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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 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. 

 

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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 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.

 

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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

  

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

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

  

This Week at the State Capitol

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

 

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

 

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:

n  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.

 

n  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 

n  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.

n  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.

 

n  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

 

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

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. 

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:

n  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. 

n  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.

n  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.

n  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. 

n  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. 

n  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.

n  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 zone

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, 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 provides news briefs, Capitol Notes, 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 1-800-633-9650.

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

·         To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free 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 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:

n  A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

n  To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

n  To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free 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.

n  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 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, 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 updates, Capitol Notes, 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:

n  A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

n  To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

n  To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free 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.

n  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 more information: 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 has its own blog, Capitol Notes, 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 1-800-633-9650.

·    To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-  2835.

·    To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free 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 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 the daily schedule for legislative committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Calendar Line at (800) 633-9650.

 Information on the status of each bill lawmakers are considering will be available on the Bill Status Line, (866) 840-2835.

 Citizens can write to any legislator by sending a letter with a lawmaker's name on it to: Legislative Offices, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 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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September 6, 2013

General Assembly’s 2014 session to begin Jan. 7

FRANKFORT – A schedule for the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2014 session was approved this week by legislative leaders.

The session is scheduled to convene on Jan. 7 and adjourn April 15. It is expected to last 60 working days – the maximum allowed by the state constitution in even-numbered years.

Legislators will not meet in session on Jan. 20 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or on Feb. 17 in observance of Presidents' Day.

 The veto recess – the period of time in which lawmakers return to their home districts to await possible gubernatorial vetoes of legislation – will last from April 1-11. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on April 14 and 15 for the final two days of the session.

The 2014 session calendar can be viewed online at: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/sch_vist/14RS_calendar.pdf.

 

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August 23, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

23 August 2013

 

FRANKFORT – Most folks have only a vague idea of what ‘redistricting’ means, and how, really, it personally affects them. It’s not like a proposed tax increase or something hugely controversial like, say, casino gambling or legalizing pot. It’s political inside baseball to the average person. But within any legislative body, anywhere, it’s the World Series. It has huge personal and political significance. The stakes cannot be overstated. 

 

Couple of quotes:

 

Redistricting is one of the purest political actions a legislative body can take.’

 

That’s from John Engler, a former governor of Michigan. What he meant was, drawing districts can determine what party controls a chamber. The history of that is bald, harsh, true, and consistent, wherever representative democracy exists.

 

Some call it objectionable, raw partisan politics. But representative democracy is, by its very nature, partisan, as ours has been since the earliest days of the Republic. The Founders knew it would be that way, and warned against it – Madison in Federalist #10 wanted to ‘break and control (partisanship),’ -- but his effort was futile, and his and others’ cautions collapsed almost immediately. Party control through reapportionment has been the rule, rather than the exception, on every level of legislative government through our history.

 

Plus it’s personal. Sometimes painfully so.

 

‘It gets very personal, when lines are redrawn so you lose longtime constituents you’ve built a bond with over the years, been friends with, know by face and name, and you now have to start over in unfamiliar ground – or even have to move your residence because your district has been moved dramatically.’ 

 

That’s from a longtime surveyor of the legislative landscape who’s seen many redistrictings over 30 years, the political and personal pain they create, and the court interventions they frequently draw – as the most recent attempt did, in 2012.

 

At bottom, redistricting seems simple. The central concept is ‘one person, one vote,’ which means we all have roughly the same voice in Frankfort (our Legislature) or Washington (Congress).

 

That means districts have to be more or less equal in population. But other factors also enter in, including cohesiveness – counties shouldn’t (the law says) be split unless absolutely necessary, and gerrymandering (stringing geographically and culturally unrelated counties together in odd combinations to give one party an advantage) is considered, judicially, a no-no.

 

It’s a complex technical task anyway, but with partisan politics dribbled freely into the mix, it often becomes a witch’s brew of facts, near-facts, guesses, and motives only speculative that end up, often, in court, challenged by one aggrieved party or another, or several. The most recent Kentucky plan, passed in 2012, ran quickly aground in the state Supreme Court.

 

But this week, on a third try, the Kentucky General Assembly met, this time in special session, and in the minimum five days required to pass a bill, put forth and passed a plan that – given the near-impossible challenges facing them – probably raised fewer obvious objections than any in recent memory.

 

The redrawn lines would create four new House districts and pair eight incumbents in four other districts – four Democrats and four Republicans, an even split -- numbers considered fairly negligible in any case.

 

Still, not everyone’s happy. But no one ever is, entirely, in this bloodiest of political processes. Yet it did pass both chambers with overwhelming majorities. On its face, it seems to address the judicial objections to the first proposal in 2012, which was basically that too many counties were split. Any assumption of court approval, of course, remains in the air. This is where reporters resort to the clichéd shibboleth ‘Stay tuned.’

 

 

Two-thirds of the House’s minority Republicans, including all its leadership, voted yea on the bill. Only two House Democrats voted no, mostly on concerns that fast-growing areas were being chopped up too drastically. As redistricting goes, this proved as close to consensus as we’re ever likely to get.

 

The bill blew through the House like a gale Wednesday, on an 83-17 vote -- a harbinger that the special session would indeed end Friday, with full expectation of quick Senate approval (its plan seems well-received by the chamber) and the near-certainty that Gov. Steve Beshear would sign it into law posthaste.

 

Once again, this iteration of the Kentucky General Assembly has shown its ability to get hard things done, harmoniously. Some say Congress should look to Kentucky for schooling on how to govern with a split-party government. Here, in the Commonwealth, right now, it’s working.

 

Jefferson, as always, nailed it cold:

 

‘We have no interests nor passions different from our fellow citizens. We have the same objective: the success of representative government … Our experiment is to show whether man can be trusted with self-government.’

 

It’s still an American question after more than 200 years. But the answer this week in Frankfort was: Yes.

 

With session’s adjournment, the interim committee study period resumes. A full 60-day budget session will convene in the Capitol this coming Jan.7, 2014. As always, you can leave a message for your legislator at 1-800-372-7181. The LRC website, www.lrc.ky.gov, is a wealth of legislative information, including meeting schedules and pre-filed bills.

 

For further information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

  

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July 25, 2013

 

 

Lawmakers briefed on cybersecurity concerns

 

FRANKFORT – Cybersecurity is now considered a top safety concern in our state and nation, members of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government were told yesterday.

 

State governments have recently been targeted by cyber criminals because of the large amount of personal information they store, Harry Raduege, Chair of the Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation, told lawmakers.  “States really have the most comprehensive information about citizens,” he said.

 

Raduege said the loss of such sensitive information not only impacts citizens’ trust, but could also negatively impact state business by affecting services to constituents and creating unplanned spending.

 

A 2011 study estimated that a data breach costs $194 per record, Tom Pageler, Chief Information Security Officer for Docusign, said.  One breach could cost state government tens of millions of dollars, he said.

 

According to Pageler, hackers are becoming more organized, invasive and advanced in their attacks.  “The risk is increasing every day,” he said.

 

The increased risk calls for more diligence in protecting information in the ever-changing cyber environment, Pageler said.  He encourages advanced encryption of all data stored electronically as one of the best safeguards against cyber fraud of state government.

 

State Auditor Adam Edelen told lawmakers that encryption of all state data is part of the Commonwealth Office of Technology’s business plan and should be complete in three years.  Some of the state’s data is already encrypted, he said.

 

In response to a question from Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, about the cost of cybersecurity, Edelen told lawmakers the process can be expensive, but is still significantly cheaper than dealing with a security breach after it happens.

 

Edelen asked lawmakers to consider legislation in the 2014 session that would mandate individuals be contacted anytime their personal information is compromised.  Kentucky is only one of four states that doesn’t have a breach notification law, he said.

 

Committee co-chair Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said he was interested in pursuing cyber security legislation.

 

“This affects not only every aspect of state government, but also our personal lives,” he said.  “I believe you’ve got our attention.” -

 

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June 17, 2013

New Kentucky laws go into effect next week

FRANKFORT -- New laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2013 regular session go into effect on June 25.

That means laws against human trafficking will soon be strengthened. More DNA testing will be allowed as evidence in post-conviction felony cases. And school districts can start deciding whether they want to raise their compulsory attendance age to 18, though the 2015-16 school year would be the first year any changes could actually impact students.

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.

This year’s regular session adjourned on March 26, making June 25 the day that most laws will take effect.

The laws taking effect that day include measures the following topics:

Child protection. House Bill 290 will establish by statute an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries. The panel will be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the cases.

Crime. Senate Bill 15, named the Bryan Durman Act in honor of a Lexington police officer who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2010, will ensure that a person convicted of criminal homicide in the killing of a police or firefighter on duty doesn’t become eligible for probation or parole until 85 percent of a sentence is served.

DNA testing. HB 41 will allow some felony offenders in prison or under state supervision to request testing and analysis of their DNA as case evidence.

Hemp. SB 50 creates an administrative framework for the growing of hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government.

Human trafficking. HB 3 will strengthen human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. The legislation will offer assistance to agencies responsible for helping human trafficking victims by creating a “human trafficking victims fund” supported by service fees paid by convicted human traffickers, proceeds from seized and forfeited assets of traffickers, and any grants, contributions, or other funds that may become available.

Proof of insurance. HB 164 will allow people to use electronic insurance cards on their smart phones or other electronic devices as proof of motor vehicle insurance. Drivers will still be required to keep paper insurance cards in their vehicles.

Religious freedom. HB 279 specifies that government shall not burden a person's freedom of religion. The legislation states that an action motivated by a sincerely held religious belief can not be infringed upon without a compelling governmental interest. (HB 279 was vetoed by the governor; the veto was overridden by the House and Senate.)

Scholarships. SB 64 will ensure that students earning Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships aren’t penalized in the amount of scholarship money they receive if they graduate from high school in three years rather than four.

School dropouts. SB 97 will allow school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased compulsory attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it.

Student health. HB 172 will encourage schools to possess at least two epinephrine auto-injectors in case one is needed for a student having a life-threatening allergic or anaphylactic reaction.

Suicide prevention. SB 72 will require attendance at suicide prevention training programs at least once every six years for social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, fee-based pastoral counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists.

Teacher evaluations. HB 180 will require the Kentucky Board of Education to establish a statewide evaluation system for all certified personnel. The Department of Education, in consultation with teacher and principal steering committees, will develop the system prior to the 2014-2015 school year.

Tuition waivers. SB 95 will extend the five-year tuition waiver eligibility period for adopted children who serve in the military.

Victim protection. HB 222 will establish a crime victim protection program in the Secretary of State’s office to allow domestic violence victims to have personal information, such as addresses, redacted from public voter registration roles. The legislation will also allow victims in the program to vote by mail-in absentee ballot.

 

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June 14, 2013

 

Veterans Treatment Court a success, lawmakers told

 

FRANKFORT – A specialty court in Jefferson County is the first in the state dedicated to serving veterans involved in the criminal justice system, members of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection heard yesterday.

 

Based on the drug court model, the Jefferson County Veterans Treatment Court (JCVTC) is a four-phase evidence-based program for veterans charged with non-violent crimes.

 

According to Judge David Holton of the Jefferson County District Court, the goal of JCVTC is to identify and address veterans’ needs so they can return to productive lives and reintegrate with society. 

 

Many veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or other mental illnesses and sometimes self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, Holton said. 

 

“Combining mental illness with drugs and alcohol is like adding gasoline to fire.  The results are often broken homes, failed marriages, homelessness, unemployment.  And these are all factors that lead directly to the criminal justice system,” he said.

 

The 18-month program is voluntary for eligible veterans and involves counseling, random drug testing, case management, support groups, community service and mentorship.  A team including court staff, mental health professionals and Veterans Administration employees create an individual treatment plan for each participant.

 

“I don’t want anyone to believe this is a get-out-of-jail-free card.  This is a very rigorous program,” Holton said.  Veterans are required to attend five to seven rehab meetings each week, in addition to mental health treatment appointments, he said.

 

Several lawmakers expressed interest in expanding the program to other areas of the state, including the Fort Campbell area in Christian County.

 

“There are some who would criticize specialty courts as too much social work and not enough legal work. …Until we conquer substance abuse, these courts are going to have to reach out to these men and women – in the military or otherwise – to solve the problem ... We need veterans courts all over this state,” Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said.

 

The program is being funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.  Morehead State University is monitoring the program to evaluate its effectiveness.

 

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March 28, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

28 March 2013

 

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT – So how to assess a session’s success?

A couple of approaches suggest themselves. Did it pass at least one historic bill, especially against long odds (not always possible, not always even necessary since those issues come along rarely)? Or did it pass several substantial bills of broad positive impact, not necessarily transformative but meeting the clear needs of the moment and which, taken as a whole, gave an honest day’s work (with overtime) to the people of the Commonwealth?

Whatever metric you choose, the 2013 session was -- in the spirit of March Madness -- a slam-dunk. It did both. And in just 30 days.

Rare is the short session that can make such a boast. Both limited time and Constitutional constraints argue against passing transformative bills, which almost always require money. Any off-year revenue measure requires, by design, a 60-percent supermajority to pass.

But this year had a different feel. Freed for the first time in years from the heavy yoke of dealing mostly with budget shortfalls and cuts, lawmakers could focus solely on issues at hand. And one in particular was a doozy: Reforming the pension system for public employees, a system looking down the barrel of one big scary gun, some $30 billion in unfunded liabilities, one of the nation’s worst, one that has shot holes in Kentucky’s credit rating. Moody’s downgraded Kentucky’s bond rating a year ago and Standard and Poor’s has moved the state’s outlook from stable to negative, mostly on pension concerns. Dire were the predictions if something wasn’t done.

Both legislative leaders and the governor made pension reform a top priority. Urgency was palpable on both the first and third floors of the Capitol. The governor said if the Legislature failed to pass a pension bill this session, he’d call an extraordinary one. Legislative leaders were equally determined to get a reform in place now. Everyone agreed a fix was needed. No one wanted a special session.

The question was: Which reform? And then: How to pay for it? And then: Should funding be settled now or deferred to next year? Both chambers had their ideas, and they differed. But there was a strong bipartisan Zeitgeist surrounding the issue and this year’s session generally, a hopeful sign resolution might be found.

What it boiled down to was, the Senate wanted to put future state hires into a sort of hybrid 401(k)-type plan, although with a guaranteed return, a 4 percent ‘floor.’ The House wanted to keep a version of the current defined-benefits plan. The Senate said funding can best wait till next year’s full budget session. The House said no time like the present. Various funding proposals were floated. None found real traction.

Talks involving legislative leaders and the governor continued through the veto recess, and consumed most of the final two in-session days this week. As Tuesday wore on, with sine die looming at midnight, reports increasingly circulated that an agreement might be near. It was. A structural reform bill was passed, along with a companion funding measure, with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers.

The compromise in SB 2 closely reflects the proposals of a legislative task force on pensions last interim. It does create a new ‘cash-balance’ hybrid plan for future hires, with that guaranteed 4 percent return plus possible additional benefits based on investment performance. It doesn’t eliminate cost-of-living adjustments, but requires they be pre-funded. The Legislature pledges full actuarial funding in the future.

And once again -- it’s important to note -- current retirees and employees are not affected by the switchover to the new-style plan.

The companion funding bill, House Bill 440, would generate about $100 million in additional yearly revenue for the pension fund, the approximate amount said needed to keep it afloat.  It relies on minor changes to the state tax code, stepped up tax-compliance enforcement, and expected additional money from ‘fiscal cliff’ changes in the federal tax code, to generate about $95.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014, and $99.9 million the next fiscal year.

Historical context: When voters approved annual sessions in 2000, it was conceived, presented and passed as a mechanism to take needed action in the long period between full budget sessions. That meant cleaning up unintended consequence of previously passed bills – precisely as this session did, correcting some problems that emerged with the 2012 Pill Mill Bill.

It also meant dealing with other emerging matters needing attention, maybe finally passing bills that been discussed before but weren’t yet ‘ripe,’ and generally making sure matters of public interest didn’t languish unattended-to because the Legislature only met every two years. It was hoped to reduce the need for special sessions.

Beyond the startling achievement of passing a major reform bill this year (something considered unlikely when odd-year sessions were designed, because the ‘supermajority’ stipulation almost puts a political lock on the two-year budget) this Legislature met its original short-session mandate strikingly.

Since convening in early January, lawmakers have also approved measures to allow school districts to raise the high school dropout age, provide better oversight of special taxing districts and make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving in the military overseas. Hemp farming as an alternative crop now has a clear field, pending necessary federal action. Kids young and older have new protections.

Just as a quick (and by no means comprehensive) wrap-up, bills approved this year include:

Child protection. House Bill 290 will establish an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries. The panel will be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in those cases.

Hemp. SB 50 creates an administrative framework for farming industrial hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government (or the feds give Kentucky an exemption). Members of the state’s Congressional delegation are working on both. The bill was on life support till close to the witching hour Tuesday, but survived in amended form.

Human trafficking. HB 3 will strengthen human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. (Human trafficking is another word for sexual slavery, and usually involves young girls being held against their will and forced into prostitution). The legislation will offer assistance to victims by creating a ‘human trafficking victims fund’ supported by service fees paid by convicted traffickers, proceeds from their seized and forfeited assets, and any grants, contributions, or other funds that may become available.

Military voting. Passed late on the last day, SB 1 will make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. The legislation will allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others out-of-country to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically, reflecting the new Internet reality.

Pill mills. As mentioned, HB 217 will make adjustments to last year’s Pill Mill Bill by easing some reporting requirements when pain medications are dispensed for clear and legitimate need, while upholding the original bill’s intent of stopping the deadly scourge of prescription drug abuse that kills more Kentuckians than car wrecks. Mandatory reporting to KASPER (the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system) will be lifted for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Exemptions would also be made for post-surgery patients, end-of-life situations, and some specified other patients with undeniable medical need for increased pain management.

Religious freedom. HB 279 specifies that government not burden a person's freedom of religion. The legislation states that an action motivated by a sincerely held religious belief cannot be infringed upon without a compelling governmental interest. This was a bill vetoed by the governor; that veto was overridden by the House and Senate.

School dropouts. A finally ‘ripened’ bill. After many attempts, SB 97 will allow school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased compulsory attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it, indicating consensus on the issue has reached a tipping point.

Special taxing districts. HB 1 will boost transparency and accountability for the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state. The bill will put education and ethics rules in place for those special-purpose entities, which pay for local water, sewer, and library service, among other things. It also creates an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information. The bill will require taxing districts to submit budget reports to fiscal courts. If a special district wants to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it will need to hold a public hearing in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting.

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

For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

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March 26, 2013

General Assembly’s 2013 session ends 

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2013 regular session came to a close tonight as lawmakers adjourned at the conclusion of the 30th and final session day allowed by the state constitution.

Among the highlights on the final day of legislative activity was the passage of a long-sought bipartisan agreement to ease the state’s public pension debt, along with a funding measure to assist in that effort.

Since the session’s start in early January, lawmakers have also approved measures to allow school districts to raise the high school dropout age, provide better oversight of special taxing districts and make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. 

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:

Child protection. House Bill 290 will establish by statute an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries. The panel will be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the cases. 

Crime. Senate Bill 15, named the Bryan Durman Act in honor of a Lexington police officer who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2010, will ensure that a person convicted of criminal homicide in the killing of a police or firefighter on duty doesn’t become eligible for probation or parole until 85 percent of a sentence is served.

DNA testing. HB 41 will allow some felony offenders in prison or under state supervision to request testing and analysis of their DNA as case evidence. 

Hemp. SB 50 creates an administrative framework for the growing of hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government.  

Human trafficking. HB 3 will strengthen human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. The legislation will offer assistance to agencies responsible for helping human trafficking victims by creating a “human trafficking victims fund” supported by service fees paid by convicted human traffickers, proceeds from seized and forfeited assets of traffickers, and any grants, contributions, or other funds that may become available.

Military voting. SB 1 will make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. The legislation will allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others serving overseas to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically.

Newborn health screenings. SB 125 will include critical congenital heart disease testing as part of the newborn screening program. 

Pill mills. HB 217 will make adjustments to the “pill mill” law approved last year by easing some reporting requirements when pain medications are dispensed for legitimate needs while upholding the original bill’s intention of stopping prescription drug abuse. Mandatory reporting to KASPER (the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system) will be lifted for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Exemptions would also be made for post-surgery patients, end-of-life patients, and some specified other patients with a clear medical need for increased pain management. 

Proof of insurance. HB 164 will allow people to use electronic insurance cards on their smart phones or other electronic devices as proof of motor vehicle insurance. Drivers will still be required to keep paper insurance cards in their vehicles 

Public pensions. SB 2 will offer a plan to ease the state’s public pension debt and HB 440 offers a financing component to the plan.  SB 2 will require the state to contribute the full amount recommended by actuaries to the pension system each year beginning in fiscal year 2015. Rather than a defined-benefit plan, the legislation offers future public workers a hybrid cash balance plan with a guaranteed four percent return on contributions. On the funding side of the issue, HB 440 will generate almost $100 million a year from tax changes that include a $10 reduction in the personal income tax credit, a trade-in credit for new cars, a cap on vendor compensation for sales tax collection, and enhanced collection efforts by the state Department of Revenue. 

Religious freedom. HB 279 specifies that government shall not burden a person's freedom of religion. The legislation states that an action motivated by a sincerely held religious belief can not be infringed upon without a compelling governmental interest. (HB 279 was vetoed by the governor; the veto was overridden by the House and Senate. 

Scholarships. SB 64 will ensure that students earning Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships aren’t penalized in the amount of scholarship money they receive if they graduate from high school in three years rather than four.

School dropouts. SB 97 will allow school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased compulsory attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it.

Special taxing districts. HB 1 will boost transparency and accountability for the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state. The bill will put education and ethics rules in place for those special-purpose entities and create an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information. The bill will require the taxing districts to submit budget reports to fiscal courts. If a special district wants to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it will need to hold a public hearing in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting.

Student health. HB 172 will encourage schools to possess at least two epinephrine auto-injectors in case one is needed for a student having a life-threatening allergic or anaphylactic reaction.

Suicide prevention. SB 72 will require attendance at suicide prevention training programs at least once every six years for social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, fee-based pastoral counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists 

Synthetic Drugs. HB 8 will continue the state’s efforts to update laws regarding synthetic drugs to ensure that newly developed, harmful synthetic drugs are listed as controlled substances.

Teacher evaluations. HB 180 will require the Kentucky Board of Education to establish a statewide evaluation system for all certified personnel. The Department of Education, in consultation with teacher and principal steering committees, will develop the system prior to the 2014-2015 school year.

Tuition waivers. SB 95 will extend the five-year tuition waiver eligibility period for adopted children who serve in the military.

University projects. HB 7 will authorize six state universities to issue agency bonds for 11 specific building construction projects at a collective cost of approximately $363 million. The projects will be funded by the universities’ own revenue streams, not state dollars.

Victim protection. HB 222 will establish a crime victim protection program in the Secretary of State’s office to allow domestic violence victims to have personal information, such as addresses, redacted from public voter registration roles. The legislation will also allow victims in the program to vote by mail-in absentee ballot.

 

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March 26, 2013

 

Industrial hemp bill heads to governor’s desk

 

The Kentucky General Assembly approved a bill today that will create an administrative framework for the growing of industrial hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government.

 

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would allow the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to vet and license farmers wishing to grow industrial hemp.  The commission would be overseen by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. 

 

As amended by the House, the commission would elect its chair and the Agriculture Commissioner would serve as vice chair. 

 

Supporters of the measure say the crop would give Kentucky a market edge if the hemp production is legalized federally.

 

Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics and a variety of other goods.

 

Currently, the growing of hemp is prohibited by federal law. Members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation told lawmakers earlier this year they are working on efforts to lift that ban.

 

Senate Bill 50 was approved in the Senate by a 35-1 vote shortly after being approved by the House 88-4.  The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.

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March 26, 2013 

Military voting bill passes General Assembly

Legislation that would allow military voters overseas to receive absentee ballots and voter registration materials electronically  is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, was passed unanimously in the Senate after clearing the House on a 91-0 vote shortly before tonight’s adjournment of the 2013 Regular Session. The legislation would require completed military-overseas absentee ballots be returned to county clerks by mail, not electronically, and that those ballots be received no later than the close of polls on Election Day.

The bill as passed also creates a Military and Overseas Voting Assistance Task Force and defines its membership and responsibilities.  

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green and supporter of SB 1, said the task force will help complete work on the absentee ballot issue.

Also included in SB 1, as passed, are provisions originally included in House Bill 141, sponsored by Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, and Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville. The measure will offer a tax credit to those who donate agricultural products to food banks and pantries.

HB 1 also includes provisions in HB 203, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville. The measure will prevent the disclosure of information in an application for an absentee ballot until after Election Day, with exceptions for disclosure to the Secretary of State or State Board of Election.  

SB 1 now goes to the governor for his signature.

 

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March 26, 2012 

Pension reform, funding bills on way to becoming law

FRANKFORT -- Intent on reducing over $30 billion in unfunded obligations in the state’s public employee pension system, the Kentucky General Assembly voted tonight to change benefits offered for future employees served by the Kentucky Retirement Systems and pay down the pension system’s debt to the tune around $100 million a year.

The pension system changes were approved with final passage of Senate Bill 2, which cleared the Senate on a 32-6 vote and the House on a 70-28 vote. SB 2, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, will place future state and local government employees (except public school teachers, who are covered under a separate retirement system) as well as judges and state legislators in a hybrid “cash balance” plan as of Jan. 1, 2014, That plan is similar to a 401K, but with a guaranteed minimum 4 percent return, The bill also requires prefunding of any and all cost of living raises.

Most notably, the bill will require the state to pay its full contribution, or “ARC” (actuarially required contribution), to the pension system beginning in Feb. 2015. The ARC totals around $100 million per year which will be paid with revenue generated by House Bill 440, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Larry Clark, D-Okolona.

HB 440, which was given final approval by a vote of 82-17 in the House and a vote of 35-3 in the Senate, will generate $95.7 million in fiscal year 2015 and $99 million in 2016. That funding will come from a $10 reduction in the personal income tax credit, a trade-in credit for new cars, a cap on vendor compensation for sales tax collection, and enhanced revenue collection by the state Department of Revenue. 

Thayer said during pension negotiations earlier in the day that SB 2 will save Kentucky taxpayers $10 billion over the next 20 years while spreading investment risk between employer and employee.

“It will avert a fiscal crisis that looms only four years ahead,” Thayer said.

Benefits for current employees and retirees served by the Kentucky Retirement Systems will not be affected by SB 2 because of an “inviolable contract” the state has with current employees that protects existing benefits, according to House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

“Unlike the folks in Washington, we can actually come to together and forge a comprehensive and responsible piece of legislation to a huge public policy problem” while protecting workers and retirees, Stumbo said.

Both SB 2 and HB 440 now go to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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March 15, 2013

This Week in Frankfort

15 March 2013

 

FRANKFORT – A civics textbook on Kentucky government would tell you this: The Legislature then goes into veto recess, 10 days excluding Sundays, when lawmakers go home to await gubernatorial vetoes, before coming back to Frankfort for the session’s last working day or two to consider veto overrides.

Real life 2013 translation: The Legislature is now in veto recess, 10 days plus Sundays during which rank-and-file lawmakers are home with phones ringing off the wall. Getting an earful, pro and con, from constituents. Getting buttonholed in the produce section of Pic-Pac on Saturday morning. Answering questions after church. All while trying to piece together their neglected ‘real’ lives and jobs while making speeches to Kiwanis Clubs and Chambers of Commerce about what the session has done so far, and may yet do.

And 10 days during which leaders and other key players are talking informally among themselves about some live but unresolved bills, big ones and even some little ones, left on the board when the Legislature went home Tuesday night. Their hope: To reach consensus or at least compromise that can lead to quick, successful resolution when the Legislature returns for ‘veto days’ that are called that, but are almost always much more than that.

(OK, expanded civics text: Under Kentucky’s Constitution, a governor has 10 days to sign a bill into law, veto it, or as a presumed statement of some disapproval but not too awfully much, let it become law without doing either. The Legislature builds into its schedule every year a recess to give that time period a chance to elapse, leaving a day or two to come back to override vetoes. In practice, those days are usually consumed with tidying up and trying to pass bills stalled or at impasse when ‘normal’ time ran out. Bills can still be passed during veto days; they just aren’t ‘veto proof.’)

When the Legislature recessed this week, no bigger or more difficult bill was left in limbo than public-employee pension reform. Discussions were said to be ongoing, though their prospects for success are considered highly uncertain. It’s still a bill very much in play, though, even across a wide gap in structural approaches, and with funding a particular sticking point. To fund or not to fund, that is the question this session. The House insists on it. The Senate says it can and should wait till next year’s budget session.

But there are other hanging issues too, notably Senate Bill 50, a bill to allow the farming of industrial hemp in Kentucky, with a couple of big ‘ifs’ attached. The current federal ban on growing hemp would have to be lifted or Kentucky would have to receive a federal waiver to grow it (some members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation say they’re working toward both).

Industrial hemp would, supporters say, be a boon and a natural transition for Kentucky farmers weaning themselves off tobacco as their primary cash crop.

The hemp bill has had an up-and-down trip through the process. It passed the Senate handily early in the session, but appeared DOA in the House – not even getting out of committee till its second try -- until late last week.

Friday, House leaders said they would allow consideration of a floor amendment that would presumably assuage some law-enforcement (and gubernatorial) concerns by putting both the UK Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky State Police commissioner in top positions on a Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, and by switching licensing of participants in a five-year hemp growers and processors ‘demonstration project’ to the State Police.

Another bill in legislative limbo would make it easier for Kentucky soldiers overseas to vote via electronic transmission. The actual process for doing so has yet to be agreed upon, and as it now stands, the bill is slated to be taken up in conference committee during the veto days.

Still, major bills have passed both chambers and been sent to the governor too – 107 bills all told, some of greater or lesser scope than others -- but lawmakers on recess are likely telling those hometown Kiwanis Clubs about some of these:

After years of struggle and failure, a bipartisan compromise was finally achieved Monday on a bill aimed at raising the high school dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18.  Senate Bill 9 would allow – but not at this point require -- local school districts across the state to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18, if they choose. But districts who decide to do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not completing their requirements for graduation. 

While not a statewide requirement, the compromise does have a tipping point – it mandates that all Kentucky high schools implement the increased dropout age within four years after 55 percent of individual school districts have adopted the change. This allows individual school districts to make initial decisions based on local needs and concerns, but also promotes uniformity in schools across the state when a ‘critical mass’ consensus is achieved.

House Bill 1 – a major House priority, as evidence by its honorific bill number -- was sent to the governor’s desk this week too. It brings what supporters call much-needed transparency and accountability to the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state, in at least 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. They fund public library boards, fire departments, water and sewer systems and other specific local services. A big pot of public money is involved: By some estimates, it approaches $3 billion, and yes, that’s with a ‘b’. And by some accounts, they collectively hold more than a billion more in reserve.

Sponsors of the bill acknowledge that most special districts provide needed services to their communities and do the job well, but sometimes leave taxpayers in the dark on how, specifically, their money is being spent.

The bill would put education and ethics rules in place for those special-purpose entities and create an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information.

As settled in conference committee and passed in both chambers, the bill would also require that all special taxing districts submit a budget report to their local fiscal court. If a special district wanted to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it would have to hold a public hearing prior to the change in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting. While this doesn’t provide the direct local oversight and veto authority some lawmakers wanted, the bill is considered an important step forward in keeping taxpayers informed and the folks taxing them accountable.

Other bills got final passage this week too. Among them, an anti-human trafficking measure – House Bill 3, which could more graphically and pointedly be called an anti-sexual-slavery bill – that `would increase penalties for anyone convicted of the crime, while protecting victims (primarily young girls) from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit, like prostitution, and offering them state social services.

Another measure related to crimes against children, House Bill 290 would create a 20-person review panel for cases of child abuse- and neglect-related fatalities and near-fatalities. The panel would be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the case.

The Legislature reconvenes March 25-26 to wrap up its 2013 session.

 

For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

Editor’s Note: We remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

  • A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

  • To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

  • 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 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 12, 2013

Special taxing district bill heads to governor

Legislation that would increase transparency of the state’s more than 1,200 special taxing districts cleared the Kentucky General Assembly today without opposition.

Based in part on recommendations by the State Auditor, House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would create an online public registry that would include taxing district’s annual budgets and other information.  The website would be maintained by the Department for Local Government.

Supporters of the measure say it would add accountability to special taxing districts and would help taxpayers know how public money is being spent. 

Special taxing districts include public library boards, fire departments and water and sewer districts.  They are found in 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties and spend more than $2.7 billion annually, by some estimates. 

The bill would establish ethics and education standards for special taxing districts and stiffen penalties if they do not comply with auditing and reporting standards. 

As agreed upon in a free conference committee, the bill would also require all special taxing districts to submit a budget report to their local fiscal court.  If a special district adopted a new fee or increased the rate of an existing tax, it would be required to hold a public meeting prior to the change.

House Bill 1 now goes to the governor for his consideration.

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March 11, 2013

House amends, passes military voting bill

Kentuckians serving in the military overseas would be allowed to transmit their ballots back home electronically under changes the House made today to a Senate bill.

Senate Bill 1, as passed by the Senate, would allow Kentucky residents serving in the military overseas to register to vote and receive election ballots electronically, but would require that their ballots be returned to their county clerks by postal mail. The bill as approved by the House would allow the ballots to be both received and transmitted electronically.

SB 1, known as the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act and sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, cleared the House by a 57-42 vote. It will now be returned to the Senate for its consideration.  

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said 300 ballots submitted in the 2012 general election by Kentuckians who serve in the military overseas were not counted because they arrived by postal mail at their county clerks’ offices after the voting deadline or other reasons. All 300 voters had requested ballots, Stumbo said.  

“Those 300 men and women have a right to have those votes counted, and I don’t think anyone in this chamber would disagree with that,” said Stumbo.

Some House members who voted against the changes to SB 1 expressed concerns that allowing overseas military ballots to be submitted electronically could violate a state constitutional requirement for voting by secret ballot.  Rep David Floyd, R-Bardstown, called the provision for electronic voting by the military overseas “yet another assault on a constitutional right, and this time the assault is primed and pointed right at those who serve their country in the United States military.”

Other provisions added to SB 1 by the House would require the Kentucky Secretary of State to develop a system for electronic return of military overseas ballots, specify that a ballot received by a member of the military overseas must be returned to that voter’s county clerk electronically, and set a timetable by which ballots can be requested and should be received by or submitted to the voter’s county clerk.  

Any ballot submitted by a member of the military voting overseas must be counted if received at the end of business on the day before the total number of votes is certified, according to SB 1 as amended by the House.

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March 11, 2013

 High school dropout bill heading to governor

FRANKFORT -- School districts in the Commonwealth will be allowed to raise the minimum dropout age for their students under legislation that cleared the Kentucky General Assembly today.

 

Senate Bill 97, sponsored by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, will allow local school districts across the state to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 for their students beginning in the 2015 school year.  Currently Kentucky students may drop out of high school at the age of 16.

 

Prior to raising the dropout age, the bill will require schools to have programs and resources in place for students at-risk for not completing their high school education.  School districts would also be required to apply to and receive approval from the Kentucky Department of Education.

 

Sen. Givens commended the work of multiple lawmakers and public leaders, including the Governor and First Lady, for years of discussion of the compulsory attendance age to reach what he called meaningful compromise.

 

“It’s apparent to me that [this] is going to be the best policy we can subscribe to as a state,” he said.

 

The Senate agreed to a change to the bill made by the House of Representatives to require the increased compulsory attendance age to become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts have adopted the change.  Supporters say this will allow local schools to make decisions based on their needs while also promoting uniformity in school districts across the state.

 

“I do think this is a practical, commonsense approach to deal with an issue that is very important to our school systems and the educational attainment of our children,” Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville said.

 

Senate Bill 97 was approved 33-5 by the Senate and now goes to the governor's desk.

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March 8, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

8 March 2013

 

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION 

FRANKFORT – In the long run-up to a legislative session, all things (more or less) seem possible. In its denouement – like the reworked calendar of four working days we enter now at a truncated week’s end -- the question becomes: What, now, is really possible?  

If politics is the art of answering that question, at no time does that become clearer than a session’s bone-weary mop-up.

The gray winter’s-end landscape is littered with dead bills, crippled bills, and bills on life support. But representative government has worked its magic, too. Some bills are safely in the barn, others close or on their way. Surprises come as no surprise, in these end times. Resurrection, this Easter season tells us, can be accomplished in just three days. Through a change in schedule to skip Friday and push it into next week, we now have four

And it’s important to remember: Just as God answers all prayers, though sometimes the answer is no, the legislative process itself succeeds with all bills. Sometimes its answer is no. Sometimes, ‘not yet.’ But it’s important to remember that defeat or even failure to act is action. It tells you something politically about a bill, what’s possible, what the people want.

One successful bill this session – a major priority from day one – refines a measure than had its first bumpy passage last session: the Pill Mill Bill. This session saw a successful and bipartisan push to correct some unintended consequences of what (by almost every account) has been fundamentally successful legislation.

House Bill 217 makes what supporters call some common-sense tweaks to the law, clarifying protocols in dispensing pain meds for legitimate need without diluting the original bill’s intent: Stopping the rampant abuse of prescription drugs in Kentucky, fueled by ‘clinics’ that fed death to pain-pill addicts – more death each year than our highways see.

Officials have cited great success in that effort. Several unlicensed pain-management clinics have shuttered and left Kentucky – ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish,’ as one legislative leader put it. Prescriptions for the most killingly addictive drugs have dropped every month since the bill’s implementation, more than 10 percent so far, all told. 

But some doctors and patients with legitimate needs found a few regulatory aspects of the law burdensome. And after multiple meetings with health providers, law enforcement and licensure boards and other involved agencies, lawmakers drew up several tweaks to make the law better reflect the realities of legitimate day-to-day medical practice.

For example, background checks through the state’s electronic prescription drug monitoring system (KASPER) for controlled substances will no longer be required for pain medications dispensed to patients at hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers. The bill also lifts restrictions on access to pain meds for the terminally ill, and for patients recovering from surgery.

Meanwhile, another top pre-session priority – legislation to get a handle on the proliferation of special taxing districts across the state – has passed both chambers. But the versions differ, and those differences must be reconciled before final passage and a trip downstairs to the governor’s office to be signed into law .

Estimates are there are more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state, in 117 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. They are locally imposed, and pay for services like libraries, water and sewer districts, and fire protection. House Bill 1 would require all ‘special purpose government entities’ in the state to electronically submit administrative and financial information to the Department of Local Government.  That information would then be posted in an online registry and available for public inspection. Districts that don’t comply would be subject to state audit. The intent is transparency and accountability in situations where cumulatively vast sums of public tax dollars – well over $2 billion, by some estimates -- are collected and spent.

But the Senate version of the bill goes further, and also gives fiscal courts the power to veto certain tax and fee increases proposed by special districts. That’s an expansion of the simpler oversight and transparency envisioned by the House. Still, with four session days left, there’s time to work out a compromise; the special-districts bill is still alive and kicking.

Another widely watched bill – legalizing cultivation of industrial hemp in Kentucky, pending federal approval – is alive but hanging on by a frayed thread.

After passing the Senate by a substantial margin earlier this session, it passed the House Agriculture Committee this week. But a House leader (who has expressed skepticism about the bill all along) says the likelihood of it reaching the House floor this year is slight. Opponents of the measure say they remain unconvinced about the potential market for hemp as an alternative cash crop, share law-enforcement concerns because the low-THC plant so closely resembles drug-grade marijuana, and add that the whole question is moot anyway as long as federal illegality remains in effect.

Redistricting was another pre-session ‘big issues’ mention, and the House indeed passed its own self-reapportionment plan this week, over minority party objections and in the face of little indication the Senate was receptive to taking up the issue this session.

As for the session’s two other big issues (the biggest, as defined by pre-session discussion), tax reform has never even risen to committee consideration; and public employee pension reform – though it has passed both chambers, albeit in dramatically different forms – remains in a procedural limbo.

At week’s end, though, leaders were reported trying to find a pension-reform compromise both chambers could sign on to, with discussions ongoing. That is a developing situation, helped along by Thursday’s decision to change the session calendar to push Friday’s official working day ahead to Monday.

As the schedule now stands, Monday and Tuesday are designated ‘concurrence days,’ during which the House and Senate deal with bills that passed both but got amended in one so their versions differ. After Tuesday– again, as the schedule now stands – lawmakers will go home for a 10-day ‘veto recess,’ the length of time a governor has to sign a bill, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. Taking that 10-day recess gives the Legislature the opportunity to override vetoes. 

The current schedule calls for lawmakers to come back to Frankfort March 25 and 26 for that purpose.

One thing you should note: Legislators can still pass legislation on the session’s last day or days – or the last minute of the last midnight hour, for that matter. They simply give up the right to override vetoes. So a bill thought dead and buried this week could, if sentiment broke in favor of it during recess and a procedural path was clear, rise to live again and pass. As noted, with Legislatures, the only surprise is no surprise. More colloquially: Things ain’t over till sine die.

 

For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

Editor’s Note: We remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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 7, 2013 

Session calendar changed; General Assembly to reconvene Monday

FRANKFORT -- State lawmakers will not convene in session tomorrow as a result of a change in the 2013 Regular Session Calendar agreed to by legislative leaders.

Under the newly revised calendar, the General Assembly’s chambers will convene two days next week – March 11 and 12. (The convening time for the Senate and House is 10 a.m. on March 11.)

The veto recess – the period of time when lawmakers return to their home districts to wait for potential gubernatorial vetoes – will be held from March 13-23. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on March 25 and 26 for the final two days of the 2013 legislative session.

A copy of the revised Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/sch_vist/13RS_calendar.pdf.

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March 6, 2013

Senate approves special taxing district legislation

FRANKFORT -- A bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability of the state’s special taxing districts was approved by the Kentucky Senate today.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would require “special purpose government entities” in the state to submit administrative and financial information to the Department of Local Government.  That information would then be posted in an online registry and available to the public. 

According to Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the bill would apply to more than 1,300 special taxing districts in the state that raise and spend approximately $4 billion in public money annually.  These entities include public library boards and fire and water districts, among others.  They are found in more than 117 Kentucky counties.

As amended by the Senate, the bill would also give fiscal courts the power to veto certain tax increases proposed by special districts.  It would also make the results of audits of districts covered under the legislation available for public review on the online registry, Thayer said.

The Senate changes to House Bill 1 “add much-needed oversight to special districts across the Commonwealth,” he said.

The measure was passed on a 23-10 vote.  Opponents of the bill cited concerns about allowing fiscal courts veto power over the taxing districts.

House Bill 1 now goes back to the House of Representatives for consideration of the Senate changes.

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March 1, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

1 March 2013

FRANKFORT – So this week, the House weighed in on the weightiest of this session’s issues: Public-employee pension reform. And the increasingly shallow waters of a session nearing shore were roiled, with only eight working days to landfall, final adjournment near, and a governor in the wings who’s said he’s prepared to call a special session on the issue if need be

As passed in committee Tuesday and clearing the House narrowly 55-45 the next day, Senate Bill 2 – the comprehensive reform bill passed by that chamber in early February – takes a fundamentally different tack than the Senate original, in the committee substitute sent to the House floor.

Most strikingly, it keeps a version of the pension systems’ current defined-benefits plan for new hires, albeit with increased flexibility for the Legislature to make future adjustments. The original Senate bill replaced the current plan with a hybrid ‘shared-risk’ approach for future employees, resembling a 401(K) but with a guaranteed 4 percent return. (This was also the recommendation of a task force that spent last year looking at fixes for Kentucky’s pension dilemma).

Therein lies one rub. And herein lies another: 

A separate but companion bill (HB 416) provides a funding mechanism for the retirement systems – something the Senate did not do, saying that discussion should best be deferred until next year’s full budget session. House leaders have staked out a position that funding must be linked with structural reforms. Their bill passed with 52 votes. 

In a nutshell: As amended by the House, the public pension bill, Senate Bill 2, would help ensure that state or local government employers each year pay the actuarial required contribution (ARC) to the public pension systems administered by the KRS. That’s usually referred to as ‘full funding,’ and the Senate also called for it.

Full funding is estimated to run around $100 million per year in General Fund dollars, House leaders say. Part of the reason the various public-pension funds are financially strapped is, full funding has not been forthcoming in recent years of severe General Fund budget distress. Coupled with a bad return on investments in recent recessionary years of a shaky stock market and low interest rates, the systems are said to face an overall unfunded liability of around $30 billion

The House version requires legislative pre-funding of any cost-of-living raises for retirees, and allows the state to modify benefits and pension eligibility for future employees hired on or after July 1, 2013 – something the current ‘inviolable contract’ for those already in the system forbids 

The General Fund dollars to pay for full funding would come mostly from the revenue mechanism in HB 416, which envisions the state collecting an estimated $73.5 million by 2019 (and more in subsequent years) for a new state Pension Sustainability Trust Fund to be created in fiscal year 2014. The funding stream would flow from expanding the Kentucky Lottery to include Club Keno and iLottery games, and a portion of the proceeds from expanded Instant Racing -- betting on previously-run horse races—something now offered at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park.

House leaders concede these sources will require some time to ‘mature’ (six to eight years was a time frame mentioned) but should, they say, be self-sustaining after that. They say their plan protects state funding of the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) program, which is funded by lottery proceeds and one of the gravest concerns raised about hitching lottery money to pensions. Some skeptics also question the lottery’s Constitutional charter to expand into these new types of gaming.

The chambers’ core divide on structural reform (a hybrid plan vs. a continued but more-flexible defined-benefits plan for future hires) creates roadblocks enough on its own. But even beyond that, the chambers disagree on whether there’s a compelling need to pass a funding mechanism this year.

Senate leaders said after the funding bill’s passage they couldn’t receive it for consideration because it didn’t get the required 60-vote supermajority to pass a revenue bill in odd-year sessions. House leaders contend that restriction only applies to the final vote for final passage of an agreed-upon bill passed by both chambers, not the work-in-progress this bill, they say, still is. The Senate didn’t take the bill

It did take the revised SB 2, however, and on a voice vote Thursday refused to agree to (‘concur with’) the amended House version, and sent it back to that chamber asking it to ‘recede,’ meaning drop its changes to the bill. The House, in turn, declined to accept the bill back, on procedural grounds. The process, Friday, stalled.

At this point, we only know one thing for sure: A structural pension-reform bill has passed both chambers and is ready for possible conference committee negotiations, if both chambers agree to appoint one. And with eight days left, there’s still time for this session to find agreement on that portion of the overall pension issue -- time, but not much. Especially with the chambers’ positions, for now at least, so far apart.

Quick takes on four other issues of note:

  •          The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 7, a measure that would affect the Legislative Retirement Plan. The bill would make state lawmakers’ pension benefits from that system calculated only on salary earned through actual legislative service. Under current law, legislative pension benefits may also include salary earned in other government positions outside the legislature, creating the potential for individuals to inflate their benefit.

    The bill would apply to lawmakers entering the plan after July 1 of this year. But it includes a provision that would allow former and current legislators the option of having their legislative pension benefits calculated the same way.

  •         Senate Bill 55 passed that chamber, proposing to amend the state’s Constitution to move the election of the governor and other state constitutional officers to even-numbered years, when elections for federal officials (and state legislators) are held. Currently those statewide-office elections take place in odd-numbered years, adding to ‘election clutter’ and cost. If the bill passes the House, the question will be posed to voters in the 2014 General Election for final ratification.

  •       Several ‘unintended consequences’ of last session’s pill mill bill were also addressed this week, with House passage of HB 217 and quick Senate committee approval the next day.

    Approved unanimously in both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill would relieve some regulatory burdens of the controlled-substance reporting requirements on providers and patients. Mandatory reporting to KASPER (the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system) would be lifted for hospitals and long-term care facilities, which typically provide “unit” dosing at set times. Exemptions would also be made for post-surgery patients, end-of-life patients, and some specified other patients with a clear medical need for increased pain management. The bill now goes to the full Senate.

  •       A house committee discussed but took no vote on SB 50, which would allow (pending federal approval) cultivation of industrial help as an alternative cash crop in Kentucky. It was unclear whether the committee would call the bill for a vote before session's end, whether it would pass, or what its prospects would be in the full House if it did, though supporters hold out hope. 



Editor’s Note: We remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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 1, 2013

Bill to require prosthetics limb coverage passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT— The House today approved legislation that would require insurers to cover prosthetic limbs consider most appropriate for patients’ medical needs.

House Bill 376, sponsored by Reps. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, and Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, would add Kentucky to a list of 20 other states with a “prosthetic parity” law that requires private insurers in those states to offer the same coverage for artificial arms and legs as federal Medicare Part B. Coverage would include repair and replacement, and would be subject to medical utilization review, according to the bill.

The bill would take effect on Jan. 1, 2014, should it become law this session, said Rollins.

HB 376 was pushed by former Frankfort resident Stephanie Decker, the mother of three who lost her right foot and ankle and left leg at the knee while protecting her children from a tornado that hit their Indiana home last March. Decker, who still lives in Indiana, was in the House chamber for the bill’s passage.

“We heard her tell us (in committee) that, luckily, her accident happened in Indiana where—because of the insurance laws there—she had access to the best and newest technology,” said Rollins. He added that HB 376 would put Kentucky on par with prosthetics coverage under Indiana law.

Private coverage under HB 376 would include coverage through health benefit plans, group or blanket insurance, nonprofit hospitals, medical-surgical, health service corporations, and health maintenance organizations, the bill states.

HB 376 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

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February 28, 2013

Senate panel approves proposed changes to 2012 ‘pill mill bill’

FRANKFORT -- The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure today that would make changes to legislation known as the “pill mill bill” that was approved during the 2012 special legislative session. 

The 2012 legislation regulated pain management clinics and mandated use by physicians and pharmacists of the state’s prescription drug monitoring system, KASPER, among other things.

According to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who testified before the committee, that measure has proven effective in addressing the state’s prescription drug abuse problem but could be improved by some minor adjustments.

House Bill 217, sponsored by Stumbo and Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, would exempt hospitals, long-term care facilities and end-of-life care programs from some of HB 1’s restrictions on prescribing and dispensing narcotics. 

The measure would also allow doctors to administer blood or urine tests at their discretion to help monitor patients’ use of drugs being prescribed without mandating such tests in every case, Stumbo said.

“These are logical steps… to make sure we are not burdening these groups,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.

House Bill 217 now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

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February 27, 2013 

House approves pension bill and funding measure

FRANKFORT—The House today approved its version of public pension reform and a measure that would boost funding for the pension system.

As amended by the House, the public pension bill, Senate Bill 2, would help ensure that the state or local government employer pay the actuarial required contribution (ARC) to the public pension systems administered by the KRS, beginning in fiscal year 2014, said House State Government Chair Brent Yonts, D-Greenville. Full funding of the ARC is estimated to cost around $100 million per year in state General Fund dollars, he said.

The General Fund dollars would come from a revenue mechanism in HB 416, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and approved by the House today by a vote of 52-47. HB 416 is aimed at allowing the state to collect an estimated $73.5 million by 2019—and more in subsequent years— for a new state “pension sustainability trust fund” that would be created in fiscal year 2014 under the bill. The funding would potentially come from Club Keno and iLottery games that are expected to be offered by the Kentucky Lottery and a portion of the proceeds from instant or “historic” racing—or betting on previously-run horse races—now offered at Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park.

“After these endeavors mature, in about six to eight years, it pretty well takes care of itself from there on out,” Stumbo said.

Stumbo said HB 416 creates a potential “long-term dedicated funding source for our pension problems” while protecting state funding of the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) program. The state lottery is the dedicated funding source for KEES under Kentucky law.

Besides requiring full funding of the ARC, the House’s amended version of SB 2 would retain the current defined benefit plan in the KRS (as opposed to the hybrid shared-risk plan proposed by the Senate), require pre-funding of cost of living raises for retirees by the General Assembly and allow the state to modify benefits and pension eligibility for future employees hired as of July 1, 2013. 

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February 26, 2013

Senate approves military voting bill

 

FRANKFORT – A bill aimed at making absentee voting easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military was approved by the Senate without opposition today.

 

Senate Bill 1, known as the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act, would allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others currently serving overseas to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically.

 

Senate President Robert Stivers, the sponsor of SB 1, said voting challenges that confront members of the military serving overseas were brought to people’s attention by Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. “On her travels, she found out there were certain problems with voting procedures for our military people and overseas support personnel,” Stivers said.

 

The current process of getting forms and ballots to members of the military serving overseas is “a very slow mechanism,” Stivers said. “With Senate Bill 1, we modernize the system to a great extent.”

 

SB 1 would allow overseas voters to choose to receive their ballots via fax, e-mail or another secure electronic transmission system. It would require officials to send ballots at least 45 days before an election.

 

According to Stivers, the measure would bring the state’s absentee voting procedures more in line with the federal process and would help ensure individuals stationed overseas could cast their vote both timely and accurately.

 

Under the bill, completed ballots would continue to be returned via traditional postal mail or a delivery services company.

 

Some senators said that while they support SB 1, they’d prefer that it also allow members of the military serving overseas to return completed ballots by email. Stivers noted that language that would have allowed ballots to be returned electronically was amended after county clerks and others raised concerns about protecting ballot integrity and voter anonymity.

 

Under SB 1, a Military and Overseas Voting Assistance Task Force would study election laws and absentee ballot procedures relating to military and overseas voters and complete a report by the end of November.

 

SB 1 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

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February 26, 2013

House panel approves amended pension bill

FRANKFORT—Revisions to a Senate pension bill that would help Kentucky eventually reduce an estimated $30 billion in unfunded obligations to its public pension systems has cleared the House State Government Committee.

The amended version of Senate Bill 2 represents an effort “to do as much as we can within this bill to ensure that the ARC (actuarial required contribution) is funded,” said House State Government Chair Brent Yonts, D-Greenville. State law requires the ARC be paid by the Kentucky General Assembly, which Yonts said has underfunded the contribution to the state retirement systems for 13 years by suspending the law.

“The system we need to put in place needs to provide certainty, needs to be humane in its treatment of people, and it needs to be something that will be doable. We can’t do the impossible,” Yonts said.

The proposed changes to SB 2 would:

n  Require the state pay the full ARC to the public pension systems (except the teachers retirement system, which is funded separately) at a cost of over $100 million to the state General Fund in the next budget cycle. Where the funding would come from is not addressed in the proposed changes, said Yonts, adding it will be addressed in a separate bill.

n  Instead of repealing cost of living raises—or COLAs— for retirees as proposed by the Senate, the bill would allow a 1.5 percent COLA if surplus funds are available and authorized by the General Assembly, or the General Assembly pre-funds the COLA.

n  Provide the defined benefit plan available to those now in the state’s public pension systems for new employees entering the system as of July 1, 2013 instead of switching to a hybrid cash balance plan as proposed by the Senate.

n  Allow the General Assembly to modify for new employees hired as of July 1, 2013 provisions that require the state to provide retirees and employees a pension based on the retirement benefit factor, contribution rates, and eligibility requirements set in current law.

n  Ensure that any change in the employee contribution rate to the public pension systems shall depend on the state, or the employer, paying the full ARC for the previous five years.  This is “another guarantee that the full ARC will be paid,” Yonts said.

n  Require hazardous duty workers in the state pension systems who retire at 25 years to start drawing their pension at age 50, and change the period of time for calculation of final compensation (two changes that Kentucky Retirement System officials told the committee would save the state money.)

Other changes made to SB 2 by the committee would address “spiking”—in which an employee receives a bonus or “career advancement” to boost their pension as they near retirement—by allowing the pension systems to determine whether increased cost is from a bona fide promotion or a career advancement, and set up an 11-member statutory oversight panel that Yonts said would give the General Assembly broad oversight on pension benefits, investments, funding, law, and other pension areas.

SB 2 as amended by the committee now goes to the full House for its consideration.

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February 22, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

22 Feb 2013

LRC PUBLIC INFORMATION

FRANKFORT -- Thirteen days in a Legislature – the working days left in this one – can seem short but be a lifetime. Especially for issues that have been on the table for months, if not years. Such issues can break suddenly, be passed, and signed into law by the governor. Follow Frankfort-in-session long enough, you’ll learn to live with being surprised. 

That conceded, the two toughest challenges posed this session – pension reform and tax reform – are coming down to the final buzzer in March looking for a couple of long three-pointers. Deeply vetted by special task forces in the months before the session convened, both are pretty clearly defined. Their issues, problems and points of contention are known. Both are heavily pressed gubernatorial priorities. But uncertainty still surrounds them as the scorer’s clock ticks down ever louder on the 30-day Constitutional limit to this year’s regular session. 

Of the two, pension reform is a lot further along. While no bill on broad tax reform has even been discussed yet in committee, pension reform has passed one chamber and is under serious discussion by leaders in the other. A House committee took up the issue this week.

The devil, though, is in the details as always. Most especially in this case, funding.

Some background: There’s a claimed gap of as much as $30 billion between money available in the system and benefits promised to public employees in the state’s various plans, including plans for teachers, police and firefighters, county employees, and the separate Kentucky Employees Retirement System for other state workers. The plan for state workers alone – the Kentucky Employees Retirement System – is said to be $19 billion in the hole.

These are estimates. But however you slice it, it’s a lot of money.

The Senate early on this session passed a potentially landmark bill to revamp the scarily underfunded systems. It calls for the state to chip in its full annual funding contribution by 2015, an actuarial first shovel to start filling the hole we’re in, and creates what some are calling a ‘hybrid’ pension plan for future hires. This would be similar to the 401K plan that has replaced many if not most defined-benefit plans in the private sector nationwide, but with a safety net; it guarantees participants a 4-percent return on their contributions.

The Senate bill also repeals automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, though the Legislature could authorize COLAs on a year-by-year basis if finances stabilize or improve and the need is felt.

But the bill includes no specified funding stream, something Senate leaders have said can best be dealt with in next year’s budget session after passing the new framework now and signaling clear intent to fund it when the next state spending plan is written.

One practical consideration virtually everyone acknowledges is, short sessions like this one require a three-fifths supermajority to pass any revenue bill. That restriction doesn’t apply to even-year budget sessions or (perhaps portentously) to special sessions called by the governor to deal with only specified topics.

The Senate proposal (SB 2) was brought before the House State Government Committee Thursday, though no vote was taken. While House leaders said they’d like to deal with this issue during the regular session – with a floor vote maybe next week --they want to complete a cost study of the bill and have their own draft proposal in good order before moving the measure along.

Regardless of when or if that happens – now or in an increasingly mentioned special session later -- House leaders disagree with deferring the funding question. They say a mechanism must be in place before the Legislature can commit to full actuarial funding. Plus, the idea of a hybrid 401K-type plan to replace the current traditional plan has met some resistance in that chamber.

This week, House leaders were said to be reviewing as many as 16 options for raising the money. The latest indications are the House is considering revenues from proposed Internet keno, Instant Racing and -- especially -- a 6-percent sales tax on lottery tickets, coupled with an expansion of games offered. All this, of course, is unfolding and fluid. 

Regardless, the pension-funding question ties in – at least in the ongoing discussion -- with the session’s other ‘big’ issue, tax reform. That’s a subject whose prospects for full consideration (the package of 54 recommendations issued by the recent Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform) look increasingly dim in the baker’s dozen days left till adjournment. And Senate leaders reiterated this week that pension funding should be considered separately from restructuring the system itself, in part because they say entangling the two and failing to reach agreement on structural changes now will just complicate any comprehensive tax-reform debate later.

 

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For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

Editor’s Note: We remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.

 

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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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February 21, 2013

 

 

Panel approves military voting bill

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would simplify the absentee voting process for Kentuckians serving in the military overseas unanimously cleared the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection committee today.

 

Called the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act, Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, would allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others currently serving overseas to register to vote and request and receive an absentee ballot electronically.

 

The bill would require overseas voters to choose to receive their ballots via fax, e-mail or another secure electronic transmission system.  It would require officials to send ballots at least 45 days before an election.

 

According to Stivers, the measure would bring the state’s absentee voting procedures more in line with the federal process and would help ensure individuals stationed overseas could cast their vote both timely and accurately.

 

SB 1 “gives the Secretary of State and the local county clerks many tools for expediting the process,” he said.

 

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told committee members the measure was needed to address issues such as lost or late ballots.

 

When asked how many overseas absentee ballots were rejected in Kentucky’s 2012 general election, Grimes said ten percent, or approximately 300, of the ballots returned were not counted for various reasons.

 

“The reality is that despite many progressions forward in both federal and state law and the best efforts by our local and military election officials… there are still significant obstacles in the way of our men and women in uniform to receive and return an executed absentee ballot,” she said.

 

Under the bill, completed ballots would continue to be returned via traditional postal mail but a study of electronic voting security would be conducted in the 2013 interim. 

 

Senate Bill 1 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

 

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February 19, 2013

HIV testing bill passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would require those accused of sex crimes to undergo HIV testing at the victim’s request within 48 hours of the request passed the House today by a vote of 96-0.

House Bill 107, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

“In the aftermath of a sex crime, victims have a lot to worry about, and HIV is at the top of their list,” said Jenkins, who worked for 10 years as a rape crisis advocate in the Louisville area.

 “Over those 10 years I held a whole lot of hands,” she said.

HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome—or AIDS—which causes severe damage to the body’s immune system.

Jenkins’ bill would allow a sexual assault victim or his or her parent or guardian, if the victim is under age 18, to request HIV testing any time after a finding of probable cause following the defendant’s preliminary hearing or indictment, according to the bill. Testing would be ordered by the court for any person convicted of a sexual offense who has not yet been tested, whether or not the victim requests it.

HB 107 will ensure sexual assault victims have “critical information” that could save their lives, said Jenkins, adding that treatment for HIV within 72 hours of infection can stem the virus’ progression into AIDS.

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February 15, 2013

 

This Week in Frankfort

15 Feb 2013

FRANKFORT – Thirty-day legislative sessions have their special rhythm, which contrasts vividly with full-blown 60-day regular sessions. With no budget to write, no re-election filing deadline looming at month’s end to make incumbents wary of taking up controversial bills, and just half the time to get stuff done anyway, the short session’s major issues usually break from the gate quickly.

 

We saw that dramatically last week – the first week back from the normally scheduled recess after January’s four organizational days -- when the Senate passed a complex and potentially landmark bill to revamp the state’s badly underfunded retirement systems for public employees.

 

The Senate plan calls for full annual funding of the systems by 2015, creates a new hybrid pension plan for future hires reflecting the familiar 401K but with a guaranteed 4 percent return, and repeals automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. The bill includes no specified funding stream, something Senate leaders say can best be discussed in next year’s budget session.

 

But some House leaders disagree, and say funding assurances are needed now if the Legislature is to commit to full actuarial funding.  This week, they were mulling options (including a cigarette tax increase) before they take up the bill. A major complication is, revenue measures in short sessions require a three-fifths majority to pass. That’s an awfully steep hill and a big rock to push.

 

The House also moved quickly on its own top priority the first week back, a bill to get a handle on the proliferation of special taxing districts around the state (local entities that fund such services as libraries and fire and sewer districts).

 

House Bill 1 would require central oversight, with public accountability and transparency, in the operations of some 1200 such districts statewide. The bill would create consistent rules for requiring districts to disclose and file financial information. It also would impose penalties, including the possible loss of state funds and audits, on those who don’t provide the required information.

 

 The bill passed the House last Friday with only one dissenting vote.

 

The session’s quick start was goosed along by the fact, for the first session in years, there’s no revenue shortfall to deal with. That fact alone generated momentum. So did changes in public sentiment.

 

Something that would have been an explosive issue not many years ago – a statewide ban on smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants – sailed through a House committee the first week, and is now poised for possible full chamber consideration.

 

And once again this year, the House Education Committee has passed a bill raising the school dropout age from 16 to 17 and finally 18 by the year 2018. The bill passed the full House 87-10 in short order Thursday, and supporters expressed optimism that the idea – which has failed previous attempts in the Senate – might fare better in that chamber this year. In fact, the Senate Education Committee Thursday passed its own version of a dropout-age bill, this one allowing – but not requiring – individual districts to raise the age, at their discretion and on their own timetable.

 

We saw the quick start continuing this second week when another Senate committee unanimously approved – and the full chamber voted 31-6 to pass – a bill legalizing industrial hemp production in Kentucky. Hemp is seen by advocates as a potential boon to Kentucky’s flagging farm economy. Tobacco farmers, especially, could make that transition easily, and need an alternate cash crop.

 

Law enforcement officials, charged with eradicating marijuana (a much stronger strain of the industrial hemp plant, which has little of marijuana’s active ingredient THC) have opposed the bill. The governor has echoed their concerns. House leaders have expressed doubts about the true economic potential of hemp, and also noted the law-enforcement objection.

 

There’s also a hang-up to the bill itself, should it pass and be signed into law: Kentucky would have to wait for Federal law to catch up. The Feds still consider industrial hemp cultivation illegal, something three members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation testifying in favor of the Senate bill told lawmakers this week they’re working to change in Washington.

 

Hemp is, clearly, a still-evolving issue.

So here at week’s end, most of the session’s expected issues are on the table and moving. But then again, it’s not unusual– in either short or long sessions – for unexpected bills to explode onstage like a stray firecracker someone overlooked. We saw that last session when the radio was suddenly full of ads from an industry group opposed to restrictions on pseudoephedrine, a common cold and allergy decongestant (and precursor to cooking illegal meth).                                                                                                                                 

 

This year, a little-noticed piece of legislation (judging by mentions in pre-session news analyses, and general pre-session chatter) is also suddenly on the radio a lot, this time with ads actually urging support for a bill, Senate Bill 9. The bill seeks to discourage what its supporters and the nursing home industry call frivolous lawsuits that, they say, cost the facilities money that could better be directed toward resident care,

 

After a spirited and sometimes emotional debate Wednesday, during which one opponent showed graphic photos of nursing-home patients in distress, the Senate approved the bill 23-12.

 

SB 9 would create a medical review panel to assess lawsuits alleging abuse at nursing homes. It would consist of three doctors, mediated by an attorney, who would review evidence in lawsuits brought against long-term care facilities. That panel would then issue a finding on whether there was a legitimate claim of neglect or abuse.

 

Nothing in the bill would actually prevent a lawsuit from going to court. But the panel’s ruling on the complaint’s legitimacy would be admissible evidence, presumably persuasive to the court. This, supporters say, would discourage casual or unjustified lawsuits that drain money from an already financially stressed industry.

 

The bill was sent on to the House, where its fate is uncertain. Leaders there have characterized its journey through that chamber as likely to be ‘a little rockier,’ though they say it has ‘some support.’

 

Despite rapid progress on many fronts as the session nears its halfway point (after today, Friday, Feb 15, only 17 of its allotted 30 working days are left), the elephant in the room, tax reform, is still out there lurking, cloaked and unacted-upon. Even at this relatively late hour, no comprehensive tax-reform bill is yet under active committee discussion.

 

Common wisdom has been all along that tax reform – something the governor has pushed for strongly, and not next year but this – might require him to call a later special session. In that setting, there’s no time limit and the three-fifths rule doesn’t apply. But that’s a story yet to be known or told. The only certainty is, time is running short this regular session for an agreement of such controversial complexity.

 

--30--

 

For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: We remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.

 

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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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February 15, 2013

 

Human trafficking bill passes House, goes to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—The House passed legislation by a vote of 95-0 today that would help victims of human trafficking in Kentucky receive treatment and protection from possible criminal prosecution.

 

House Bill 3, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, and Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, includes several provisions to help human trafficking victims by including them in the state’s abuse and neglect statutes, offering them protective custody and protection from prosecution for forced crimes (such as prostitution) and by creating a victim assistance fund to help them.

 

Overly said human trafficking is believed to be “the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the Commonwealth,” with children comprising around 53 percent of human trafficking victims in Kentucky, according to the group KY Rescue and Restore that worked on HB 3 with Overly and Wuchner.

 

“What these advocates tell us is that these children are very resilient and, with therapy, they can (recover),” Overly said.

 

HB 3 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 

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February 15, 2013

 

Debt ceiling bill approved by Senate

 

FRANKFORT -- The Senate unanimously passed a measure yesterday that would put a limit on the amount of debt the state can incur.

 

Senate Bill 10, jointly sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would cap the Commonwealth’s bonded indebtedness at six percent of General Fund revenues.  That is the generally accepted level used by bond rating agencies.

 

“The fact of the matter is the most important responsibility we have as elected officials is to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.  This bill obviously helps us do that,” Sen. Bowen said.

 

Under the bill, the legislature would not be allowed to exceed that amount except by a majority vote in the event of a state of emergency declared by the Governor.

 

The measure excludes debt for universities, the Kentucky Housing Authority, and all other agencies not using the General Fund, including the stand-alone Road Fund.

 

Senate Bill 10 now goes to the House for consideration.

 

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February 14, 2013

Industrial hemp bill heads to House

 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate approved by a 31-6 vote today a bill that would regulate the growing of hemp in the state if the crop is legalized by the federal government.

 

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would make the state Department of Agriculture responsible for monitoring industrial hemp.  Farmers wishing to grow hemp in Kentucky would register yearly with the department and would be required to submit to criminal background checks before receiving a license to raise the crop.

 

According to Sen. Hornback, hemp is a good alternative to tobacco and other crops and has been successfully grown in Kentucky in the past.  If legalized, the crop could also boost the state’s economy by generating new jobs and revenue, he said.

 

Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics and a variety of other goods.

 

Hornback told lawmakers the measure would give Kentucky a market edge if the crop is legalized federally. 

 

“You have to be first to seize opportunities.  If you’re not first, you’re last,” Hornback said.

 

Currently, the growing of hemp is prohibited by federal law.  U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, and U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg, told lawmakers earlier this week they are working on legislation or a waiver to lift that ban.

 

Some expressed concerns that the regulation would put an undue burden on law enforcement and other agencies enforcing marijuana laws since hemp is similar to marijuana in appearance.

 

Under the bill, state and local law enforcement would receive notification of licenses with exact GPS coordinates of hemp crop locations, and would be allowed to inspect fields.  Crops not used for research purposes would be at least ten acres in size. 

 

The bill also requires documentation from a licensed hemp grower when transporting hemp from a field or other production site.

 

Senate Bill 50 now goes to the full House for consideration.

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February 14, 2013

Coal county scholarship bill clears House Education panel

FRANKFORT—A bill approved today by the House Education Committee would create a scholarship and grant program to help college juniors and seniors from Kentucky’s coal counties attain four-year college degrees. 

House Bill 210, introduced and sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, would offer scholarships to students from the state’s 34 coal-producing counties in eastern and western Kentucky who attend school in those counties through the “Kentucky Coal County College Completion Program” to be established by the bill. The aid would be funded with coal severance tax dollars that Combs has said could begin in the 2014-2016 state budget cycle.

Nine Eastern Kentucky coal counties currently offer scholarships to local students who attend college or university in those counties under an executive order signed last year by the governor. HB 210 would make that program statutory, while expanding it to the other 25 coal-producing counties in Kentucky.

Maximum scholarship awards under HB 210 would be $6,600 per academic year per student at nonprofit, independent institutions, $2,200 per year per student at state university extension campuses or eligible regional centers, and $3,300 per year for students seeking a degree at a school outside the region, if the degree program is not offered in the region.

Grants totaling up to $150,000 would also be created by HB 210. The grants would go to community and technical colleges located in the coal regions for outreach to two-year students who may be considering four-year degrees.

HB 210 now returns to the full House for consideration.

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February 12, 2013

School safety legislation approved by Senate

 

FRANKFORT -- Kentucky school districts would be required to maintain emergency management plans under a bill unanimously passed by the Senate today. 

 

Based on recommendations from the Kentucky Center on School Safety, Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would require school administrators to meet with local first responders to create multi-faceted emergency management response plans and update the plans annually. School staff would be briefed on the plans annually as well.

 

“School safety and security involves so much more than just locking the school down.  It involves preparation,” Sen. Wilson said.

 

The bill would require severe weather, fire, lockdown and other safety drills to be completed in the first 30 days of the school year and again in January.  It includes recommendations for securing school buildings.

 

Under the measure, a school’s emergency management plan would not be made public and would not be subject to open records laws.

 

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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February 12, 2013

Online wagering bill approved by House panel

A 0.5 percent tax would be assessed on advance deposit account wagers made by Kentucky residents on horse races under a bill that cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee today.

Most advance deposit account wagering takes place on internet gambling sites, according to the revenue note attached to HB 189.

House Bill 189, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Larry Clark, D-Okolona, and Rep. David Osborne, R-Prospect, now goes to the full House for consideration. The legislation is expected to generate as much as $600,000 in tax revenue which would be divided between the state General Fund (15 percent) and the race track or association that held or hosted the race (85 percent).

“The fiscal note shows it’s about $300,000 to $400,000,” Clark said of a revenue estimate attached to the bill that indicates possible revenue that the bill would generate from advance deposit wagering companies. “We think the revenue may be closer to $600,000, with some of the preliminary reports we got.” 

Most advance deposit account wagering takes place on internet gambling sites, according to the revenue note attached to HB 189.

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February 12, 2013 

Graduation bill clears House Education panel 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would raise the school dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18 passed the House Education Committee this morning.

House Bill 224, sponsored by House Banking and Insurance Chair Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, and Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, would raise the dropout age gradually by increasing the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 on July 1, 2017 and from age 17 to 18 on July 1, 2018. Similar legislation has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly for over a decade but has never become law.

“We need to send a message to all parents in the state that education is important and graduation is important. I think it’s a change of culture that this bill will lead to,” said House Education Committee Chair Carl Rollins, D-Midway.

Kentucky’s current dropout age of 16 was set in 1920 when “education wasn’t as highly regarded as it is today,” Greer said. He added that a high school diploma is required to join the U.S. military and to find work in most jobs. But some lawmakers on the committee, including Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, expressed concern with the bill, saying only five states that have raised their dropout age have had “any appreciable increase” in graduation rates, and that the bill will cost money.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Terry Holliday said a drop in kindergarten enrollment in the next few years resulting from changes to the kindergarten starting age made by the 2012 General Assembly will protect guaranteed base funding, or SEEK funds, for high schoolers who stay in class until age 18. And while he agreed that raising the dropout age alone won’t increase graduation rates, he said it is part of a “comprehensive approach” that will impact those rates.

HB 224 now goes to the House for further consideration.

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February 11, 2013

Bill to allow certain felony records to be sealed clears House, 78-19

FRANKFORT—A bill that passed the Kentucky House by a 78-19 vote today would allow a court to expunge the criminal record of certain low-level felons who have served their time.

House Bill 47, sponsored by House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, would only apply to persons convicted of Class D felonies in Kentucky who have no prior felony conviction, no charges pending, and no criminal record other than traffic violations in the past five years. Sex offenders and those convicted of child or elder abuse could not have their records expunged.

If the bill becomes law it would also allow Class D felons whose records are expunged to carry a firearm legally.

“A lot of people have made mistakes,” Owens said when presenting his bill on the House floor.

Among those voting in favor of the bill were Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, a co-sponsor of HB 47 who said he asked to be a cosponsor of the legislation “because I believe in redemption and a second chance.” Allowing eligible Class D felons to petition the court to have their record removed from public view will help them find work post-incarceration, he said.

Expungement is already allowed under Kentucky law for certain misdemeanor convictions arising from a single incident.

HB 47 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

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February 11, 2013

 

Panel approves industrial hemp bill

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would regulate industrial hemp crops in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government received unanimous support of the Senate Agriculture committee today.

 

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by committee chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would make the state Department of Agriculture responsible for monitoring industrial hemp.  Farmers wishing to grow hemp in Kentucky would register with the department and submit to criminal background checks before receiving licenses.  Licenses would be renewed yearly.

 

Industrial hemp can be used in the production of ropes, fabrics, plastics, cosmetics and other merchandise.

 

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told committee members industrial hemp would be a good alternative to tobacco and other crops and could boost the state’s economy if it is legalized. 

 

Currently, the growing of hemp is prohibited by federal law.  U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, and U.S. Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, and Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg, said they are working on legislation or an exemption for the Commonwealth that would lift that restriction.

 

According to Comer, Senate Bill 50 would put a framework in place to responsibly track and monitor hemp production in the state if that happens.

 

Under the bill, state and local law enforcement would receive notification of licenses with exact GPS coordinates of hemp crop locations.  Crops not used for research purposes would be at least ten acres in size. 

 

The bill also requires documentation from a licensed hemp grower when transporting hemp from a field or other production site.

 

According to Sen. Hornback, the measure would allow Kentuckians to get a jump on the market of legalized hemp production, including the jobs and revenue it would generate.

 

“It’s not very often we get the opportunity to put our Commonwealth in a position to take advantage of an opportunity.  If you sit around and wait… you’re going to miss out…  I think we have to be first,” he said.

 

Senate Bill 50 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

 

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February 11, 2013

 

Senate and House to recognize KET founding director as Hellard Award winner

FRANKFORT -- O. Leonard Press, who conceived and struggled for years against long odds to get funding for Kentucky Educational Television and was its founding director, will be in Frankfort Wednesday to formally receive the Legislature's highest honor. Press had earlier been named recipient of the 2012 Vic Hellard Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Service, named for the longtime LRC director who died in 1997. 

The 92-year-old Press and his wife Lillian will visit each chamber for the formal presentation of the award, given annually since Hellard's death to a distinguished Kentuckian who embodies the special qualities Hellard himself brought to public service.

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February 8, 2012

 

This Week in Frankfort

FRANKFORT -- ‘Ambitious’ has been a mild descriptor of the common wisdom about what’s in store for this year’s short-session agenda.

Consider just two issues:

Tax reform: Here, everywhere and throughout the history of representative government, raising revenue—or even just changing parts of the tax structure and calling it revenue neutral -- faces stiff political headwinds. A Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform met last year and recommended ways to bring Kentucky’s tax structure in line with what it identified as current state revenue needs and 21st Century economic realities. Many such panels have met in the past; there’s been little or no notable success in getting their recommendations enacted. Roll a boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down.

Beyond that, though, sheer practical considerations compound the fact that tax reform designed to raise additional revenue – as the Commission’s proposal does, to the tune of $659 million per year -- faces uphill prospects this winter.

Not only is this an awfully short session to undertake such a Herculean task (the Commission recommended 54 changes to the state tax code, including both tax hikes and cuts), the rules governing an odd-year sessions require a supermajority of 60 percent in each chamber to pass any tax measure. Even-year sessions and – importantly – special sessions have no such requirement, something the governor has indicated he may resort to. He has said clearly he wants tax reform (and pension reform) acted on this year. Whether that happens or not is, of course, the Legislature’s final prerogative. Only the governor can call a special session. But only the Legislature can pass bills

Pension reform: A Gordian knot of a problem involving a claimed gap of as much as $30 billion (some say less, around $18 billion) between money available in the system and benefits promised to public employees in the state’s various plans. The Senate this week – on a strong bipartisan vote of 33-5 -- passed a pension-reform bill based on the recommendations of yet another task force, The plan would, among other things, move new state hires into a hybrid pension plan, similar to the 401K plans common virtually everywhere nowadays, replacing the current defined-benefits plan but with a guaranteed return of 4 percent yearly. Automatic cost-of-living increases for all retirees would be repealed. (The COLA is currently suspended anyway, and could be restored in the future if finances improve).

Funding for the Senate reforms remains a question, though, which (again) might wait till a special session the governor may call, or next year’s full budget session. And remember, the House still gets its turn to consider the issue. Then the two chambers have to work out differences in their bills. And time is short.

While the regular session will certainly end on schedule after its Constitutionally allotted 30 working days, the governor implied strongly in his State of the Commonwealth speech and other comments this week and earlier that he wants pension reform, along with tax reform, resolved this year.

Either of those, if passed, would be considered landmark, capstone achievements for even a full 60-day session. In this compressed off year, the challenge of dealing with them both is formidable. Only 22 working days remain this winter. It’s fair to say one or both issues might spill over in whole or part into future consideration, though both will certainly get serious discussion as time ticks down – especially pension reform, which a sense of great urgency surrounds, and is already in a bill that has passed one chamber successfully and is loose in the process

Aside from those extraordinary issues, mind-boggling in their complexity and long-term implications, what might be considered ‘normal’ issues are either likely or possible for action over the next few weeks.

Legislative redistricting, struck down by the courts last year, remains unresolved but also deferrable since there are no legislative elections this year. Leaders differ whether to attempt it this session.

Getting a handle on the proliferation of special taxing districts statewide has emerged as a major priority, with a strong push toward requiring accountability and public transparency in their finances and spending.

Also considered likely as is some tweaking of last session’s ‘pill mill bill,’ – designed to get a handle on Kentucky’s prescription-drug abuse epidemic -- which a number of legitimate doctors and patients have found unduly onerous in some of its particulars.

The House Health and Welfare Committee this week approved a bill that would ban smoking statewide in all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants and bars. There’s a long and winding road between committee approval of a bill and the governor signing it into law. But if that happens, Kentucky will join 29 other states with statewide smoking bans in enclosed public places.

 Of course, there’s more. The governor continues to push raising the school dropout rate to 18, and a growing chorus of officials and others are calling for legalization of industrial hemp in Kentucky, saying it would be a potential boon for the state’s economy and bring relief to hard-pressed post-tobacco program farmers.

In all, this session – and maybe this year – holds its uncertainties and possible surprises close to the vest, as February and the winter’s short, hard work begin. This will, even more than usual, be a session worth close attention.

Toward that end, we remind you the Legislature welcomes and encourages your participation, comments and questions. All proceedings are open to the public. If a committee is taking up a bill you’re interested in, come to Frankfort. Citizens are always welcome.  

 

There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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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February 8, 2013

 

Special districts tracking bill passes House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 96-1 today to require special taxing districts and similar entities to provide their administrative and financial information to the state to be posted online.

House Bill 1, sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would require the state’s more than 1,200 special districts to submit the information to the Department for Local Government (DLG) to be placed in an online registry to make the districts more transparent and accountable to taxpayers. State Auditor Adam Edelen estimates that the special districts spend around $2.7 billion in public money per year.  

“This is not a bill that’s in response to bad conduct,” Stumbo said. “House Bill 1 sets up and clarifies the reporting requirements and the auditing standards. It adds teeth to compliance. It establishes education and ethics provisions. … It’s a step in the right direction to bringing some sanity to how statutes interact.”

 HB 1 would define special districts and similar entities as “special purpose government entities” for reporting and auditing purposes. The entities would be required to report who they are, what they do, and their finances to DLG, which would put that data online in a centralized registry. Entities that do not submit the required data would be subject to an audit at their own expense, Edelen has said.

 Special districts and similar entities would have to register with DLG by the end of this year under HB 1, said Edelen. The centralized registry would go online in the fall of 2014, he said.

 HB 1 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 

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February 8, 2013

 Informed consent bills approved by Senate

FRANKFORT -- Two measures that would change the informed consent process for the abortion procedure in Kentucky were approved by the Kentucky Senate today.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, and President Pro Tempore Katie Stine, R-Southgate, would require a woman seeking an abortion to provide informed consent during an in-person meeting with a physician, nurse or social worker.

According to Higdon, the informed consent process required under current law is sometimes conducted through a pre-recorded phone message.  SB 4 would better allow a woman the opportunity to have any questions she may have about the procedure answered, he said.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, would add an ultrasound to the informed consent process required for an abortion.  According to Hornback, ultrasounds are a common part of many abortion procedures already.

Under provisions of SB 5, the woman could choose not to look at the ultrasound images, but the physician would be required to verbally describe them.

Opponents of the bills were concerned about the added financial expense to women of the additional medical visit required by the bills, and questioned the necessity of a face-to-face meeting rather than communicating through phones or other technology.

Both bills were approved by 31-4 votes and now go to the House for consideration.

 

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February 8, 2013

 

Pension reform bill clears Senate

 

FRANKFORT – A bill aimed at easing the state’s public pension debt was approved in the Senate yesterday by a 33-5 vote.

 

The state’s pension systems administer benefits to more than 325,000 current and former public employees.  Some estimates say the systems are facing a combined $30 billion unfunded liability.

 

“This issue affects every Kentuckian…It continues to eat away at our ability to deliver the services and policies that all Kentuckians expect from us,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said.

 

In an effort to pay down that debt, Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Thayer, would require the Commonwealth to contribute the full amount recommended by actuaries to the pension system each year beginning in fiscal year 2015.  Currently, the state is scheduled to pay three-fifths of the actuarially required contribution (ARC) that year.

 

To provide immediate relief to government budgets, the measure would extend the pay-back period for the debt from 26 to 30 years.

 

Other provisions in the bill would prohibit public employees from being re-employed with the state for up to two years after retirement and would repeal annual cost-of-living adjustments provided to retirees.  Thayer said the increase had been suspended during previous budgets and could still be reinstated in future budgets.

 

While the bill would not affect the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and would not change benefits received by current and former state employees, it does propose a new hybrid cash balance plan for future public workers.

 

Different from the state’s current defined-benefit plan and a traditional 401(k), the shared-risk plan would guarantee new employees a four percent return on contributions.  A quarter of returns over four percent would go to the state’s fund.

 

Senate Bill 2 mirrors the plan adopted by the Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions in November.  The 14-member task force, co-chaired by Thayer and comprised of members of both chambers, met with state and national pension funding experts during the interim. 

 

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

 

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February 7, 2013

 

Statewide smoking ban bill passes House committee 

FRANKFORT—The House Health and Welfare Committee today approved a bill that would ban smoking statewide in all indoor workplaces and public places, including restaurants and bars.  

House Bill 190, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and Rep. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, now goes to the full House for its consideration. If it becomes law, Kentucky will join the list of 29 other states with statewide smoking bans in enclosed public places.

Workers and the public need more protection from smoking, which costs Kentucky employers $3.8 billion a year in lost productivity due to illness and smoking related problems, Westrom said.

Adams said workers currently exposed to cigarette smoke shouldn’t “have to choose between their paycheck and their health.” 

The state’s Medicaid program alone spends nearly $500 million a year on smoking-related illnesses, Westrom added.

HB 190 includes an exception from the ban for smoking rooms in airport or other large public facilities, although the smoking would only be allowed in designated freestanding areas with separate ventilation.  

A portion of HB 190 would be designated the “Smokefree Kentucky Act” if the bill becomes law.

 

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February 6, 2013 

Bill to improve tracking of special districts clears House panel

FRANKFORT—Kentucky’s special taxing districts would be required to submit data about who they are and how the money they raise is spent under legislation approved by the House Local Government Committee today.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, the sponsor of House Bill 1, told the panel that his legislation is designed to bring transparency to how taxpayers’ money is being spent while ensuring continuity of services to Kentuckians. He has worked on the legislation and presented the bill with State Auditor Adam Edelen, who has reported that Kentucky has over 1,200 special districts that spend $2.7 billion of public money per year.

“If you look at the magnitude of these special districts… it is remarkable that we’ve had so few problems with them. That’s a testament to the fine Kentuckians who serve all across the Commonwealth on the library boards, the water boards, and all the special district boards,” Stumbo said.

 “This is not something that is a reaction to bad conduct,” Stumbo said, adding that a special district may not be completely aware of what is expected of them by the state. “This is an attempt to clarify (by law) to make sure that they have a clear path as to what reporting requirements they need to make…and just a way to simplify this very complicated and convoluted series of laws that have developed in our statutes dealing with special districts over the past number of years.”

Public libraries, EMS boards, water districts and fire districts are all examples of special districts, which are found in 117 counties statewide. Edelen said taxpayers in those counties pay more to special districts than they do in local property tax. He also said special districts in Kentucky hold twice the amount of cash reserves as the state’s 174 public school districts, or approximately $1.4 billion.

HB 1 would define special districts and similar entities as “special purpose government entities” for reporting and auditing purposes. The entities would be required to report who they are, what they do, and their finances to the state Department for Local Government, which would put that data online in a centralized registry for public viewing. Entities that do not submit the required data would be subject to an audit at their own expense, Edelen said.

The legislation would also establish education and ethics rules to ensure that the newly-defined special purpose government entities are putting taxpayer money to good use, and make it easier for defunct  or inactive entities or entities that “choose to go outside the process,” as Edelen said, to be dissolved by law.  

Special districts and similar entities would have to register with the Department for Local Government by the end of this year under HB 1, Edelen said. The centralized registry would go online in the fall of 2014.

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February 6, 2013

  

Committee approves pension reform bill

 

FRANKFORT – The Senate State and Local Government Committee unanimously approved a proposal today aimed at paying down public pension debt and creating a new retirement plan for future employees of the state.

 

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, mirrors the eight-point proposal adopted by the Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions in November.  The task force, co-chaired by Sen. Thayer, met during the interim to discuss ways to address the estimated $30 billion unfunded liability faced by Kentucky Retirement Systems.

 

The bill would require the Commonwealth to pay the full actuarially required contribution (ARC) to the pension system by fiscal year 2015.  Currently, the state is scheduled to pay 61% of the ARC that year.

 

According to Sen. Thayer, that higher level of funding is needed to sustain the pension system long-term.

 

“For us, the math quite simply doesn’t add up.  If we don’t do something our pension system is going to be insolvent in as little as four years,” Thayer said.

 

Other provisions included in the bill would repeal the current cost-of-living adjustments provided to retirees.  Lawmakers pointed out that the adjustment had been suspended during previous budgets and could still be reinstated in future budgets.

 

To help provide short-term relief, the proposal would reset the amortization period for payment of the unfunded liability from 26 years to 30 years.

 

Under SB 2, pension benefits for new hires would be calculated in a hybrid shared-risk plan.  New employees would be guaranteed a four percent annual return on contributions, while a quarter of returns over four percent would go to the state’s funds.

 

Supporters of the hybrid cash balance plan say the option is more predictable and sustainable than the defined benefit plan currently provided to public employees and retirees.

 

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

 

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February 6, 2013

 

Bill to allow university-financed building projects clears House A&R

FRANKFORT—A bill to authorize six of Kentucky’s state universities to issue agency bonds, and assume the debt, for 11 specific building construction projects at a collective cost of approximately $363 million has cleared the House budget committee.

House Bill 7, sponsored jointly by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, was approved by Rand’s committee this morning. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.  

The projects would be funded by the universities’ own revenue streams, not state dollars, according to the bill.

The bill would authorize agency bonding for three projects at the University of Kentucky, three at Murray State, two at Northern Kentucky University, and one each and Morehead State, the University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University, according to UK President Eli Capilouto who reiterated that the projects must be self-financed with the universities’ own revenues. The projects must also fill an urgent need to meet the universities’ goals of student success and retention, begin in the next calendar year, and not rely on state funding in future budget cycles, Capilouto said.

The projects include:  

n  Renovation of Mignon Residence Hall at Morehead State University;

n  Renovation of Hester Hall, renovation of housing and dining facilities and upgrade of the sprinkler system at College Courts at Murray State University;

n  Renovation and expansion of Albright Health Center and acquisition and renovation of a new residence hall at Northern Kentucky University;

n  Renovation and expansion of Commonwealth Stadium and Nutter Training Center, construction of an academic science building, and expansion of Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky;

n  Expansion of the Student Activities Center at the University of Louisville;

n  Construction of the Honors College facility at Western Kentucky University.

Rand said the current state budget has the lowest level of bonding in recent memory, with no agency bonds authorized for state universities. “I think since that time the university presidents, in conjunction with the governor and House and Senate leadership, worked on a very narrow list of projects they think are critical to their institutions and the students who attend there,” he said.

 

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February 1, 2013

 

Judiciary panel hears of savings under 2011 criminal justice reforms

 FRANKFORT—Criminal justice reforms approved by Kentucky lawmakers in 2011 have saved the state as much as $35 million or more since the legislation took effect in 2011, a joint legislative committee was told yesterday.

 Around $10 million in savings came from mandatory supervised release on parole of certain non-violent inmates with six months or less on their sentence, while around $25 million in savings--mostly to county governments—came from an increased pretrial release of low to moderate risk criminal defendants, the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary heard. Both provisions were part of the 2011 Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act (HB 463) enacted by the 2011 Kentucky General Assembly.

 Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said savings from mandatory supervised release of inmates has helped to reduce the state’s inmate population to around 22,100—although state officials say savings are offset by costs to implement the legislation. The population would be well over 23,000 “and scaling up” without the mandatory supervised release provision, Brown said.

 “That one aspect alone has not only saved the Commonwealth, but has also accomplished the purpose of public safety by reducing the recidivism rate for that group of inmates,” Brown told the panel.

 Kentucky Public Advocate Ed Monahan, who oversees the state’s Public Defender Program that provides legal counsel for indigent defendants statewide, said HB 463 has created substantial savings for Kentucky, including around $25 million in savings due to pretrial release of low to moderate risk defendants. He added, however, that savings under HB 463 have fallen short and that “prudent opportunities” can be taken to improve public safety and save money.

 All provisions found in HB 463 are projected by the Office of the State Budget Director to save the state $422 million over 10 years. Other savings are projected to come from reduced recidivism, use of citations rather than arrests for low-level misdemeanor offenders, and increased use of substance abuse treatment paid for by reinvestment of savings from reduced incarceration costs, among other things, according to reports on the legislation.

 A portion of the savings remaining after reinvestment in substance abuse and other recidivism reduction efforts are required by HB 463 to go into a fund to assist local jail with their costs. Brown said the Cabinet has budgeted and provided some funding for the local jail fund to date.

 Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, questioned why the savings reported by Brown are below the State Budget office projections, which he said averages to about $42 million annually. Brown said the savings will not be realized immediately.

 “What is happening is we are gaining momentum …” he said.

 Other speakers on HB 463 including the Kentucky Parole Board, Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association, Administrative Office of the Courts, Kentucky Association of Counties, and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, among others.

 

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 January 11, 2013

 

 This Week in Frankfort

 "There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves ...”

FRANKFORT – In other words: When opportunity comes, grab hold. 

Every legislative session has its moods, it expectations, its hopes, fears, certainties and – always – surprises. But the 2013 session, unlike any of the last six and most of the last ten, convened this week without any need to write or say the phrase ‘budget shortfall,’ a coupling so common we just expect to hear it each January like corks popping at New Year’s, with all its associated ‘shallows and miseries’

Normally, that’s followed with grisly warnings of budgetary clear-cutting and ominous words like Draconian.

And while Kentucky hardly rides a full sea this year financially, it’s not scraping the shallows either. We’re fiscally stable for the moment. Revenues so far this biennium have held to projections, as the weak economic recovery seemingly continues (something December’s just-released revenue figures confirmed). A major mid-course budgetary correction in the off-year session doesn’t seem likely this time around.

That’s not to say we’re flush. Worries persist about a possible double-dip recession. Programs, agencies, universities and others still feel the sting of earlier cuts (the Administration says it’s cut about $1.6 billion out of spending over the last 4 ½ years). And it’s fair to say uncertainties lurk as elements of Obamacare and new national tax and economic policies kick in.

But the lack of an immediate state budget crises – combined with a year of no elections -- gives this session breathing room to ‘take the current’ Shakespeare’s Brutus cites in the quote above. It gives lawmakers space to at least part the curtains on longer-term money issues, deep and scary and in need of hard fixes: The public-employee pension system, which by some estimates carries a $30-billion unfunded liability, and Kentucky’s tax code, what critics call a cobbled-together relic of the 1950s that isn’t much tethered to 21st Century economic reality. 

Both issues were studied in depth by task forces during the recent interim; both groups submitted recommendations to the Legislature. Both issues will almost certainly get heavy discussion in the Capitol this winter. But whether they either can or will be acted upon during this year’s abbreviated 30-day session is – just as a practical process matter -- problematic.  While lawmakers have a clear field for a change, it’s also a shortened one with tougher rules.

Not only are pensions and taxes hugely complex issues in their own right, tax matters in an off-year session require a voting supermajority. That’s 60 in the House, 23 in the Senate. Serious mention has been made of a special session or sessions later this year, isolated on one or both those questions. A sense of urgency – especially about pensions – is palpable in Frankfort, though.

Other issues too will get their turn during the regular winter’s work. 

Once again this year, a governor who ran on and was elected twice calling for expanded gaming in Kentucky only to meet with no success may again push for a constitutional amendment allowing casinos in the state. But again, a 30-day session is a mighty short time frame for such a controversial proposal, especially competing for attention with separate discussions of tax and pension reform.

Legislative redistricting, struck down by the courts last year, remains live and unresolved and challenging as ever, but also deferrable since there are no legislative elections this year. Legislative leaders are split on tackling it this winter, and the governor has asked that it not be.

Other more traditional issues, though, could get a thorough airing and action this year.

Getting a handle on the proliferation of special taxing districts statewide, raising the school dropout age to 18, ironing out complaints about last session’s ‘pill mill bill,’ fixing problems with Medicaid managed care, and possible legalization of industrial hemp are all on the table.

As at the beginning of any odd-year session, organizational matters were handled first.

Leadership was selected and committee chairs and members and chairs named. Trainings were held.

 

In the Senate, Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Sen. Katie Kratz Stine, R-Southgate, were elected by the full chamber to serve as Senate President and President Pro Tempore, respectively.

 

In the House, Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, retained that chamber’s top jobs

In addition, both parties elected their own caucus leaders. 

Senate Republicans chose Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown as their Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Dan Seum of Fairdale as Caucus Chair, and Sen. Brandon Smith of Hazard as Whip.

Senate Democrats re-elected Sen. R.J. Palmer of Winchester as their Minority Floor Leader, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg as Caucus Chair, and Sen. Jerry Rhoads of Madisonville as Whip.

House Democrats re-elected Rep. Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook their Majority Floor Leader, chose Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris (the first woman elected to House leadership) as Caucus Chair, and retained Rep.Tommy Thompson of Owensboro as Whip.

House Republican re-elected Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown as their Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Bob DeWeese of Louisville as Caucus Chair, and chose Rep. John ‘Bam’ Carney of Campbellsville as Whip.

After its customary short-year break after four days of organizing this week, the Legislature returns to Frankfort Feb. 5 for the duration, 26 working days ending in late March.

For more information, contact scott.payton@lrc.ky.gov

 NOTE: The Legislature welcomes and encourages your comments and questions. There are several easy ways you can stay in touch with your 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.  In addition, the office has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.

 

You can also follow legislative action by phone with these toll-free numbers:

 

·         A taped Calendar Line containing information on the next day’s legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.

 

·         To check the status of a bill, you may call the Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.

 

·         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 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, 2013

  

Citizens have many ways to follow legislative action

 

FRANKFORT – With the convening of the General Assembly’s 2013 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 the daily schedule for legislative committee meetings is available by calling the Legislative Calendar Line at (800) 633-9650.

 Information on the status of each bill lawmakers are considering will be available on the Bill Status Line, (866) 840-2835.

 Citizens can write to any legislator by sending a letter with a lawmaker's name on it to: Legislative Offices, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601.

 

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December 18, 2012

KET pioneer O. Leonard Press named 2012 Hellard Award recipient


Photo Courtesy of KET

FRANKFORT -- O. Leonard Press, Founding Director of Kentucky Educational Television and nationally acclaimed pioneer in bringing classroom and civic education to Kentuckians through the nascent medium of public TV, has been named recipient of the 2012 Vic Hellard Jr. Award for excellence in public service.

The Hellard Award, the highest honor the Legislature can bestow, has been given annually since 1997. Press was chosen for this year's honor by the 16-member legislative leadership that comprises the Legislative Research Commission.

The award's namesake, Vic Hellard Jr., was executive director of the LRC staff for 19 years. The honor goes each year to someone who embodies the professional vision and unique personal qualities that Hellard brought to his own long and distinguished career.

In announcing Press’ selection, legislative leaders noted that Len – as everyone knows him -- has throughout his working and personal life met those lofty criteria perfectly.

‘Len is an ideal candidate for the Hellard Award,’ said House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. ‘He is, as Vic was, someone who truly respects history and how its lessons can help us make a better future.  He has never been satisfied with the status quo, and has always looked for ways we could make the world better.  Kentucky is in a much better place because of him.’

Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, agreed. ‘Like Vic, Len Press has always championed the dignity and potential of all. Like Vic too, he has devoted his considerable energies to direct engagement and two-way dialogue between the people and their government – especially the Legislature, the Peoples’ Branch -- all in a spirit of commitment, caring, generosity and humor.’

Press’ long life and career (he just turned 91) are historically remarkable. A Lowell, Massachusetts native, what he often calls his life’s ‘geography of opportunity’ led him from a Depression-era upbringing through service in World War II to various jobs in radio broadcasting in the Northeast, and the emerging and revolutionary medium of television. Eventually, the ‘branching paths’ of his career’s ‘geography’ led him to Kentucky. ‘I was intrigued by seeing another part of the country,” he recalls. He originally came to teach at UK for just one year. But a visit to a poor underserved mountain school gave birth to a vision.

"Across Kentucky, I saw the heroic struggle to provide equal education thwarted by the barrier of unequal resources,’ he said once. ‘It was essential that we harness the power of television to assure the education and enrichment of our people so they would have every possible opportunity. We could not afford to accept less"

That driving vision kept him here. After 10 years of hard, personal lobbying for what some in Frankfort called a pipe dream, Kentucky Educational Television went on the air in 1968, statewide in reach, boundless (it proved) in potential.

Under Press, KET quickly outgrew being simply ‘educational TV’ bringing classes to poor rural schools. It evolved dramatically to become a unifying force in Kentucky life, drawing the far-flung Commonwealth together through one statewide public-affairs network. KET defined, from the mountains of the East to the lake country of the West, what it meant to be ‘a Kentuckian.’ In fact, for several years ‘Bringing Kentucky Together’ was the network’s tagline.

Press’ innovative 1978 decision to bring coverage of General Assembly sessions to every hill, holler, flatland farm and town and city of the state played a key role in fostering the era’s fledgling Legislative Independence Movement. KET’s nightly coverage brought the Legislature into folks’ living rooms, enhanced its institutional stature and professionalism, and helped cement its status as a co-equal branch of government. Legislative independence was Hellard’s passion, and Press was a key ally in that fight.

Current LRC Director Robert S. Sherman said his old mentor Hellard would surely be pleased with this year’s selection, citing the ‘historic connection’ the two men shared.

‘Len Press, through his groundbreaking KET coverage, lent a welcome hand to Vic and the Legislature in the early days of legislative independence, a time when the outcome of that struggle was far from certain,’ Sherman said. ‘He is a welcome and absolutely appropriate addition to the honor roll of Hellard Award recipients.’

Press, no stranger to awards and accolades, said he was ‘especially moved’ by this latest recognition.

'I'm honored, I'm touched, and I can only accept this award humbly,' Press said. 'Vic Hellard was a special man, and this is a special honor, even more so since it at least in part recognizes my heartfelt commitment, which Vic shared, to connect Kentuckians more closely with their government through the simple, obvious, but hard-won act of just showing it to them.'

O. Leonard Press is the 16th recipient of the Vic Hellard Jr. award. Hellard himself died in 1996, a year after his retirement from the LRC. The award in his name has been given annually since.  

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