Thethird meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government was held on Wednesday, September 26, 2007, at 10:00 AM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Steve Riggs, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins Jr, Julian M. Carroll, Carroll Gibson, Elizabeth Tori, and Johnny Ray Turner; Representatives Scott W. Brinkman, Robert R. Damron, Ted Edmonds, Derrick Graham, Richard Henderson, Dennis Keene, Tom McKee, Reginald Meeks, Brad Montell, David Osborne, Arnold Simpson, Ancel Smith, Ken Upchurch, and Jim Wayne.
Guests: Theresa Barton, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet; Bill Patrick, Van Ingram, and Karyn Hascal, Office of Drug Control Policy; Bob Benson and Chuck Bauer, Jefferson County Fire Protection District Trustees Association; Jack Reckner, Gary Yurt, William Seng, David Lawson, Joseph Johnson, Joseph Bowman, Don Wittry, Mike Schmidt, Chris Aponte, Donald Brooks, and John Stich, Jefferson County Fire Service; Gerald Stewart, Kentucky Firefighters Association; Howdy Kurtsinger, Kentucky Fire Commission; Jerry Deaton and J. D. Chaney, Kentucky League of Cities; Ron Wolf, Louisville Metro Government; and Stacy Bassett, Governor's Office.
LRC Staff: Mark Mitchell, Donna Gaines, Joe Pinczewski-Lee, Jamie Franklin, Rebecca Mullins, Keith Krey, Bud Kraft, Becky Shaw, Lindsay Orange, Becky Barnes, Jay Hartz, and Cheryl Walters.
Upon the motion of Representative McKee, seconded by Representative Henderson, the minutes of the July 13, 2007 meeting were approved.
Senator Thayer first recognized Representative Riggs for an update on the health of Representative Denham. Representative Riggs told the committee that Representative Denham had triple bypass heart surgery, which went well.
The first item of business was discussion of the Governor's drug control initiatives. Senator Thayer recognized Representative Riggs for a comment. Representative Riggs informed members that the reason for this discussion today was that representatives from the Office of Drug Control Policy wanted to address the committee at its July meeting when the magistrates and commissioner's association talked about its own drug control efforts, but there was not enough time. Representative Riggs discussed the impacts of drugs on local governments.
Senator Thayer then introduced Deputy Secretary Theresa Barton of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and Mr. Bill Patrick, Executive Director of the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP). Deputy Secretary Barton told the committee that in December of 2003, Governor Fletcher identified substance abuse as a public health issue. She said that from February, 2004 to April, 2004, the Drug Summit traveled to 16 counties to hold public forums to assess the breadth of substance abuse in these communities. Deputy Secretary Barton stated that a need was found for a coordinating agency and the ODCP was created in September of 2004. She added that the 2007 General Assembly passed SB 144 authorizing the ODCP, whose mission was to serve as a leader and a catalyst for improving the health and safety of all Kentuckians by promoting strategic approaches and collaboration to reduce drug use and related crime.
Deputy Secretary Barton next discussed ODCP's accomplishments and initiatives, which included: the strategic prevention framework; prevention programs in Kentucky schools; early intervention programs; KIDS Now; Champions Coalitions; and the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
Deputy Secretary Barton told the committee that ODCP's law enforcement strategies included standards and best practices for drug task forces; oversight, technical assistance and fiscal/program management of drug task forces; expansion of drug task forces; electronic monitoring of pseudoephedrine sales; internet pharmacy legislation; and training and intelligence sharing for narcotic officers.
Regarding Kentucky drug enforcement, Deputy Secretary Barton told the committee that Kentucky is first in total number of prescription drugs seized; second in total pounds of marijuana seized; second in meth labs seized; third in total number of grams of cocaine seized; third in total arrests; fourth in vehicles seized; fourth in total number of grams of meth seized; seventh in total number of marijuana plants seized; seventh in total search warrants; eighth in cash seized; and ninth in guns seized.
Deputy Secretary Barton stated that ODCP's treatment strategies included: Recovery Kentucky, jail treatment programs, drug court expansion, Operation Unite Enhancement, and expansion of a Medicaid benefit for substance abuse.
Deputy Secretary Barton explained that ODCP's future strategies were to: expand substance abuse prevention in Kentucky's schools; increase public awareness in cooperation with Partnership for a Drug Free America; expand the provider network to include faith-based and community-based providers through a voucher payment mechanism; expand recover programs in correctional settings; establish a formal highway and package/parcel drug interdiction program; increase coordination across local, state, and federal agencies involved in drug enforcement; and formulate a plan to assure that proactive drug enforcement is available in all Kentucky counties.
Deputy Secretary Barton told the committee that ODCP's 2008 legislative agenda included: establishing a pre-trial drug diversion program; strengthening the current DUI statute; creating a felony crime for false compartments for concealing contraband; creating a tiered licensure process for substance abuse professionals; and securing funding to achieve short-term and long-term goals.
Senator Carroll commented that he was concerned that the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program (KASPER) is not working effectively. He added that it would work if it were being used and it is not being used because there is no requirement that it be used.
Mr. Van Ingram with ODCP explained that KASPER is a prescription monitoring program primarily used by physicians and healthcare professionals. He noted that data received from KASPER is about 7 to 8 days old, and that ODCP has been working to shorten that gap. Mr. Ingram stated that ODCP would like to see the system become more proactive.
Senator Carroll stated that he is also concerned whether or not Kentucky has adequate enforcement of the drug laws. He added that Kentucky's state troopers are not paid enough to keep them in law enforcement.
Regarding Recovery Kentucky, Representative Wayne commented that this is an outstanding program, but he said it was not entirely funded by federal money. He pointed out that money was taken from existing programs, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, to fund Recovery Kentucky.
Representative Henderson asked if ODCP were advocates for more than one police officer in the small rural communities. Deputy Secretary Barton stated that the local governments also need to step up to provide law enforcement. She said the state does all it can with assistance from the federal government, but that it is very important that local governments understand that they need to take a portion of their taxes to support their community.
Regarding Kentucky's drug enforcement statistics, Representative Upchurch asked if there was a breakdown by county. Deputy Secretary Barton said she would provide that information to the committee.
Regarding ODCP's law enforcement strategies which include internet pharmacy legislation, Representative Damron asked what that meant. Deputy Secretary Barton explained that since Kentucky continues to have such a problem with the internet in this area, they are looking at some federal legislation to see if there is something they can do to keep internet pharmacy sales from being such a problem.
Representative Damron commented that the legislature needs to focus on solving the drug problem. He said the technology is there and we know that it works. Representative Damron stated that hopefully, during the 2008 session, there will be bi-partisan support from both the House and Senate.
Representative Riggs commented that the legislature gave a substantial boost to state trooper pay in the last regular session but they need more. He said there has to be more local commitment for law enforcement.
Regarding the cleanup of meth houses, Senator Gibson asked if this was ODCP's area. Mr. Ingram stated that the EPPC requires a half million dollar bond for each incident of cleanup and contractors that are able to perform this work have not been able too.
The last order of business was discussion of fire district finances. Senator Thayer introduced Mr. Bob Benson, representing the Jefferson County Fire Protection District Trustees Association. Mr. Benson told the committee that fire departments are hoping to get some assistance during the 2008 legislative session. He then introduced Chief Jack Reckner, Chair of the Kentucky Firefighters Association, Mr. Chuck Bauer, Chair of the Jefferson County Fire Protection District Trustees Association, and Chief Gary Yurt, with the Jefferson County Fire Chiefs Association, to address the committee.
Chief Reckner gave the committee a history of KRS Chapter 75, which is the funding source for fire protection districts. Chief Reckner stated that there was a demand for fire protection by, historically, volunteer fire departments. He noted that they began to see the emergence of fire districts. Chief Reckner mentioned that fire protection is provided by special districts just like sewer, water, etc. He noted however, that times have changed and fire protection has changed dramatically. Chief Reckner added that the training of a firefighter has also changed. He said there are strict occupation and health standards that must be met. Chief Reckner stated that their mission in the community has changed dramatically and none of this comes for free--it all costs.
Mr. Bauer told the committee that Chapter 75 is very complex. He noted that the tax rate has been 10 cents per $100 since 1944. Mr. Bauer pointed out that he was not aware of any other district where the tax cap has stayed that low that long. He stated that Kentucky is shifting towards more paid firefighters than volunteer. Mr. Bauer said more of the budget is going for health insurance costs. He told members that they are not asking the legislature to directly increase tax rates, that they are just asking to have the opportunity to let their citizen boards decide if rates need to be increased. Mr. Bauer said they are asking to take the cap off.
Senator Thayer told the panel that they have to start in the House and that he will work with them on the Senate side. He noted that it will have to be an option that the fiscal court will have to approve a rate increase or there will have to be a referendum. Senator Thayer stated that they make a very good case within their special district for this kind of levy. But, he said, we have to be very careful with runaway taxation in the Commonwealth by boards that are not entirely elected by the people.
Representative Graham stated that he understands their plight and hopes the legislature can help, but that he is concerned that the people serving on those special district boards are non-elected.
Representative Wayne stated that he agreed with Senator Thayer. He noted that there are models for fiscal courts to approve this kind of rate increase such as exists for the Metropolitan Sewer Districts.
Senator Thayer stated that the committee is sympathetic to their funding situation. He said they could be the breakthrough case of how we deal with special districts. Senator Thayer added that over 1000 special districts have been set up to circumvent local taxation allowed the Constitution. He noted that there is a real desire here and 2008 could be the year where we have more accountability for special taxation at the local level.
Chief Yurt told the committee that Kentucky is 46th out of 50 in pay for firefighters. He said benefits are expensive and that training levels have massively changed where we truly have to change on a weekly basis. Chief Yurt explained that there are federal standards that they must meet. He noted that another area to be noted is health and wellness. Chief Yurt stated that all firefighters must have physicals and stay in good shape, yet they are so far behind in those elements of physical fitness.
Senator Thayer said there is a great deal of support for what you do and now all that has to be done is to turn it into some positive legislation. He suggested that the legislation might need to come in the form of a referendum held during the general election, approval by fiscal courts, or reconstitution of the membership of the boards where 100% are elected.
Senator Tori commented that the panel has the attention of every legislator. She said there is a much deeper concern in that the legislature needs to look at consolidating Kentucky's counties. Senator Tori noted that Kentucky is not a wealthy state.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 11:55 a.m.