

“This bill tinkers with the free market,” Bowen said. “It tinkers with the laws and structures of a free-market economy. It is in violation of the laws of a free market.”

He said its “inappropriate” for the state Senate to intervene on what he characterized as a business dispute.

Bill supporter Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, gave a floor speech that contained a history lessons on beer distributorships in Kentucky.

When Carroll was governor in 1978, he said his administration wrote regulations to preserve the three-tier system after Anheuser-Busch purchased its first distributorship in Louisville. That system was again jeopardized when a court ruled last year that Anheuser-Busch could own the second distributorship in Owensboro.

“I apologize for my failure to take care of this problem in 1978,” Carroll said, “and ask for forgiveness.”

-- END --

 

March 4, 2015

 

Stroke care bill heading to governor

FRANKFORT—A bill that would require the state to post a list of all Kentucky stroke hospitals and stroke centers online and distribute the list to local emergency services providers is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, and Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, received final passage in by a vote of 99-0 in the House. It now goes to the governor for his signature.

Specifically, the bill would require that a list of all acute stroke ready hospitals, comprehensive stroke centers, and primary stroke centers in Kentucky be posted to the web site of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and be distributed to emergency medical services providers, whose directors would be required to create protocols for assessment and treatment of stroke patients before the patients reach the hospital. 

The bill would also expand the types of stroke-care certification available to hospitals across the Commonwealth, building on a 2010 law that requires Kentucky to recognize certified primary stroke centers.

Kentucky currently has two comprehensive stroke centers—one at the University of Louisville and one at the University of Kentucky—and around 21 total certified stroke hospitals, according to Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, who presented SB 10 for a vote in the House.

“Having a stroke system of care in Kentucky is an important component of our health care delivery system,” said Watkins, a physician. “I feel like this is an extremely good bill.”

The Cabinet reports that stroke accounted for two percent, or 12,024, of all hospitalizations in Kentucky in 2010, and that Kentucky had the 11th highest stroke death rate in the country in 2009.

SB 10 passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.

-END-

 

March 4, 2015

 

Colorectal cancer screening bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT—Health insurers would have to cover the cost of follow-up procedures resulting from a colorectal cancer screening under a bill that is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, received final passage by a 95-5 vote in the House today. It would require insurers to cover any follow-up colonoscopy resulting from a colorectal cancer screening without imposing additional deductible or coinsurance costs.

The bill would apply to health benefit plans issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2016, should it become law.

The House passed similar legislation earlier this session. That bill, House Bill 69 sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chair Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, passed the House by a 66-29 vote on Feb. 9.

Like HB 69, “it removes the barriers for colorectal cancer screening,” Burch told the House before presenting SB 61 for a final vote.

SB 61 passed the Senate on a vote of 31-3 on Feb. 19.

-END-

March 4, 2015

 

Senate panel approves a range of transportation bills

FRANKFORT – The state Senate Committee on Transportation approved three state House bill today on topics ranging from special license plates, classic cars and mobile methamphetamine labs.

The first piece of legislation taken up by the committee, House Bill 209, would create a special license plate for Kentuckians with a sibling who died in active U.S. military service. Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, a sponsor of the bill, said the plate would be known as the “Gold Star Siblings” special license plate.

The initial fee for a Gold Star Siblings license plate would be $25 and the renewal fee would be $20, with $10 of the initial fee and $5 of the renewal fee dedicated to the state’s Veterans’ Program Trust Fund, St. Onge said.

The second piece of legislation deals with vehicles that are turned in mobile methamphetamine labs. Known as House Bill 19, it would require the vehicles to be crushed at the junk yard after the completion of any criminal investigation, said Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville.

“We are running into a lot of older cars which are being used to manufacture meth in,” said Collins, a sponsor of the bill. “We know once that is manufactured in them they are never safe again.”

A third bill, House Bill 20, involves property taxes on classic cars. It would prevent tax appraisers from assuming a car 20 years or older has been maintained at original factory condition or restored. Appraiser would have to assess the value of the car using a formula established in HB 20 and only after a physical inspection or viewing photographs of the vehicle 

“Tax appraisers think some of these older cars we have out there are immaculate like the ones you see on reality shows about car restorers,” said Collins, also a sponsor of HB 20.

All three bills will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

 

March 3, 2015

 

End-of-life care bill goes to governor

FRANKFORT—An end-of-life order known as a “medical order for scope of treatment,” or MOST, would be allowed in Kentucky under a bill that is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 77, sponsored by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, received final passage in the House on an 87-8 vote and now goes to the governor for his signature.

A MOST spells 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. SB 77 would allow the use of MOST in Kentucky, and require the state Board of Medical Licensure to create a standard form for the orders to use statewide. 

The bill would also allow an existing health power of attorney or living will directive for a patient to be applied in cases of end-of-life care, even if a MOST has been completed.


Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, a physician who presented the bill for a vote in the House, said 32 states now allow MOST, which he explained is typically used by hospice patients in their last six months of life.

“This tries to ascertain what their desires are as things proceed,” said Watkins.

Among the bill’s supporters in the House were Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, whose family made end-of-life care decisions for his late mother in the past year.

“The law already provides for a patient’s family to make these decisions if the need arises. My father, my brother, and I had to make those decisions in the case of my mother,” said Meredith. Having a MOST for his mother would have helped during that process, he explained.

“This is for those situations where a living will doesn’t go far enough in determining a patient’s wishes. This is for the situations where a living will is not in place, and in our case a living will wasn’t in place,” said Meredith.

-END-

March 3, 2015

 

Senate passes funding bill for UK research building

FRANKFORT – The state Senate reopened Kentucky’s spending plan during a non-budget year today and passed legislation to fund a multi-million dollar research building at the University of Kentucky.

The legislation, known as House Bill 298, would authorize the issuance of $132.5 million in bonds for the construction of the building, said Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington. UK would pay for the other half of the $265 million building that would sit along South Limestone, near the College of Pharmacy, in Lexington.

The building would house teams of scientists from different disciplines working together to reduce presentable deaths from medical disorders that disproportionately afflict Kentuckians – such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“The life expectancy of our citizens is lower than that of other citizens in other states,” Kerr said. “We know that is unacceptable. We have to do something. UK is uniquely positioned to tackle these problems with this major academic medical center.”

She said the research center would create 1,623 jobs, have an annual economic impact of $116.2 million, and an annual state and local tax impact of $5.6 million.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said contributing money to the research center was a good investment for Kentucky.

“It will be an economic machine for the University of Kentucky, for the state of Kentucky,” he said.  “What could be better than it bringing us life, improving the quality of life, adding social stability?”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, also spoke out in favor of the research building.

“This is definitely needed,” he said. “We are all familiar with our dismal health statistics.”

-- END --

 

March 3, 2015

 

State Senate committee approves bill promoting use of ignition interlocks

FRANKFORT – The state Senate Committee on Judiciary approved legislation today designed to crack down on motorists driving on suspended licenses.

Known as Senate Bill 133, it would supplement hardship licenses – special licenses allowing people with suspended licenses to drive to work, school and doctor’s appointments – with ignition interlocks.

An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a mobile phone that is wired into the ignition system of a vehicle. A person convicted of driving under the influence must blow into the device in order to start their vehicle. If they have a measurable amount of alcohol in their system, the vehicle will not start.

“I don’t want to skip over how effective this bill has been in the 25 states that have passed it,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, adding that it has led to a 30 percent decrease in drunken driving fatalities.

McGarvey and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, are the primary sponsors of SB 133.

Unlike previous versions of the bill, McGarvey said ignition interlocks would only be available to people convicted of drunken driving with aggravating circumstances, like have a child in the car, going more than 30 mph over the speed limit or having prior drunken driving convictions.

Drivers could also opt not to have an ignition interlock but they would not be allowed a hardship license, McGarvey said. He added a special fund is being set up that would supplement the costs of ignition interlocks for the poor.

“I think this is going to do more to protect the roads from drunk drivers … than simply telling them their piece of plastic is not good,” committee chairman Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said in response to the chronic problem of people driving on suspended licenses.

The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration. A similar bill already cleared the state House. 

-- END --

 

March 3, 2015

 

State Senate panel approves expanding dating violence protections

FRANKFORT – Upset his 19-year-old college girlfriend didn’t answer her phone one night, a man scaled a three-story building and crawled into her bedroom window. He slammed the woman into her bedroom wall, put his hand around her throat and said, “Remember this the next time you don’t answer your phone.”

The man, who she had met in class, then stalked the woman the following day and hid in the back of her vehicle.

She tried to get an emergency protective order, but she wasn’t eligible for one under current Kentucky law because she wasn’t married to her stalker, didn’t live with him and didn’t have a child with him, said Marion Brown, executive director of Sanctuary Inc., a nonprofit serving victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence in the Pennyrile region.

Brown recounted this woman’s story while testifying today before the state Senate Committee on Judiciary. She was there in support of legislation that would allow dating couples to get civil protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking in the form of a protective order.

The legislation, known as House Bill 8, would also streamline the process to obtain protective orders for other victims, and would allow an order to be expunged from someone’s record if the order is dismissed by a judge, said Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who sponsors the bill.

He said 638,000 Kentucky woman will experience physical violence, rape and/or stalking by an intimate partner, according to federal data. Of those, 345,000 will experience a forcible rape and 420,000 will be stalked.

“That is the highest percentage in the country,” Tilley said of the number of women stalked.

Tilley said there was some concern that courts would be overwhelmed with requests for civil protective orders if HB 8 becomes law but statistics from other states indicate otherwise.

Indiana experienced an 8 percent decrease for all types of civil protective orders after that state expanded the right to dating couples, Tilley said. Florida saw a 6 percent decrease, he said.

While Kansas and Missouri both saw increases after passing similar laws, the increases were only 6 percent and 5 percent respectively.

The committee approved HB 8 after some emotional testimony. It will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, voted for HB 8 but said constituents need to understand that the legislation would only provide civil protections. He said he didn’t want there to be an unjustified belief that a piece of paper would keep someone away if they were willing to scale a building and crawl through a window.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, cast a “pass” vote. She said she wanted an opportunity to review a committee substitute that was adopted before deciding if she would ultimately support that legislation.

 

-- END --

 

March 2, 2015

 

Telecom deregulation bill heading to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT – Legislation to reform telecommunication regulations passed the state Senate today, making it the first bill to pass both chambers during the 2015 General Assembly.

House Bill 152, sponsored by Rick Rand, D-Bedford, received final passage by a 30-3 vote. It would remove requirements that telephone companies offer basic landline service in urban areas so the money used to maintain that old technology can be spent on Internet and mobile phone expansion, said Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville. He had sponsored similar legislation for the last several years.

Hornback said there are two keys differences with HB 152 and past telecom reform bills that did not pass both chambers. First, HB 152 contains language that represents an agreement struck last year between AT&T and a previous opponent of the legislation, the Kentucky Cable Telecommunication Association.

Second, HB 152 contains stronger language to protect consumers, he said. Among other things, it would give rural customers 60 days – rather than the 30 days outlined in other proposals – to transition back to landline service from a newer technology should they desire to do so.

HB 152 also prevents telecommunication companies from reclassifying rural areas to urban areas in order not to provide basic landline service, Hornback said.

“I think we are doing the right thing here,” he said. “I celebrate this day. It is moving the state in the right direction.”

In explaining why she voted against the bill, Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said the legislation was deregulation being disguised as something else.

“That is what this is all about,” she said, adding the legislation comes at the expense of the consumer.

Earlier in the day, AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris testified in support of the bill before the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Labor.

He said legislation much more comprehensive than HB 152 has been passed in 17 of the other 20 states where AT&T operate as a landline carrier, and no person in an urban or rural area has lost a landline.

-- END --

March 2, 2015

 

‘Robotripping’ bill approved by House on 93-1 vote


FRANKFORT—A bill intended to prevent youth from misusing certain cough medicines to get high -- sometimes called “robotripping” -- passed the Kentucky House of Representatives today by a 93-1 vote.

House Bill 24 would restrict minors’ access to products like Robitussin-DM that contain dextromethorphan.

Rep. Fitz Steele, the sponsor of HB 24, said young people are using a simple method to extract dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, from cough medicine to experience a hallucinogenic effect. The only way to detect whether a person has consumed DXM is by a blood test “after you have to take them to the emergency room,” said Steele, D-Hazard.

HB 24 would outlaw the possession of a gram or more of DXM in its pure or extracted form by non-approved individuals and ban the selling of DXM-based products to minors. Proof of age would be required to buy products containing DXM if the buyer is suspected to be under age 18. Minors who misrepresent their age to get products that contain DXM would face legal action.   

Those who violate the provisions of HB 24 could be fined between $25 and $1,000 for a first violation, depending on the offense, and $100-$200 up to $2,500 for each subsequent violation, depending on the offense.

HB 24 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

February 27, 2015

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Total number of bills under consideration reaches 75

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly crossed another mile marker this week by reaching the deadline for the introduction of new bills in the House of Representatives. The Senate crossed a similar deadline on Feb. 13.

With these two deadlines in the rear-view mirror, Kentuckians now have a more complete view of the issues lawmakers will take up this year. A total of 752 bills have entered into the legislative process in the Senate and House combined, confirming what has been apparent to anyone who follows the news out of Frankfort: there are a lot of big issues on the agenda this year.

Both the Senate and House have already weighed in on one of the largest issues with each chamber passing its own bill to deal with the state’s heroin epidemic. Both bills feature stronger sentences for dealers and more treatment options for addicts. But there are a number of differences in the finer points of the Senate and House bills.

Among the differences are the ways each chamber would punish traffickers. The Senate measure, SB 1, would make trafficking any amount of heroin a Class C felony. The House bill, HB 213, recognizes three levels of heroin trafficking, with escalating penalties based on how much traffickers had in their possession.

Another difference is that the House bill, unlike the Senate bill, would give local governments the option of establishing needle-exchange programs. Supporters say programs allowing heroin addicts to exchange used needles for new ones at local health departments have a proven record of curbing the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Supporters also say the programs that bringing addicts into health departments gives them an opportunity to seek help with their addictions. Opponents say needle exchanges enable addicts and send the wrong message about tolerance for illegal drug use.

Lawmakers are looking to bridge the differences in their anti-heroin measures in time to send a bill to the governor before a scheduled veto recess begins on March 10.

Issues taken up in legislative chambers this week include:

Teachers’ retirement system. HB 4 would authorize the state to issue $3.3 billion in bonds to reduce the $14 billion unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The legislation passed the House on a 62-31 vote and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Students. SB 10 would allow high school juniors and seniors to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money during high school. Student earning college credit through dual-credit courses could use KEES money they’ve earned to pay for up to six college credit hours. SB 10 has been approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

Gambling. SB 28 would make it clear in the law that it’s illegal for so-called Internet Cafes to sell Internet access to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes. The bill passed the Senate and has been sent to the House.

Elections. SB 93 would let Kentucky voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would move Kentucky’s elections for governor to even-numbered years. Elections would also be moved to even-numbered years for the Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Attorney General, Secretary of State and Commissioner of Agriculture. SB 93 was approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Debt. SB 94 would limit general fund supported debt to 6 percent of general fund revenue. The road fund is not included, agency debt is not included and there is a provision that would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency to go over the debt limit. The bill was approved in the Senate and sent to the House.

Early childhood development. Early child care and education programs would be mandated to follow a state quality-based rating system under House Bill 234. The bill was approved in the House and delivered to the Senate for consideration.

Public-private partnerships. House Bill 442 would allow state government to partner with private companies on major building projects. The bill was approved in the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

With so many major bills moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to 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 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

 

--END--

 

February 27, 2015

 

Senate passes bill to curb state debt

FRANKFORT – Saying they want to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, a majority of state Senators today voted in favor of capping Kentucky’s dept.

Known as Senate Bill 94, the legislation would limit general fund supported debt to 6 percent of general fund revenue, said Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, who sponsored the bill with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.

“John Adams said there were only two ways to conquer and enslave a nation: One is by the sword, and the other is by debt,” Bowen said. “Kentucky owes more than it owns.”

The road fund is not included, agency debt is not included and there is a provision allowing the governor to declare a state of emergency to go over the debt limit, he said.

A similar bill passed the state Senate two sessions ago by a 38-0 vote but did not become law.

“So what has changed since then?” Bowen said. “Certainly the sense of urgency has been amped up. We continue to add debt, and we continue to encumber future generations with the decisions we are making now as we acquire more debt.”

 In state rankings, Bowen said, Kentucky is 48th in the nation in debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, 38th in debt per capita and 43rd in total debt when all unfunded liabilities are included.

“Every man, woman and child in this commonwealth owes $3,400 to the state of Kentucky,” he said. “We have leveraged ourselves to the extreme.”

He said Kentucky’s debt ratio is reported to be 6.7 percent, but it is actually 8.1 percent if you include the nearly $1 billion spent on new county courthouses built across the state in recent years. Bowen said the bonds to build the courthouses were issued in the names of Kentucky’s counties but the state still pays the interest on those bonds.

Bowen said the financial situation is made worse because of a structurally unbalanced biannual budget. He said nonrecurring revenues are routinely used to pay for reoccurring expenses.

“Senate Bill 94 builds in a structural safeguard,” he said. “It builds in a discipline that people all across the commonwealth appreciate. Our constituents want us to operate within certain confines. People want us to operate in a fiscally responsible manner.”

SB 94 passed with a 28-8 vote.

One of the legislators who spoke in opposition was Sen. Ray S. Jones, D-Pikeville. Among his objections to the bill was a provision that specifies how money saved by capping the debt ceiling is appropriated in the future.

“It is clearly unconstitutional for this General Assembly to specify how the General Assembly will spend money two years from now,” he said. “That is clearly an infringement upon future sessions of the General Assembly and their ability to appropriate money as allowed by the Constitution.”

SB 94 now goes to the state House for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 27, 2015

 

Charitable gaming hits BINGO with passage of Senate bill

FRANKFORT – The state Senate voted 25-10 today in favor of legislation that would allow electronic pull tabs at bingo halls across Kentucky.

Known as Senate Bill 33, the legislation would legalize the electronic versions of pull-tab bingo tickets that have become staples of church festivals and other charity events across Kentucky for decades, said sponsor Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville.

“An electronic pull-tab game is not a slot machine,” he said. “It is something about the size of iPad that would be made available inside that charitable hall.”

Buford said charities have reported losing about $60 million in the last few years to legalized gambling such as casinos in the neighboring states of Indiana and Ohio.

“By allowing the use of these electronic pull tabs, we are giving charities an additional option to raise funds for their charitable purposes,” he said.

SB 33 now goes to the state House for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 27, 2015

 

Human trafficking, Alicia’s Law bills head to Senate

FRANKFORT—Bills aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking and child rape passed the Kentucky House today without a dissenting vote.

The bills are House Bill 515, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, and HB 427, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. The bills passed by votes of 90-0 and 93-0 respectively.

HB 515 is designed to improve protections for child victims of human trafficking by prohibiting someone who pays for sex with a child from having a legal defense that they didn’t know the child’s age.

“Too often, the buyers of these children are not being charged,” Overly said. “Unless we combat the demand for child trafficking, we will not be able to stop the exploitation of our children. We must focus on the buyers.”

HB 515 could become the state’s third law directly aimed at human trafficking passed in as many years. The passage of HB 3— known as the “safe harbor” law that targets those who exploit children for sex – in 2013 was followed by the 2014 passage of SB 184, which gives human trafficking victims forced into prostitution and non-violent offenses a legal means to clear their criminal record.

HB 427, known as the “Alicia’s Law” bill, would add $10 to court costs paid in Kentucky’s criminal cases to increase funding for the Kentucky State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Tilley said the task force works to prevent crimes like those suffered by Alicia Kozakiewicz, for whom Alicia’s Law is named.

Now a child advocate her 20s, Kozakiewicz was abducted at age 13 then raped and tortured for days via live Internet streaming before she was rescued.  She is now working to get bills like HB 427 passed in states across the country.

Tilley said passage of HB 427 would make Kentucky the ninth state to pass Alicia’s Law.

Both HB 515 and HB 427 now go to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

February 27, 2015

 

Senate passes the transgender student bathroom bill

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation today to regulate where transgender students may use the restroom in public schools.

The legislation would require public school students to use the restrooms of their biological sex or seek special accommodations, said Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, who sponsored the bill.

Known as Senate Bill 76, the legislation passed by a 27-9 vote after a lengthy floor debate.

Embry said the SB 76 had nothing to do with homosexuality, in response to questions from Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, who opposed the legislation.

“Passing this bill would cast a shroud of darkness over this body,” Thomas said.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, spoke in favor of the bill.

“It is not the responsibility of this body to protect the rights of one particular group,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of this body to protect the rights of all. In this case, this bill does protect the rights of all the students.”

Carroll referenced prior testimony on the bill from a high school student who said she was uncomfortable using the restroom with a transgender classmate.

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, also spoke in favor of the bill. He stressed that SB 76 is about modesty and protecting minors.

“I think as a parent, I don’t want that situation for my daughter,” he said.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, explained why he did not support SB 76.

“This is not about modesty,” he said. “This is about fear.”

SB 76 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 26, 2015

 

State Senate passes bill banning Internet sweepstakes

FRANKFORT – Online sweepstakes offered across Kentucky at businesses advertised as “Internet cafes” would be outlawed under legislation unanimously passed by the state Senate today.

Known as Senate Bill 28, the legislation would make it clear in the law that so-called Internet cafes are illegal, said sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. The cafes are for-profit businesses that sell Internet access for a chance to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes.

Supporters of SB 28 said Internet cafes are located in buildings that contain banks of computers with Internet access. Each purchase at the cafe entitles a customer to a certain number of sweepstakes entries. The customer then determines whether the sweepstakes entries are winners by logging onto a computer.

Officials from Kentucky cities previously testified that they have seen an increase in these businesses throughout the state, often in cities bordering Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio – states that have cracked down on such business.

-- END --

February 26, 2015

 

Gold Star Siblings license plate bill advances to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill to create a Gold Star Siblings special license plate for Kentuckians whose brother or sister died in active U.S. military service has passed the state House.

House Bill 209, sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, and Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, advanced to the Senate on a vote of 94-0. 

The bill “allows siblings who have lost their loved ones in active service in the military, in the service of this country, to honor them with a Gold Star Siblings license plate much the same as a Gold Star Spouse, Gold Star Mother, Gold Star Father license plate” which are already available in Kentucky, said St. Onge 

The initial fee for a Gold Star Siblings license plate would be $25 and the renewal fee would be $20, with $10 of the initial fee and $5 of the renewal fee dedicated to the state’s Veterans’ Program Trust Fund, according to HB 209. Proof of eligibility for the plate would be determined by the state Transportation Cabinet regulation.

HB 209 would take effect Jan. 1, 2016 if it becomes law.

-END-

February 26, 2015

 

State Senate unanimously passes new ‘fracking’ regs

FRANKFORT – The state Senate today passed legislation that would modernize Kentucky’s regulations on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as “fracking,” for the first time in more than two decades.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 186, would mandate energy companies notify nearby landowners of any planned fracking process, clean up the well before abandoning it and disclose of the chemicals used in the fracking process, said Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, the sponsor of the bill. He added that the bill would apply to new drilling operations.

“We haven’t really changed our laws or regulations in 20 years,” said Carroll. “During that time, technology has advanced that could essentially make Kentucky energy independent if we will go after our (energy) reserves. We are already doing that in the area of gas. This moves us in that direction with oil.”

Similar legislation passed the state House on Wednesday. The House bill, HB 386, is sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

Fracking is an oil and gas well development process that typically involves injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The technique is used commonly in low-permeability rocks like tight sandstone, shale and some coal beds to release oils and gasses.

Tom Fitzgerald, director of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Kentucky Resources Council, previously testified that he supported the bill. Carroll said during a floor speech that a key to getting Fitzgerald’s support was to include language in the bill that would require baseline water quality testing before any new fracking could begin. Those tests would be followed with additional water sampling once operations begin in order to monitor drilling impacts to local water sources.

Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said the legislation is the product of a year’s worth of work by officials at the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. He added that the legislation is also backed by the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association.

Carpenter said the legislation would ensure “continued energy growth in Kentucky.”

-- END --

February 25, 2015

 

P3 bill passes House, proceeds to Senate

FRANKFORT--The House voted 84-13 today to advance a bill that would provide oversight and regulations to public-private partnerships, so-called “P3s,” for state government and major transportation projects in Kentucky.

House Bill 443, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, would allow state government and major transportation projects to partner with private companies to complete public infrastructure, transportation and other needs. 

Provisions regarding local governments found in last session’s P3 bill—which was passed by the 2014 General Assembly but vetoed by the governor due to an amendment that would have eliminated the possibility of tolls for a Northern Kentucky bridge project -- are not found in HB 443, said Combs.  

“I understand the concerns that have been expressed by several, and right now what we’re going to do is focus on state agencies and transportation. Let’s move this forward because this is something that I think this state definitely needs,” said Combs.

She also said HB 443 does not mandate use of tolls on any project. The issue of tolls has been a concern of some lawmakers, particularly those in Northern Kentucky where there are concerns about replacing the aging I-75/I-71 Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River. Combs said the legislation specifically states that  a “state authority shall not enter into a public-private partnership related to a project connecting the Commonwealth with the State of Ohio unless the General Assembly expressly authorizes it by passing a joint resolution.”

“This bill is about creating public private partnerships in Kentucky. It is not about a particular project. It’s not about doing a project in Northern Kentucky. It’s not about doing tolls,” said Combs.

Several amendments were filed to the bill including those called by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. Some of his amendments failed but others were approved, including Simpson’s amendments would: require that major transportation projects connecting Kentucky to adjoining states be constructed and financed by a bi-state authority and that only that authority be allowed to enter into a P3 as part of the project; require additional cost analysis of any proposed transportation project that exceeds $100 million in total cost to see if a P3 is in the public interest; require that tolls imposed as part of a transportation project costing over $100 million that uses P3s expire when the initial construction debt is paid.

“Relative to full disclosure I think I need to admit two things,” said Simpson. “First, I am the individual who filed the amendment last year that basically precluded the utilization of tolls on the Brent Spence Bridge corridor project, and make no apologies for that. And the second thing I would like to tell you is I hate tolls.”

Simpson said P3s have been used in Kentucky for years including in local government. But he said P3 projects are “so large in scale that we have to proceed very cautiously. If we fail to do so, it puts our tax base at great jeopardy.”

HB 443 now goes to the Senate for consideration. An emergency clause attached to the bill would allow the bill would take effect immediately if it is signed into law.

-END-

February 25, 2015

 

Ignition interlock device bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT--A bill that would replace hardship licenses for DUI offenders with an “ignition interlock license” if an ignition interlock device is installed on an offender’s vehicle passed the House today by a vote of 96-0.

House Bill 60, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer-type device installed in a dashboard that keeps a vehicle from starting if the driver’s breath alcohol concentration level meets or exceeds 0.02.

Before being eligible for a license tied to an ignition interlock device—which the DUI offender would have to pay for—an offender would have to be enrolled in, or already have completed, an alcohol abuse treatment program. Anyone who has been incarcerated for DUI for any period of time would be allowed to apply for an ignition interlock license, according to the bill.

Ignition interlock licenses would not be granted for use in commercial motor vehicles under HB 60. Only noncommercial vehicles and motorcycles would apply.

HB 60 would also increase the time for driver’s license revocation for a first DUI within five years from the current 30 days to 120 days to a minimum of six months and maximum of nine months. It would also require revocation of the ignition interlock license of anyone who has violated the terms of the license, or require that a camera or other monitoring device be installed along with the device in that person’s vehicle.

Continuing to drive when an ignition interlock license has been revoked would be a Class A misdemeanor. An offender who drives without court-ordered identification or monitoring would be guilty of a Class D felony and have his or her license revoked for a longer period of time.

Keene said HB 60, which is similar to legislation he has sponsored in past sessions, could save 60-75 lives every year by limiting drunk driving accidents. He explained that the devices are affordable and preserve an offender’s “privilege” to drive.

“For the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day, the offender is given the privilege—not the right, but the privilege—to drive on own roads,” said Keene.

-END-

February 25, 2015

 

Senate approves KEES award bill

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would allow students to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money during high school was unanimously approved by the Senate today.

Senate Bill 110, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, would allow Kentucky juniors and seniors earning college credit through dual-credit courses to use KEES money they’ve earned to pay for up to six college credit hours.

Making a dual-credit course more readily available provides many benefits, Wise said.

“It can improve college and career readiness,” he said. “It can increase participation in postsecondary education. It can reduce postsecondary degree time. And it also can increase participation among low income and underserved populations.”

SB 110 passed the Senate unanimously. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

--END--

February 25, 2015

 

Human trafficking bill approved by House committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would step up prosecution of those who pay for sex with Kentucky’s child human trafficking victims was approved today by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 515 sponsor House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said prosecution of those who pay for sex with child human trafficking victims is difficult because abusers often claim they thought the child was over age 18—an adult, under the law--to avoid prosecution under the state’s human trafficking laws.

HB 515 would change that, ensuring those who pay for sex with a child prostitute cannot claim ignorance of the child’s age as a defense from prosecution for human trafficking.

Ernie Lewis with the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers spoke against the bill in committee, saying it is too broad. “What HB 515 does is take away the defense so even through (an) 18-year-old boy believes a person is of age, he can’t defend himself with that…and he’s facing 10 to 20 years in prison,” which can’t be probated, said Lewis. “That’s the effect of this bill.”

Overly, who has successfully sponsored others human trafficking bills in recent sessions, said the bill addresses “egregious crimes against children.”

HB 515 supporter Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said what the bill does is put the onus on the person buying sex to make sure that a prostitute is, in fact, an adult. “Are you dealing with a child, or are you dealing with an adult?” is what Cohron said the bill attempts to ask.

Prostitution is illegal in Kentucky, but it is a misdemeanor whereas human trafficking-- which includes coerced or forced adult prostitution and the selling of children for sex or other purposes-- is a felony 

HB 515 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

 

February 24, 2015

 

Phone deregulation bill clears House

FRANKFORT—A landline phone deregulation bill that supporters believe will lead to more investment in broadband and advance communication networks in Kentucky has cleared the House on a vote of 71-25.

House Bill 152 sponsor Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, described the legislation as a “business-friendly” bill that would encourage investment modern technology.

“It does move Kentucky forward,” said Rand of HB 152. “It moves Kentucky in the right direction in encouraging increased investment in our state’s broadband infrastructure—investment that is vital to economic development, competitiveness, and job creation.”

Rand told the House that HB 152 would end Public Service Commission landline regulation in urban areas where newer technologies are widely available, ensure voice service is available in rural areas, and allow customers in rural areas to keep basic landline service or transition to newer voice technologies.

An amendment, also sponsored by Rand, that was approved by the House would give rural customers 60 days—rather than the 30 days allowed in the original bill—to transition back to landline service from a newer technology should they desire to do so. It would also clarify which company owns which landlines, clarify that FCC rules protecting rural health-monitoring devices and related services cannot be changed by the state, and recognizes phone exchanges in place as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Several other amendments filed to the bill were defeated. The sponsor of one of those amendments, Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, said HB 152 is geared toward “total deregulation of this industry.” His floor amendment, defeated by a vote of 28-59, would have guaranteed landline service for all remaining 11,000 or so landline customers left in Kentucky’s urban exchanges as long as they live in their homes 

Rand said the amendment would have gutted the bill by denying Kentucky’s telecommunications companies the ability “to move from old technology to new technology.”

HB 152 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

February 24, 2015

Distributor bill approved by House 

FRANKFORT— A bill passed the House by a vote of 67-31 today that would affirm that the state’s three-tier system of regulating alcoholic beverage producers, distributors and retailers applies to beer.

“All this bill does, when boiled down to its simplest terms, is bring into compliance with current law that exists for wine and distilled spirits that law that would deal with distribution of beer,” said House Bill 168 sponsor House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Stumbo called the bill a “re-regulation bill” prompted by a recent court decision. That decision has allowed Anheuser-Busch to retain its distributorships in both Louisville and Owensboro. Stumbo said HB 168 would ensure the three-tiered system—which requires that the production, wholesaling/distribution, and retailing of beer, wine, and spirits be separated—applies to all beer brewers.

“The three-tier system isn’t being applied equally and fairly,” said Stumbo.

Opponents to the bill included Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who offered an amendment to HB 168 that would exempt Anheuser-Busch’s Louisville and Owensboro distributorships from the legislation. Koenig said his amendment, narrowly defeated by a vote of 43-45, would have “put a fence around what exists today and grandfathers in the franchises owned by Anheuser-Busch in both Louisville and Owensboro.”

Koenig said that he “cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that requires Anheuser-Busch to divest themselves of their holdings of two distributorships, one that they’ve owned since 1978.”

Another amendment, sponsored by Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, was also defeated. That amendment, defeated by a vote of 29-51, would have allowed Kentucky-based brewers and microbreweries to distribute their own product. 

-END-

February 24, 2015

 

Animal cruelty bill heading to House floor

FRANKFORT— Failing to provide adequate shelter and potable water for domestic pets would be considered second-degree animal cruelty under a bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee today.

House Bill 177, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, would not affect hunting, fishing, field dog trials, and several other activities included in the bill.  It would also not change standards governing the shelter of livestock, which is regulated by the state Board of Agriculture.

Second-degree cruelty to animals is a misdemeanor crime in Kentucky.

HB 177 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

 

-END-

February 23, 2015

 

KTRS bond bill clears House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—A House proposal to authorize $3.3 billion in bonds to reduce the unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System’s pension fund is heading to the Senate.

House Bill 4, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, was approved in the House today on a 62-31 vote. The bill needed 60 votes to pass the House because it proposes authorization of funds in an odd-year, or non-budget, legislative session.

The bill would authorize the Kentucky Asset/ Liability Commission to issue the bonds in fiscal year 2015-2016 to reduce the system’s growing $14 billion unfunded liability. Supporters say the bonds, along $116.7 million already budgeted for now-completed state improvements, would help the teachers’ pension system pay off its unfunded liability over 30 years.

Stumbo said before a committee vote on HB 4 earlier this month that the bill is expected to guarantee the solvency of the pension fund to 2035 and beyond.

An amendment offered by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, was defeated by a vote of 43-52. Had it passed, the amendment would have authorized $520 million in bonds—the same amount, said Montell, that would be bonded in the first year under the original bill-- to fully pay the actuarially required contribution to the KTRS pension fund for one year.  It would have also required the state Public Pension Oversight Board to study the issue during that year to “see what can be done not only to provide funding, but to address the other issues that could be driving the unfunded liability.” 

The amendment would have made the teachers “whole,” Montell said. “They get everything they (would get) in the big bond for the first year. It gives us time to do some work.”

Stumbo called the amendment “a Band Aid for a bigger wound,” and said that the larger bond issue is needed. “We’ve got to do something to fix the bigger wound,” he said.

--END--

February 23, 2015

 

Early childhood ratings bill passes House

FRANKFORT- Early care and education programs would be mandated to follow a state quality-based rating system under a bill passed today by the Kentucky House of Representatives.

House Bill 234, sponsored House Education Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, would require state agencies to work with early care and education providers to develop and fully phase in the system for child-care and certified family child-care homes, state funded preschool, and Head Start by June 30, 2017.

Funding for the program would come from the state’s Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant. Graham explained that the bill would require a report be submitted annually to state lawmakers which, among other things, would include recommendations for the “long-term viability” of the system when federal grant dollars run out.

An amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, was narrowly defeated by a vote of 47-50. Had it passed, the amendment would have: sunset the rating system at the end of calendar year 2017 (unless extended by the General Assembly); restricted the use of state monies for the rating systems once federal funds are gone, and; required the state to report plans for continuing the system when federal money is no longer available. 

Wuchner said the amendment was a “responsibility measure” to require the state to consider what funding would be needed to continue a mandated system that, under current law, is voluntary. 

HB 234 passed the House by a vote of 81-16. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

February 23, 2015

Accident victim solicitation bill clears House panel

The House Labor and Industry Committee today approved a bill that would prohibit health care providers or their agents from soliciting business from motor vehicle accident victims in the days immediately following a wreck.  

Violators of House Bill 153, should it become law, would face sanctions from their licensing or regulatory agencies according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence.

Gooch said most drivers have basic, no-fault personal injury protection which helps cover accident-related medical bills and other costs. The problem, he said, is some providers are “fraudulently” gaining from that coverage, which hurts accident victims.

“They’re taking up money that could go to things that the insured needs a lot more than…someone trying to get them to run up a lot of medical bills,” said Gooch.

Attorney Don Cox, whose law firm successfully fought to invalidate a 2011 law that HB 153 seeks to replace, said he expects that HB 153, if passed, will also be invalidated. “There are still huge problems with this bill, as it’s written, that will not be overcome in court,” he said.

The bill, which was amended by the committee, now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

February 20, 2015

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2015 session passes halfway mark

 

FRANKFORT -- There are milestones in each General Assembly session.

This week’s arrival of the mid-point of the 2015 session is a noteworthy one. The halfway mark is a natural place to look back at the first half of the session and consider what’s been accomplished.

Reviewing how busy the early days of this year’s session were serves as a reminder that while there are familiar milestones in each session, there are also hallmarks – distinguishing characteristics that set one session apart from another.

This year’s hallmark may be the unusually high number of major bills that took steps forward during the first half of the session.

Senate priorities that have already been voted through that chamber include measures on right-to-work laws, exempting school construction from prevailing wage requirements, increased informed-consent requirements for women seeking abortions, telecommunications deregulation, charter schools and anti-heroin efforts.

The House, too, passed its own anti-heroin measure, as well as bills on a proposed statewide smoking ban in public places, felon voting rights, local option sales taxes, a minimum wage increase and protections against dating violence.

The Capitol was quieter this week than it was during some of the earlier days of the session. The winter storm that caused closings and hazardous driving conditions across the state also disrupted the General Assembly schedule in the days following the Presidents’ Day holiday.

The Senate gaveled into session on Thursday and took up measures including a bill that targets Kentucky’s high rate of colon cancer. Senate Bill 61 would remove barriers to some colon cancer screenings by clarifying that a fecal test to screen for colon cancer and any follow-up colonoscopy is preventive care and should be covered by medical insurers.

Similar legislation is moving through the state House.

This week’s Senate activity also included passage of legislation that could boost computer coding lessons in Kentucky schools. Senate Bill 16 is aimed at improving resources and support for computer programming in schools across the state. Supporters note that job opportunities in the coding industry will be plentiful in years to come since the U.S. is expected to have a million less coders than needed by 2020.

Bills that have moved far enough along in the process to possibly receive votes in the full House soon include a measure to crack down on illegal dog-fighting rings and a proposal to issue $3.3 billion worth of bonds to shore up the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.

With so many big issues moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues that will be voted on in the days to come. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to 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 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

 

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

 

--END--

February 20, 2015

 

Senate passes bill promoting computer programming

FRANKFORT – Linux 2.6.10-grsec+gg3+e+fhs6b+nfs+gr0501+++p3+c4a+gr2b-reslog-v6.189.

This sample of basic computer code might look like gibberish to many, but Sen. David P. Givens wants to ensure Kentucky’s youth can read it.

The Republican from Greensburg was the sponsor of Senate Bill 16, which passed the state Senate today by a unanimous vote. Givens said the goal of his legislation is to focus educators on improving resources and support for computer programming in public schools.

The legislation was changed in committee to remove a provision that would have counted computer programming as a foreign language credit in public schools in hopes of it gaining support in the state House, Givens said. He sponsored similar legislation last year that died in the House after opposition for foreign language teachers.

“With that threat to that vital and important group of teachers falling away, I gain some immediate momentum,” Given said.

He said he hopes Kentucky will eventually allow computer programming to count as a core science credit.

“The Kentucky Department of Education has indicated that there are ways they can do this,” Givens said. “They’ve shown some desire to do it, but they haven’t had sufficient motivation to move.”

He said the United States will be short 1 million programmers by 2020, citing a study by Code.org, a consortium of technology companies working together to address the anticipated shortage of computer programmers. Givens said that is a problem because only one school out of 10 offers computer programming.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, also sponsored the bill. He said Apple paid $10 billion to developers in 2014 alone.

“It is silly, outright dumb, if we do not push this as a topic students should learn,” Westerfield said. “I would give anything if I knew how to do it myself.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 20, 2015

 

State Senate passes judicial redistricting bill

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation yesterday that would bring the most significant change to the state judiciary since 1976 reforms created a unified state court system that was a model for the nation.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 49, would ensure judges are assigned to courthouses with the highest volume of cases in the most populous area, said sponsor Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. SB 49 would require the Kentucky Supreme Court to conduct judicial redistricting, based on population and caseloads, on the same years as legislative redistricting.

Schickel said Kentucky’s judiciary system, one of the three co-equal branches of government, has not been redistricted for six decades. He said that has caused backlogs of cases in growing urban areas that potentially deny citizens speedy and equal justice.

“Think about if … we were still representing the same districts that our predecessors represented 60 years ago,” Schickel said in a floor speech. “It would be completely unacceptable and completely unfair, but this is exactly the case … with our judicial system today and it demands our attention.”

Schickel acknowledged the complexities of redistricting.

“Make no mistake about it. This will not be easy. It never is. We certainly know that from experience,” he said in reference to the tribulations of legislative redistricting. “But it is necessary if we are to have equal justice under the law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, explained that she favored the concept of judicial district but language in SB 49 caused her to cast a “pass” vote.

She said just looking at caseloads and population would not accurately predict how the busyness of any particular judge.  Webb said the matrix for judicial redistricting should include the complexity of cases, adding that some judges have more time-consuming death penalty and personal injury cases.

Schickel indicated Webb’s concerns would be address in a study being conducted on judiciary redistricting that was funded by the state legislature last year.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration. 

-- END --

 

February 19, 2015

 

Electronic gaming issues taken up by Senate panel

FRANKFORT – How technology is revolutionizing gambling and threatening traditional bingo and state lotteries was evident today at a hearing of a state Senate committee designated to examine such issues.

The Senate Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations approved three bills designed to do everything from curtail online gaming to allowing nonprofit bingos to compete in the computer age. The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate Bill 28 sponsor Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said his legislation is intended to make clear in the law that “Internet cafes” are illegal. The cafes are for-profit businesses that sell Internet access for a chance to play computer-based, casino-style games in which customers can win cash prizes.

Wilson said the café’s advertise they are “better than bingo.” Non-profit bingos in his district have seen revenues decline as much as 40 percent because of the competition, he said.

Bryanna Carroll, of the Kentucky League of Cities, testified that Internet cafes are located in buildings that contain banks of computers with Internet access. She said each purchase entitles the customer to a certain number of sweepstakes entries. The customer then determines whether the sweepstakes entries are winners by logging onto a computer.

“While the general consensus is these operations violate Kentucky law, there is some disagreement among those in the municipal law community,” Carroll said. “This uncertainty has made it extremely difficult on Kentucky cities to regulate ahead of their opening.”

She said many of the cafes often present business license applications that appear to show valid and legitimate business purposes.

Officials from Kentucky cities have seen an increase in these businesses throughout the state – often in cities bordering Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio. Carroll said she attributes the increase in those regions to other states prohibiting Internet cafes. Wilson said the Bowling Green region has six Internet cafes.

Senate Bill 33 sponsor Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville said his legislation would legalize the electronic versions of pull-tab bingo tickets that have become staples of church festivals and other charity events across Kentucky.

Lancaster Bingo Company President Johnathan Smith testified about the electronic version of the pull-tab game while holding up a computer tablet featuring the game. He said many charities across Kentucky have expressed interest in the electronic game.

Willie Byrd, executive director of Options Unlimited in Shepherdsville, operates one such charity. He said it appeals to a younger demographic and would give his organization tighter control of the money that exchanges hands at bingos.

Plus, Byrd added, it is more environmentally friendly.

“Every night we kill several trees at bingo,” he said.

Senate Bill 134 sponsor Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, a retired grocer, said his legislation would prohibit people from purchasing Kentucky Lottery tickets over the Internet with a credit card.

Higdon said buying tickets online is a direct competition to retailers who sell lottery tickets. Those retailers get a five percent commission on lottery sales. It is also generates foot traffic into a business, Higdon said.

Kentucky Lottery Corporation President Arch Gleason testified if the legislation became law it would create a “serious impediment” to the anticipated rollout of the iLottery in Kentucky.

Kentucky will soon launch iLottery, the online sale of lottery tickets. New technology allows the lottery corporations to restrict Internet sales to people who are physically in Kentucky while on the Internet.

Under Higdon’s legislation, an iLottery player would need to purchase a Kentucky Lottery pre-paid debit card from a lottery retailer to play the new online game.

Gleason said the goal of iLottery is not to hurt lottery retailers. He too cited the desire to reach new younger players.

“We will be mindful of the retailer,” Gleason said. “There is plenty of proof it has not been a detriment to retail sales in the few states that have gone forward.”

-- END --

 

February 19, 2015

 

Senate passes bill targeting Kentucky’s high rate of colon cancer

FRANKFORT – In what has been described as Kentucky’s “prescription” to save lives and money, the state Senate passed a bill today designed to remove barriers to colorectal cancer screening.

Known as Senate Bill 61, it would clarify that a fecal test to screen for colon cancer, and any follow-up colonoscopy, is preventive care and should be covered by medical insurers, said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, the sponsor of the bill.

Similar legislation is moving through the state House.

Alvarado, who is a family physician, said the problem is that insurers often do not pay their share for follow-up colonoscopies if blood is detected in the preventive-care fecal testing. He called that ironic because the same insurers will pay the more expensive and evasive colonoscopy if a patient opts not to do a fecal test.

-- END --

 

February  18, 2015

 

Weather prompts change to Legislative Calendar

FRANKFORT -- Concerns about the winter storm and hazardous driving conditions have prompted a change in the Kentucky General Assembly’s Legislative Calendar for Thursday, February 19.

Under the change, the House of Representatives is not scheduled to convene tomorrow.

The Senate is scheduled to go into session tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Up-to-date Legislative Calendar information can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov/legislative_calendar/index.aspx.

--END--

February 16, 2015

 

Kentucky Senate and House will not meet in session tomorrow

FRANKFORT – Due to inclement weather and concerns about hazardous road conditions, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will not convene on Tuesday, February 17.

Tuesday’s legislative committee meetings have also been canceled.

As of now, both chambers are scheduled to convene on Wednesday, February 18, with the Senate going into session at 2 p.m. and the House at 4 p.m.

--END--

February 13, 2015

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Major issues seeing quick movement in Frankfort

 

FRANKFORT – Heading into the 2015 session, many Capitol observers noted that lawmakers were facing a particularly heavy agenda. Major legislation was expected on issues like heroin abuse, the minimum wage, a local option sales tax, prevailing wage, telecommunications deregulation, dating violence, the teachers’ retirement system, charter schools and a proposed statewide smoking ban in public places.

Today, just 13 working days into the session, votes have already been cast on each of these issues and dozens of others. Bills are moving through the committee system and, in many instances, have already been approved by one chamber and sent to the other for consideration.

No bill has yet been sent to the governor for his signature. But at the pace lawmakers are moving, it won’t be a surprise if the first new state law of 2015 arrives soon.

Bills that took steps forward today alone include an anti-heroin bill, smoke-free legislation and a proposal to permit a new lottery game that would be based on the results of live horse racing.

Today’s anti-heroin bill, House Bill 213, would create more treatment options for addicts while establishing tiered penalties for traffickers, with the greatest prison time for felons who sell over a kilo of the drug. The bill also includes a “good Samaritan” provision that gives immunity to those who call for emergency help when someone overdoses.

The bill would make the rescue drug nalozone more readily available. The drug can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose if promptly administered.

HB 213 also would allow local governments to set up needle exchange programs to stave off Hepatitis C and HIV infection from shared needles.

The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB 213 is the second anti-heroin bill to pass a legislative chamber this year. Senate Bill 5 was approved by the Senate last month and is currently awaiting consideration in a House committee.

Another high-profile issue that surged forward today would establish a statewide smoking ban in restaurants, bars and other public places.

House Bill 145, which passed the House on a 51-46 vote, would prevent smoking within 15 feet of enclosed public areas and workplaces. The bill includes exemptions for private clubs, cigar bars and tobacco shops.

Private residences would be unaffected by the proposal except in areas used for paid lodging, childcare, adult care, or health care.

HB 145 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

In the Senate today, members voted to advance Senate Bill 74, a proposal that would allow the Kentucky Lottery to begin selling a game of chance based on live horse racing.

If it becomes law, the measure would make Kentucky the first state to sell tickets for a game known as “EquiLottery.” It is like most lottery games, except the winning numbers are determined by the outcome of a horse race. For EquiLottery to remain a pure game of chance, numbers would be randomly picked by a computer rather than by players.

SB 74 now goes to the House for consideration.

With so many big issues moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues that will be voted on in the days to come. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to 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 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

 

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

 

--END--

February 13, 2015

 

Smoking ban bill clears House hurdle

FRANKFORT—A bill that would ban smoking and use of e-cigarettes both indoors or within 15 feet of public places and workplaces statewide passed the Kentucky House today by a vote of 51-46.  It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

“I’m acutely aware that the issues we vote on in this General Assembly impact not just the people in our backyard but throughout the entire state,” said House Bill 145 primary sponsor Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who told her colleagues that she rejected the idea of statewide smoking restrictions 14 years ago in her early years as a state lawmaker.

Westrom said the fact that 950 people die each year in Kentucky from illnesses cause by second-hand smoke helped change her mind, leading her to begin filing smoke-free bills five years ago.

“This bill just requests that a smoker step outside 15 feet (from a workplace or public building). Fifteen feet isn’t too much to ask,” she said.

HB 145—also referred to as the “Smokefree Kentucky” bill—as amended today would create a fine (with no court costs) of $25 for individuals and $50 for each business violating the proposed ban—a significant reduction of fines proposed in the original bill. It would also carve out exemptions from the proposed ban for private clubs, facilities that do tobacco marketing research, and cigar bars and tobacconists that can prove their tobacco sales are at least 10 percent of their gross annual sales.

Private residences would be unaffected by the proposal except in areas used for paid lodging, childcare, adult care, or health care. Any location where smoking or use of e-cigarettes is prohibited would have to be clearly marked with a no smoking sign at each entrance.

The bill as amended also clarifies that HB 145 would not repeal existing local ordinances or regulations that restrict smoking, and would not prevent localities from passing more restrictive rules.

Two proposed amendments to the bill that were defeated include a proposal by Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, that would have exempted e-cigarettes from the proposed ban and clarified that e-cigarette use is not prohibited by the bill. Lee said e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but not tobacco, can help smokers get off cigarettes.

“I will tell you that e-cigarettes helped my father quit smoking. That’s what they were invented for,” he said. The amendment was defeated by a narrow vote of 46-49. Also narrowly defeated (44-45) was a proposed amendment by Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, that would exempt labeled and ventilated “smoking establishments” from proposed ban.

Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, said local governments have some time to craft and pass smoking ordinances acceptable to their constituencies before HB 145, if passed into law, would take effect later this year. Westrom agreed, clarifying that local ordinances would take precedence under the bill as amended.

-END-

February 13, 2015

House heroin bill heading to Senate

FRANKFORT— A bill that would use both treatment and incarceration to reduce the devastating effects of the heroin trade in Kentucky today passed the House by a vote of 98-0. The bill now goes to the Senate.

House Bill 213 would create more treatment options for addicts while establishing tiered penalties for traffickers, with the greatest prison time for those felons who sell over a kilo of the drug. The bill also includes a “good Samaritan” provision that gives immunity to both those who call for emergency help to help someone who overdoses.

The bill also makes the rescue drug nalozone more readily available. The drug can reverse the effects of a herion overdose if promptly administered.

The bills also would and allow local governments to set up needle exchange programs to stave off Hepatitis C and HIV infection from shared needles.

The Senate has also taken up an anti-heroin measure this year. The chamber approved Senate Bill 5 on Jan. 8 and sent the measure to the House for consideration.

Recent news reports indicate that there were nearly 200 deaths caused by heroin overdose in the Commonwealth in the first nine months of 2014.

-END-

February 13, 2015

KY Senate places bet on horse racing themed lottery

FRANKFORT – A bill authorizing the Kentucky Lottery to begin selling a game of chance based on the results of live horse racing cleared the state Senate today.

“There is no secret that our signature horse race industry has experienced serious decline over the last two decades due to the lack of exposure,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsored the legislation, known as Senate Bill 74. “Even in Kentucky it is not readily accessible. Online wagering does not reach beyond the committed horse player, and most Kentuckians do not live near a race track … .”

For $2, players would receive one ticket containing three numbers randomly selected by a computer, Adams said. The winner would be determined by the outcome of a predetermined horse race and not ping-pong balls falling randomly down the chute.

“Senate Bill 74 is a new innovative way to engage in the lottery, promote one of our signature industries and help Kentucky students,” Adams said in reference to the fact state lottery proceeds go toward education.

Of the $2 lottery play, $1 would go to the lottery corporation. The remaining half would go into the track’s pari-mutuel pool, with the track taking its customary cut or takeout rate. The lottery winner would receive whatever the exotic wager pays at the track plus a bonus payoff that would be determined by how many lottery players hit the bet.

Representatives of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association all testified in support of the SB 74 on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Licensing, Occupation and Administrative Regulations.

While no such hybrid lottery game is offered in North America, EquiLottery CEO Brad Cummings has developed one that he has been trying to sell to state lotteries across the country. He has testified at least twice before legislative committees in recent months about the proposed game, named EquiLottery.

Cummings said that EquiLottery’s cut, based on $25 million in annual Kentucky-based revenue from the game, would be $250,000-$500,000 for patent rights and administrative costs.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

-- END --

February 12, 2015

 

Major House proposals forwarded to Senate

FRANKFORT—Two proposed amendments to the Kentucky Constitution and a bill to give immediate protections to dating violence victims passed the state House tonight and are on their way to the Senate.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow statewide voters to authorize state lawmakers to give local voters the right to approve up to a one-cent temporary sales tax on agreed-to local projects. The other, HB 70, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. George Brown, Jr., D-Lexington, would allow statewide voters to decide on the automatic restoration of voting rights for certain non-violent felons who have served their sentence.

HB 8, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would, for the first time under Kentucky law, allow dating couples to receive immediate civil protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking in the form of an “interpersonal” protective order. It would also streamline the process to obtain protective orders for other victims, and would allow an order to be expunged from someone’s record if the order is dismissed by a judge.

HB 1 passed on a vote of 62-35 and HB 70 passed on a vote of 86-12. HB 8 passed by a vote of 98-0. All three proposals now go to the Senate for its consideration.

HB 1, unofficially called the “LIFT bill” for the name of its advocacy group Local Investments For Transformation (LIFT), would add Kentucky to the list of 37 other states that allow for a local option sales tax for specified projects, should local voters agree to the levy. Stumbo said the amendment could free up state dollars for required services like education by allowing local communities to cover the cost of local projects themselves.

Hoover added that a local option sales tax could only be levied with “direct consent” of those affected, not to exceed one percent per dollar for specific projects. “I have been a supporter of this idea from the beginning because I view this… as democracy at its best, where local people make a decision on what they want to do,” he stated.

Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, proposed an amendment to HB 1 that would prohibit the use of tax dollars to promote a referendum on a capital project in association with the legislation. That amendment was defeated by a vote of 38-53.

Following the passage of HB 1, the House also voted 57-38 to approve HB 344, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, which would set requirements for a local option sales tax levy should the proposed amendment allowing such a tax be approved during the Nov. 2016 general election. If approved, HB 344 would take effect on Jan. 2017.

Legislation similar to HB 70, the felons’ voting rights bill that passed the House today, has been filed in the House for at least nine years, but has not yet won the support of both chambers needed to put the issue on a statewide ballot.

Before passing HB 70, the chamber voted 37-57 to reject a proposed amendment to the bill filed by Harmon what would have required felons to wait three years to have their voting rights restored, unless the person has been pardoned.

“It’s time for HB 70 and for Kentucky to come out of the dark ages,” Brown said of the measure.

During often somewhat emotional debate on HB 8, Tilley said Kentucky would become the last state in the U.S. to include domestic violence protections for dating couples in its statutes should HB 8 become law. Only victims who are married to their abuser, have lived or currently live with the abuser, or who share a child with the abuser can file for protective orders under current Kentucky law.

The measure passed the chamber with an amendment filed by Rep. Thomas Kerr, R-Taylor Mill, that would allow protective orders issued on the basis of domestic violence and abuse to be referred to by the court as “emergency protective orders” and “domestic violence orders.”  It would take effect in Jan. 2016 should it become law.

One concern with HB 8 voiced by Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, who ultimately voted for the bill, is that the orders may be used in spats between teenage couples. “I just fear that this (could) open the floodgates to some situations that dilute the purity of the way we have it in the courts right now,” said Mayfield.

Tilley said persons under age 20 are “four times” more like to be abuse by a partner than others.

“The purpose of this bill,” he said, “is to protect lives.”

 

-END-

 

February 12, 2015

 

Pediatric cancer research bill personal for one Senator

FRANKFORT – October 16, 2006, was supposed to be a great day for Sen. Max Wise’s family. His wife was having the grand opening of her dental office in Campbellsville.

It was also the day Wise had to take his 6-month-old son, Carter, to the pediatrician. Two days before, Wise’s wife had found a golf ball-size budge on Charter’s abdomen while bathing the infant. Wise wasn’t too worried; Carter just received a clean bill of health during a routine checkup.

After examining the budge, however, the pediatrician looked up at Wise and said, “Does cancer or tumors run in your family?”

That is how Wise, who began his first term in the state Senate last month, described finding out Carter had cancer. Wise, R-Campbellsville, was speaking today before the full Senate in support of Senate Bill 82. The legislation, which Wise sponsored, would allow state residents to donate their income tax returns directly to pediatric cancer research via a check box on the front of state tax forms. 

“All of a sudden my stomach hit the ground,” Wise said of hearing the cancer diagnosis.

 But on that Monday, with her grand opening celebrations continuing, Wise walked across the street to his wife’s dental office with the car seat in tow. The judge-executive and mayor were still there.

“I had to pull my wife to the side to tell her our son has cancer,” Wise said.

The cancer formed in Carter’s adrenal gland and it had spread to his liver, bone marrow, clavicle, skull and a lesion in his vertebrae. He was rushed into surgery to remove the adrenal gland. Immediately following that, the Wise family became temporary residents of Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. They spent the next Thanksgiving, Christmas and countless other days at the hospital.

Carter went through seven surgeries all throughout his body. His last surgery removed half of his liver.

“He has been poked,” Wise said. “He has been prodded. He has been tested. He has become a national study. And he has become the face of children’s cancer – and I’m a cancer dad.”

Wise said Carter is now doing well. He turns 8 next month.

“It is my hope one day that when a parent hears the news, ‘your child has cancer,’ it is followed with ‘but we found a cure,’” Wise said. “That is what this bill is about.”

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, said his first grandchild was 8-months-old when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1992.

“Medicine had not developed as far along as it has today,” he said. “After 15 months at Kosair, we lost little Heather.”

Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said he too was a parent of what he affectionately called a “Kosair Kid.”

“What (Wise) is doing with this income tax refund check off is a wonderful thing for our infants and families in Kentucky,” Parrett said.

SB 82 passed by a unanimous vote followed by a round of applause in the state Senate chambers. The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

 

-- END --

 

February 11, 2015

  

Senate panel answers call for telecommunications reform

 

FRANKFORT – A bill to reform telecommunication regulations to reflect the declining use of landlines in favor of new technologies passed the Senate Committee on State and Local Government today.

Known as Senate Bill 3, the legislation would remove requirements that telephone companies offer basic landline service to everyone so the money used to maintain that old technology can be used to increase Internet and mobile phone access, said Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville. He sponsored the bill along with Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris testified at the committee hearing in support of the legislation, often referred to as the AT&T bill.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to address the continuing need to begin modernizing Kentucky’s communications laws,” he said. “As you know, we have been discussing this need for several years now. The result of those discussions is the bill that you have before you today.”

Harris said more than 80 percent of all Kentucky voice connections are over something other than traditional landlines.

“Even more Kentuckians want to make this transition but they cannot because every day investment in the new technologies Kentuckians want and need is passing us on the way to neighboring states that already have modernized their laws,” he said. “We are already behind. We are falling further behind every day and we will continue falling further behind until we encourage this investment to come to Kentucky by modernizing our laws.”

Harris said SB 3 reflects “serious compromise” on all sides of the issue and encourages investment in much needed technology while protecting customer rights.

Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, asked whether everyone would be guaranteed phone access under SB 3.

“First, if you live in a rural area and have a traditional phone line you can keep it,” Harris said. “If you live in an urban area you also have significant layers of protection in this bill. Competition in urban areas is vibrant.”

He said legislation much more comprehensive than SB 3 has been passed in 17 of the other 20 states where AT&T operate as a landline carrier, and no person in an urban or rural area has lost a landline.

The Federal Communications Commission recently made clear that companies like AT&T cannot stop offering legacy voice service in urban or rural areas, without the FCC’s permission, Harris said.

“In other words, when this bill … passes both urban and rural customers remain protected,” he said.

Tom Fitzgerald, director of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Kentucky Resources Council, testified against BB 3. He urged senators to defer action on SB 3 until the FCC finalizes regulations that would ensure the protection of the reliability, affordability and nondiscriminatory access to telecommunications during the transition to Internet communications.

“Today’s law, as we sit here, assures that all Kentuckians, rural and urban, have access to basic local exchange service which is defined by statute to be 911 and traditional operator assistance,” Fitzgerald said. “There is nothing in this bill that will help to bridge the digital divide that exists between urban and rural Kentucky in terms of high speed Internet broadband access. I don’t know why we would want to remove these protections in state law until the FCC finishes its job … .”

Harris said telecommunication companies just want to meet customer demands for Internet and mobile service and the current regulatory structure stifles innovation.  He said every month 8,000 Kentuckians switch to new technologies from traditional landlines.

SB 3 now returns to the full Senate for consideration where it has already received two readings.

-- END --

 

 

February 11, 2015

 

Senate panel approves ‘prescription’ for reducing colon cancer

FRANKFORT – A state Senate committee today approved legislation designed to remove barriers to colorectal cancer screening.

Senate Bill 61 would clarify that a fecal test to screen for colon cancer, and any follow-up colonoscopy, is preventive care and should be covered by medical insurers, said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, the sponsor of the bill. He told the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare that his legislation mirrors a sister bill in the state House.

Alvarado, who is a family physician, said the problem is that insurers often not pay their share for follow-up colonoscopies if blood is detected in the preventive-care fecal testing. He called that ironic because the same insurers will pay the more expensive and evasive colonoscopy if a patient opts not to do a fecal test.

Dr. Whitney Jones testified that SB 61 was a “prescription” to save lives and money in Kentucky. He said over the last decade colon cancer diagnoses are down by more than 25 percent in Kentucky but that the state still leads the nation in colon cancer.

“The sole purpose of this legislation is to create a clarifying law that serves as an unequivocal guide to all parties involved … about what is and what is not covered in colon cancer screening services,” said Jones, a gastroenterologist from Louisville.  “Kentucky citizens deserve a broader more accessible access to screening not a narrow restrictive policy that supports other people’s interests.”

SB 61 now returns to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

February 10, 2015 

 

Minimum wage bill approved by House

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted today to pass legislation that would gradually raise Kentucky’s government-mandated minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by July 2017.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, passed 56-43. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Kentucky’s current minimum wage, which is tied to the federal minimum wage, is now $7.25 an hour. HB 2 would increase that rate to $8.20 this July, $9.15 in July 2016, and the final rate of $10.10 the following year.

Stumbo said over 390,000 Kentuckians make less than $10.10 an hour, and that most of those earners are women. He wants to raise the wage gradually to what he called a “living wage” rate of $10.10 an hour as 29 other states and Washington D.C. have done, he told fellow House members. Businesses that gross less than $500,000 a year (up from the current threshold of $95,000 annually) would be exempt from the wage increase.

“The trend across America is to reach out to those minimum wage workers and give them a living wage,” said Stumbo.

The bill would also prohibit wage discrimination based on gender, race, or national origin for equivalent work, with some exceptions allowed for seniority, merit, or productivity.

An amendment to HB 2 that would increase the minimum wage to $8 an hour beginning this July 1 and adjust the rate annually based on the average annual percentage change in the consumer price index was called for a vote by House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. Hoover explained that passing the bill as written could cost the state over 14,000 jobs based on a recent Kentucky legislative staff report.

 “So it’s clear--there would be a loss of jobs,” said Hoover.

Stumbo—who challenged the study data cited by Hoover--said the proposed amendment would only buoy the minimum wage for one year. The proposal was ultimately defeated by a vote of 33 to 56.

Those opposing HB 2 included Rep. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, a small business owner who shared a news report that Couch said indicates employment in Kentucky’s eastern coal industry in 2014 was about half of what it was in 2009.  “Where I live at, it will devastate it,” he said.

Stumbo said Governor Steve Beshear reports that Kentucky opened 340 new businesses and brought in 15,000 new jobs last year alone. “No one should believe that this bill is going to cost anybody any jobs,” he said.

-END-

 

 

February 10, 2015

 

Bill promotes donation of game meat to charities

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill today to ensure the continued operation of a nonprofit dedicated alleviating hunger and malnutrition in Kentucky.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, who sponsored the legislation known as Senate Bill 55, said it would prevent any city, county or any public health department for disallowing the practice of donating game meat. She said the nonprofit Kentucky Hunters for The Hungry already provides 60,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds of mostly deer meat every year that allows food kitchens to serve an additional 560,000 meals.

“This is a wonderful and best use of the resources God gave us,” Webb said.

She said the bill ensures the game meat is harvested in Kentucky, properly field dressed and taken to processors certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The tradition of donating game meat started in 1988 after state deer herds had grown beyond carrying capacity in some areas and biologists were encouraging additional doe harvest, Webb said. This led to discussions between avid hunters who wanted to oblige wildlife management but had concerns about what to do with extra venison.

The formal organization Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry was incorporated in July 2000 with the support of the state fish and wildlife department.

SB 55 passed with a 35-0 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

-- END --

 

 

February 10, 2015

 

Lottery game based on horse racing clears panel

Goal is to boost lottery sales while reviving interest in horse racing

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation authorizing the Kentucky Lottery to begin selling a game of chance based on live horse racing cleared the Senate Committee on Licensing, Occupation and Administrative Regulations today.

Senate Bill 74, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, could pave the way for Kentucky to become the first state to sell EquiLottery tickets. It is like most lottery games, except the winning numbers are determined by the outcome of a horse race and not by ping pong balls falling randomly down a chute. For the EquiLottery to remain a pure game of chance, players cannot pick their own numbers. They are randomly picked by a computer, known as a “quick pick” in the lottery industry.

“I’ve never bought a lottery ticket in my life but maybe if it is tied to the given results of a horse race I might,” said Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, a cosponsor of the bill. “For decades now, horse racing, which is regulated by government, has had to compete with the state government and seen its market share declined because of … the proliferation of the lottery long before there were casinos.”

He called EquiLottery an innovative idea to “marry” horse racing and lotteries.

EquiLottery developer and CEO Brad Cummings told senators the winning numbers in EquiLottery would be determined by one horse race a day, preferably from a Kentucky track. It will not be based on past horse racing results. EquiLottery has developed an application, or app, for mobile phones that will allow players to watch the horse races that will determine the winning EquiLottery numbers.

EquiLottery tickets would cost the player $2 per bet and it would revolve around a particular existing racetrack bet like a trifecta, with the winning numbers at the track the same as the winning lottery numbers.

Of the $2 lottery play, $1 would go to the lottery corporation.

The remaining half would go into the track’s pari-mutuel pool, with the track taking its customary cut or takeout rate. The lottery winner would receive whatever the exotic wager pays in the track plus a bonus payoff that would be determined by how many lottery players hit the bet.

Sen. Tom Buford, R- Nicholasville, asked how much money EquiLottery will make if the bill becomes law. Cummings said his company hasn’t signed a contract with the Kentucky Lottery Corporation but estimated the company stands to make $250,000 to $500,000 per year.

Variations of the proposed game of chance are played in France and Sweden, but nothing like it has been tried in North America.

“I know Cummings is speaking with other regulatory bodies around the country,” Thayer said. “It is my firm belief when it comes to matters of horse racing that Kentucky should lead.”

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, predicted EquiLottery would be a success.

“A lot of people are going to play just by the emails I have received alone,” he said. “If all those people go buy a lottery ticket, it is going to do pretty well.”

Cummings said tracks would benefit by new money flowing into the betting pools from those who otherwise wouldn’t bet on racing.

Among the horse racing industry groups that spoke in favor of the bill was the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

“We see no downside as far as thoroughbred racing is concerned,” said Chauncey Morris, the executive director of association. “

SB 74 now returns to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

February 10, 2015

 

Dating violence bill clears House panel

FRANKFORT—A proposal that would allow dating couples to seek civil protective orders in cases of domestic violence, abuse, sex abuse, or stalking has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 8, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, now goes to the full House for consideration.

First Lady Jane Beshear said Kentucky is the only state that does not provide immediate civil protections for dating partners—including those who haven’t been married to each other, lived together, or who share a child. An often lengthy criminal proceeding is now the only course of action for someone who has been victimized by a dating partner, she said.

“It’s time to protect our daughters, our nieces, our grandchildren, and our friends,” said Beshear.

Should HB 8 become law, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Tilley said statistics show one in four women will be victims of domestic violence, and one in five women nationally have been raped or will be the victim of attempted rape. “At the end of the day, none of us should like those odds,” he said.

Tilley said much of HB 8 is identical to his domestic violence protection bill that was considered but not passed into law last session. The biggest change, he said, is the proposed name of the protective order has been changed from domestic violence protective order to “interpersonal protective order.” Tilley said the orders would provide a standard process for victims to follow and offer protections for dating partners who are victims of stalking, domestic violence, abuse and sexual abuse, among other provisions. 

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said he believes government’s “limited role” is to protect lives. “This bill provides a commonsense, civil avenue for these issues to be addressed,” he told the committee before voting in favor of the bill.

“So I think it’s a good bill, whether you’re conservative or a liberal it’s a just bill, and it’s time that it be passed,” he said.

-END-

February 10, 2015

 

KTRS bond bill clears House budget committee

FRANKFORT—A proposal to authorize up to $3.3 billion in bonds to reduce the growing $14 billion unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System’s pension fund cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee today.

House Bill 4, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would authorize the Kentucky Asset/ Liability Commission to issue the bonds in fiscal year 2015-2016 to reduce the system’s unfunded liability. Combined with existing KTRS funds to pay off bond debt service, the bond issue is expected to help the pension system pay off its unfunded liability over a 30-year period, say the bill’s supporters.

If passed into law, HB 4 is expected to guarantee the solvency of the pension fund past 2035 “and beyond,” said Stumbo, who said he supports the issuance of bonds for the KTRS pension fund in part because of the fund’s successful investment history.

 “KTRS’s returns have been higher than we’ve seen in the other systems,” he said, listing the system’s recent investment returns over 20 years. “I think that one can conclusively say that they have managed their investments well and that they’ve done a good job to date. Hence I don’t think it’s improper to consider giving them more money to shore up these funds.”

KTRS general counsel Beau Barnes said the pension fund will be at 72.4 percent funded ration by 2034-2035 should the bill pass.

The pension fund may be a retired teacher’s only retirement income, primarily because teachers are not eligible for Social Security.  Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, who is a public school teacher, said he will not receive Social Security. He said bonding could be “part of the equation” to fix the pension system but that he is interested in a “more comprehensive” plan.

“Why are we not looking at other things…while we go through this approach?” said Carney.  

Barnes said HB 4 provides a permanent statutory mechanism to ramp up funding needed by the pension plan to reach the full actuarial contribution over eight years. “The current cost to the system is only 17 percent of payroll. It’s the unfunded liability … that we don’t have assets currently to pay for that we are trying to pay off over the 30 year period.”

HB 4 now returns to the full House for consideration.

 

-END-

 

 

February 10, 2015

 

Local option sales tax proposal clears House committee

FRANKFORT—A House committee has approved a proposed local option sales tax constitutional amendment that, if approved by the state’s voters, could help cities and counties fund local building and infrastructure projects.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was approved this morning by the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

If passed, the bill would place a constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot allowing state lawmakers to give local governments the power to levy up to a penny of local option sales and use tax for specific projects with local voter approval. The tax would be eliminated when the project is paid off.

“It’s fairly simple,” said Stumbo. “It allows local people to choose whether they want to be taxed. It allows them to make the decision and dedicate the funding sources to a particular project. When the bonds are satisfied then that particular tax goes away.”

Thirty seven states currently allow local governments to use a local option sales tax for local projects, according to HB 1 cosponsor Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro.

Rep. Mark Harmon, R-Danville, who has filed a couple of floor amendments to HB 1, questioned language in the legislation that would allow any “residual payments” collected by local governments from the local option sales tax after the levy expires to be used for maintenance of the project.

“To me, that sounds like a clause that says this tax never ends,” said Harmon.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s representative Sara Massey said the tax would be temporary and that language in the legislation that Harmon questioned deals with late collections coming into local governments after the levy has expired.  The funds would not be allowed to go into the state General Fund, according to the proposal.

Fischer – a supporter of the tax option, known in Kentucky as LIFT (Local Investments in Transformation)—said revenue tools available to local governments in the state today are fairly limited.

“As we looked around the country, we saw these (options) were very popular,” he said. 

 

February 6, 2015

This Week at the State Capitol

With more than 100 bills filed in a single day, list of issues under review is growing fast

FRANKFORT – In one of the busiest bill-filing days in recent years, members of the Kentucky General Assembly introduced more than 100 bills in a single day this week.

The parade of bills being formally introduced in the Senate and House chambers on Tuesday marked the resumption of the 2015 legislative session after a three-week break. It’s now clearer than ever that there’s much work to be done in a relatively short amount of time. This year’s 30-day session is considered a short one, in contrast with the 60-day sessions held in even-numbered years.

By the time lawmakers’ completed this week’s work on Friday, the number of bills introduced in both chambers totaled 480. Many of these bills have been in the works for months, and early news reports indicated it would be a busy session. But seeing the list of bills one after the other highlights the point that this year’s array of issues is a particularly diverse one.

A relatively small sampling of the proposals lawmakers are considering this year includes measures to:
  • increase the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over the next three years.
  • set up a pilot program to establish up to five charter schools in Louisville and Lexington.
  • place a statewide ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other public places and workplaces.
  • allow prescriptions for medical marijuana.
  • let voters decide on a proposed a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to felons convicted of certain offenses upon the completion of sentences and probation.
  • require a face-to-face meeting between the pregnant woman and a healthcare provider at least 24-hours before an abortion takes place. Lawmakers are also considering a measure that would require a medical doctor to perform an ultrasound prior to a woman giving informed consent for an abortion.
  • place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to give the General Assembly authority to halt administrative regulations found to be deficient.
  • permit communities to vote on a temporary local sales tax of up a penny to fund a specific projects.
  • allow workers the choice to work at unionized shops without paying dues to an organized labor group.
  • curb dating abuse by allowing people in such relationships to receive civil protective orders.
  • stabilize the state’s road fund by placing a higher floor on the level the state’s gas tax – which is tied to the wholesale price of gas – can drop to.
  • extend domestic-violence protection to people in dating relationships.
  • tackle the state’s heroin problem through a combination of efforts, including stronger sentences for heroin dealers, more treatment options for addicts and wider use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
  • allow bonds to be sold to shore up the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.
  • establish an independent panel of medical experts to review claims of medical malpractice before a lawsuit can be brought in circuit court.
  • exempt public school construction projects from the prevailing wage law.
  • allow the use of more public-private partnerships, or P3s, to finance major projects in Kentucky.strengthen efforts to prevent dog fighting by prohibiting the possession, training, breeding, and selling of four-legged animals for fighting.
Again, this is not a complete list of the issues lawmakers are considering. To see a complete listing of the bills that have been filed and track their progress, visit the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. Bill information can be found by looking under “2015 Regular Session Legislative Record.” The website also includes contact information for senators and representatives.

To share your views on the issues under consideration with lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

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February 6, 2015

State Senate passes pro charter school legislation

FRANKFORT –Legislation to allow charter schools in Louisville and Lexington passed the state Senate today after supporters of the bill said it would help close the achievement gap in those urban areas.

Senate Bill 8 would set up a five-year pilot program for as many as five charter schools in Louisville and Lexington, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who sponsored the bill along with Sen. David P. Givens, R-Greensburg. The aim of the bill, the sponsors said, is to help give poor and minority children assistance in improving test scores and closing the achievement gap.

The schools would be funded on a per-pupil basis out of state money, Wilson said. If the charter schools did not meet set accountability goals after five years, they could be shuttered. Wilson said for-profit companies could manage the schools, but the students would have to be taught by certified teachers.

Kentucky is only one of eight states that do not have charter schools, Wilson added.

Sen. Ray. S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, explained why he was one of 12 senators who voted against SB 8.

“Given the lack of funding we have in our public schools … it would be irresponsible to create a system of charter schools that would siphon much needed resources from our public schools,” he said. “To siphon those funds away from our existing school systems would be financially irresponsible.”

SB 8 now goes before the state House for consideration.

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February 5, 2015

‘Medical review panel’ bill advances

FRANKFORT – After one of the liveliest debates of the session, the state Senate approved a bill on Thursday by a 24-12 vote that would establish an independent panel to review potential medical malpractice lawsuits.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would create a 3-member independent panel of medical experts to review claims of medical malpractice before a lawsuit can be brought in circuit court. Supporters of the measure, including many healthcare organizations, say the bill will reduce the number of meritless cases and the time and money medical providers must use to fight the claims, while bolstering legitimate suits.

“Right now Kentucky has one of the nation’s most litigation-friendly environments making our Commonwealth a prime and profitable target for personal injury lawyers preying upon our healthcare providers,” said Alvarado, who is a medical doctor. “Medical review panels have proven effective in other states for decades. These panels have withstood numerous constitutional challenges in the state supreme courts of Indiana and Louisiana.”

He said litigious climate is discouraging doctors from establishing practices in Kentucky.

Those opposing the measure, however, are concerned the added step of the review could hinder lawsuits for patients who have been abused, neglected or received inadequate care.

“As we go forward I don’t intend to sit here and let somebody lambast my profession or to say that the people … we represent are irrelevant,” said Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, who voted against the bill and is a lawyer. “If you increased the level of staffing and training (at nursing homes), you are going to see less litigation.”

The General Assembly has considered bills in previous years that would require claims to be heard by medical review panels for an unbinding opinion before proceeding to court. A 2013 bill applied only to nursing homes. The measure was expanded the following year to all health care providers.

SB 6 now goes before the state House for consideration.

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February 5, 2015

State minimum wage bill passes House Labor and Industry

A bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over the next three years has passed the House Labor and Industry Committee.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would raise the state minimum wage incrementally to $8.20 on July 1, 2015, $9.15 on July 1, 2016, and $10.10 on July 1, 2017. Retail and service industries with gross annual sales of less than $500,000 would be exempt. The current sales threshold for state minimum wage is $95,000, said Stumbo.

The legislation also includes pay equity provisions that address wage discrimination on the basis of sex, race, or national origin “by prohibiting wage differentials for employees who perform equivalent jobs” with exceptions based on merit, seniority, or productivity. Stumbo said most minimum wage earners in Kentucky are women, adding that many are single working mothers.

Twenty nine states and Washington D.C. now have a minimum wage above the federal level, which is the same amount as Kentucky’s current minimum wage. “I believe it’s a bipartisan thing---you see people on both sides of the political spectrum who support this because these dollars go back into the local economies,” said Stumbo.

Among lawmakers opposing the bill in committee was Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, who said many of those earning minimum wage are teenagers.

“We’re decreasing the buying power of every family in Kentucky with this,” he said.

The last increase in the state minimum wage in Kentucky was passed by the 2007 Kentucky General Assembly.

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February 5, 2015

Senate bill would exempt school construction from prevailing wage law

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a measure today that would exempt public schools from a statute requiring them to pay construction workers a specified minimum – often referred to as the prevailing wage law.

“While we can debate the policy of workers’ wages, we can all agree that our children of the Commonwealth deserve the best, and they deserve the best we can provide them now,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.

Schroder said the legislature’s own report found the measure (Senate Bill 9) would decrease construction costs of elementary and secondary education buildings by 7.6 percent.

“When we are dealing with multi-million dollar projects, this adds up quickly,” Schroder said. “Senate Bill 9 would simply allow more to be done with less with no change in quality of overall projects. More schools could be built from the savings, allowing more of our children to be placed in updated schools sooner.”

Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, was one of 12 Senators who voted against SB 9, arguing that the measure would redistribute “money from hard working construction workers to construction company owners.”

Jones said prevailing wage laws across the United States date to the Great Depression when U.S. Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act that mandated contractors pay prevailing wages on federally funded projects. He added that Kentucky passed its first prevailing wage law in 1940s.

SB 9 now goes to the state House for consideration.

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February 5, 2015

Ultrasound bill clears state Senate committee

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill today by a 31-5 vote that would change the informed consent process required prior to an abortion.

Senate Bill 7 would require a medical doctor to perform an ultrasound prior to a woman giving informed consent to having an abortion, said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville.

“Full disclosure is so important to the health of the mother and her baby,” Adams said. “Kentucky women deserve no less. In closing, we need to stop chipping away at the right for Kentucky women to receive the healthcare and the answers they deserve.”

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, explained his vote against SB7.

“This is my third session here in the state Senate and I don’t think anyone’s opinion has been changed by the debate on this floor in those three years,” he said. “We talked a lot today about the court decisions and what those mean. We didn’t talk about what is actually in the bill. The one thing I would like to point out, in explaining my ‘no’ vote, is that do not see any exceptions for women who have been the victim of rape … .”

SB 7 now goes before the state House for consideration.

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February 4, 2015

Bill to curb dog fighting clears House Judiciary

FRANKFORT—A bill that would make Kentucky the last state in the nation to outlaw the possession, training, breeding, and selling of dogs for the purpose of dog fighting has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 154, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would add the provisions to current law that makes those who allow or organize the use of four-legged animals in fights for pleasure or profit guilty of felony cruelty to animals in the first degree. Those convicted of the crime face between one and five years in prison.

The bill now goes to the House floor for consideration.

HB 154 “simply does what every other state in the nation has done in expanding the definition of Class D felony to not only people who engage in dog fighting … but to those who knowingly own, possess, keep, breed, train, or sell animals for that purpose,” said Stumbo.

The reason the new provisions are needed is because under current law, offenders have to be “caught in the act” of dog fighting, said Stumbo. “That’s almost impossible to do because they work in the shadowy world of having their fights not well-publicized and …they move from location to location.” He said the fights are lucrative, especially for those who breed, train and possess the dogs.

The bill does not clarify that a four-legged animal is a canine because some fighting addressed by the bill is between dogs and hogs, the Speaker said. In “hog-dog fighting,” a dog is made to fight a wild or domestic hog, said Stumbo.

Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, said he feels the bill is too broad and should clarify what type of animal or animals are being fought. He questioned whether a dog killing or fighting a squirrel could lead to criminal charges against the dog’s owner.

“I would propose that we do limit to the problem we have here, (which) is dogs fighting other dogs or in this case, the first I’ve heard about, dogs fighting pigs,” said Fischer.

Stumbo said the use of “four-legged animal” in the original law and the proposed language leaves the language open for future possibilities.

“There’s obviously a segment of the population that for probably very bad, bad reasons enjoys this kind of activity. … I don’t know that we want to limit it,” said Stumbo, adding that the fighting addressed in the bill would have to be for a person’s profit or pleasure.

Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, agreed with Rep. Fischer that the language in HB 154 needs more clarification of how “four-legged animal” is defined. “I want to support this and I intend to support it, and again I would encourage (Speaker Stumbo and Rep. Jenkins) to be open to that and at least be willing to sharpen this language a little bit to alleviate some of these concerns.”

Stumbo said tweaks could be make to the bill, but that “the real problem is that because we’re the only state that doesn’t have the language about training and possessing that we are becoming a training ground for these kinds of activities.” Law enforcement has to know where the fight is to intervene, he stated.

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February 4, 2015

Legislation takes aim at Kentucky’s high stroke rate

FRANKFORT – A key state Senate committee approved legislation on Wednesday designed to improve care for stroke victims in rural areas of Kentucky and promote preventive care for the deadly cardiovascular disease.

The goal of the Senate Bill 10 is to continue the development of a stroke system of care in Kentucky that facilitates timely access to an appropriate level of care for stroke patients, said Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. David P. Givens, R-Greensburg. Humphries testified before the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare.

It builds on 2010 legislation, championed by former state Senate President David Williams, which required the state to recognize certified primary stroke centers. The 2010 legislation was introduced after a study showed Kentucky had the 12th highest rate for strokes in the nation with 2,500 people dying every year.

Humphries said SB10 would add comprehensive stroke centers and acute stroke-rated hospitals to the state’s existing primary stroke centers designation program, formalize the state’s responsibility for what to do with the information and require local emergency medical service providers to develop pre-hospital assessment, treatment and transport protocols for suspected stroke patients.

He said the goal was to bring quality care for stroke victims to every part of the state, not just in the metropolitan areas.

Tonya Chang, advocacy director at the American Heart Association in Lexington, testified in support of the legislation. She said the number of primary stroke centers has risen to 21from 12 in 2010. In addition, she said there are two comprehensive stroke centers, one at both the universities of Louisville and Kentucky.

“All this legislation really does is update that program (2010 legislation),” Chang said. “There are two new categories of certification that are available since that legislation was originally passed.”

She said the additional certification is conducted by third-party nationally recognized entities, voluntary on behalf of the hospitals and paid for by the hospitals.

The benefit to Kentuckians is the certification verifies hospitals are capable of high quality, evidence-based treatment of stroke patients, Chang said. She added the certification programs also require hospitals to do community outreach about stroke prevention.

“Time loss is brain loss for stroke victims,” Chang said. “There are life-saving drugs available but many hospitals do not administer them. Primary stroke centers do. It really makes a difference between a full recovery and future disability.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

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February 4, 2015

Kentucky burley market taking a hit, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT—A drop in burley prices from around $2 or more per pound in recent years to $1.40 per pound or less at current auction is a sign of “volatility” in Kentucky’s tobacco market, an agriculture economist told state lawmakers today.

University of Kentucky Extension Professor Dr. Will Snell told the House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Small Business that some burley is selling for less than a dollar a pound at auction, although the leaf is still selling around the $2-per-pound mark on contract depending on quality.

“It’s a situation where we’ve gone from somewhat of a seller’s market that we’ve had for several years to more of a buyer’s market in terms of excess supplies, and, as a result, we’ve seen a lot of volatility in our prices for this last growing season,” he said.

Tobacco companies only need around 170-180 million pounds of burley leaf from this past season, while the nation’s burley belt—that includes Kentucky—has around 213 million pounds to sell, said Snell. Meanwhile, worldwide production, including production in the African nation of Malawi which grows about a third of the world’s burley, is on the rise. Snell said worldwide burley production has grown 35 percent in the past three years as consumption falls.

“So we have excess,” he told lawmakers.

Massive flooding in Malawi in recent months could mean a better outlook for U.S. burley, said Snell, depending on how much of that nation’s tobacco crop has been damaged. He indicated that is yet to be determined.

Another hit to U.S. tobacco growers is the “e-cigarette,” or vaping, market which Snell said typically uses poor quality tobacco in products that sell at a higher price per unit than traditional tobacco products. Because e-cigarettes are not covered by the Master Settlement Agreement—the multi-billion agreement between states and cigarette manufacturers from the late 1990s—and have a higher price point, they are attractive to tobacco companies, Snell explained.

Two other obstacles growers face include the end of tobacco buyout payments and the rising value of the American dollar, Snell told the committee.

Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, asked Snell if the use of tobacco in medicine has made progress. Tobacco has been used in Ebola treatment research, and Snell said other pharmaceuticals using tobacco are in testing. He added, however, that tobacco grown for medicinal reasons apparently is grown in small amounts and would not likely benefit large growers.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, asked Snell to share the current average cost of production per pound of tobacco. Snell said that differs based on labor costs and pounds per acre, among other factors.

“(Probably) the good yielding producer is $1.25 to $1.30 (per pound),” said Snell.

Snell said tobacco production in Kentucky is expected to reap $300 million to $350 million overall in 2015. At one time, burley was a $1 billion crop for the state.

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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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