Thefirst meeting of the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance, and Public Protection of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue was held on Thursday, June 4, 2009, at 10:00 AM, in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Jack Westwood, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Jack Westwood, Co-Chair; Representative Royce W. Adams, Co-Chair; Senators Julian M. Carroll, Joey Pendleton, and Elizabeth Tori; Representatives Dwight D. Butler, Leslie Combs, Mike Denham, Charlie Hoffman, Tom McKee, Brad Montell, Tanya Pullin, Steve Riggs, Charles Siler, and Wilson Stone.
Guests:† Tom Bloemer, Administrative Branch Manager, and Richie Farmer, Commissioner, Department of Agriculture; Ken Lucas, Commissioner, Shaun McKiernan, and David Worley, Department of Veteransí Affairs.
LRC Staff:† Bart Hardin, Tom Willis, Stewart Willis, Katherine Halloran, and Katie Carney.
Chairman Westwood welcomed guests and asked members if they would be agreeable to change the agenda by allowing the Department of Agriculture to give their presentation first. With the subcommittee in agreement, Chairman Westwood introduced Richie Farmer, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, for an overview of three initiatives the department oversees.
Commissioner Farmer provided an overview of a recent visit made to the Commonwealth by the United States Secretary of Agriculture relating to dead animal disposal, and the current status of the amusement and county fair amusement ri8de inspection program.
Co-chairman Adams inquired about U.S. Secretary Vilsackís response to the stateís policy on dead animal disposal. Commissioner Farmer responded that the Secretary was aware of the impact the Food and Drug Administrationís regulations were on Kentucky, adding that other states are having similar problems. Co-chairman Adams commented that Secretary Vilsack will have a lot of influence if he is able to help Kentucky out with their dead animal disposal situation. Commissioner Farmer agreed.
Senator Carroll asked if the Department of Agricultureís ride inspection program was self-sufficient. Commissioner Farmer responded that it was not. Senator Carroll asked why the program was not self-sufficient and if the Department had the authority to charge additional fees. Commissioner Farmer responded that mobile amusement parks are charged a fee per ride inspected on a sliding scale, adding that the fee structure was in place by statute.†
Co-chairman Adams informed members that the General Assembly recently amended the statutes to reflect the new fee rates imposed on ride inspections. There was a general consensus that the sliding fee scale would not be a hardship on operators.
Senator Carroll suggested charging operators for each individual inspection done on the ride during the year.
Representative McKee informed the subcommittee that when the fee increase was originally discussed there had been some opposition and he believes that it did not pass the General Assembly until it was introduced a second time. The initial concern was that ride operators would pass along the cost of the fee increases to the county fair which would result in an increase in the price of admission.
Representative McKee asked if ride inspectors had other responsibilities within the department. Commissioner Farmer introduced Tom Bloemer, the Administrative Branch Manager for the department, who responded that ride inspectors are generally cross-trained to have other inspecting responsibilities during the off-season. Commissioner Farmer and Mr. Bloemer both stressed that overall the inspection office within the department was understaffed and some non-ride inspectors are not adequately trained to help inspect the larger rides.
Representative Combs asked if there are any additional inspection fee increases,† would the cost eventually be passed down to the consumer by way of an increased admission fee. Commissioner Farmer responded that he did not know because the sliding fee scale that is currently used is fairly new and he has not been informed if the increases have affected the consumer to date.
Representative Combs asked if rides are inspected once at the beginning of the fair season and how long the inspection would be good. Mr. Bloemer responded that mobile amusement rides are re-inspected every time they are moved. He added that the department also has a concern with being able to inspect every inflatable ride that is available at the smaller picnics and locations.
Representative Combs asked for a comparison between the charge of a ride inspection and the cost of performing the inspection. Commissioner Farmer responded that many different factors are involved in determining the actual expense of performing ride inspections; however, he believes that there is a fairly large gap between the two. Mr. Bloemer informed members that the total revenue received from ride inspections in 2008 was $145,855 which doesnít cover the total salaries of all of the ride inspectors.
Senator Tori asked if the ride inspectors are state employees or contracted employees. Commissioner Farmer responded that all ride inspectors are state government employees. Senator Tori asked where additional funding to cover the expenses associated with inspecting rides comes from. Commissioner Farmer responded that the remaining cost of ride inspectors, not covered by the inspection fees, comes from the departmentís General Fund dollars. Senator Tori surmised that increasing the number of ride inspectors would possibly decrease the number of accidents. Chairman Westwood requested the department provide a report on the expenses associated with amusement ride inspections and the revenue generated by the inspection fees.
Representative Riggs asked if it would be possible for companies and operators to self-inspect rides by filling out a form and submitting it to the department. He also asked about companies having adequate accident insurance. Mr. Bloemer responded that self-inspections by companies and operators would not be beneficial, adding that all companies are required by law to have adequate accident insurance. Mr. Bloemer stated that inspectors are spread throughout the state and are supplied with a regional home office and a state vehicle. Commissioner Farmer added that even though the number of inspectors has decreased over the years, the department does try to place inspectors in a location that covers as much of an area as possible.
Representative Riggs asked why permanent amusement parks are only inspected once a year. Commissioner Farmer responded that the minimum statutory requirement for permanent locations is once a year. He added that permanent locations are required to maintain self-inspection and maintenance logs which are periodically checked by the departmentís ride inspectors.
Representative Riggs noted that accidents are unforeseen events and regardless of how many times inspections are performed that there will always be an unexpected event happen. He added that the General Assembly needs to keep in mind that sometimes over-regulating inspections might not be a good thing. Representative Riggs also expressed his concern about the number of times permanent rides are inspected compared to the number of times temporary rides are inspected.
Co-chairman Adams informed the subcommittee that this topic is continually being brought up in the Agriculture Committee. Co-chairman Adams informed the department of his concern with the number of full-time ride inspectors and also the departmentís ability to send ride inspectors to national training. In the future he would like to see at least one or two inspectors attend the training so that they would be able to pass along the training to the remaining ride inspectors. Co-chairman Adams also stated that he agrees with trying to make the ride inspection program more self-sufficient.
Co-chairman Adams requested more information relating to the number of times permanent locations are inspected. Mr. Bloemer responded that permanent locations have their own maintenance staff that keep extremely detailed logs of each ride, adding that permanent locations also are required to have more oversight and are also more frequently inspected by insurance companies. He stated that the department reviews the maintenance logs and performs a general overview of the location. He also mentioned that the department does an extremely thorough inspection lasting one to two weeks by all of the full-time ride inspectors about a month prior to opening.
Representative Hoffman asked if the department would be able to come up with some guidelines and require training for temporary amusement ride operators. He stated that by doing this, consumer confidence in temporary rides might increase. He suggested the department could work with the amusement ride industry to develop guidelines and training opportunities. Commissioner Farmer responded that it would be difficult for the department to mandate training of temporary amusement ride operators without statutory language, adding that there are some statutory guidelines for operators regarding specific rides and the ages of the employees.
Representative Hoffman asked how many county fairs might be happening at one time. The department responded that there will be 33 fairs opening during the month of June.
Senator Pendleton commented that the department needs to have more ride inspectors. He is concerned with towns along the state border and amusement ride companies crossing the state line, setting up on a Friday, and tearing down Sunday night and never being inspected. Senator Pendleton added that Kentucky has an obligation to its citizens and in order to fulfill the obligation, there is a need for more inspectors and adequate funding. He also stated that inspections need to be performed more often, always keeping safety in mind. Commissioner Farmer stated that the department is trying to do all they can with what resources they have available.
Representative Combs asked if ride inspections performed by insurance company inspectors are the same type of inspections performed by the departmentís ride inspectors and if it would be possible for the department to use the results of the insurance inspection to cover statutory requirements of the department. The department responded that they are not able to utilize the results of inspections performed by insurance companies.
Chairman Westwood requested an explanation of the decrease in the number of full-time ride inspectors from 24 in 1984 to six in 2009. †Commissioner Farmer stated that during his tenure the number has probably decreased by about 10 full-time inspectors. Mr. Bloemer explained that most of the decreases happened as a result of retirement or other job opportunities. Chairman Westwood asked how easily the department was able to find ride inspectors. Commissioner Farmer responded that it is extremely hard to find ride inspectors, adding that the department currently has 55 vacancies and only six of those are non-merit positions. Commissioner Farmer stated that due to budget constraints, they have cut non-statutorily required areas to make sure that all statutory requirements are fulfilled.
Chairman Westwood thanked Commissioner Farmer and the rest of the Department of Agriculture staff for their comments. He requested that the department come before the subcommittee again in the future to address additional areas of the department. Commissioner Farmer agreed.
Chairman Westwood welcomed Ken Lucas, Commissioner of the Department for Veteransí Affairs and asked him to introduce his team. Commissioner Lucas introduced David Worley who specializes in the departmentís veteransí homes, and Shaun McKiernan, who is the departmentís budget director.† He then gave an overview of the departmentís current status. Upon completing the presentation, Commissioner Lucas opened the floor for additional discussion.
Representative Montell inquired about the 18 field representatives and their responsibilities within the department. Commissioner Lucas responded that the field representatives are distributed throughout the state and have had their travel cut as a result of budget constraints. He stated that the field representatives are necessary to the department because they assist in working with veterans of their areas to complete necessary paperwork for individual assistance. He added that field representatives have offices in courthouses, American Legion posts, nursing homes, and any additionally known areas where there might be a concentration of veterans.
Representative Pullin thanked Commissioner Lucasí and the departmentís hard work in providing help for Kentuckyís veterans. She asked how the stimulus money would help rural and homeless veterans and if the amount would be adequate. Mr. Worley responded that a center from Huntington, West Virginia is providing rural health care services to Eastern Kentucky and it is primarily federally funded. He added that there are an adequate number of beds for homeless veterans in the major cities and surrounding areas, and the department is continually applying for grants to maintain funding for them. He stated that they would be receiving $150 million for an existing program sponsored by the department. He reminded the subcommittee that all of the stimulus money they would be receiving has to be spent by September 30, 2010.
Representative Denham expressed his thanks and appreciation for everything the department does for Kentuckyís veterans.
Co-chairman Adams expressed his thanks to the department and asked for an update on the expansion of the Western Kentucky veteransí nursing home. Mr. Worley responded that Phase A of the planning stage is complete. The department will soon be submitting Phases A, B, and C to the federal government for approval.
Representative Siler inquired about the new interest in veterans that had previously been denied assistance that may have received radiation exposure in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Worley responded that additional data and information had been released relating to radiation exposure, adding that veterans must provide verifiable proof that there was possible exposure.
Representative McKee informed the subcommittee of his opportunity to meet with the 201st Battalion during their homecoming celebration recently. He expressed concern about issues involving a soldiersí ability to find employment and resettling into a daily lifestyle after returning home from the war. He added that we owe a great amount of gratitude to all of the countryís citizen soldiers.
Senator Pendleton expressed his thanks and gratitude to the department for their outstanding service throughout the years, stressing that the department has a lot to be proud of.
Representative Pullin commented that the field representatives are wonderful for the department and thanked Commissioner Lucas and his staff for their help over the years.
Chairman Westwood thanked Commissioner Lucas for appearing before the subcommittee.† There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:35 A.M.