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Recent News

New laws go into effect July 15 - 07/11/16

Lawmakers discuss pros and cons of medical marijuana - 07/06/16

Kentucky hemp has growing market potential, panel told - 07/06/16

Humvee licensing debate rumbles into Frankfort - 07/06/16

Lawmakers identify child ID theft as a growing concern - 06/29/16

Lawmakers review veto of Kentucky's Real ID legislation - 06/24/16

Legislative panel hears future plans for KY state parks  - 06/23/16

Workforce investment update run by legislative panel - 06/16/16

KY legislative panel votes on issues to be studied - 05/12/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 04/15/16

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2016 session ends - 04/15/16

State budget receives final passage - 04/15/16

State budget proposal available for online viewing - 04/15/16

Citations for high school grads prove popular - 04/14/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 04/01/16

Senate approves bills on marriage forms, phones and transportation projects - 04/01/16

Felony expungement bill heading to governor’s desk - 04/01/16

General Assembly chambers to convene on Friday- 03/29/16

Booking photo bill receives final passage- 03/29/16

Child safety bill heading to governor’s office- 03/29/16

Snow day waiver bill goes to governor’s desk - 03/29/16

Medicaid appeals bill heading to governor’s desk - 03/28/16

Sally Everman, Scott Payton announced as Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners - 03/25/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/25/16

P3 bill goes to governor’s desk - 03/25/16

Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners to be announced in live streamed video on Monday - 03/25/16

P3 legislation receives Senate approval - 03/24/16

Senate approves its version of state budget plan - 03/23/16

Bill to crack down on habitual DUI offenders returns to Senate - 03/23/16

Proposed Road Plan, Transportation budget goes to Senate - 03/22/16

KTRS pension bill clears House, heads to Senate - 03/22/16

Senate approves REAL ID legislation - 03/22/16

Senate committee approves open records measure - 03/22/16

Proposed Road Plan, Transportation budget pass House budget panel - 03/22/16

Parental rights bill clears hurdle in House - 03/21/16

Anti-dog fighting bill approved by House - 03/21/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/18/16

Hair braiding deregulation bill weaves through Senate - 03/18/16

Abuse-deterrent opioid drug bill moves to Senate - 03/18/16

EMS death benefits bill goes to governor - 03/17/16

Community college scholarship bill clears House hurdle - 03/17/16

Senate bill would reduce KY’s role in mine inspections - 03/17/16

Finalists for Vic Hellard Jr. Awards Announced - 03/17/16

Amended charter school bill passes KY Senate - 03/16/16

Branch budgets clear House, move to Senate - 03/16/16

Bill aimed at bolstering child safety laws advances - 03/16/16

Bill advances to quicken sex assault exam kit testing - 03/16/16

State budget bill passes House panel; floor vote expected today - 03/16/16

Senate passes bill addressing religious freedom - 03/16/16

Needle exchange and disposal bill passes Senate - 03/15/16

Bill would regulate nursing home violation adverts - 03/15/16

Bill would make Bible literacy classes an elective - 03/14/16

Early voting bill clears House, goes to Senate - 03/14/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/11/16

Local option sales tax proposal moves forward - 03/11/16

Senate’s judicial redistricting bill seeks ‘equal justice’ - 03/10/16

Cell number protection bill receives House OK - 03/10/16

Bill tackling untested rape kits passes KY Senate panel - 03/10/16

Concussion bill gets all-clear from House, heads to Senate - 03/09/16

Abortion clinic standards addressed in Senate bill - 03/09/16

House panel approves bill to crack down on dogfighting - 03/09/16

Gettin’ your tan on: It may get harder for KY teens - 03/09/16

Community college scholarship bill clears House A&R - 03/08/16

Bill to raise state’s minimum wage heads to House - 03/08/16

Concealed carry bill passes House, heads to Senate - 03/07/16

Local option sales tax proposal approved by House panel - 03/07/16

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/04/16

‘Charlie Brown Bill’ clears Senate on first kick - 03/03/16

Senate bill would reduce penalties for underage sexting - 03/03/16

College tuition measure advances to Senate - 03/03/16

Executive ethics bill clears House State Government panel - 03/03/16

New wellness initiative has LRC workers "On the Move" - 03/02/16

Concealed carry bill passes House Judiciary panel - 03/02/16

Police, fire, health department protections approved by House - 03/01/16

Proposed constitutional amendment for crime victim protections advances - 03/01/16

Nuclear power bill advances in Senate - 03/01/16

Emergency personnel fitness bill goes to Senate - 02/29/16

‘Ultrasound bill’ passes KY Senate, goes to House - 02/29/16

This Week in the Kentucky General Assembly - 02/26/16

Life insurance benefits bill passes House, goes to Senate - 02/26/16

Senate approves bill to give stronger bite to state’s dog-fighting ban - 02/25/16

Senate approves improved survivor benefits for firefighters’ families - 02/25/16

Drone legislation clears House, heads to Senate - 02/25/16

Nominations being accepted for 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards - 02/25/16

Autism bill gets Senate committee approval - 02/24/16

Tenant protection bill passes House - 02/24/16

 

 

July 11, 2016

 

New laws go into effect July 15

 

FRANKFORT -- New laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2016 regular session go into effect on July 15.

Among the over 90 new laws taking effect this week is legislation to allow Kentucky’s courts to permanently seal the criminal records of low-level felons. Legislation to create a permanent fund for Kentucky public employee pensions will also be in place. And child daycare centers will be able to receive their own prescriptions for EpiPen rescue injectors to treat life-threatening allergic reactions of children in their care.

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 that provides a framework for public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, to be used as an alternative financing method for major public projects took effect immediately after it was signed into law on April 8.)

The General Assembly’s 2016 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:

Autism. Senate Bill 185 made permanent the Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders (established in 2013) and the state Office of Autism (created in 2014). The bodies will continue to ensure there aren’t gaps in providing services to individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

Booking photos. Under House Bill 132, websites or publications that use jail booking photographs for profit could face stiff court-ordered damages. The new law makes it illegal to post booking photos to a website or include them in a publication, then require payment to remove them from public view. Damages start at $100 a day for each separate offense, along with attorney fees.

Child safety. House Bill 148 allows child daycare centers to receive prescriptions for EpiPen injectors to treat life-threatening allergic reactions while also giving parents more time to legally surrender their newborn under the state's safe harbor laws. The bill amended Kentucky's Safe Infants Act by giving parents up to 30 days to surrender their child at a state-approved safe place, instead of the previous standard of three days.

CPR in schools. Senate Bill 33 requires high school students be taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The life-saving measure would is to be taught as part of the students’ physical education or health class, or as part of ROTC training.

Distilleries and craft brewers. Senate Bill 11 modernizes the state’s 1930s-era alcohol regulations to aid new interest in bourbon, craft beer and small-farm wine products. Among other provisions, SB 11 allows malt beverages to be sold at festivals and drinking on quadricycles (better known as “party bikes”), and permits bed and breakfasts to sell liquor by the drink. It also raises limits for on-site sales at distilleries from three liters to nine liters.

Election regulations. Senate Bill 169, which became law without the governor's signature, changed several election-centered statutes. Among them, it directed county clerks to redact voters' Social Security numbers before allowing the public to review voter rolls, and loosened restrictions on electioneering from 300feet to 100 feet around polling sites. The law also expanded means of voter identification to include any county, state or federally issued ID.

Felony expungement. Under House Bill 40, Kentuckians convicted of low-level felonies can ask the court to permanently seal—or expunge—their records. The new law allows those convicted of Class D felonies, or those who were charged but not formally indicted, to seek expungement after they have completed their sentence or probation. Sex crimes and crimes against children would not be included in the law.

Harassing telecommunications. House Bill 162 includes electronic communication, if it’s done with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy or alarm another person, to current harassment statutes. Electronic harassment would be a Class B misdemeanor.

Helping the disabled. Designed to allow Kentuckians with disabilities to set up savings accounts for disability-related expenses, Senate Bill 179 allows them to save money in an ABLE account for those expenses without it being taxed, generally. It would also not count against Medicaid and other federal means-based benefits.

Informed consent law. The first bill delivered to the governor's desk was Senate Bill 4, which requires an in-person or real-time video conference between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider at least 24 hours before the procedure.

Juvenile court transparency. Senate Bill 40 permits some family court judges to hold public hearings. The new law allows a handful of courts to hold the open hearings as a pilot project. Judges could volunteer their courts for the program, and close proceedings as necessary.

Local government. House Bill 189 makes it easier for local entities – like cities, police and fire departments – to share services. HB 189 sets procedures for amending interlocal agreements without the lengthy process of having to seek approval from the state Attorney General or the Department for Local Government.

Outdoor recreation. Zip lines and other outdoor recreation will be safer, as House Bill 38 became law. The new law directs the state to set standards for the use and operation of zip lines and canopy tours.

Pension oversight. House Bill 271 requires all state-administered retirement systems to report specific information on their members or members’ beneficiaries to the state Public Pension Oversight Board each fiscal year. The information is to be used by the board to plan for future expenses and recommend changes to keep the retirement systems solvent.

Permanent Fund. House Bill 238 creates the “permanent fund” for public pensions funded in the Executive Branch budget bill, or HB 303. It also sets out specific requirements for public pension system reporting, including the requirement that an actuarial audit be performed on the state-administered retirement systems once every five years.

Petroleum tanks. House Bill 187 extends the period of the Petroleum Storage Tank Environmental Assistance Fund to aid in the safe removal of old underground gas and oil tanks. The bill moved back the end date to participate in the program to 2021, from 2016, and the date to perform corrective actions from 2019 to 2024. It also extended a program for small operators by five years, to 2021.

Stopping dog fights. House Bill 428 makes it a felony to possess, breed, sell or otherwise handle dogs for the purpose of dog fighting. The bill also defines dog fighting, and allows people who intentionally own, possess, breed, train, sell or transfer dogs for dog fighting to be charged with first-degree cruelty to animals, a Class D felony. In effect, it makes it easier to prosecute perpetrators.

Water resource protection. House Bill 529 created the Kentucky Water Resources Board to research current water resources in the Commonwealth, identify new available resources and examine efficiencies, especially to support farming. The new 11-member board includes officials from state interior and agriculture departments along with six gubernatorial appointees.

 

--END--

 

July 8, 2016

 

Lawmakers discuss pros and cons of medical marijuana

 

FRANKFORT – A state legislative committee met today to discuss liberalizing marijuana laws for medical purposes.

“We have been literally overwhelmed with correspondence and people wanting to testify before this committee today,” said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who chaired the meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations.

He said he asked that the subject of medical marijuana be placed on the agenda after several bills concerning marijuana were assigned to the Senate Standing Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations during the final weeks of the 2016 General Assembly.

“At that time I made a commitment to the people both supporting and opposed to the legislation that we would have extensive hearings during the interim to learn more,” Schickel said. “It is really relevant legislation for our times. We have states all around us that are dealing with it also.”

Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville, testified about last session’s Senate Bill 263, which would have legalized medical cannabis.

“Where they’ve passed medical cannabis laws none of the cataclysmic predictions have materialized in any form,” he said.

Clark was followed by testimony from Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, who introduced Senate Bill 304 last session. SB 304 sought to legalize medical marijuana for palliative or hospice care.

“If you have eight months to live and something makes you comfortable … why wouldn’t we allow it?” he said. “We prescribe morphine and fentanyl to these same patients – literally drugs that are killing people in Kentucky.”

Dr. Gregory Barnes of the University of Louisville testified about his research into the effectiveness of cannabidiol, known as CBD, in epilepsy.

“It might not only represent a compound that is anti-seizer in character but also a compound that improves behaviors and cognition,” said Barnes. “I think that is a very important point for the committee to understand.”

Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, spoke about using cannabis to treat his multiple sclerosis.

“We believe conservatively that this can help over 100,000 Kentucky patients,” he said. “It would create economic growth, and it would potentially get rid of the black market we have today.”

Dr. Danesh Mazloomdoost, a Lexington pain management specialist, cautioned legislators about the dangers of hastily passing medical marijuana legislation.

“We can sensationalize the failures of conventional medicines as a rationale for legalization,” he said, adding marijuana isn’t a fix for these failures.

He said while some, like Montalvo, might find relief from marijuana their stories are not representative of the average medical marijuana recipient.

Kentucky Narcotic Officers’ Association (KNOA) President Micky Hatmaker said 25 other states have expanded access to cannabis for medical purposes either by ballot referendum or legislative intent.

“That is contrary to the process by which all other drugs have been tested and approved,” he said. “All drugs intended for human consumption are required to have been tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Hatmaker said the concept of cannabis as medicine began in California in 1996 when they allowed access to cannabis, either smoked or ingested, to treat terminally ill patients and those who suffered from debilitating diseases.

“In spite of the best intentions of these 25 states, raw marijuana either smoked or ingested is not medicine and has never been passed through the rigorous DA approval process to ensure the health and safety of patients,” he said. “The KNOA believes that medications, including marijuana-based drugs, should go through the scientific process, and should be accessed through legitimate physicians.”

-- END --

 

July 6, 2016

 

 

Kentucky hemp has growing market potential, panel told

 

FRANKFORT—More than half of Kentucky’s industrial hemp crop this year can be traced to nineteen counties, 58 farmers and one company in Winchester.

With 23,000 pounds of imported hemp seed destined for 2,466 acres, Atalo Holdings is a superpower in hemp production and processing in Kentucky. Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP) Executive Director Warren Beeler told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee today that the company’s hemp contracts this year cover over half the 4,500 acres planted statewide.

“And so we’re intrigued by what they’re getting done,” said Beeler, sharing news that pleased committee co-chair Sen. C.B. Embry, R-Morgantown.

“Very good, I think it shows hemp is moving,” said Embry.

Atalo got its start with $492,000 in state funds culled from a 16-year-old settlement between the state and cigarette manufacturers after Kentucky made state-sponsored research legal in 2013, said Beeler. It was the first project to receive state tobacco settlement dollars for a hemp-related project, the GOAP reported last year, and it is currently processing its product from last year into protein powder and other legal hemp products.

Other hemp operations are also at work across the Commonwealth. Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, said a farmer in his district is growing 20 acres of hemp under black plastic with drip irrigation. Beeler said most hemp grown that way is used for cannabidiol or CBD, a lucrative hemp compound believed to have medicinal benefits.  Kentucky passed a law in 2014 that excludes CBD oil from the definition of marijuana—which is illegal in Kentucky—for certain epileptic patients.

And CBD oil is only one product in today’s hemp market. How large the hemp market is, Beeler said, remains to be seen. 

“How big is the market? We don’t know that,” Beeler said, telling the committee he hopes hemp production can eventually replace lost tobacco income. “We went from 33 acres (of industrial hemp initially)… to somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 to 5,000 this year, and I don’t think anybody much is raising this stuff who doesn’t have a contract or place to get rid of it.”

“Who knows where we might be in 20 years?” he later added.

For now, hemp production in Kentucky remains state-sanctioned. Those who grow hemp here must have the government’s permission to do so, and every crop must be able to be located by GPS and be tested. Beeler said those requirements are absolutes.

“And then, maybe from that point on, we can get out of the way and let it be a crop,” he said.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, said marketing hemp likely isn’t all that different from marketing tobacco. A contract, price sheet and delivery is key to the process, he explained.

“This thing about tobacco is you know if you’ve got a contract, you had a price sheet that went along with that contract. And if you grow what that price sheet says you can sell it for that amount of money. So I think we need to get to a place, and hopefully we will soon, where the hemp folks understand that same thing,” said Stone.

-- END --

 

 

June 6, 2016

 

Humvee licensing debate rumbles into Frankfort

FRANKFORT – For sale: One owner, low mileage, no combat damage.

Classified ads selling surplus U.S. military Humvees are commonplace on the Internet since the Pentagon started auctioning the camo-covered, husky, troop-transporting High Mobility Multi­purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) to civilians in 2014.

Just because a civilian can legally buy a Humvee, however, doesn’t mean that person can legally drive it down a street in Kentucky. The Interim Joint Committee on Transportation met yesterday to debate the public policy issues of changing the law to allow Humvees on public roads.

Kentucky Department of Vehicle Regulation Commissioner John-Mark Hack testified that there had been recent inquiries from Humvee owners in Bourbon, Marion and Monroe counties about registering the demilitarized vehicles for road use. There is already an exception carved out for law enforcement.

Hack said reasons to be cautious about registering Humvees for road use include the fact that the military configuration of Humvees does not meet current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. He added that the original manufacturer is also not certifying the vehicles as road worthy.

Surrounding states that do not register Humvees for road use include Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia, Hack said. Tennessee does allow the registration and titling of Humvees on the condition that the original manufacturer’s identification number is replaced with a Tennessee vehicle identification number (VIN).

Kentucky Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing Assistant Director Godwin Onodu said Tennessee also requires some additional safety inspections by the state highway patrol.

Some lawmakers asked why anyone would want a Reagan-era, gas-guzzling Humvee that is hard to get repaired.

“It worries me that we are trying to get vehicles on the road that maybe cause problems for other vehicles,” said Committee Co-Chair Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville. “I think that we should keep that in mind if the application is made for them to be on the road.”

Humvee owner Louie Emmons, of Bourbon County, testified in support of allowing the vehicles on Kentucky roads.

“My dad served in Korea,” said Emmons, who purchased his Humvee for $6,750 at a government auction. “My uncle served in Vietnam. My two brothers served in Vietnam and one of them didn’t come back. I grew up in the ‘80s and these vehicles were very appealing to the sense of my patriotism.”

He said he wanted to own a part of history, adding it’s no different from a collector buying a military Jeep. While the military scrapped most Jeeps, Humvees are being sold to the highest bidder. Reports say most of the Humvees being sold are models from the ‘80s that likely have never been driven in the sands of the Middle East. Many have low miles.

Emmons called it ironic that Kentucky already licenses the heavier, civilian version of the Humvee, known as the Hummer H1. He also said a Humvee is narrower than most dually trucks on the road.

Co-chair Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, said he wouldn’t object to licensing a Humvee for the road, adding he sure wish he had one of the much beloved military Jeeps. He said the lack of modern safety features on a vintage military Jeep wouldn’t dissuade him from owning one.

“I see no problem in having a Humvee come up behind me, even if it is an off-road one, because I would rather tangle with a Humvee than a fully-loaded rock truck with bad brakes or a semi,” he said.

-- END --

 

June 29, 2016

 

Lawmakers identify child ID theft as a growing concern

FRANKFORT – A Kentucky father was reviewing his credit report when, out of curiosity, he decided to check his 10-year-old son’s credit history too. To the man’s surprise, his child had a credit score. Someone has stolen the kid’s personal information and wrecked his credit.

Incidents like that were cited by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, during their testimony yesterday before the Interim Joint Committee on Banking and Insurance. The two legislators urged their colleagues to pass a law that would allow parents to place a “security freeze” on their childrens’ credit reports. Such a move isn’t allowed under current laws.

“As policy makers and parents I think protecting our children is one of the most important things that we do here in Frankfort,” Overly said. “That certainly includes protecting childrens’ online identities and their credit profiles.”

She knew of a family whose two daughters’ identities were stolen after the family’s medical insurance had its data hacked.

“It is a real nightmare for a lot of families,” Overly said. She explained that a security freeze is designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing someone’s credit rating, thus preventing additional lines of credit from being opened.

In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than 17 million people, or about 7 percent of the nation, was the victim of a credit theft, Overly said. She added that a privately-funded report from 2012 that found children are 35 times more likely to have their credit stolen than an adult.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said that 25 other states already have laws similar to the one proposed in Kentucky.

“I think we are going to see more and more states align to protect our most vulnerable in our society,” he said, “and I think Kentucky needs to join that this upcoming year as well.”

After Rep. Ron Crimm, R-Louisville, asked at what age a child gets a Social Security number, Alvarado said the Social Security Administration advises new parents to request the number before they leave the hospital.

Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, expressed disappointment that similar legislation, known as Senate Bill 23 and House Bill 119, didn’t pass the General Assembly earlier this year.

“It seems so common sense and so logical,” he said. “It feels like we missed a real big opportunity … by not passing it.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan “Malano” Seum, R-Fairdale, asked if the Social Security numbering scheme was based, in part, on the year that it was issued.

Eric J. Ellman, of the credit bureau trade organization Consumer Data Industry Association, testified that the number was no longer related to the year it was issued. He said that change was “unfortunate.” He said credit bureaus use to use that additional information to detect fraud.

Committee Co-chair Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said that the proposed legislation is something legislators need to move when the next session starts on Jan. 3.

“I think we can all agree upon that,” he said.

-- END --

June 24, 2016

 

Lawmakers review veto of Kentucky's Real ID legislation

FRANKFORT – After the governor vetoed legislation earlier this year that would have created a new Kentucky driver's license to meet the tougher federal standards of the Real ID Act, a panel of lawmakers gathered this week to discuss a path forward.

The state will first ask federal officials for an extension to meet the tougher standards, Department of Vehicle Regulation Commissioner John-Mark Hack said during Thursday's meeting of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation. He added that Kentucky previously received an extension but that it expires on Oct. 10.

When Committee Co-Chair Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, asked the likelihood of another extension being granted, Hack said he was "pretty confident."

Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, asked what would happen if the extension wasn't granted. Hack said in that unlikely circumstance Kentuckians would need a passport to board a plane starting as early as January 2018. Keene said that would create a hardship for many residents because a passport can take weeks to receive and cost $135 with fees. That's almost $100 more than a driver's license would have cost under the legislation vetoed by the governor.

Had the governor not vetoed the legislation, known as Senate Bill 245, Kentucky would have joined 24 other states that are certified as Real ID compliant – including Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee. Instead, Kentucky remains one of 24 states operating under an extension that expires in October, including Illinois and Virginia. Missouri is considered to be noncompliant.

Combs said SB 245 was introduced by Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, who built a bipartisan coalition to get it passed so Kentucky wouldn't find itself in this spot.

 "I want to take just a moment to thank Sen. Harris for his work on that bill … because that was difficult to get through this session," she said. "He put a lot of time and effort in getting this done."

Hack defended the governor's veto to committee members.

"The governor believes the commonwealth needs additional time to better understand our current position relative to the demands of a fully unfunded federal mandate of REAL ID," Hack said. "He also believes that this 2005 federal initiative could, in fact, be substantively changed depending on the outcome of our federal elections in November."

Hack said Kentucky currently complies with many of the Real ID requirements and is addressing additional requirements.

"There are a number of requirements that Kentucky will request exceptions or workarounds which allow for meeting the spirit and real intent of the Real ID legislation without the extensive cost and inconvenience to the state's citizens," he said, adding Virginia and California have also asked for similar workarounds.

Some of the provisions of Real ID Hack objected to include forcing people with valid Kentucky driver's licenses to make an additional trip to their local driver's license office with verification of their Social Security numbers.

"There are several very costly provisions that go beyond the intent of the federal legislation and impose an unnecessary costly burden on the states," Hack said.

Combs asked Hack to report back in October on the status of the extension request. She said she wants to know if legislation needs to be introduced during next year’s regular session to help bring Kentucky in compliance.

-- END --

 

June 23, 2016

 

Legislative panel hears future plans for KY state park

FRANKFORT – The additional $18 million state legislators budgeted in April for Kentucky State Parks will pay to repair leaky roofs and faulty wiring – blamed for recent fires at two different lodges – but it isn’t enough to save the conference center at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. That building will be bulldozed after being condemned.

"Over the years the parks have become pretty run down," Kentucky Department of Parks Commissioner Donnie Holland said at yesterday's Interim Joint Committee on State Government. "This $18 million … is going to be a great help in helping refurbish a lot of the key issues in the parks. As a matter of fact, we have already seen some visitation increase due to just the publicity."

The department has launched a marketing campaigned named "Refreshing the Nation's Finest" to promote planned or completed improvements, Holland said. Those improvements include replacing concrete that was falling off the side of a lodge on park goers, repairing safety railings at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and painting lodges.

Insurance will pay for the damage caused by the two fires. A leaky roof caused an electrical fire at Greenbo Lake State Report Park lodge. Old and faulty wiring was blamed for the blaze at the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park lodge.

Holland, who was recently appointed to run the department, said he wants to "leverage" the positive news generated by the extra money to bring a "favorable image" back to the state parks.

Hollard said the increase in attendance could help pay for other repairs that have been put off to save money, referred to as deferred maintenance. The $18 million only covered 7.5 percent of the $240 million in deferred maintenance at state parks. Holland said the high cost of deferred maintenance wasn't unique to Kentucky. The National Park Service has $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance, he said.

"We are all kind of in the same boat, their boat is just bigger," he said in reference to the national parks. "I guess 30, 40, 50 years ago it was a lot of fun to build all these buildings. The time comes when you have to maintain them. That is kind of where we are all at across the country."

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, asked if the passage of House Bill 309, legalizing an alternative financing method called public-private partnerships (P3s), could provide the money to preserve the park system.

Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Legislative Liaison Phillip Brown testified that he was "very hopeful" P3s will be another tool to finance the repairs. He said he couldn't be specific about any P3s the parks department might consider because the governmental regulations for P3s were still being written.

Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, asked if there was any discussion, conversation or plan to shutter, close or sell any of the state parks. Holland said the state park system has never been profitable but it does have an economic impact of $889 million per year with $92 million going straight into the state treasury.

"That is significantly more than our losses, so the parks are worth having," he said. "We have not targeted any parks – at this point."

Holland said officials need time to evaluate the newly launched marketing campaign and wait for the P3s regulations to be finalized before considering anything as "severe" as eliminating a park.

Combs and Overly, who both sponsored HB 309, each said they hope P3s will help secure the future of the park system.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, complimented Holland on managing the park system on a tight budget.

"I think you got the eye on the ball,” Yonts said. “I think you are counting pennies and you are going to make them stretch as far as they can.”

Pinching pennies will not replace the condemned conference center. Holland said he just doesn’t have the $6 million it would cost to rebuild it.

--END--

 

June 16, 2016

 

 

Workforce investment update run by legislative panel

 

FRANKFORT—Lawmakers today received a rundown of a newly created $100 million workforce development bond pool and a $15 million dual credit scholarship program from Kentucky workforce development officials.

 

Department of Workforce Investment Commissioner Beth Kuhn and Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Chief of Staff Andy Hightower told the Interim Joint Committee on Labor and Industry that the pre-application process for the bond pool, funded by lawmakers in the 2016 legislative session, will be announced in a few weeks. The dual credit program, announced by Governor Matt Bevin and Education and Workforce Development Secretary Hal Heiner early this month, will be funded beginning next school year.

 

The bond pool—which Heiner has called “the one shiny ornament on the Christmas tree”—will be used to fund construction, renovation, equipment purchases and first-year marketing for industry/education workforce training partnerships across the state, said Hightower. He said the state plans to roll out the program in accordance with 2016 House Bill 626, the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program bill vetoed by the governor this spring.  

 

“It’s our intention to take the direction that the General Assembly put forward in HB 626 and put that into action as soon as possible,” said Hightower.

 

It will be a few more weeks before the pre-application process for funding is unveiled by the state, he said, with a long-form application process to follow.

 

What is already in place, Hightower assured lawmakers, is the objective of the bond fund: to build workforce partnerships that leverage every available workforce investment dollar and follow the directives of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.  The 2014 federal law is designed to help the unemployed succeed in the job market and match employers with skilled workers they need.

 

“The idea is that we can train students by the day and adults by night,” said Hightower. “The demand is strong … from students and the demand from employers both. It will provide a real opportunity where employers can say ‘This is what we need.’”

 

Rep. Larry Clark, D-Okolona, said he believes employers should be able to furnish their own equipment for employee training. The longtime and current member of the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, which advises the governor on workforce development issues, encouraged the Cabinet to give employers some “skin in the game.”

 

“Maybe the smaller employers can’t do it, but some of our larger employers—they have the capacity to help us leverage that money,” said Clark.

 

Hightower also gave a detailed explanation of the dual credit scholarship program. Announced by the governor and Secretary Heiner at Russell County High School on June 1, the program will provide $7.5 million in each of the next two school years to provide dual credit scholarships for every high school senior in the state, Hightower told the committee. Students will be able to take up to two dual credit courses at no cost to them, according recent news reports on the program.

 

Dual credit allows high school students to earn both college and high school credit by successfully completing approved coursework. And, while dual credit courses have been offered in Kentucky for decades, Hightower said the goal of this new program is to eventually make dual credit a requirement for high school graduation in Kentucky.

 

 “But we need to make sure we can get the system in place before we can move in that direction,” he said.

 

Tuition costs under the program will be capped at around $154 per dual credit course—or 33 percent of the cost of a course at Kentucky Community and Technical College System—with funding awarded based on a student’s “successful completion” of coursework, said Hightower. Any unused funds will be distributed among those schools that have had the most success with their dual credit programs, he said.

 

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said he sponsored legislation in 2015 that would have allowed high school juniors and seniors to use their KEES (Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship) fund to pay for dual credit courses. He asked Hightower if the Bevin administration would support that idea.

 

“There’s KEES money sitting out there a lot of kids don’t end up using because they don’t even go to (college),” he added.

 

Hightower said dual credit expansion is a “top priority” of the administration and “we would be very open to a conversation about all of the scholarship funding that’s available in Kentucky and how it might best be applied.”

 

Clark said he has talked with the administration about possibly using some KEES money for work apprenticeship programs. He said talks have been positive and “I think that’s going to happen hopefully in the next session.”

 

The committee also received a briefing on Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN. That policy, passed by Congress in 1988, requires certain employers who plan to lay off 50 or more workers to give those workers at least 60 days’ notice. Other employers anticipating layoffs or closings are also encouraged to notify the state, regardless of how many employees will be affected, said Kuhn.

 

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, asked the Cabinet if it would support even stricter rules for employee layoff notification. He mentioned sudden layoffs at a Ryan’s restaurant in his area in the discussion.

 

“(Employees) just came in one day and were told they were closing that evening,” said Nelson.

 

Kuhn said she would be agreeable to discussing whether the process could be fine-tuned. “We’re always happy to have conversations about improving the services that we provide,” she said.

 

--END--

 

May 12, 2016

 

KY legislative panel votes on issues to be studied

FRANKFORT – A bipartisan committee of state legislators empowered to review the operations of state agencies and programs met today to elect new co-chairs and vote on topics to study during the remainder of the year.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, and Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, were elected as co-chairs of the 16-member group, known as the Program Review & Investigations Committee.

Their elections were followed by a selection of topics to be studied during the interim, the period of time between sessions of the legislature.

“The best, fairest way, that I could come up with to do this … is allow each caucus to choose a topic rather than getting into a controversy, discussion, hard feelings,” said Carroll. “I think that is the fairest way.”

The Senate Republicans asked that the defunct Kentucky Health Cooperative be studied while the Senate Democrats asked for a study of county jails that hold state prisoners.

House Democrats asked for the committee to analyze the practices, procedures, administrative regulations and state laws related to foster care and adoption in accordance with House Resolution 282. House Republicans asked for an examination of possible abuses of the farmland tax break.

Mills said the committee reduced the number of issues to study this year by two in an attempt to stay focused on relevant topics. Reports are expected to be published on each of the four issues by the end of the year. That way legislation to address any problems uncovered could be introduced during the 2017 General Assembly.

Carroll said the committee will remain flexible by looking at additional issues as they arise. 

“Just to make it clear, there will be other topics that we will address,” Carroll said. “We will hear other testimony on other topics that we will choose from month to month. That will depend when reports are ready to be presented and how much time that we have. We do plan to cover a wide array of topics that are pertinent in this day and time during the interim.”

 

-- END --

 

April 15, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

April 15, 2016

 

FRANKFORT -- You were probably asleep when the biggest news of the week broke in Frankfort.

Though Capitol observers across the state had kept an eye on Frankfort news for days, awaiting a deal among lawmakers on the state’s next two-year budget, most people had long turned in for the night before that agreement was finally achieved around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday morning.

An impromptu, middle-of-the-night press conference that legislators held for a small group of reporters in the Capitol Annex was live-streamed online. A pair of live-streams of the event drew a grand total of 15 online viewers at that lonely hour of the night.

But as the sun rose on our commonwealth a few hours later, thousands of Kentuckians awoke to newscasts declaring that the budget impasse had been broken. Legislative leaders were quoted as predicting – accurately, as it turned out – that the compromise spending plan would pass the Senate and House before the 2016 legislative session adjourned the next day.

The news signaled some long-awaited certainty for a budget plan that had taken a winding journey. In its earliest incarnation, the proposal was unveiled in January as the governor’s spending proposal. Since then, both the House and Senate each approved their own versions of the spending plan.

But until this week’s compromise was achieved, no one could say for certain whether a plan could muster the support to pass into law, whether a partial government shutdown was on the horizon, or whether lawmakers might be called back into a special session at a later date to continue budget negotiations. Much uncertainty has been laid to rest.

The budget plan that lawmakers agreed to and officially approved in the Senate and House before adjourning the 2016 legislative session on Friday night represents a mixture of Senate and House priorities and compromises where the chambers met in the middle so that a budget could pass into law.

The approved budget can generally be described as one in which savings were sought wherever possible so that more money could go toward shoring up the state’s troubled public pension systems. In total, $1.284 billion in new funding is going toward pensions.

The 9 percent budget cuts the governor proposed for significant parts of the Executive Branch remain in the final version of the budget, though some keys areas – including the basic school-funding formula and Medicaid – are shielded from those cuts.

One of the biggest areas of focus in budget negotiations concerned postsecondary funding. The version of the budget plan proposed by the governor and the version passed by the Senate in March both proposed 9 percent cuts for public colleges and universities. The House plan, passed last month, called for no cuts. In the end, both chambers agreed upon a plan with a 4.5 percent reduction in spending for postsecondary schools, not including the state’s smallest public university, Kentucky State University, which was shielded from cuts.

Another highlight of the budget plan: Although coal counties typically have 50 percent of coal severance tax money returned to them, that percentage will go up to 60 percent over the next two years.

The budget was approved Friday evening on a 38-0 vote in the Senate. Later in the evening, the House gave its approval to the plan with a 98-1 vote. Shortly after, gavel strikes in the Senate and House officially brought the General Assembly’s 2016 session to a close just before midnight.

It’s possible that the budget might still see some more action in the days ahead, though. The state constitution gives the governor 10 days, not including Sundays, to issue vetoes. If he vetoes parts of the budget, lawmakers will not have the option of voting to override the vetoes since the legislative session has ended.

In addition to the budget, scores of other bills and resolutions were approved in this year’s session. Restoration of voting rights for some felons, informed consent measures that will require face-to-face meetings or real-time videoconference consultations with a medical professional for women seeking abortions, and an effort to crack down on drunken driving are among the pieces of legislation that will soon be added to the law books. Under the constitution, most bills – all that don’t contain emergency clauses or specify different effective dates – go into effect 90 days after a legislative session ends. That means mid-July is when a new batch of laws will starting having an impact on citizens across the state.

Until then, lawmakers are eager to hear feedback on this year’s session and receive input on which issues constituents still want to see tackled. You can share your thoughts with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

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

--END--

 

April 15, 2016

 

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2016 session ends

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2016 regular session ended shortly before midnight, capping off a session in which lawmakers approved the state’s next two-year budget and numerous other measures that will impact people throughout the state.

Most new laws – those that come from legislation that don’t contain emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in mid-July.

A partial list of bills approved this year by the General Assembly include measures on the following topics:

Autism. Senate Bill 185 made permanent the Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders (established in 2013) and the state Office of Autism (created in 2014). The bodies will continue to ensure there aren’t gaps in providing services to individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

Booking photos. Under House Bill 132, websites or publications that use jail booking photographs for profit could face stiff court-ordered damages. The new law makes it illegal to post booking photos to a website or include them in a publication, then require payment to remove them from public view. Damages start at $100 a day for each separate offense, along with attorney fees.

Budget. House Bill 303 will guide $21 billion worth of state spending over the next two fiscal years. The two-year state budget plan is aimed at creating savings in many areas and using more revenue to shore up public pension systems. The budget will pour $1.28 billion into the state pension systems and make no cuts to K-12 education while authorizing the governor’s plan to cut most state agency funding by nine percent over the biennium. State spending will decrease by 4.5 percent for most public colleges and universities.

Chemical munitions disposal. House Bill 106 addresses the acute and chronic health effects of exposure to compounds used in chemical munitions. It requires that after the compounds in the weapons are treated to Energy and Environment standards, the byproducts be reclassified to ensure proper management and disposal.

Children locked in cars. Senate Bill 16 protects prospective rescuers from being sued for any property damage caused in pursuit of saving the life of a child left in a locked vehicle.

Child safety. House Bill 148 allows child daycare centers to receive prescriptions for EpiPen injectors to treat life-threatening allergic reactions while also giving parents more time to legally surrender their newborn under the state's safe harbor laws. The bill amended Kentucky's Safe Infants Act by giving parents up to 30 days to surrender their child at a state-approved safe place, instead of the previous standard of three days.

CPR in schools. Senate Bill 33 requires high school students be taught cardiopulmonary resuscitation, taught by an emergency medical professional. The life-saving measure would is to be taught as part of the students’ physical education or health class, or as part of ROTC training.

Distilleries and craft brewers. Senate Bill 11 modernizes the state’s 1930s-era alcohol regulations to aid new interest in bourbon, craft beer and small-farm wine products. Among other provisions, SB 11 allows malt beverages to be sold at festivals and drinking on quadricycles (better known as “party bikes”), and permits bed and breakfasts to sell liquor by the drink. It also raises limits for on-site sales at distilleries from three liters to nine liters.

Drunken Driving. Senate Bill 56 will help increase felony convictions for DUI in Kentucky by allowing the courts to look at 10 years of prior convictions instead of five years. Kentucky law requires those convicted of a fourth offense DUI within five years to be charged with a felony. The clock for determining penalties for offenders is reset after five years under current law. Senate Bill 56 will extend that so-called “look-back” period to 10 years to allow more habitual offenders to face stiffer penalties like felony charges.

Election regulations. Senate Bill 169, which became law without the governor's signature, changed several election-centered statutes. Among them, it directed county clerks to redact voters' Social Security numbers before allowing the public to review voter rolls, and loosened restrictions on electioneering from 300feet to 11 feet around polling sites. The law also expanded means of voter identification to include any county, state or federally issued ID.

Felony expungement. Under House Bill 40, Kentuckians convicted of low-level felonies can ask the court to permanently seal—or expunge—their records. The new law allows those convicted of Class D felonies, or those who were charged but not formally indicted, to seek expungement after they have completed their sentence or probation. Sex crimes and crimes against children would not be included in the law.

Harassing telecommunications. House Bill 162 includes electronic communication, if it’s done with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy or alarm another person, to current harassment statutes. Electronic harassment would be a Class B misdemeanor.

Helping the disabled. Designed to allow Kentuckians with disabilities to set up savings accounts for disability-related expenses, Senate Bill 179 allows them to save money in an ABLE account for those expenses without it being taxed, generally. It would also not count against Medicaid and other federal means-based benefits.

Informed consent law. The first bill delivered to the governor's desk was Senate Bill 4, which requires an in-person or real-time video conference between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider at least 24 hours before the procedure.

Juvenile court transparency. Senate Bill 40 permits some family court judges to hold public hearings. The new law allows a handful of courts to hold the open hearings as a pilot project. Judges could volunteer their courts for the program, and close proceedings as necessary.

Local government. House Bill 189 makes it easier for local entities – like cities, police and fire departments – to share services. HB 189 sets procedures for amending interlocal agreements without the lengthy process of having to seek approval from the state Attorney General or the Department for Local Government.

Medicaid appeals. Senate Bill 20 gives medical providers access to independent appeals of denied Medicaid claims. Under the new law, the decision of the third-party reviewer could then be appealed to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, where the decision of an administrative hearing tribunal would be the last step before judicial review.

Noah’s Law. Senate Bill 193, also known as “Noah’s Law” for a 9-year-old Pike County boy, extends health insurance coverage to include expensive amino acid-based elemental formula, needed by some children with gastric disorders and food allergies.

Off-duty conceal and carry. House Bill 314 allows current and retired peace officers to carry concealed firearms at any location where current, on-duty officers can carry guns.

Outdoor recreation. Zip lines and other outdoor recreation will be safer, as House Bill 38 became law. The new law directs the state to set standards for the use and operation of zip lines and canopy tours.

Pension oversight. House Bill 271 requires all state-administered retirement systems to report specific information on their members or members’ beneficiaries to the state Public Pension Oversight Board each fiscal year. The information is to be used by the board to plan for future expenses and recommend changes to keep the retirement systems solvent.

Permanent Fund. House Bill 238 creates the “permanent fund” for public pensions funded in the Executive Branch budget bill, or HB 303. It also sets out specific requirements for public pension system reporting, including the requirement that an actuarial audit be performed on the state-administered retirement systems once every five years.

Petroleum tanks. House Bill 187 extends the period of the Petroleum Storage Tank Environmental Assistance Fund to aid in the safe removal of old underground gas and oil tanks. The bill moved back the end date to participate in the program to 2021, from 2016, and the date to perform corrective actions from 2019 to 2024. It also extended a program for small operators by five years, to 2021.

Public private partnerships. House Bill 309, which allows government and private entities to enter into public-private partnerships – known as P3s – to fund Kentucky’s major infrastructure needs. The new law provides a framework for P3s as an alternative financing method for major public projects, including transportation projects.

Sexual assault investigations. Aimed at eliminating a backlog of sexual assault examination kits, Senate Bill 63 establishes new policies and procedures for handling evidence. SB 63 requires police to pick up sexual assault kits from hospitals within five days’ notice, submit evidence to the state crime lab within 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests. The new law also requires the average completion date for kits tested not to exceed 90 days by July 2018 and 60 days by July 2020.

Stopping dog fights. House Bill 428 makes it a felony to possess, breed, sell or otherwise handle dogs for the purpose of dog fighting. The bill also defines dog fighting, and allows people who intentionally own, possess, breed, train, sell or transfer dogs for dog fighting to be charged with first-degree cruelty to animals, a Class D felony. In effect, it makes it easier to prosecute perpetrators.

Vulnerable victims. Senate Bill 60 creates a new section of KRS Chapter 501, defining an “offense against a vulnerable victim” and creating a mechanism for charging someone with the commission of an offense against a victim who is under the age of 14, has an intellectual disability, or is physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.

Water resource protection. House Bill 529 created the Kentucky Water Resources Board to research current water resources in the Commonwealth, identify new available resources and examine efficiencies, especially to support farming. The new 11-member board includes officials from state interior and agriculture departments along with six gubernatorial appointees.

--END--

 

April 15, 2016

 

State budget receives final passage

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky General Assembly has passed a $21 billion Executive Branch budget for the next two fiscal years that will pour $1.28 billion into the state pension systems and make no cuts to K-12 education while authorizing the governor’s plan to cut most state agency funding by nine percent over the biennium.

Lesser cuts were authorized by the spending plan, found in House Bill 303, to Kentucky’s constitutional offices including the Secretary of State’s Office, Office of Attorney General, State Treasurer’s Office, and the Auditor of Public Accounts along with a few other agencies including the Department of Agriculture and the Board of Elections. No cuts will be made to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs under HB 303.

The House gave final passage to HB 303 by a vote of 98-1. House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, said the measure is a “bipartisan, agreed-upon” Executive Branch spending plan and explained its provisions before the final vote.

Before the state Senate passed HB 303 by a 38-0 vote earlier in the evening, Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Christian McDaniel talked about how the spending plan came about.

“This is the result of a very intense conference committee that has met over the last several weeks,” said McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. “As we’ve talked throughout the course, the budget is the ultimate policy document of any agency. To that end, this reflects the policy, beliefs of both ends of this chamber.”

Most new money in HB 303 will go for state pension in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. Additionally, HB 303 includes an over $100 million bond for workforce development requested by the Governor Matt Bevin and includes a multi-million dollar “permanent fund” requested by the governor, although not as large a fund as he had hoped—the budget sets aside $125 million for the fund while the governor requested $500 million. That money will come from a surplus in the Kentucky public employee health insurance trust fund.

Funding for K-12 education will not be cut under HB 303, which protects funding to schools and gives the Department of Education up to $20 million in additional funds over the biennium as a necessary governmental expense if there are not enough per-pupil SEEK funds available. Public preschool will be made available to families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level as part of a pilot program, and $15 million in preschool funding will be set aside for grants to help develop full-day programs for children eligible for state child care assistance.

In the area of higher education, HB 303 authorizes lesser cuts of 4.5 percent over the biennium for state colleges and universities that faced the possibility of 9 percent cuts under the governor’s original proposal. A performance-based funding formula for state universities is also found in the bill that will require 5 percent of state university base funding to be gauged on an institution’s performance. Kentucky State University would be exempt from the performance-based model.

As for scholarships, HB 303 authorizes over $25 million to provide eligible recent Kentucky high school grads up to two years’ free tuition at public and private colleges and universities that offer associate degree programs. The scholarships will be awarded beginning this fall as part of the Kentucky Work Ready Scholarship Program created by HB 626, which received final passage in the House tonight by a vote of 90-9. Additionally, the bill supports higher education by including $10 million over the biennium for the Coal County College Completion Scholarship Program.

Lawmakers reached the compromise that led to passage of HB 303 during the Governor’s veto recess. The Governor vetoed six bills during the recess including the session’s revenue bill, or HB 423, and parts of the Judicial Branch budget found in HB 306.  The Judicial Branch budget veto removed two mandated expenditures from the over $800 billion budget bill that total around $25.5 million, including $23.5 million in fund transfers to the state’s General Fund.

The Governor explained the veto of the fund transfers by saying the transfers “go beyond the limit of what the Commonwealth should require from the Judicial Branch,” which was already slated to receive cuts of nine percent over the next biennium with the final passage of HB 306. Rand said HB 303 will restore funding for the Judicial Branch to the level requested by Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton.

The veto of HB 423 led lawmakers to move most of the tax credits and other contents of that revenue bill, which is used to balance the state budget, into HB 80, a measure that originally dealt with open records. HB 80 received final passage in the House by a vote of 88-10.

--END--

 

April 15, 2016

 

State budget proposal available for online viewing

FRANKFORT -- The state budget proposal that members of the Kentucky Senate and House plan to vote on later today can be viewed on the Kentucky Legislature Home Page.

The two-year spending plan can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/HB303-FCCR

In order to give citizens an opportunity to view the most recent version of the budget plan as early as possible, it was placed online today by the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) within minutes of being officially submitted as a report of the free conference committee responsible for budget negotiations.

Senate and House members serving on the free conference committee reached an agreement in budget negotiations early yesterday morning. Since then, LRC bill drafters have worked around the clock to incorporate lawmakers’ proposed changes into the spending plan so that the Senate and House can vote on it before the chambers adjourn today, the final day of the General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session.

--END--

 

April 14, 2016

 

Citations for high school grads prove popular

KY Legislative Research Commission mobilizes to fulfill requests

FRANKFORT – Nearly 90,000 high school seniors from across Kentucky are set to receive General Assembly citations for graduating this spring 

Legislative Research Commission staff cull the students’ names from high school rolls, print the citations and distribute them upon a legislator’s request. This year the LRC is on pace to match last year’s figure of issuing 88,579 citations to graduating seniors from public and private schools but the number has grown exponentially over the last two decades.

“There is a lot more involved than just stuffing envelopes,” LRC Project Center Supervisor Sally Everman said while describing how many LRC offices mobilize to fulfill the requests. “There are a lot of moving parts. It truly takes a team effort.”

Project Center employees recall when individual high schools faxed the LRC names of graduating seniors. Now the Education Department provides a master list of graduating seniors from the estimated 227,000 high school-aged children residing in Kentucky.

Augie Phillips said he received a citation when he graduated in 2011 from Western Hills High School in Franklin County.

“Receiving honorary citations … made me consider several things: that it was meaningful and a privilege to be graduating from high school; that as I go into the world I will serve as an ambassador for our state in my own way; and that I have representatives in the state legislature who care about my success,” he said.

Technical Writer Supervisor Roxanne Hurt said her team in the Citations Office is also intimately involved in the endeavor.

“We’ve got this down to a science,” she said of everyone involved at the LRC. “The biggest challenge is timing. Graduation season always comes on the heels of the legislative session.”

But Hurt said sloppiness isn’t acceptable while handling a task that requires a careful attention to details.

“I always try to remember a lot of these citations will end up in a frame on someone’s wall,” she said. “Accuracy and aesthetics count.”

-- END --

 

April 1, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

March 28-April 1

 

FRANKFORT—This weekend may mark opening day for baseball, but in the State Capitol the General Assembly is hoping to avoid going in to extra innings.

Already, lawmakers have worked long hours trying to reach a compromise on the state’s next two-year budget. That’s likely to continue in the days ahead as lawmakers strive to craft a spending plan that will be accepted by both the House and Senate.

With this week’s end, lawmakers have one legislative day left in the 2016 session before they reach the constitutional limit of 60 days and must adjourn. Under the constitution, the session cannot extend beyond April 15. If no spending plan is agreed upon by that time, lawmakers face the prospect of returning for a special session – which can only be called by the governor – to continue work on the next budget.

As the budget negotiations continued this past week, a number of other bills took steps forward in the legislative process. Among the measures passed, topics included:

Local government. The Senate passed House Bill 189 on Tuesday, which would make easier for local entities – like cities, police and fire departments – to share services. HB 189 sets procedures for amending interlocal agreements without the lengthy process of having to seek approval from the state Attorney General or the Department for Local Government. Under the bill, as long as the terms of the agreement are not being substantively changed, the parties can add new members without approval. The governor is now considering the bill.

Judicial transparency. Senate Bill 40 would allow some family court judges to hold public hearings. The bill, which the House passed on Tuesday, authorizes a handful of courts to hold the open hearings as a pilot project. Judges could volunteer their courts for the program, and close proceedings as necessary. After the House vote, it was delivered to the governor.

Restoring rights. Under House Bill 40, convicted felons would be able to clear some offenses off their records after serving their sentence. Five years after that sentence ends, they could then pay a fee and have the courts consider removing the offense from their record. Without a felony record, it could restore their voting rights. The bill, passed in the Senate on Tuesday and given final approval by the House on Friday, would not apply to perpetrators of violent or sex crimes. The bill will now be delivered to the governor.

Privacy. The House on Tuesday passed an amended House Bill 132, which seeks to end the practice of web sites or publications using jail booking photos for profit. The bill proposes stiff damages for posting images to a site or including them in a publication, then requiring payment to remove the photo from public view. Violators could be civilly prosecuted and be required to pay damages starting at $100 a day for each separate violation along with attorney fees. HB 132 is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Child safety. House Bill 148 would allow child day care centers to acquire prescriptions for EpiPens, auto-injected medication to prevent severely allergic people from going into anaphylactic shock. The bill, along with a Senate amendment extending provisions of the state’s safe harbor laws, received final passage in the House on Tuesday. The amendment gives parents up to 30 days – instead of the current three – to legally give up their newborn at a state-approved safe place if the parent feels they cannot keep the child. HB 148 is now with the governor.

Medicaid appeals. Senate Bill 20, which would give medical providers access to independent appeals of denied Medicaid claims, received final passage Monday in the House and was sent to the governor’s office. Per SB 20, the decision of the third-party reviewer could then be appealed to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, where the decision of an administrative hearing tribunal would be the last step before judicial review.

Veterans affairs. House Bill 487, passed by the Senate on Tuesday and sent to the governor, would require that at least two members of the Governor’s Advisory Board for Veterans Affairs be veterans recommended by the Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organizations of Kentucky. The governor currently appoints members of the seven-member board to three-year terms without such restrictions.

To stay atop of the legislative process, track the progress of bills, offer feedback to your lawmakers or merely to ask questions about your state government, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

-- END --

 

April 1, 2016

 

Senate approves bills on marriage forms, phones and transportation projects

FRANKFORT—The Senate, as one of its last actions before adjourning for a recess until April 12, approved marriage license legislation that authorizes the creation of a single form in which petitioners can identify themselves as a bride, a groom or simply as spouse. Current forms only have the former options.

The bill was given final consent by a 32-0 vote. It was later delivered to the governor’s office to await his signature.

Among other action Friday, the Senate passed House Bill 304, which provides roughly $2.3 billion per year for the state’s road funding plan and Transportation Cabinet operations, as well as aviation, rail and other transportation projects across the state. The bill’s high-profile facets include continuing the Adopt-a-Highway program, providing $125 million for road resurfacing projects, $500,000 for river port maintenance as well as 17 capital projects. HB304 also funds the debt load taken on from the projects. The Senate passed the bill by a 35-0 tally.

Under House Bill 585, which the Senate also passed Friday, prepaid mobile phone users would see higher prices to offset fees charged to their service providers. The bill would change methods for the state to collect 911 service fees. HB585 shifts the burden from the wireless provider to the consumer, who pays the fee at the time of buying prepaid minutes. The bill also establishes governmental oversight of the fee collection and how collected funds can be expended. If signed into law, HB585 would take effect on Jan. 1.

 

--END--

 

April 1, 2016

 

Felony expungement bill heading to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would allow those convicted of low-level felonies to ask the court to permanently seal—or expunge—their records is on its way to becoming law.

House Bill 40, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, received final passage today in the House by a vote of 84-13 and will now go to the governor for his signature. The bill includes provisions from Senate Bill 298 that were added to the bill by the Senate when it passed HB 40 by a vote of 33-5 on March 29.

“House Bill 40 is about redemption,” Owens said about HB 40 when it passed the House in January. “It’s about second chances.”

HB 40 would allow those convicted of a Class D felony under any of 61 specific criminal statutes, or who were charged but not formally indicted of a felony, to seek expungement of that conviction or charge five years after they have completed their sentences or probation. Those convicted of a sex crime, a crime against a child, or who have criminal proceedings or violations pending would not be eligible for expungement under the bill.

Courts would also have the discretion under the bill to expunge Class D felonies of those with previous Class D felony convictions unless the previous conviction was for a sex offense, a crime against a child, or if there is a criminal proceeding or violation pending against the individual. 

Kentucky law currently allows for expungement of misdemeanors and violations. Those are lesser crimes than felonies which include offenses like shoplifting, bad check writing, and driving on a suspended license.

--END--

 

March 29, 2016

 

General Assembly chambers to convene on Friday

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate and House will convene on Friday, April 1, under a change to the 2016 Regular Session Calendar agreed upon by legislative leaders today.

Before the change, lawmakers were scheduled to begin a ten-day veto recess tomorrow.

The Senate and House are now both scheduled to convene at noon on Friday for the 59th day of the 2016 legislative session. The specific timing of the 60th and final day of the session has yet to be determined on the revised calendar, but will be during the week of April 11.

The revised 2016 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/calendars/16RS_calendar.pdf.

--END--

 

March 29, 2016

 

Booking photo bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT—Web sites or publications that use jail booking photographs for profit could face stiff court-ordered damages under a bill that is on its way to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, was granted final passage by a 99-0 vote today in the House. The bill would make it illegal to post booking photos to a web site or include them in a publication, then require payment to remove the photos from public view, Watkins said.

Violators could be civilly prosecuted in state circuit court and be required to pay damages starting at $100 a day for each separate violation along with attorney fees, per the bill.

Language was added to the final bill that would allow those jailed on misdemeanor offenses to receive sentencing credit for earning a GED, a high school diploma, or for good behavior while incarcerated. Those provisions were part of a Senate amendment sponsored by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, that was approved by the Senate and agreed to by the House.

The Senate approved HB 132 as amended unanimously on March 24.

-END-

 

March 29, 2016

Child safety bill heading to governor’s office

FRANKFORT – A bill that would allow child day cares to receive prescriptions for EpiPen while also giving parents more time to legally surrender their newborn under the state’s safe harbor law has received final passage in the House.

The expanded safe harbor provisions were added to House Bill 148 by the Senate, which also retained the bill’s original provisions to allow day cares to receive prescriptions for EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat life-threatening allergies.

“This bill is for protection for our day cares. What we wanted to do is for the EpiPen to be available just in case there were to be an emergency situation,” said HB 148 sponsor Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville.

As for the safe harbor provisions, HB 148 would amend Kentucky’s Safe Infants Act by giving parents up to 30 days instead of the current three to legally give up their newborn at a state-approved safe place if the parent feels they cannot keep the child. Safe places include fire stations, hospitals, police stations and EMS personnel; places of worship would be added to the list under HB 148.

A bill with similar safe-harbor provisions passed the House by a vote of 92-0 in January. That bill, HB 97, was sponsored by House Health and Welfare Chair Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville.

Kentucky’s Safe Infants Act was named in honor of Burch when it was passed in 2002. 

HB 148 as amended passed the House by a vote of 99-0 and now goes to the governor for his signature.

--END--

 

March 29, 2016

 

Snow day waiver bill goes to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT—The General Assembly is sending legislation to the governor that would require the state to waive snow days that school districts are unable to make up. House Bill 111 received final passage on a vote in the House of 95-3.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, started as a measure to require public schools to post the state’s child abuse hotline number. It was amended to also include snow day provisions.

School districts impacted by snow or other school calendar-altering events are required to work with the state to meet all 1,062 required annual instructional hours, if at all possible, by June 5. If the district attempts to meet all required hours and cannot, the state would be obligated under HB 111 to waive any hours that remain.

House Education Committee Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said the snow day waiver provisions in HB 111 are the same as those approved by the Kentucky General Assembly in previous sessions.

“The bill is the exact same language that we have used for the past two years when we’ve added these snow days. The exact same language—nothing has changed,” Graham said when asked by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, how many snow days could be waived under the bill.

Koenig, one of the three members voting against HB 111, said state law requires scheduling of 177 instructional days but the snow day waivers let lawmakers “give away 10 days every single year on this floor.”

“At some point we need to reevaluate this entire system because we keep giving away 10 days every single year and our kids are getting shortchanged,” said Koenig.

Graham said many school districts today have procedures in place that require students to do school work from home on snow days.

“So it’s not like they’re home and out playing around. Many of them are at working from within their home to complete their assignments, and that’s becoming more and more commonplace around the Commonwealth,” said Graham.

HB 111 now goes to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.  

--END--

 

March 28, 2016

 

Medicaid appeals bill heading to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT – A bill that would give Kentucky’s medical providers a pathway to external, independent appeals of denied Medicaid managed-care claims is on its way to the governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would allow medical providers to receive an independent third-party review of claims denied by Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs). The decision of the third-party reviewer could then be appealed to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, where the decision of an administrative hearing tribunal would be the last step before judicial review.

The proposed review and appeals process would apply to all contracts or master agreements entered into or renews as of July 1, 2016, according to the bill.

Legislation similar to SB 20 was passed by the 2013 General Assembly and vetoed by former Governor Steve Beshear. Current law requires that appeals be made directly to the MCOs, which serve around 1.1 million Kentuckians.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who presented SB 20 for final passage in the House, said it “really gives the providers of medical services an independent evaluation and an independent appeal.”

SB 20, which passed the Senate earlier in the session by a vote of 37-0, cleared the House on a vote of 99-0. It is similar to HB 118, sponsored by Stumbo, which passed the House 92-0 early this session.

--END--

 

March 28, 2016

 

Sally Everman, Scott Payton announced as Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners

Awards honor nonpartisan service to General Assembly

FRANKFORT – A wordsmith and a supervisor of a legislative project center were both announced today as winners of Vic Hellard Jr. Awards. The awards, which honor nonpartisan Legislative Research Commission (LRC) staff members for exemplary service to the Kentucky General Assembly, are the highest accolades bestowed by the LRC.

The 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award, which honors a current LRC worker, will go to Sally Everman. In her work as a supervisor of the LRC Project Center, Everman is recognized as an irreplaceable link between legislators, LRC staff and citizens from around the Commonwealth. According to her nominating letter, “Sally is the bright spot in many people’s day at LRC with a long line of legislators, staff, lobbyists and executive branch agency personnel often stopping into her office just to say hi.”

The 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award, which honors a former LRC worker, will be presented to Scott Payton, whose long career at the LRC included a stint as the agency’s Public Information Officer from 1995 until 2005. During his tenure, Payton guided the modernization of LRC’s communications office and nurtured its growth into one of the most respected of its kind in the nation. Payton, who’s known as a gifted writer, also mentored many of today’s top state government communicators. As noted in his nominating letter, “He taught by example a commitment to nonpartisanship and the belief that we were doing worthwhile, inspirational work.”

Video of LRC Director David Byerman’s announcement of Everman and Payton and the Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners was streamed live online this morning. The video can be viewed here:  http://bit.ly/2015-16-HellardAward

“I think it’s easy to be cynical about government and the legislature until you really look closely at the fine men and women who serve the legislative process,” said David Byerman, Director of the Legislative Research Commission.  “Vic Hellard inspired so many LRC employees through his humor, his dedication, and his professionalism.  We are truly honored to continue his legacy by celebrating those who uphold those ideals.”

The 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards will be presented to the winners tomorrow at the State Capitol. Tomorrow’s event include a reception honoring all finalists and award presentations to the winners in the Senate and House chambers.

Bios of Everman and finalists for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award can be viewed here: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/2015HellardFinalists.pdf

Bios of Payton and finalists for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award can be viewed here: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/2016HellardFinalists.pdf

The LRC changed eligibility criteria for the Vic Hellard Jr. Awards last year to specifically honor nonpartisan legislative staff members, past and present. Although the 2015 and 2016 winners are both being honored simultaneously this year, the award will alternate in future years, recognizing a current staff member one year and a retired staff member the next.

The Vic Hellard Jr. Award was created in memory and recognition of longtime LRC Director Vic Hellard Jr., who was a champion of legislative independence and played an instrumental role in the modernization of the legislative institution and nonpartisan staffing. Serving nearly two decades at the helm of LRC, Vic was known not just for his contributions to an independent General Assembly, but also for his wit, appreciation of history, and his mentoring of hundreds of young people who now serve the people of the Commonwealth and carry on his legacy.

 

--END--

 

March 25, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

March 21-25

 

FRANKFORT—College basketball fans have been enjoying buzzer-beating basketball tournament finishes for the last two weeks, but the General Assembly may have one more “buzzer beater” for them as time dwindles for the 2016 regular session.

With only four legislative days remaining in the session, lawmakers made progress in getting Kentucky’s budgets passed this week. On Thursday, members from both the House and Senate were gathered at a conference table, trying to iron out the differences in their budget proposals before the scheduled veto recess begins on Tuesday.

This past Tuesday, the House tipped off its budget week with a proposed Road Plan that includes proposed road, bridge and other transportation projects totaling $4.58 billion. The House also passed legislation that would require new steps to fund the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System on an actuarially sound basis starting in 2017. Under provisions of House Bill 1, state employers would be required to pay additional contribution rates to fully fund the pension system. The Senate is now reviewing the bills.

A day later, on Wednesday, the Senate responded to the House’s executive branch budget proposal with its own amended version of House Bill 303.

Working from the House’s bill passed last week, the Senate reinstated many of the initiatives unveiled by the governor in January including a 9 percent reduction in spending on Kentucky’s colleges and universities. The Senate plan increased proposed funding for anti-heroin efforts, in comparison to the plan approved by the House, and also called for setting aside $250 million in a “permanent fund” for future pension fund payments.

While the conference committee works to find agreement in the budget that will ultimately land on the governor’s desk, other legislation made its way through both chambers with sponsors hoping for their “One Magic Moment.” Among topics considered were:

Restoring voting rights. On Monday, the Senate passed a bill that could give some felons a clearer path to regaining voting rights Senate Bill 299, if passed by lawmakers, would let voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly authority to establish a process for non-violent felons who have served their sentences to recover their voting rights. SB 299 is now awaiting House approval.

DUI offenders. The House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 56 on Wednesday, sending it back to the Senate for approval. SB56 would strengthen penalties for driving under the influence by making a fourth offense within 10 years a felony charge. Currently, a felony charge comes after a fourth offense in five years. The amended version passed by a 98-0 vote. The bill would take effect immediately with the governor’s signature. The Senate originally passed SB 56 in January, 35-1.

Enhanced ID cards. Senate Bill 245, which would bring Kentucky drivers’ licenses and other identity cards into compliance with the federal REAL ID initiative, was passed by a 26-12 Senate vote on Tuesday. Without compliant IDs, Kentuckians may have future trouble flying on commercial airlines or may face other restrictions after a federally mandated deadline passes. REAL IDs include more personal information and anti-counterfeit facets like barcoded information. So far, only 23 states have compliant IDs even though the original deadline was in January. The bill, which received a favorable vote from a House committee soon after the bill was delivered from the Senate, is now awaiting consideration of the full House.

Open records. House Bill 80, passed by the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday, seeks to narrow open records exemptions for private companies providing goods or services normally provided by government agencies. Under HB80, firms who derive at least 25 of their total revenue from governmental sources would have open records apply to it just as if it were a public agency. The bill awaits a vote by the full Senate.

First responders. Senate Bill 195, which would allow firefighters with certain types of lung or other cancer presumed to be tied to their employment to be eligible for lump-sum state death benefits, passed in the House on Monday. The bill, along with a similar bill providing benefits for emergency medical personnel killed in the line of duty, is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Parents’ rights. House Bill 129 would expand legal grounds for stripping parental rights in cases of abuse or murder – or the attempted abuse or murder – of a child. Those rights could also be terminated in cases of complicity in the death or injury of a child’s parent, step-parent guardian or custodian. The bill passed a House vote on Monday, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

To stay atop of the legislative process, track the progress of bills, offer feedback to your lawmakers or merely to ask questions about your state government, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181. 

-- END --

 

March 25, 2016

 

P3 bill goes to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow government and private entities to enter into different public-private partnerships to fund Kentucky’s major infrastructure needs has received final passage in the House.

House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, received final passage by an 86-8 vote and now goes to Governor Bevin for his signature. The bill would provide a framework for the use of public-private partnerships, or P3s, as an alternative financing method for major public projects, including transportation projects.

The bill would also specifically prohibit tolls for “any project involving the federal interstate highway system that connects the Commonwealth with the State of Ohio,” including the proposed $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project in Northern Kentucky.

When asked by Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, if HB 309 as amended by the Senate earlier this week would authorize tolls on projects in Northern Kentucky, Combs answered definitively.

“I assure you there were no changes made to actually any roadways…” said Combs. “So you rest assured, everything is safe. It will not be tolled.”

Combs said Senate changes to the bill, with which the House agreed, actually extended the prohibition of tolls in HB 309 to any highway including interstates connecting Kentucky to Ohio, “including but not limited to a bypass of a major metropolitan area.”

The final bill would also clarify that bidding of unsolicited P3 proposals received by state and local government agencies must be open and competitive, clarify language regarding use of P3s by colleges and universities, and allow the state Finance Cabinet to contract with an outside consultant to help with review of local P3 projects, along with a few other provisions.

P3 legislation did pass the Kentucky General Assembly in 2014, but was vetoed by former Gov. Steve Beshear. Provisions for non-transportation related public-private partnerships in existing law and the bill’s prohibition against entering into P3s with the state of Ohio without legislative scrutiny were given by Beshear as reasons for his veto. 

HB 309 passed the Senate 29-9 on Thursday. The bill was handled in the Senate by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who sponsored P3 legislation of his own this session. That bill was SB 132.

--END--

 

March 25, 2016

 

Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners to be announced in live streamed video on Monday

The 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award winners will be announced on a live video Monday, March 28, via the “Periscope” app and streaming on the Internet.

The Vic Hellard Jr. Award is the highest honor bestowed by Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission (LRC). The award’s namesake, Vic Hellard Jr., was executive director of the LRC staff for 19 years.

The LRC changed eligibility criteria for the award last year to specifically honor nonpartisan legislative staff members, past and present. Under the new structure, the award will alternate each year between current and past nonpartisan LRC staff members.

Of the six finalists announced earlier this month, three are in the running for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award, which recognizes current LRC workers for their distinguished service. The other three finalists are former LRC workers who are eligible for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award.

Photos and bios of finalists for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award can be viewed here.

Photos and bios of finalists for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award can be viewed here.

A media advisory will be distributed on Monday morning with details on how to view the live announcement of the award winners. A news release will also be distributed on Monday after the announcement with information about the winners.

--END--

 

March 24, 2016

 

P3 legislation receives Senate approval

FRANKFORT— The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would open possibilities for public-private partnership funding of needed projects and services in the state.

House Bill 309, passed by a 29-9 vote in the Senate, would provide the framework for the uses of public-private partnerships (also known as P3s) as an alternative financing tool.

“The bill creates a transparent process which state and local governments will follow,” said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, in support of the bill. “The primary benefit will be to position Kentucky as ‘open for business,’ especially as it relates to big-ticket infrastructure projects that state and local governments cannot afford without some private money during tight budget years.”

Wise pointed out that P3 deals are already part of the daily business in the state, but HB 309 sets up oversight for those deals including a provision that state P3 projects valued at more than $25 million will require approval by the General Assembly. The bill also establishes the Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board to review P3 deals with local governments.

The end result, Wise said, will be more projects being funded.

“Instead of communities coming to us as legislators with two hands out to secure funding for sewer and water projects, convention centers, amphitheaters, sports complexes or even revitalizing our own state parks,” he said, adding that with a P3 in place “they may come to us with only one hand out.”

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, was among the nine dissenting voters on the bill. After attempting to attach an amendment that would prohibit P3 partners from making political donations to its public partners until three years after the end of the partnership, Buford warned of the possibilities for corruption and small communities stuck in bad deals.

“Folks, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that could saddle the taxpayers of those small communities for the rest of their lives,” Buford said. “Be careful what you vote for. You might get it.”

Another facet of HB309 that drew attention was a provision that prohibits the authorization of tolls for any project involving the interstate highway system connecting Kentucky to the state of Ohio, a clear reference to Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge project.

P3 legislation passed in the 2014 General Assembly, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Steve Beshear. Presented again in last year’s session, it did not pass into law.

--END--

 

March 23, 2016

Senate approves its version of state budget plan

FRANKFORT—The Senate passed a state budget proposal on Wednesday that restores many of the governor’s priorities for the next two years, including a “permanent fund” for future pension spending, cuts to secondary education funding and performance-based appropriations for college and universities.

All in all, the Senate budget bill includes many of the cuts featured in the Gov. Matt Bevin’s January budget proposal, many of which didn’t survive the House budget plan passed last week.

Still, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, the Senate budget committee’s chairman, said it was a balanced effort. Not all the governor’s cuts were preserved.

“The thing I’d say I’m most proud of is that this budget is structurally balanced,” he said. “We do adopt many of the governor’s recommendations for the budget stabilization plan throughout the course of this bill, but we take monstrous steps – historic steps – on maintaining stability and introducing responsibility in addressing the most pressing problem facing us.”

That, he said, is the state pension program challenge, which has unfunded liabilities of more than $31 billion. To start reducing that figure, the Senate budget reinstituted many the governor’s cuts, including a 9 percent reduction in funding for Kentucky colleges and universities.

The budget also resuscitated the governor’s proposal to switch that funding to a performance-based model, with a quarter of the state funding to be based on student retention, graduation rates and other metrics.

The Senate removed from the spending plan a proposal from the House to establish a Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program, which would make tuition free for high school graduates who enroll in the state's community colleges. The House budget funded scholarships to the tune of $13 million for the 2017 fiscal year and almost $20 million the following year.

That was cut from the Senate budget, along with funding earmarked for specific projects like school renovations, the Lexington Convention Center and help for areas hit hard by a drop in the coal industry.

The Senate budget passed with only two dissenting votes, while nine Senators passed on the bill.

Sen. Denise Harper-Angel, D-Louisville, said she had reservations about cuts made by the budget, including $1.5 million to Court Appointed Children’s Advocates (CASA) programs, $15 million that was to renovate the Kentucky School for the Blind and $1 million a year to promote breast and cervical cancer screening for women.

“I believe these cuts will adversely affect women, children, families and the disabled. For these reasons and more, I pass,” said Harper-Angel, before offering that she hopes the final budget will offer “better choices.”

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, one of two dissenting votes, admitted he was torn. He likes the effort to control the pension problem, but was disappointed in the removal of aide for stricken coal-producing areas.

“I cannot go home this weekend without casting a vote to help bring some reasoning back into this discussion,” he said.

The proposed budget did, however, include some spending not in the House budget, including $32 million in Justice Cabinet funding to fight heroin abuse – the House had reduced it to $20 million – and setting aside $250 million in the “permanent fund” for future pension fund payments. Gov. Bevin’s budget wanted the fund to include $500 million, while the House budget proposed using that money immediately on other expenditures.

The budget is soon expected to land in a conference committee so that Senate and House members can iron out their differences in each of their preferred spending plans.

--END--

 

March 23, 2016

 

Bill to crack down on habitual DUI offenders returns to Senate

 

FRANKFORT— A bill that could increase felony convictions for DUI in Kentucky by allowing the courts to “look back” at 10 years of prior convictions instead of five years has cleared the House.

 

Kentucky law requires those convicted of a fourth offense DUI within five years to be charged with a felony. The clock for determining penalties for offenders is reset after five years under current law. Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, would extend that so-called “look-back” period to 10 years to allow more habitual offenders to face stiffer penalties like felony charges.

 

The bill was amended by the House to fix what the bill’s House floor sponsor Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, called a technical error, then was passed by the House unanimously 98-0. The measure now returns to the Senate, where it had passed in January on a 35-1 vote, for the Senate to consider the change made to the bill by the House. Because SB 56 contains an emergency clause, it would take effect immediately if it becomes law.

 

Flood said 31 states currently have a DUI look-back period of at least 10 years. Four states, she said, have a lifetime look-back period for DUI.

 

The bill was filed by Parrett in honor of Elizabethtown High School graduate Brianna Taylor who was killed by a drunk driver in 2014 at age 17. Members of the House casting their votes on the bill spoke of how DUI has also impacted their lives, naming friends or family they know who have been injured or killed by drunk drivers.

 

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said the timing of the debate on SB 56 coincided with the moment one year ago when his friend, Lexington attorney Mark Hinkel, 57, was hit and killed by an alleged drunk driver as Hinkel participated in a Central Kentucky bike race.

 

Hinkel’s alleged killer had up to nine previous DUI offenses—most occurring in the five years before Hinkel’s death, according to news reports on the case.

 

“Mark Hinkel was my friend, so I use him as an example. But there are many, many Mark Hinkels out there,” said Benvenuti. “They’re your friends, they’re your neighbors, they’re your family members.

  

--END--

 

March 22, 2016

 

Proposed Road Plan, Transportation budget goes to Senate

FRANKFORT— State road and bridge projects totaling $4.58 billion is proposed in the 2016-2018 state Road Plan approved today by the Kentucky House.

House Bill 305, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, would also reduce what budget experts called “over programming” -- or projects included over budget -- in the proposed state highway plan from $1.63 billion as proposed by the Executive Branch to $797 million as the proposed House plan.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 56-40.

House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation Chair Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, described the Road Plan as austere, impacted by a decrease in state Road Fund revenue in recent years.

“The Road Fund has suffered (since 2014) an annual loss of approximately $201.5 million per year. Of that total… $97 million is lost revenue that we would have revenue-shared back with our struggling local governments. And $104.4 million of that would have gone directly into the state (road) construction account which we could have used…on projects in this plan,” said Combs.

The projects in HB 305 would be paid for through the Transportation Cabinet budget found in HB 304, also sponsored by Rand, which passed the House by a vote of 60-38. That bill would also fund administration and operation of the state Transportation Cabinet, state aviation projects, rail projects and other transportation needs across the state.

Some of those voting against the proposed Road Plan questioned why certain projects were excluded from the document. One of those lawmakers was Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, who was told by Combs that the proposed plan omits road improvements leading to the planned Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County because there aren’t “enough available dollars.”

“We can say it’s because (there’s) no money but… at some point, we really need to stop worrying about who’s in control of the House and start recognizing who’s in control of the universe,” said Linder.

State law requires the General Assembly to adopt the last four years of the six-year road plan—which includes the first two years of funded projects found in HB 305—as a joint resolution that has the force of law but is not included in the statutes. That legislation, House Joint Resolution 91, also sponsored by Rand, passed by a vote of 52-43.

Both bills and the resolution now go to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

March 22, 2016

 

KTRS pension bill clears House, heads to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would require the state to fund the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System on an actuarially sound basis starting in fiscal year 2017 is on its way to the Senate.

 

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would require state employers to pay 100 percent of the additional contribution rate needed to fund the KTRS pension fund to keep the fund fiscally sound. Stumbo said the bill will help protect the state’s bond rating—which he said has been hurt by underfunding of the pension system—by sending a message to the bond rating agencies.

 

“We can make a statement as to what our goal is,” he said, with that goal being to fund KTRS to the full actuarially required contribution, or ARC. “I believe that … it will improve our bond rating and thus in the long run cost us less money,” said Stumbo.

 

Over $1 billion to fully fund the KTRS ARC over the next biennium without any bonding is included in the House state budget plan found in HB 303 as passed by the House last week. That bill is now in before the Senate for its consideration.

 

Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, attempted to amend the bill with provisions that would have phased in the KTRS ARC over four years. That plan would have used around $600 million provided in the budget as proposed by Governor Matt Bevin to fund the ARC over the next biennium and around $313 million total over the following two fiscal years to fully fund the ARC over four years.

 

“A four-year phase-in is an acceptable phase-in by all accounts,” said Montell. “We’re preparing every year to be able to better meet the requirements so that in four years we’re fully funding … with recurring revenue.”

 

Stumbo spoke against the amendment, saying it would “kick the can down the road” for funding of teachers’ retirement.

 

“The truth of the matter is, it’s up to the next General Assembly to find those dollars,” said Stumbo. “Here’s what it means… it means that we would appropriate $487 million less in fiscal year 2017 and $457 million less in fiscal year 2018 than what the system needs.”

 

The amendment was defeated on a vote of 44-53.

 

HB 1 was approved by the House on a vote of 86-11 and goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

--END--

 

March 22, 2016

 

Senate approves REAL ID legislation 

FRANKFORT—The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would bring Kentucky’s state ID program into compliance with a federal standard that has a fast-approaching deadline. Senate Bill 245, passed by a 26-12 vote, would make REAL ID-compliant state-issued identification available to Kentuckians. 

REAL ID is a federal program adopted in 2005 that would come close to establishing a national proof-of-identity program. The Homeland Security program set minimum standards for new, voluntary “enhanced” photo ID cards to include more personal information and anti-counterfeit facets. Participating states are also required to store photos and information, where it could be accessed by law enforcement or other governmental agencies with the proper authorization.

So far, only 23 states have complied with the act, and enforcement has been delayed. Kentucky is one of 27 states to receive an extension as it works to gain compliance.

Initially, the security provisions of REAL ID were to take effect in January. Though access to high-security facilities like military bases and nuclear power plants has already been limited to those without the new ID, other restrictions are still a few years away.

By 2018, flyers from states that are not REAL ID compliant nor have an extension – or those individuals who do not choose to obtain an enhanced ID – will need a second form of identification to fly domestically. By 2020, all flyers will require enhanced identification.

Sponsor Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, reviewed the provisions of SB 245, though he said he felt it was hardly needed for a bill that was so well-hashed.

“This is a bill that’s been out there. It’s been discussed for a while,” he said.

Aside from adding the new IDs, SB 245 would also set new procedures for issuing licenses, reaffirming the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet as the issuing body, and would change renewal periods. Kentuckians would only have to renew their licenses every eight years, instead of the current four-year requirement.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, lodged one of the votes against SB 245, calling it “a reach.”

“It’s not exactly protecting my security,” she said, but the federal requirement of enhanced IDs “certainly will adversely affect my right to travel, so I vote no.”

The bill is now on its way for consideration in the House.

--END--

 

March 22, 2016

 

Senate committee approves open records measure

FRANKFORT— A bill aimed at increasing governmental transparency passed favorably out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday.

House Bill 80, which has already gotten two readings before the full Senate, narrows open records exemptions for private firms providing public services. The bill would require entities offering services traditionally performed by government agencies and receiving at least a quarter of their revenue from taxpayers adhere to the same open records laws as their government counterparts.

Sponsor Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, was joined by Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson testifying in support of HB80. According to Harris, the genesis of the bill was a much-litigated case from his home county.

Utility Management Group, based in Pikeville, operates water and sewer services for the publicly owned Mountain Water District in Pike County. Its revenue is derived from public funds. In 2011, after critical state audit of the water district, local fiscal court officials and media members filed open records requests to review how taxpayer money was being spent to manage the district. UMG denied the requests, leading to a protracted court battle.

The State Court of Appeals ultimately ruled last summer that the company was required to follow Kentucky open records laws.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown – who serves on the committee – indicated the Senate will likely move quickly to pass the bill. HB80 passed the House by a 92-0 vote on Feb. 1.

--END--

 

March 22, 2016

 

Proposed Road Plan, Transportation budget pass House budget panel

FRANKFORT -- State road and bridge projects totaling $4.58 billion are proposed in the 2016-2018 state Road Plan approved today by the House budget committee.

The plan—found in House Bill 305, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford—would authorize 1,239 highway construction projects, including $996 million in state-funded projects and $2.23 billion in federally funded projects, from fiscal year 2016 through fiscal year 2018. Supporters say it would also reduce what budget experts called “over programming”—or projects included over budget—proposed in the Executive Branch version of the Road Plan from $1.63 billion to $797 million, according to committee testimony.

Key projects in the road plan include: $159 million in federal funds to continue the expansion of the Mountain Parkway, begun in 2014, and to plan an expansion of the parkway from Prestonsburg to Beckley, WV; funds to begin design on the upgrade of the Hal Rogers Parkway from Somerset to Hazard; funds for an interchange on I-65 in Bullitt County; funds to begin work to upgrade the Natcher Parkway to interstate standards between Owensboro and Bowling Green; preconstruction for a new I-69 bridge at Henderson; preconstruction work on the Heartland Parkway in Marion and Taylor counties; and funding to widen I-75 in Rockcastle County and I-64/I-75 in Fayette County.

Funding for the projects would be provided in HB 304, also sponsored by Rand, which also cleared committee. That bill would also provide funding for administration of the state Transportation Cabinet, state aviation projects, rail projects and other transportation needs across the Commonwealth.

Most if not all of the House Minority members on the committee voted against the bills. Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, pointed to the proposed House Road Plan’s handling of funding for different stages of work on the Heartland Parkway as a reason for his dissent. The proposed House plan would authorize preconstruction on the parkway through Carney’s home county of Taylor in the next biennium but not construction.

“The people I represent I feel like have been left behind somewhat and that frustrates me a great deal,” said Carney. “It’s a disgrace, it’s embarrassing, the people all over Kentucky deserve better.”

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said funding for design for the Taylor County portion of the parkway project is included in the proposed House Road Plan for 2018, extending into the “out years”—or the last four years of the House’s proposed six-year road plan. The last four years extend from 2019 to 2022.

State law requires the General Assembly to adopt the last four years of the six-year road plan as a joint resolution, which has the force of law but is not included in the statutes. That legislation, House Joint Resolution 91, also sponsored by Rand, made it through the committee with HBs 304 and 305.

Both bills and the resolution now go to the House floor for consideration by all members.

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March 21, 2016

 

Parental rights bill clears hurdle in House

 

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 97-0 today to expand the circumstances under which parental rights may be involuntarily terminated.

 

House Bill 129, sponsored by Rep. Ron Crimm, R-Louisville, would expand legal grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights to include instances where a parent caused, attempted to cause, or was complicit in the death or serious physical injury of a child or that child’s parent, stepparent, de facto custodian or guardian.

 

Crimm sponsored similar legislation in 2015. That bill, HB 42, passed the House 98-0 but stalled in the Senate late in the 2015 legislative session. 

 

“This is … a bill that the court system wants—a bill that could save a (child’s) life,” said Crimm.

 

HB 129 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

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March 21, 2016

 

Anti-dog fighting bill approved by House

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would become the 50th state to make it a felony to possess, breed, sell or otherwise handle dogs for the purpose of dog fighting under a bill that has cleared the state House.

House Bill 428, sponsored by Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, would define dog fighting in statute as the fighting of two or more dogs for sport, wagering or entertainment and allow those who intentionally own, possess, breed, train, sell or transfer dogs for dog fighting to be charged with first-degree cruelty to animals, a Class D felony.

Dog fighting is already illegal in Kentucky yet is often hard to prosecute under current law. Law enforcement often has to catch a fight in progress to make an arrest the way the law is written, supporters of HB 428 say.

“This bill provides language that makes it easier for law enforcement and the courts to apprehend and prosecute those involved in this shameful practice,” said Stone. “It is a giant step forward in our attempt to remove the scourge of dog fighting from the Commonwealth.”

The legislation would not apply to hunting dogs, dogs that guard livestock, service dogs or companion dogs, said Stone.

The bill passed the House 97-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Similar legislation was approved by the Senate and delivered to the House last month.

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March 18, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

March 14-18

FRANKFORT—An eventful week at the Capitol saw the arrival – finally – of a full House.

Four new state representatives were sworn in on Tuesday, filling vacant seats in the chamber in time for the legislative scramble as the 2016 General Assembly session heads into its home stretch. The newcomers: Lewis Nicholls, D-Greenup, a former judge and son of a former state legislator; attorney Daniel Elliott, R-Gravel Switch; Jeff Taylor, D-Hopkinsville, an economic development professional; and Chuck Tackett, D-Georgetown, a farmer and former county magistrate.

The ceremony was a prelude to a flurry of legislative action as the House and Senate passed bills focused on improved public safety, civil rights and education as the week progressed. As expected, though, the real focus of the 11th week of the General Assembly session was the biennial budget as the House passed its version with a 53-0 vote on Wednesday. The budget, House Bill 303, and related budget legislation were forwarded for Senate consideration.

The nearly $21 billion budget bill would roll back some funding cuts proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin to many areas of state government and authorize less debt than proposed in the governor’s proposal. The HB 303 budget would eliminate cuts for constitutional agencies and select education programs while fully funding the troubled Kentucky Employees’ Retirement System by tapping into $500 million the governor wanted to set aside as a permanent fund for future pensions.

With only nine legislative days remaining, the Senate now gets a chance to craft its reply. After next week, March 28-29 are concurrence days set aside for floor passage of bills from the opposite chamber. The 10-day governor’s veto recess follows, with the final two days of the regular session scheduled for April 11-12.

The legislature must agree on a budget before then or face a possible special session.

While much focus was on the budget and associated bills this week, numerous other measures took steps forward, including:

Bible classes in public schools. Senate Bill 278, which would allow public schools to offer Bible literacy classes, passed on Monday. The classes, which proponents say would not be evangelical in nature but focus on the book as literature and a sociological study, would be taught as a social studies elective. The measure has been sent to the House for consideration.

Community college tuition. House Bill 626 would provide Kentucky high school graduates with two years’ worth of paid tuition at a state community college under a bill that passed the state House by an 86-11 vote on Thursday. The bill would create the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program to cover Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) tuition for recent Kentucky high school grads or GED recipients under the age of 19 who complete applications for financial aid, enroll in at least 12 credit hours a semester, and maintain a cumulative 2.0 grade point average. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

Protected rights. Senate Bill 180 states that it would promote the rights of people to exercise their freedom of speech, conscience and religion. The bill, which was filed in response to a case in which a lawsuit was filed against a Lexington custom T-shirt shop for refusing to make shirts celebrating a gay pride event, would prevent lawsuits or punishment in such cases. The bill specifies that it protects the freedom of religion for individuals who offer customized artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods and services.

Voting. House Bill 290, passed by a 57-37 vote in the House on Monday, would allow no-excuse, in-person voting at least 12 working days – including two Saturdays – before an Election Day. Kentucky currently only allows voting before an election by absentee ballot with a qualified excuse. HB290 was forwarded to the Senate for consideration. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

Coal mines. Senate Bill 297 would end Kentucky’s mine safety inspection program by converting the state’s 62 inspectors to “safety analysts” whose responsibilities would include correcting dangerous practices through “behavior modification” instead of issuing costly citations. State inspectors currently test underground mines for hazards six times a year in addition to the four federal inspections. Surface mines are tested four times: twice by state inspectors and twice by MSHA. The measure, which passed the Senate on a 25-11 vote on Thursday, now awaits consideration in the House,

Sexual assault kits. Senate Bill 63, a measure aimed at eliminating a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault examination kits – some as much as 40 years old. The bill also would expedite the testing of new kits, directing police to retrieve the evidence from hospitals within five days and submit the evidence to the state crime lab within a month. The bill has been sent to the House for consideration.

The legislative pace is sure to increase as the 60-day General Assembly heads into its 12th week. To stay informed on the progress of bills, to offer feedback to lawmakers or to ask questions about legislative topics, call the Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

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March 18, 2016

 

Hair braiding deregulation bill weaves through Senate

 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate approved a measure that would repeal regulations on natural hair braiders by a unanimous vote today.

“It is an attempt to untangle some government regulations,” said sponsor Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville. “Hair braiding is a time-tested practice that has deep roots in African cultural heritage.”

The measure, known as Senate Bill 269, would remove the requirement that natural hair braiders get a cosmology license. He said natural hair braiding, as the name applies, uses no dyes or chemicals.

“Across this country, state governments have made it illegal for braiders to make money from a braiding skill unless they have first spent thousands of dollars on government-mandated cosmetology licenses and training,” Clark said. “To add insult to injury, this training never even breaches into the braiding areas.”

He said licensure was once imposed only on professionals like doctors and lawyers before citing the following statistics: Less than 5 percent of Americans needed a government license to work in the early 1950s. Now, more than 30 percent of workers have government-issued licenses.

Clark said he suspected that licensure was used to protect established businesses from competition and not the often-touted claims of promoting public health and safety.

“Research has demonstrated that occupational licensing laws, such as those governing natural hair braiders, create artificial and unnecessary barriers to entry for entrepreneurs seeking to take their first step on the economic ladder,” Clark said. “The right to earn an honest living is a central part of our nation’s promise of opportunity.”

Clark said SB 269 would provide “economic freedom for natural hair braiders.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, stood in support of SB 269. He said it’s an example of how government regulations can have inadvertent consequences. He said the Senate needed to spend more time “looking at ways to not make laws but repeal laws and regulations.”

SB 269 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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March 18, 2016

 

Abuse-deterrent opioid drug bill moves to Senate

FRANKFORT—Kentucky health insurers would be required to have abuse-deterrent opioid painkillers in their formulary under a bill that passed the state House today.

House Bill 330, sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, is designed to encourage the prescribing and use of “abuse-deterrent” opioid analgesic drugs which Wuchner said cannot be crushed, snorted or injected by drug abusers as readily as other opioids can.

Opioid analgesic drugs include painkilling drugs like hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone.

“We know the heroin epidemic that we have, and we know we don’t begin by sticking a needle in our arm and injecting heroin. It often begins with the opioid medication that you find in the (medicine) cabinet,” said Wuchner, a registered nurse.

Approved by the FDA, Wuchner said abuse-deterrent opioids, or ADOs, would not be able to be substituted with another opioid if an ADO is what is prescribed. The ADO would also have to be covered by health insurance companies if prescribed.

Health insurers would be required under HB 330 to have one ADO in their formulary but would be encouraged to have two per an amendment to the bill approved by the House.

HB 330 passed the House 94-1 and now awaits the Senate’s consideration.

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March 18, 2016

 

EMS death benefits bill goes to governor 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would give families of emergency medical services personnel killed in the line of duty the same $80,000 state death benefit now provided to families of fallen police and firefighters is on its way to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 43, sponsored by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, was filed following the death of Jessamine County paramedic John Mackey last November. Mackey was struck by a car while on ambulance duty.

The bill would provide an $80,000 death benefit to families of paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue squad members or any other emergency medical services personnel who are killed on the job on or after Nov. 1, 2015.

Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, presented SB 43 on the House floor for a vote. Surrounded by Mackey’s family and colleagues, Meyer the retroactive provision in the bill will allow Mackey’s family to be covered.

“On behalf of the John Mackey family … and Jessamine County, we thank everyone here in this body today,” said Meyer.

SB 43, which passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 24, is similar to House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, which passed the House unanimously earlier this session.

SB 43 passed the House 95-0 and now makes its way to the governor for his signature.

-END-

 

March 17, 2016

 

Community college scholarship bill clears House hurdle

FRANKFORT—Recent Kentucky high school graduates would receive two years of free tuition at a state community college under a bill that passed the state House by an 86-11 vote today.

House Bill 626 would create the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program to cover Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) tuition for recent Kentucky high school grads or GED recipients under the age of 19 who complete applications for financial aid, enroll in at least 12 credit hours a semester, and maintain a cumulative 2.0 grade point average, said bill sponsor and House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

“(HB 626) fills the gap between the all the scholarships and financial aid that is available to a student now and what the actual tuition costs are—it is the last dollar in,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

Funding for the program—which would total $13 million in the first year and $19.9 million in the second year of the next two-year budget cycle—would be appropriated by HB 303, the House Executive Branch budget proposal approved by the House yesterday that is now awaiting action in the Senate. The first scholarships under the program would be available for the fall 2016 term, said Stumbo. 

Three states have similar scholarship programs, supporters of HB 626 say, with 11 more states including Kentucky considering legislation this year to establish a program for their students.

House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare, R-Rockfield, attempted to amend the bill with language that would create a program structure for identifying workforce development partnership projects eligible for financing should bond funds become available. A proposed $100 million bond pool for workforce development proposed by Governor Matt Bevin was removed from HB 303, the state budget proposal, before the bill narrowly passed the House and moved on to the Senate on Wednesday.

“I think if the Governor hadn’t brought his program to light… we might not see this piece of legislation—so I think a little credit needs to go to the Governor for bringing this issue up and bringing light on the subject of the need to have a workforce-ready population for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said DeCesare.

DeCesare’s proposed amendment fell a few votes short of the support it needed to bring the amendment to a House vote, although Stumbo said the amendment had “great worth.”

“There was nothing wrong with his amendment, and I will say to him and to the body that if the Senate chooses to do something along those lines, and wants to use this bill as a vehicle, we’ll be back here making a motion to concur with that amendment if he is wanting to establish a workforce ready fund and, as we go through the budget process, if there’s monies that would go into that fund and there are adequate safeguards as we would all want. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Stumbo.

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March 17, 2016

 

Senate bill would reduce KY’s role in mine inspections

FRANKFORT – Supporters of a bill liberalizing Kentucky’s mine-safety laws said the measure’s passage in the state Senate today would provide some relief to a beleaguered coal industry.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 297, would end Kentucky’s mine safety inspection program by converting the state’s 62 inspectors to “safety analysts” whose responsibilities would include correcting dangerous practices through “behavior modification” instead of issuing costly citations. It passed by a 25-11 vote but not before a lively floor debate among senators – some of which come from families with long histories of coal mining.

“I’m for the free markets along with rational oversight deciding what is most efficient, not the government picking winners and losers,” said Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset. “That is exactly what we have seen occur over the last eight years – burdensome regulations, gotcha games and an administration that makes no bones about wanting to put the coal industry out of business.

“I call it strangulation by regulation.”

He said SB 297 would eliminated wasteful duplication between state and federal mine inspectors by making the federal and state efforts more “complementary” to each other. He described an environment where the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors would still do punitive inspections while the state safety analysts would encourage best practices to prevent accidents.

Girdler said Kentucky has lost more than 10,000 coal mining jobs in recent years – or 56 percent of the people directly employed by the coal industry. He said Kentucky is coming off its lowest level of coal production since 1954 and Eastern Kentucky just mined its lowest level since 1932.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said there are only 120 mines left in Kentucky, adding that 318 mines have closed in the last 18 months. He said there was not enough mines open to justify 62 state inspectors.

“We are here today because the war on coal has been tremendously successfully,” said West, who voted for the bill. “At one time we had thousands of mines in this state.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, said he “reluctantly” voted against the bill out of concern that coal mine operators would “take cuts” to safety measures because of the unprecedented economic pressures they face.

“This is not an approach I can support,” he said. “There is a value to having state mine inspectors.”

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, also voted against the measure. She is a former general counsel to a coal mine operator.

“I feel the federal presence,” Webb said. “I felt it in my job as general counsel and as a miner and beyond. That is a D.C. issue. Let’s take that case to Washington. Let’s take the case of the mine inspectors camping out at the few mines we have up working and being onerous and silly in the implementation of the federal law.”

She said federal overreach doesn’t relieve the state of its responsibility to protect Kentucky’s coal miners.

SB 297 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

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March 17, 2016

 

Finalists for Vic Hellard Jr. Awards Announced


FRANKFORT -- Six legislative staff members who spent their careers working behind the scenes are about to receive well-deserved recognition with today’s announcement that they have been selected as finalists for the 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards.

The Vic Hellard Jr. Award is the highest honor bestowed by Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission (LRC). The award’s namesake, Vic Hellard Jr., was executive director of the LRC staff for 19 years.

The LRC changed eligibility criteria for the award last year to specifically honor nonpartisan legislative staff members, past and present. Under the new structure, the award will alternate each year between current and past nonpartisan LRC staff members.

Of the six finalists announced today, three are in the running for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award, which recognizes current LRC workers for their distinguished service. The other three finalists are former LRC workers who are eligible for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award.

The finalists for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Award are:

• Jenny Bannister, LRC Assistant Budget Director

• Sally Everman, LRC Project Center Supervisor

• Sheila Mason, LRC Legislative Record Compiler and Intern Program Coordinator

The finalists for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Award are:

• Joyce Honaker, retired LRC Committee Staff Administrator for the State Government Committee

• Scott Payton, retired LRC Public Information Officer

• Ginny Wilson, retired LRC Deputy Director for Research and Finance

Photos and bios of finalists for the 2015 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards can be viewed here.

Photos and bios of finalists for the 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards can be viewed here.

The 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards will be presented later this month at the State Capitol. All finalists will be honored at a reception at the Capitol.

“The quintessential LRC employee thrives behind the scenes, quietly working to keep the machinery of the legislature humming along,” said David A. Byerman, Director of the Legislative Research Commission. “But Vic Hellard continues to inspire us to aim ever higher, serving as ambassadors and champions for the legislative process. Of our many worthy nominees, the six finalists we announce today represent the pinnacle of legislative performance at the LRC, and we are truly proud of their dedicated public service.”

The Vic Hellard Jr. Award was created in memory and recognition of longtime LRC Director Vic Hellard Jr., who was a champion of legislative independence and played an instrumental role in the modernization of the legislative institution and nonpartisan staffing. Serving nearly two decades at the helm of LRC, Vic was known not just for his contributions to an independent General Assembly, but also for his wit, appreciation of history, and his mentoring of hundreds of young people who now serve the people of the Commonwealth and carry on his legacy.

         

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March 16, 2016

 

Branch budgets clear House, move to Senate

FRANKFORT—A nearly $21 billion state budget bill that supporters say would restore some funding cuts proposed by the Governor to many areas of state government and authorize less debt than proposed in the Governor’s budget narrowly passed the House tonight by a vote of 53-0.

House Bill 303, sponsored by House budget Chair Rick Rand, D-Bedford, restores funding cuts proposed by Governor Matt Bevin for constitutional agencies, PVAs, postsecondary education, several K-12 programs and several other offices while agreeing with the Governor’s plan to preserve per-pupil school funding, boost pay for state troopers and other front-line state employees. It also proposes a way to fully fund the state’s required contribution to the state employee and teacher pension systems, although using a different mechanism than that proposed by Governor Matt Bevin.

Cuts of 4.5 percent this fiscal year and 9 percent over the next biennium—known as “budget stabilization reductions”—proposed by the Governor for most other state government agencies were retained in the House bill with some exceptions: Constitutional offices like Secretary of State, the state Treasurer and Attorney General which were slated for the cuts would have that funding restored in the House plan, as would the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and specific other agencies

Absent from the House plan is a $100 million bond pool for workforce development proposed by the Governor (although the bill would appropriate over $32 million for a proposed Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program for community colleges) and a “permanent fund” the Governor proposed as a repository for funding future pension needs.

As for total debt in the plan: A summary of HB 303 provided to the House budget committee before its vote on the bill on Tuesday states that HB 303 carries less debt than the Governor’s plan. Total debt in the Governor’s plan, according to the summary, is $624.6 million, $460.2 million which would be supported by the state. HB 303 would reduce that proposed debt to $548.6 million, with $384.2 million supported by the state General Fund, with $283 million left in the state rainy day fund at the end of fiscal year 2018.

Those who opposed the bill did so for a variety of reasons ranging from the belief that the budget includes funding for Planned Parenthood, which Rand said it does not, to frustration voiced by many House Minority party members that projects requested for their districts were left out of the proposal. Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, said she submitted a list of requested coal severance projects for Union County only to find those projects omitted from the bill.

“I did submit my list as I did two years ago, exactly in the same form. … I’m extremely disappointed that my projects are not listed,” said Miles.

Rand said HB 303 accomplishes his budget goals which include fully funding the state’s actuarial required contributions (ARC) for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (which would receive an additional $90 million above its ARC) without any bonding, protecting learning and results programs like family resource centers and Gifted and Talented programs, and holding down state debt.

Rand defended the proposal’s handling of the pension issue—including the proposal’s elimination of the permanent fund proposed by the Governor.

“Our theory was, why wait? Why are we waiting? Why aren’t we investing in teachers’ retirement now? We have the money, it’s there. Why just let it sit in escrow, for what purpose? … That’s why we chose to fund the ARC,” said Rand.

Several amendments were proposed to HB 303 but only one in addition to the House committee substitute to the bill made it through. That was House Floor Amendment 10, sponsored by House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, which passed by a vote of 49-46. The amendment authorizes debt service for the planned Bowling Green Veterans’ nursing home which is on track to receive federal approval, according to Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, who presented the amendment for a vote.

Also approved by the House was the Judicial Branch budget found in HB 306, also sponsored by Rand, which passed by a vote of 51-48, and the Legislative Branch budget in HB 499, sponsored by Rand, which passed 69-31. Both of the budgets would spare the branches from 4.5 percent cuts this fiscal year but apply the budget stabilization cuts of 9 percent over the biennium as is proposed for most of the Executive Branch. The proposed cuts in both bills, said Rand, would only be applied to the branches’ nonconstitutionally-required and nonstatutorily-required duties.

HB 423, also sponsored by Rand, was passed by a vote of 63-37. Known as the “revenue bill,” the measure authorizes revenue needed to balance the Executive Branch budget as proposal in HB 303.

All bills now go to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

March 16, 2016

 

Bill aimed at bolstering child safety laws advances

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a measure today designed to give added protection to children with life-threating allergies and babies of struggling new parents by a 37-0 vote today.

Known as House Bill 148, it would require the state Cabinet for Health & Family Services to write regulations allowing for licensed day cares or baby sitters to get prescriptions for epinephrine autoinjectors, commonly known by the brand name EpiPen. It is a medical device for the injection of a measured dose of adrenaline commonly used for the treatment of anaphylaxis. 

An amendment to HB 148 would expand Kentucky’s Safe Infants Act of 2002 by allowing parents of newborns to have up to 30 days to surrender their baby at a state-approved “safe place” without facing criminal charges. Current law gives parents 72 hours after a child is born to leave the baby at safe place.

The amendment would also add churches or other places of worship to the list of approved safe places where an infant could be surrendered. The current law only includes hospitals, police stations, firehouses and emergency medical services (EMS) providers.

Under the Safe Infants Act, parents remain anonymous and cannot be pursued or prosecuted unless an abandoned infant shows signs of abuse or neglect.

“This bill is endorsed by many of our religious groups,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, “and I think it is a very positive piece of legislation.”

A bill that would similarly expand Kentucky’s Safe Infants Act passed the state House of Representatives by a 92-1 vote on Jan. 25 and was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee three days later.

HB 148 now goes back to the House for consideration of changes the Senate made to the bill.

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March 16, 2016

 

Bill advances to quicken sex assault exam kit testing

 

FRANKFORT – The state Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan measure today to eliminate a backlog of sexual assault examination kits dating back to the 1970s.

Known as Senate Bill 63, it would establish policies and procedures for the swift and proper handling of the kits, said Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville.

“During the 2015 legislative session, I sponsored Senate Joint Resolution Bill 20 which required all law enforcement agencies to report the number of untested assault kits to the Auditor of Public Accounts,” said Angel, who sponsored SB 63. “The resolution passed unanimously through both chambers and the audit revealed 3,090 untested kits. Throughout the 2015 interim, I held meetings with stakeholders from various law enforcement agencies and Senate Bill 63 is the result.”

Specifically, SB 63 would require Kentucky’s more than 300 police departments and 120 sheriff’s departments to pick up sexual assault kits from hospitals within five days’ notice from a hospital that the evidence is available, submit the kits to the state crime lab within 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests.

The measure would also require the average completion date for kits tested not to exceed 90 days by July 2018 and not to exceed 60 days by July 2020. It currently takes about eight months for a kit to be tested once it has been submitted to the lab. The progress of the testing would be reported annually to the Legislative Research Commission and state auditor’s office.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said SB 63 was amended to provide the state crime lab relief from the testing deadlines if it does not receive additional tax dollars to cover the added work. He said the governor’s proposed budget includes $4.5 million needed to do the additional testing, but the General Assembly has yet to approve a budget.

“The objective is to make sure we do not have another backlog like this again,” Westerfield said of SB 63.

The measure now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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March 16, 2016

 

State budget bill passes House panel; floor vote expected today

FRANKFORT—A state budget plan that would reverse proposed funding cuts for K-12 education programs and state colleges and universities while fully funding the state’s recommended contributions to its ailing public retirement systems has cleared the House budget committee.

House Bill 303, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and passed by the committee on Tuesday night, would maintain per-pupil funding for education (known as SEEK) as proposed by Governor Matt Bevin in the state’s next $21 billion two-year state budget while restoring cuts proposed by the Governor to several K-12 services including family resource and youth service centers (FRYSCs) and preschool, Gifted and Talented and more. Proposed budget cuts for colleges and universities were also struck by the committee, as was a provision that would base future funding on a college or university’s performance. 

Cuts of 4.5 percent this fiscal year and 9 percent over the next biennium—known as “budget stabilization reductions”—proposed by the Governor for most other state government agencies were retained in the House bill with some exceptions: Constitutional offices like Secretary of State, the state Treasury and Attorney General slated for budget stabilization cuts over the biennium have their funding restored in the House plan, as do the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and a handful of other agencies.

As for pensions, HB 303 would appropriate around $1 billion over the biennium to meet the actuarial required contribution, or ARC, for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System without using bonding. It  would fund the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ state employees’ nonhazardous pension plan at the Governor’s recommendation of the ARC of $60 million in the first year and around $70 million in the second year of the biennium plus an extra $44.7 million in each of the next two fiscal years.

The Governor has proposed funding the ARC plus the additional $90 million or so over the biennium for the state employee system with help from what are called “contingent appropriations,” which are contingent upon revenues that exceed certain budget expectations. He also proposed using those same type of appropriations to help fund KTRS pensions, and recommended transferring $500 million over the biennium from the state public employees’ health insurance fund to a “permanent fund” to help secure future pensions. The permanent fund is not included in the House proposal.

Absent from the House plan is a $100 million bond pool for workforce development proposed by the Governor. HB 303 would, however, provide over $32 million over the biennium for a proposed Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program for community college students and provide a funding mechanism to provide state need-based college scholarships to another 35,000 students.

HB 303 agrees with the Governor’s proposal to provide raises for state social workers, corrections workers and Kentucky State Police Troopers. It would also beef up salaries for the state’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement officers.

A summary of HB 303 provided to the House budget committee before it approved the bill Tuesday night states that the House budget plan carries less debt than the Governor’s plan. Total debt in the Governor’s plan, according to the summary, is $624.6 million, $460.2 million which would be supported by the state. HB 303 would reduce that proposed debt to $548.6 million, with $384.2 million supported by the state General Fund, with $283 million left in the state rainy day fund at the end of fiscal year 2018.

HB 303 emerged from the House budget committee with the support of most House Majority members. Most if not all members of the House Minority members on the committee passed on their vote on HB 303 in committee, with many saying that they agreed with parts of the bill but needed more time to review the proposal.

Rep. Steven Rudy, R- Paducah, who has filed a floor amendment that would make several changes to HB 303, said in committee that he is pleased HB 303 doesn’t propose bonding to fund pensions.

“That seems like an easy fix but I think the governor made it clear—he’s not going to sign any bill with bonding, borrowing from the future, and I really appreciate you guys refusing to give in to that temptation,” said Rudy. 

Rand that while HB 303 would adopt many of the cuts and supports proposed by the Governor it also would set “a few goals” that he said he believes HB 303 can meet.

“They are (to) invest in education, and this budget would invest in education heavily; to pay 100 percent of the (pension) ARC, and this budget will pay 100 percent of the ARC; that it will lower debt below what the Governor has proposed, and it will have the highest Budget Reserve Trust Fund in the history of the Budget Reserve Trust Fund—this budget will contain all of those,” said Rand.

HB 303 is expected to be brought to the House floor for a vote by all members this afternoon.

--END--

 

March 15, 2016

 

Senate passes bill addressing religious freedom

FRANKFORT – A bill advanced in the state Senate today that supporters said would protect the religious freedom of business owners but detractors warned might undermine existing civil rights laws.

Known as Senate Bill 180, the measure would protect the freedom of religion of individuals who offer customized artistic, expressive, creative, ministerial or spiritual goods and services, said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London. It passed by a 22-16 vote.

“Shouldn’t a florist, baker and other creative artists’ First-Amendment rights of free exercise of religion be respected?” Robinson said, before quoting a section of the Kentucky Constitution that prohibits interference with “rights of conscience.”

“Yet, that is what many wish to do – to have government to force people to using their creative skills to participate in something that violates their faith conscience,” Robinson said.

He said that he introduced SB 180 in response to a Lexington custom T-shirt shop getting sued for refusing to make shirts celebrating a gay pride event.

“This bill helps to promote the time-honored principle of ‘live and let live’ and encourages a balanced environment of mutual respect and civility in our public square,” Robinson said.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he was supporting SB 108

“I also think that each of us probably interprets the Bible in a way that is most convenient for us,” he said. “Having said that, I’m going to cling the premise that this is a ‘live and let live’ piece of legislation. In doing that, I’m going to assume it protects those we are fearful that we are discriminating against with this piece of legislation. The ‘live and let live’ premise, in my opinion, protects all parties involved.”

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, voted for SB 180 because it was “a common sense” measure. He said everyone would be outraged if the government forced Jewish bakers to make cakes featuring Nazi symbols and minority bakers to make cakes featuring Ku Klux Klan symbols.

“Hopefully, we will have some common sense where we can rally around people we know are being unfairly treated – that are being made to do something that we know goes against who they are,” Smith said.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he couldn’t support the bill because it would discriminate against gay people.

“That is no difference than what you say back in the 1930s when there was rampant anti-Semitism in this country or back in the 1950s and ‘60s when blacks were … demanding civil rights,” he said. “We just have to fast forward 50 years now were gays are just demanding their rightful place in our society as equal citizens. This bill is designed to prevent that, and I can’t go along with that.”

Robinson said he personally believes homosexuality and same-sex marriage are sinful, but disagreed with Thomas’ analysis that SB 180 would legalize some forms of discrimination.

“A restaurant owner could not deny service to a transgendered individual,” he said, “and a bakery could not refuse to sell pies and cookies to someone because of their sexual orientation.”

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the Fayette Circuit Court ruled in favor of the Lexington T-shirt maker by finding the business was within its right not to make a T-shirt promoting gay rights. In voting against SB 108, he said the Senate should wait to see if that ruling is overturned on appeal before considering any legislation.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said she couldn’t support SB 180, in part, because of economic concerns. She said the bill may be seen as discriminatory by businesses interested in investing in her hometown – the state’s largest city.

“I understand the need to balance competing interests in a very diverse society … but I’m concerned Senate Bill 180 goes way too far,” she said. “I’ve heard from constituents and my business community that this is just not needed.”

SB 180 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

March 15, 2016

 

Needle exchange and disposal bill passes Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill regulating the disposal and free handout of needles today by a 28-10 vote.

House Bill 160 would require the Department of Public Health to establish guidelines for safe disposal of hypodermic syringes, needles and what’s known as “sharps” containers. In addition, HB 160 would require the guidelines to be provided to certain medical facilities and pharmacies.

It was an amendment to HB 160 that would place further restrictions on needle exchanges, legalized under last year’s anti-heroin legislation (Senate Bill 192), which prompted debate on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said supporters of SB 192 “sold” skeptical senators on giving drug addicts free needles by promising one-for-one exchanges. He said supporters were “emphatic to say it would not be a giveaway program but rather individuals could bring in one dirty needle and get one clean one in response.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he too was disappointed to learn over the interim that some health departments in Kentucky decided not to require a dirty needle for every clean needle they give out.

“I will vote for this bill defining a needle exchange as a one-for-one exchange, which was the original intent, and if it doesn’t pass … I will file a bill next year to eliminate the needle exchange all together. I’m willing to give this one more year.”

Last year, Louisville adopted a needle distribution program that doesn’t require a one-to-one exchange of needles. When the proposed amendment to HB 160 was debated in a recent Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, argued against the amendment, saying that if the goal is to decrease the spread of disease, public health workers should be able to hand out free needles without being required to collect a used one.

HB 160 now goes back to the House for consideration of changes the Senate made to the bill.

-- END –

 

March 15, 2016

 

Bill would regulate nursing home violation adverts

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill that would mandate how information about a nursing home’s safety and health violations could be advertised by a 25-13 vote yesterday.

Senate Bill 205 would require that advertisements of nursing home inspection results also prominently include the date of any deficiencies found, the plan to correct them and whether they were corrected. The measure also calls for a disclaimer that the advertisement wasn’t endorsed by a government entity.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, characterized SB 205 as a “truth in advertising” measure. He said “deep pocket attorneys” are taking out misleading advertisements “fishing for clients” in Kentucky.

“This bill is not in any way trying to limit a law firm’s ability to file suit in any of these circumstances,” said Carroll, who introduced the bill. “It is simply about fairness in advertising and nothing more.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, said it is an unconstitutional bill “that is blatantly in violation of the First Amendment.”  He added that if lawyers were taking out truly misleading advertisements, they could be sued for defamation.

“If you want to make it fair, when a nursing home advertises, maybe they should be required to disclose their infection rates, the rates of pressure sores, the mortality rate from facility-acquired infections,” he said, before reading excerpts from nursing home inspection reports that described deplorable conditions.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he supported SB 205 after witnessing a nursing home in his district get targeted by misleading advertisements. He said the advertisement listed deficiencies without stating they were from 2013, had long been corrected and that the nursing home had a new owner with a history of no safety or health violations.

SB 205 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

March 14, 2016

 

Bill would make Bible literacy classes an elective

FRANKFORT – Public school students would get the option to take Bible literacy classes under a measure that passed the state Senate today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 278, would allow Bible literacy courses to be taught in public schools as a social studies elective. The bill would require that the “course provide students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”

SB 278 came to a floor vote after being unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee on March 10 after several senators spoke in favor of it.

“This bill would not have a religious connotation as much as a historical connotation,” bill sponsor Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said while testifying before the committee. “As you know, I’ve practiced constitutional law about 30 years now … and I certainly feel like this bill passes constitutional muster on any neutrality issues that would arise.”

Webb added that she took a “Bible as literature” course when she attended East Carter High School.

Committee member Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he didn’t believe the U.S. Supreme Court intended to prevent all discussion of religion in public schools.

“I think we have reached a point … in our society where we have become afraid to talk about religion and faith in our schools,” he said. “I do think it is important and pertinent to talk about theology and talk about different religions and talk about the Bible. The Bible isn’t something we should run away from.”

Another committee member, Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said he found a college course he took on western religions intellectually stimulating.

“I think this brings values and roundness to the educational experience,” he said of SB 278.

The measure now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

-- END --

 

March 14, 2016

 

Early voting bill clears House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow early voting across the Commonwealth has passed the state House.

House Bill 290, sponsored by House Standing Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Chair Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, said the bill would allow no-excuse in-person voting least 12 working days, including two Saturdays, before Election Day. Kentucky currently only allows voting before an election by absentee ballot with a qualified excuse.

Meeks said the bill would make Kentucky the 38th state to allow early voting without any justification or excuse, telling the House that the “right to vote should be carefully preserved.” “So what we have here is a question of, at what cost democracy?” Meeks said.

The bill had been brought to the floor last week but was put on hold until an official statement on the bill’s fiscal impact could be drafted. While the state fiscal note says that a minimal fiscal impact to the state General Fund is expected, a local mandate statement on the bill revealed that at least two county clerks expect the bill’s impact on counties “to be significant.” Rep. Tim Moore, who voted against the bill, expressed concern about the possible local impact.

“I think that it is the right spirit, I think it’s the right idea,” to encourage voting, said Moore, R-Elizabethtown. But he said concerns have been raised in his district because “it will cost significant dollars.”

“I can assure you in some of our county clerk offices, a small increase in cost is not minimal—it is a significant burden,” Moore said.

Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, said she has been told that the Kentucky County Clerks Association opposes HB 290, but Meeks said the bill has received “mixed messages” from the county clerks.

“We have those clerks who say they can handle it…and we have those who say it may impact on (their) fiscal ability to function. So we have mixed messages from them,” said Meeks. He said many counties are already open on Saturdays (as would be required for early voting under HB 290) and that the bill offers flexibility on how many voting locations a county clerk may have.

“I’m simply saying to you…represent those people who would vote if they could get there within that limited 12 hours,” that polls are open on primary and General Election days from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m, said Meeks.

Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who made the request last week to delay a vote on the bill, said he voted today for the bill because he told Meeks that he would support the bill if Meeks allowed time for more input on the bill. But, he said, he does not think HB 290 is a good bill.

“There’s questions about the language, there’s questions about the constitutionality,” said Hoover.

Meeks said he understands concerns from county clerks and others, and that he will work with the Senate to make necessary adjustments to the bill. But he said he believes expanding access to voting “is the best course for us to go as a Commonwealth and as a nation.”

HB 290 passed by a vote of 57-37 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

 

March 11, 2016

 This Week at the State Capitol

March 7-11

FRANKFORT—Like the rest of the country, lawmakers at the Capitol are bracing for an incoming wave of March Madness.

Yes, there are plenty of enthusiastic college basketball fans at the Capitol. But this March is also a time when hallways, legislative offices, committee rooms and legislative chambers are getting increasingly busy as the 2016 General Assembly heads deeper into its final half.

With only 14 legislative days remaining in the regular session, the pace of actions on bills already picked up. The House passed bills this week on local option sales taxes and student-athlete safety, among others. Meanwhile, the Senate sent bills regarding judicial redistricting, abortion clinic standards and Kentucky schools’ academic calendar to the other chamber.

As the NCAA selection committee has been busy selecting the tournament’s field of 68 teams, committees in both chambers of the Capitol have been similarly occupied, moving dozens of bills along the legislative process before Selection Sunday. Among legislative topics this week:

Local option sales tax. On Friday, the House approved HB 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that could ultimately give cities and counties the ability to levy up to a penny in sales tax for specific local projects. If the Senate also approves the bill, it would put the proposed amendment on statewide ballot this November. If the amendment is approved by Kentucky voters this fall, it would allow the General Assembly to give cities and counties the power to hold a local option sales tax referendum. Local voters could then decide whether to allow their local government to levy a limited sales tax of up to one percent to pay for a proposed infrastructure project, like sewer plants or convention centers.

Judicial redistricting. On Thursday, Senate Bill 8 passed a floor vote in the Senate. The bill, if approved by the House, would add a proposed constitutional amendment to the November ballot. When ratified, the amendment would lead to redistricting of circuit and district courts every 10 years, during the same years are legislative redistricting. The amendment would ensure judges are assigned to courthouses with higher populations, which usually translates into higher caseloads. It would bring the first such adjustment to the state judiciary since 1976. SB 8 was forwarded to the House, where it awaits consideration.

Abortion. The Senate passed a bill on Wednesday requiring abortion clinic operators wanting to open new facilities in Kentucky to meet higher operating standards. Senate Bill 212, if it becomes law, mandates that clinics have full operating suites with oxygen, crash carts and other medical supplies in addition to having a physician on staff with admitting privileges at a hospital within 50 miles of the clinic. SB 212 advanced to the House for consideration.

Minimum Wage. The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed House Bill 278 on Tuesday, which would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour. The proposed increase, the state’s first since 2009, would reportedly affect an estimated 26,000 Kentuckians currently working for minimum wage. The bill would not, however, affect small businesses -- companies with an average annual gross sales volume of less than $500,000 would be exempt. HB 278 is now awaiting full House action.

School calendar. The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that, if passed by the House as well, would allow for a later start to the school year. Under Senate Bill 50, schools would have the option to start later, a move that would help tourism, according to sponsors. Schools that start later would not be required to adhere to the current 170-day academic year, instead slightly extending each school day to reach the required 1,062 instructional hours a year. The bill is now under consideration in the House.

Rape kit testing. Senate Bill 63, which advanced out of committee on Thursday, directs the state’s 300-plus police departments and 120 sheriff’s departments to retrieve sexual assault kits within five days’ notice from a hospital that the evidence is available. SB63 would also require law enforcement to submit kit samples to the state crime lab within 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests. The bill will now be considered by the full Senate.

Animal cruelty. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill geared toward thwarting dog fighting in Kentucky. House Bill 428 would make it a Class D felony – punishable by a fine and a 1-5 year prison term – for the possession, training, breeding, and selling of dogs for the purpose of dog fighting. The bill is now awaiting a vote by the full House. A similar bill has also been approved by the Senate.

Student-athlete safety. House Bill 217, approved by the House and delivered to the Senate, would clarify the circumstances under which a high school athlete suspected of having a concussion may return to play. If the bill becomes law, any athlete suspected of having a concussion would be prohibited from returning to play if no physician or other licensed medical provider is present at the practice or competition to evaluate them. Athletes who aren’t evaluated would not be able to play in any future practice or game unless they have written clearance from a physician.

Tanning teens. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed a bill that would make tanning salons off limits for youngsters on Wednesday. Senate Bill 108 would prohibit anyone under 18 from using a commercial tanning bed in a commercial location, except for medically necessary treatment. It now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Currently, state law requires teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 to have a signed parental consent form to use commercial tanning beds.

College scholarships. House Bill 626, passed by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Tuesday, could help pay tuition for thousands of community college students. The bill includes the “Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program,” which would help pay KCTCS tuition not covered by scholarships, federal or state grants. To qualify, students would have to be enrolled full-time and maintain a 2.0 grade point average, among other stipulations. HB 626 is now being considered by the full House.

Finally, just as the NCAA tournament has its late “play in” selections, the final four teams chosen to join the field, the Capitol this week is preparing to welcome four new House members who were winners of Tuesday’s special election for vacant House seats. The new members will be sworn in next week.

The General Assembly works best when citizens are informed and engaged. To offer feedback on issues under consideration or to ask questions about legislative topics, call the Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

-- END –

 

March 11, 2016

 

Local option sales tax proposal moves forward

FRANKFORT— The House today advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that could ultimately give cities and counties the ability to levy up to a penny in sales tax for specific local projects.  

The passage of House Bill 2, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, by both the House and Senate is required to put the proposed amendment on statewide ballot this November. Should the amendment be approved by Kentucky voters this fall, it would allow the General Assembly to give cities and counties the power to hold a local option sales tax referendum. Local voters could then decide whether to allow their local government to levy a limited sales tax of up to one percent to pay for a proposed infrastructure project, like sewer plants or convention centers.

The tax would be eliminated once a project is paid off, according to the legislation.

“It’s done in other states across the nation, rather effectively,” said Stumbo, adding that the proposal has bipartisan support.

Hoover said he has always supported the proposal, adding that he does “encourage the members in here to support it, and let’s pass it out and await action in the Senate.”

“I have always believed that this is an opportunity for local governments to make local decisions for local citizens to be involved in making decisions on projects that may be important to their community,” said Hoover.

Among those voting against the bill were Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who has long encouraged comprehensive tax reform in the General Assembly. Wayne said all sales taxes disproportionately burden low-income wage earners.

“You say, ‘well it’s just a penny.’ But ladies and gentlemen, for a person in the lowest 20 percent of income families in our state, which is (an income of) $16,000 and below, those people it is estimated would pay an additional $70 a year because of this tax. The top 1 percent (of wage earners) would pay $350 a year,” said Wayne.

HB 2 passed the House by a vote of 60-31 and now goes to the Senate. Following its approval of HB 2, the House voted 55-36 to pass HB 374 which would set out how local option sales taxes could be used if the constitutional amendment proposed by HB 2 is approved by voters in November.

Known as the “enabling legislation” for the proposed constitutional amendment found in HB 2, HB 374, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, would set out the rules and requirements for a local option sales tax levy in Kentucky. It would stipulate that only infrastructure projects would qualify for a local option sales tax levy and that one levy could cover a maximum of 10 projects, among other rules.

HB 374 also now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Legislation similar to HB 2 passed the House by a vote of 62-35 in 2015 but did not pass the Senate.

-END-

 

March 10, 2016

 

Senate’s judicial redistricting bill seeks ‘equal justice’

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

Known as Senate Bill 8, the constitutional amendment passed by a 26-12 vote. It would ensure judges are assigned to courthouses with the highest volume of cases in the most populous area, said sponsor Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who has introduced similar measures during the prior two sessions.

“This year we decided to do it in a form of a constitutional amendment,” Schickel said. “The reason we decided to do it in the form of a constitutional amendment is because of the importance of this issue. This issue goes to the very governance of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the relationship between the three co-equal branches of government.”

He said Kentucky’s judiciary system has not been redistricted for four decades.

“Think about if we had not redistrict our senate seats … in over forty years and how inequitable that would be,” Schickel said, a former law enforcement officer. “But that is exactly what is going on right now in our judicial branch.”

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said that has caused backlogs of cases in growing urban areas that potentially deny citizens speedy and equal justice – something enshrined in both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions.

“What this asks for is to assign a fair caseload,” he said. “How can you be oppose to that? It is just an odd situation that in some areas of this state you have to wait in line too long to get what is called a speedy trial.”

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the least busiest judicial circuits average 379 cases per year while the busiest circuits average 1,300 per year.

“That is quite a big discrepancy,” said Schroder, a former prosecutor in Campbell County. “I think we do need this constitutional amendment.”

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he represents a district that needs more judges. It is one of two in Kentucky that does not have a family court judge.

“We’re one of those being impacted by not having equal justice under the law because of the disparity in the workload of the judges across the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said. “I’m in total support of this measure.”

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, spoke out against the measure. He said it would be harmful to Eastern Kentucky.

“What I am seeing at home frightens me,” he said. “We are seeing population leave, but the crime isn’t going with it. We have seen areas that have a greater population than ours that have less crime.”

Schickel responded by emphasizing that SB 8 would require the Kentucky Supreme Court to conduct judicial redistricting – based on population and caseloads.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, praised Schickel for his work but said she wasn’t convinced SB 8 was the right thing for Kentucky.

“Caseload doesn’t always indicate the complexity of the litigation,” she said. “That is hard to quantify.”

The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

March 10, 2016

 

Cell number protection bill receives House OK

FRANKFORT— The marketing, selling or sharing of a subscriber’s cell phone number for commercial reasons without the person’s written consent would be illegal under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House.

Penalties would be stiff for wireless service providers, directory providers or others who violate the prohibitions in House Bill 413, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, with fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation, according to the bill. A separate fine would be levied for each instance where a wireless number is illegally marketed, shared or sold.

Watkins said he filed the bill after receiving telemarketing calls for years despite having his phone number on the official government do-not-call list. 

“I begged them, I pleaded with them, I’ve sweet-talked them, I’ve played along with them and they just hang up on me,” said Watkins. “In a 20-day period, I collected seven different numbers that they called from—the same company—and turned them over to the Attorney General and they were (untraceable)… So I decided to go after the ones who were actually selling this list and providing them to telemarketers.”

Watkins said everyone he has talked to has had a similar experience, adding that he is particularly concerned for the elderly who receive calls from “unscrupulous” telemarketers trying to defraud them.

The bill would exempt those who share a wireless number for law enforcement or other emergency purposes, wireless services transferring service at the customer’s request, sales agents who provide wireless numbers to a wireless service for billing or customer service, the sharing of wireless numbers through open records, or numbers shared by wireless providers or directory companies as part of their service to the subscriber.

Wireless numbers disclosed because of a criminal act, such as a breach, would also not be considered a violation as long as the wireless service or directory provider attempts to notify the subscriber of the issue.

Speaking in support of the bill was Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, who said he, like Watkins, has received unwanted calls that he can’t track down, including a recent call from Boise, Idaho he received a few days ago.

“I’m thinking ‘who do I know from Boise, Idaho?’ I answer the call, and it is someone trying to sell me a credit card. So I call the number back after immediately hanging up and it’s a number that says no longer in service,” said Hale. “I do applaud the gentleman for this bill, and I support it wholeheartedly.”

HB 413 passed the House 95-0 and now goes to the Senate.

-END-

 

March 10, 2016

 

Bill tackling untested rape kits passes KY Senate panel

FRANKFORT – After a legislative-ordered audit found more than 3,000 untested sexual assault examination kits in Kentucky, a state Senate panel approved a bill today to get those kits tested.

Senate Bill 63 would require Kentucky’s more than 300 police departments and 120 sheriff’s departments to pick up sexual assault kits from hospitals within five days’ notice from a hospital that the evidence is available, submit the kits to the state crime lab with 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests.

Additionally, SB 63 would require the average completion date for kits tested not to exceed 90 days by July 2018 and not to exceed 60 days by July 2020. It currently takes about eight months for a kit to be tested once it has been submitted to the lab. The progress of the tests would be reported annually to the Legislative Research Commission.

“During the long but very important process of developing this bill, the working group put together a bill which ensures swift justice for victims, takes criminals off the streets and protects future generations,” said Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, who advocated for the initial audit and sponsored SB 63.

The audit was ordered under Senate Joint Resolution 20 which passed unanimously through both chambers last year. It found law enforcement in possession of 3,090 untested sexual assault kits – some dating back all the way to the 1970s.

SB 63 was amended in committee to provide the state crime lab relief from the testing deadlines if it does not receive additional money to cover the added work. Committee Chairman Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the governor’s proposed budget includes $4.5 million needed to do the additional testing but the General Assembly has yet approved a budget.

“Since we don’t yet know if that is going to stay, or how much it will be if it does stay, I wanted to make sure we didn’t hold the lab accountable to a timeline that they couldn’t meet today if they had to and wouldn’t be able to meet by 2018 and 2020 unless they have the additional resources they needed,” said Westerfield, a former prosecutor.

SB 63 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

March 9, 2016

 

 

Concussion bill gets all-clear from House, sent to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would clarify under what circumstances a high school athlete suspected of having a concussion may return to play has cleared the House.

 

House Bill 217, sponsored by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, was amended and passed by the House by a vote of 96-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.


Should HB 217 become law, high school coaches would not be able to play student athletes who are diagnosed with a concussion, said Denham. Any athlete suspected of having a concussion would be prohibited from returning to play if no physician or other licensed medical provider is present at the practice or competition to evaluate them.

 

Athletes who aren’t evaluated would not be able to play in any future practice or game unless they have written clearance from a physician, Denham said.

 

Current law prohibits student athletes suspected of having a concussion from returning to play on the day of the suspected injury until they are medically evaluated. Athletes found to have a concussion cannot return to practice or play on the same day as the injury, nor are they allowed to participate in future practices or games without medical clearance. Athletes are allowed to return to play no concussion is determined.

 

Denham said the bill has the support of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

 

-END-

 

March 9, 2016

 

Abortion clinic standards addressed in Senate bill

FRANKFORT – Abortion clinic operators wanting to open new facilities in Kentucky would have to meet higher operating standards under a bill that passed the state Senate by a 32-5 vote today. 

Known as Senate Bill 212, the measure would require abortion clinics to have full operating suites with oxygen, crash carts and other medical supplies in addition to having a physician on staff with admitting privileges at a hospital within 50 miles of the clinic. The legislation seeks to “protect women’s health,” said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, who sponsors the legislation along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville.

Robinson said it’s reasonable that abortion clinics should abide by the same safety protocols as surgery centers. Settings for less invasive surgical procedures, such as inserting ear tubes in a child, are required to meet certain standards and abortion clinics should do the same, he added.

“The requirement will not cause existing clinics to be shut down,” Robinson said. “If an existing clinic is properly licensed as of July 1, 2016, it will be grandfathered through the process.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, voted against the measure because he said it would raise barriers to a lawful medical procedure.

“This bill is our abortion bill of the week,” Thomas said in reference to of several abortion-related bills working their way through the General Assembly. “I would submit that if you are a young woman in Kentucky of child bearing years, it has been a very rough session for you.”

SB 212 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration. A similar measure in the House, known as House Bill 492, was introduced last month and has been assigned to the House Health & Welfare Committee. 

-- END --

 

March 9, 2016

 

House panel approves bill to crack down on dogfighting

FRANKFORT— A bill that would outlaw the possession, training, breeding, and selling of dogs for the purpose of dog fighting has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 428, which advanced out of committee on Wednesday, would make it a Class D felony in the first degree to knowingly own, possess, keep, breed, train, sell or otherwise transfer a canine for the purpose of dog fighting.

A Class D felony is punishable with a fine and a sentence of one to five years in prison.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, the bill’s primary sponsor, cited Kentucky’s stature as the last remaining state to not pass this type of legislation.

“You hate for Kentucky to be last in any particular thing but this is certainly an area where we don’t want to be last,” he said.

Testifying in support of the bill, Louisville Metro Police Officer Lisa Nagle, a nine-year veteran of the force, said that in her experience those involved in the bloodsport also tend to be involved in drug trafficking and other illicit activities.

It’s also more prevalent than we’d like to think, she added, calling dogfighting “a huge problem” and “an epidemic in Kentucky.”

After passing today with 13 yes-votes, HB428 heads to a vote in front of the full chamber.

HB 428 is similar, but not identical, to a bill the Senate passed in February that would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in fighting a felony punishable by one year to five years in prison. That legislation, Senate Bill 14, is co-sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

--END--

 

March 9, 2016

 

Gettin’ your tan on: It may get harder for KY teens

FRANKFORT – Tanning bed salons would be off limits for Kentucky’s youngsters under a bill that passed the state Senate Health and Welfare Committee today.

Senate Bill 108 would prohibit anyone under 18 from using a commercial tanning bed. An exemption would be given for physician-prescribed phototherapy, the use of light in the treatment of physical or mental illness. Tanning beds for home use would also be exempt from the ban.

“I don’t know if there is a bill that we will hear this session that has the potential to save so many lives with so few words,” said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, who introduced legislation.

Currently state law requires teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 to have a signed parental consent form before they can use a tanning bed.

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, cosponsored SB 108.

“As a physician, I know the risks of using a tanning bed,” he said.

Dr. Laura Klein, a dermatologist in Louisville, testified that there were three reasons Kentucky needed SB 108. She said minors are not old enough to make an informed decision on using tanning beds, multiple scientific studies document the “unequivocal increase risk of cancer” from tanning beds and that the cost of treating skin cancer has risen 126 percent in recent years.

“I recently diagnosed a basal cell carcinoma on a beautiful UK student’s face,” Klein said. “She had been using tanning beds throughout high school and college. And unfortunately, she now has an unsightly scare on her face despite plastic-surgery reconstruction.”

She acknowledged that there is a proposed Food and Drug Administration ban on anyone under 18 using tanning beds, but said Kentucky couldn’t afford to wait.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, voted against SB 108 and explained.

“This is tough,” said Wise, adding that his son is a neurological cancer survivor, “but I have a difficult time when we try to legislate a parent’s decision in something like this.”

SB 108 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The state House of Representatives passed a similar measure, known as House Bill 196, by a 55-37 vote in February. It has been assigned to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.

-- END –

 

March 8, 2016

 

 

Community college scholarship bill clears House A&R 

 

FRANKFORT—Tuition for thousands of Kentucky community college students could be covered under a proposed scholarship bill that passed a House committee today.

 

The “Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program” proposed in House Bill 626 would cover Kentucky Community and Technical College (KCTCS) tuition not covered by federal and state grants or scholarships for Kentucky high school graduates who have applied for federal student aid, enroll in at least 12 credit hours a semester, and maintain a cumulative 2.0 grade point average, said bill sponsor and House Speaker Greg Stumbo.

 

Stumbo called the proposal “a good investment” that would close the tuition gap for students whose current financial aid falls short of what they need to go to college.

 

“Can we say that it’s not a good investment? I don’t think anybody can argue that it’s not a good investment. And it would apply to every community college all across Kentucky,” he said. 

 

Students would have to enroll in KCTCS academic term immediately following their high school graduation or before their 19th birthday (for those obtaining a GED) to be eligible for a Work Ready Kentucky scholarship, with the first scholarships available for the fall 2016 term, Stumbo said. Scholarships would be available to a students for up to six semesters or until they earn an associate’s degree, whichever comes first.

 

The program would cost the state $13 million in the first year and $19.9 million in the second year of the next two-year budget cycle, said Stumbo.

 

“There will be no new debt created as a result of this,” he said.

 

The Work Ready Kentucky scholarship idea is modeled after the “Tennessee Promise” scholarship program available to community college students in Tennessee. Three states have similar scholarship programs with 11 more states (including Kentucky) considering legislation to establish one this year, said KCTCS President Dr. Jay Box.

 

Box said the program would reduce out-of-pocket costs for around 3,200 students, namely those who are not receiving a full federal Pell Grant. He said the proposed scholarship would be an incentive for students to attend classes full time, adding that around 60 percent of KCTCS students are now part-time.

“What we expect is really meeting the needs of the workforce in that we are getting students through the pipeline quicker because it is in incentive for them to take a full load, to be a full-time student,” said Box.

Among the lawmakers voting against the bill in committee was Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, who said equitable funding of Kentucky’s community colleges should be addressed. Dossett said community colleges in some regions currently receive more funding than those in other regions.

“I do appreciate what you brought forward. I think it’s something we in the future could look at, but at this time I would like to see us look at equity in funding for our community colleges,” he said.  

Among those voting for the bill in committee was Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville. Montell said he believes the legislation fits with work now underway in the Executive Branch.

“I think investment in workforce development is long overdue and I think this will probably complement the work that (the Bevin administration) is doing,” he said.

HB 626 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

-END-

 

March 8, 2016

 

 

Bill to raise state’s minimum wage heads to House

 

FRANKFORT—A proposal to raise the state minimum wage to $8.10 an hour this August has cleared the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

 

The version of House Bill 278 approved by the committee today eliminated some provisions in the bill approved by another committee earlier this session that would have incrementally raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour between 2016 and 2018. Today’s change addresses confusion about the three-year incremental increase by raising the minimum wage one time only, said the bill sponsor, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

 

“So this body would have the opportunity to come back and review that, obviously next year, if this bill were to become law,” said Stumbo.

 

The state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not been raised since 2009. Stumbo, who has proposed a minimum-wage increase several times in recent years, said an estimated 26,000 Kentuckians currently work a minimum wage job.

 

The minimum wage increase proposed in HB 278 would not apply to companies with an average annual gross sales volume of less than $500,000, the bill states.

 

Provisions in the original bill that would prohibit wage discrimination based on sex, race or national origin for employees who perform equivalent jobs were retained in the measure passed by the committee today.

 

HB 278 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

-END-

 

March 7, 2016

 

Concealed carry bill passes House, heads to Senate 

FRANKFORT—Off-duty and retired law enforcement officers could carry concealed firearms anywhere that on-duty law enforcement officers carry firearms under legislation that has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 314 sponsor Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said the bill affirms current law allowing Kentucky law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms whether or not they are on-duty officers, retired officers, or off-duty officers authorized by their employer to carry concealed firearms.

“This legislation, or something like it, already exists in KRS 527. But we have to move it to this particular section (of KRS Chapter 237) to make it very clear that we intend our law enforcement officers, when they are off-duty or retired, have the ability to carry weapons that they’re trained to use and protect themselves, protect the public, and protect their family,” said Riggs.

Riggs introduced the legislation after learning that off-duty officers were stopped from carrying concealed firearms into a Louisville Palace event. Police officers in Louisville are required to carry their weapons both on and off duty, said Riggs.

HB 314, which is also sponsored by Rep. Charles Miller, D-Louisville, passed by a vote of 87-2 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. The bill would take effect immediately should it become law.

-END-

 

March 7, 2016

 

Local option sales tax proposal approved by House panel

FRANKFORT— A proposed constitutional amendment that could allow cities and counties to levy a local option sales and use tax for specific projects has cleared a House committee.

If passed by the House and Senate, House Bill 2 would let statewide voters decide this fall on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow state lawmakers to give local governments the power to enact an up-to-1 percent tax for a specific local projects for a limited time, if the tax is approved in a local referendum. The tax would be discontinued once a project is paid off or a certain number of years has passed, whichever comes first, according to the legislation.

The proposal, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, cleared its first hurdle when it was approved today by the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

“It’s actually a three-tier process,” Stumbo said of the steps taken to enact a local option sales and use tax. “The people of Kentucky would be given the option as a constitutional amendment and then if, in fact, it were to be passed as enabling legislation (by the General Assembly) then the city council or the governing body … would have to identify a project and vote to put that proposal before the people and then the people themselves would have to vote on it.”

Local option sales taxes are now allowed to be levied by at least one local government in 38 states including every state bordering Kentucky except Indiana, according to the Kentucky League of Cities. City and counties in Kentucky have never had local option sales tax authority under the current state constitution.

Stumbo compared the proposed legislation to the Kentucky Education Reform Act, or KERA, which increased funding for public education in the Commonwealth following its passage in 1990.

“If we say to Kentuckians, as we did 26 years ago with the KERA legislation, ‘we’re going to ask you to pay more, but we’re going to show you where it’s going,’ in that instance for education—in this instance they’d be able to see exactly what it’s going for, and I believe that’s the way in modern times that we have to approach these funding situation,” said Stumbo.

Legislation similar to HB 2 passed the House by a vote of 62-35 in 2015 but did not pass the Senate.

HB 2 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

March 4, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

February 29-March 4

FRANKFORT— A flurry of new bills were introduced this week as filing deadlines for the  Kentucky Senate and House came and went.

Eighty-eight bills were filed before the deadline in the House on Tuesday, followed by 37 in the Senate before the chamber’s Thursday deadline. That brings the total bills introduced in this year’s General Assembly session to 937. That total is the largest since 2008.

Topics for the deadline filings ranged from tax credits to promote investment in rural Kentucky counties and charter school pilot programs to medical marijuana programs. Even fees for horse jockeys.

As new bills were being filed this week, other bills continued working their way through the process. Bills that advanced in recent days include measures on:

Ultrasounds. The state Senate passed a bill requiring an ultrasound be performed before an abortion is performed. Under Senate Bill 152, the physician would also be required to provide a simultaneous explanation of the image to the patient. The patient would have the option to view the image but would not be required to do so. The bill also sets penalties for doctors failing to comply: $100,000 for a first offense and $250,000 for each subsequent violation, as well as being reported to the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. SB152 was passed Monday and advanced to the House for consideration.

Emergency personnel fitness. House Bill 384, passed by the House on Monday, would allow local governments to create and adopt voluntary health and fitness programs for their emergency personnel staffers. The bill does not include any mandate or appropriation for the programs, but allows local governments to accept private or public monies to set up such programs. HB384 is now in the hands of the Senate.

Kentucky Horse Park. Also on Monday, the Senate voted to reduce the size of the horse park’s governing board. Senate Bill 200 would trim the park commission from 17 members to nine. The bill is now in the House’s hands.

Nuclear power plants. Senate Bill 89 would change several requirements that have effectively prevented construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky. The bill would change the requirement that facilities have means of permanent disposal of nuclear waste. Instead, they would only be required to have a plan for its safe storage, and that the plans be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The bill passed a Senate vote on Tuesday and was forwarded to the House.

Protect emergency, health officials. On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would increase the amount of time someone convicted of the attempted murder of a police officer or firefighter would be required to serve before being eligible for parole. Under House Bill 137, at least of 85 percent of a prison term would have to be served. House Bill 210, which adds health department inspectors and other staff to a class of protected professions, also passed a floor vote. HB210 would upgrade an attack on a health department employee to a third-degree assault. Both bills are now being considered in the Senate.

Victim rights. Senate Bill 175 would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to create a crime victim bill of rights. Victims of violent crimes would have the right to be notified of court hearings, the punishment and the release date for the perpetrator, as well as be involved throughout the justice process. Passed by the Senate on Tuesday, the measure is now under consideration by the House.

Conceal carry. The House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 314, which would allow off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons in all locations on-duty officers can. HB 314 now faces a vote before the entire House.

Sexting. The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would spare juveniles from a felony record if caught “sexting” – transmitting nude videos or photos of themselves or other minors via mobile phone. Senate Bill 37 would reduce the penalty from a felony to a Class-B misdemeanor for the first offense for perpetrators under the age of 18. Subsequent offenses would be Class-A misdemeanors. SB37 now goes to the House for consideration.

Executive branch ethics. House Bill 608, passed Thursday by the House State Government committee, is an update the Kentucky Executive Branch code of ethics. The bill includes language that would require state employees and Executive Branch officials to report suspected ethics code violations to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission. The bill would also allow the Commission to use its restricted funds, something that currently isn’t allowed unless authorized in the state budget. The bill would also give the Commission authority to change the registration fee charged to executive branch lobbyists. The fee is currently $125. House Bill 608 is now up for a full House vote.

The General Assembly works best when citizens are informed and engaged. To offer feedback on issues under consideration or to ask questions about legislative topics, call the Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

-- END –

 

March 4, 2016

 

‘Charlie Brown Bill’ clears Senate on first kick

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate has passed a second piece of legislation during the 2016 General Assembly designed to protect the expression of religious viewpoints in schools after a district removed a biblical reference in a stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” this past winter.

Senate Bill 106 would permit public schools to sponsor artistic or theatrical programs that advance students’ knowledge or society’s cultural and religious heritage and traditions. SB 106 passed by a unanimous vote on Thursday before moving to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he introduced SB 106 because of a “firestorm” in December that Johnson County school officials created by removing a Bible passage that the character Linus was supposed to recite during a student production of the well-known Peanuts story. Smith said during one performance parents in audience stood up and loudly recited the censored lines on their own.

“I think most of us growing up in the school system would have never given a thought to the fact that we were somehow in violation of the law by doing the Peanuts play, but somehow this happened,” Smith said.

Last month, the Senate passed Senate Bill 15. It would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing.

SB 15 was assigned to the House Education Committee on Feb. 8 for further consideration.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, explained why he voted for both SB 106 and SB 15.

“I am opposed to any kind of censorship of art and theater,” he said, but added he had concerns about another bill addressing religious freedom.

That measure, known as Senate Bill 180, would prohibit government from compelling services or actions from anyone if doing so conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs. During a recent meeting of the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection, supporters of SB 180 said it would protect religious liberty of citizens while detractors said it would allow discrimination and would undermine fairness ordinances passed by local municipalities.

SB 180 has received two reading in the Senate but has not been acted on by the full body.

-- END –

 

March 3, 2016

 

Senate bill would reduce penalties for underage sexting

FRANKFORT – Youngsters would be spared a felony if they got caught trading nude pictures among themselves – a practice known as sexting – under a bill that passed out of the Kentucky Senate today by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 37 would address people under the age of 18 who violate the state law by sending sexually explicit images – both photos and videos – of themselves or other minors via mobile phones. It would reduce the penalty from a felony to a Class-B misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class-A misdemeanor for all subsequent offenses. Former prosecutor Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the lower penalty would still allow judges to impose fines, education requirements and community service.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced the legislation because everyone in the judicial system – from police officers, prosecutors and judges – needed additional options to punish youngsters instead of just branding them felons for life. A conviction under the current law could even land a youngster on the sex offender register.

“They had identified a problem … within our juvenile population and that problem actually revolves around this little device right here,” Bowen said while pointing to a mobile phone he was holding. “Used properly, we can accomplish a lot with this – get a lot of good things done. Used improperly, it can cause a lot of problems.

“We as adults should be about to distinguish right from wrong and use that device properly. But the fact of the matter is, we are not the only ones that use this. I dare say that our juvenile population might use it more than we do. Often times in their use in this device they make youthful indiscretions – make bad choices.”

Another former prosecutor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said SB 37 allows judges to impose a more nuanced punishment and teach juveniles how serious the crime is without destroying the youths’ futures.

“This allows them to have a criminal penalty and face consequences, but hopefully use it has a learning exercise and not carry a felony conviction – much less sex-offender registry for the rest of their lives,” Westerfield said.  

-- END --

 

March 3, 2016

 

 

College tuition measure advances to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—A resolution that could pave the way to college for more Kentuckians who are orphaned or taken away from their parents as children has passed the Kentucky House.

 

House Concurrent Resolution 133, sponsored by Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, and Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, would ask the state’s public colleges and universities to identify and give special admissions and tuition aid consideration to prospective students who lost their parents or were taken away from their parents due to abuse or neglect and then adopted by a blood relative or raised by a permanent legal guardian.  

 

Stone said Kentucky law provides public postsecondary tuition assistance for foster children but not children being raised by grandparents, other blood relatives or permanent guardians. Approximately 49,000 Kentucky children are being raised by their grandparents today, according to the resolution.

 

“This resolution simply asks our schools to look hard to find a way to help these families who are working hard to allow hope to overcome adversity,” said Stone.

 

After attending an event for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in his home county last fall, Tipton said he learned many of the issues facing these families.

 

“For many of them this was something in life they had never anticipated. But they do it because they love their grandchildren and are offering this support, and this is just a small way to shed some light on this issue and the hardships that many of them are dealing with,” he said.

 

HCR 133 passed the House by a vote of 90-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

-END-

 

 

 

March 3, 2016

 

Executive ethics bill clears House State Government panel

FRANKFORT—An update to the state Executive Branch ethics code—including a proposed change to lobbyists’ registration fees—has passed the House State Government Committee.

House Bill 608 sponsor and House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said the bill grew out of legislation sponsored by former State Rep. Tanya Pullin in 2014. That measure, HB 390, made it through the House State Government Committee but stalled in the full House.

HB 608—which includes many provisions, including language that would require state employees and Executive Branch officials to report suspected violations of the Executive Branch Code of Ethics to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission—would also allow the commission to access its restricted fund for administrative needs that cannot be covered under what Overly called the agency’s current “shoestring” budget. The commission cannot currently use its restricted funds without state budget authorization, says Executive Branch Ethics Commission Executive Director Kathryn Gabhart, adding that the fund has been bled dry in recent years due to budget cuts.  

“They don’t have the money to conduct hearings on complaints that are presented to them,” according to Overly. “They estimate, depending on the type of hearing and length of the hearing, it can cost from $7,500 to $35,000. So what that does (to the commission) is puts them in a position where they are forced to settle these matters because they actually don’t have the resources to properly investigate them and take them to hearing.”

That was followed with questions from Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, who asked about a provision in HB 608 that would replace a statutory registration fee for executive branch lobbyists with a regulatory fee determined by the commission itself.  The statutory fee of $125 has been in place since 2006, said Gabhart.

“They could triple it, they could do whatever and it would not come back to us except by the Administrative Regulations (Review) Committee. That may be what we need to do, but I don’t ever want to hear another cry for budgetary cuts if you can just set your own fees to take care of what you need—I don’t guess you’ll even need another General Fund appropriation if you have this ability,” said Rudy.

Overly said many state agencies have legal authority to set their fees by regulation, calling $125 to lobby the government a “nominal fee.”

“This language has been out there now for just a few short days…but there aren’t any lobbyists that have called (who) have complained in any way about letting Executive Branch Ethics regulate that fee,” said Overly.

The commission serves 32,000 executive branch employees with six employees on staff, four of which are full-time, said Gabhart. She said complaints, hearings, litigation, and appeals have all increased “all the way up to the Supreme Court.” At the same time the commission’s advisory opinions have decreased as its number of investigations have risen, she said.

“Right now we have upwards of 30 matters ongoing and we have four full-time employees and two part-time employees handling those matters,” said Gabhart, adding that each investigation takes thousands of hours of work. Should HB 608 become law, she said an increase in lobbyist fees would just cover what the commission needs to make ends meet.

“That is just enough to keep us afloat,” said Gabhart.

HB 608 would also change how members of the five-member commission are nominated by allowing the Governor, Auditor of Public Accounts, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer to nominate individuals who may be appointed to the commission by the Governor. Absent from the list of constitutional officers able to make nominations under HB 608 is the Commissioner of Agriculture, which spurred Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, to ask why the office was omitted.

Gabhart responded that the State Auditor and Attorney General are mentioned because current law specifies that the commission has a working relationship with those two officials. “The Secretary of State and the Treasurer are the next constitutional officers we deal with the most,” she said. “It wasn’t specifically to leave out the Commissioner of Agriculture, it’s because we only have five members.”

Overly said she would be happy to work with Upchurch on a floor amendment to add the Commissioner of Agriculture to the bill.

HB 608 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

March 2, 2014

 

New wellness initiative has LRC workers “On the Move”

FRANKFORT—Capitol staffers will soon be even more on the move.

The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) today launched LRC on the Move, a wellness initiative aimed at keeping employees healthy and feeling good.

LRC on the Move is a voluntary program open to all employees featuring awareness messaging, health information and incentives for participants.

Bill O’Brien, LRC Assistant Director for Human Resources and Professional Development, is spearheading the initiative, with the support of a newly formed wellness committee made up of LRC staff. O’Brien is a former Director of Wellness and Benefits at Rutgers University.

“By encouraging a supportive work environment and healthy living choices, programs like LRC on the Move can make a powerful impact on the lives of employees,” O’Brien said. “This program reinforces the new direction we’re heading as an agency: a direction that promotes employee participation and empowerment.”

Among the goals of the program is highlighting resources already available to employees, such as HumanaVitality, an incentive program through which many Kentucky state employees earn rewards for healthy habits. LRC staffers can earn rewards like gift cards from popular retailers and fitness trackers through that program for meeting activity goals, weight loss and participating in health assessment events.

LRC on the Move is an employee-conceived and led initiative. Several staff members mentioned their hopes for better wellness efforts during the 125 one-on-one meetings that LRC Director David A. Byerman held with employees after he became the agency head last year. Employees who made the suggestions for a stronger emphasis on wellness are now among the founding members of the LRC’s wellness committee.  “LRC on the Move” was one of several names for the program conceived by the committee and ultimately voted upon by agency employees.

LRC on the Move comes at a good time, in the midst of a legislative session in which some employees might be experiencing more stress or spending longer hours at their desks. Reminders and encouragement to eat healthy, release stress, sleep right and keep active will all be part of the wellness initiative.

According to a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 85 percent of all health care spending each year is linked to workers with one or more chronic medical conditions that can be, at least partly, attributed to poor diet, obesity and a lack of activity – all pitfalls of a busy office schedule.  The CDC estimates those costs could top $4.2 trillion annually in the U.S. by 2023.

Today’s launch of LRC on the Move featured the first “Wellness Wednesday” message in a morning email bulletin to all LRC staff. The message outlined a range of simple exercises employees can perform at their desks to stay limber and in shape.

--END--

 

March 2, 2016

  

Concealed carry bill passes House Judiciary panel 

FRANKFORT—The right of off-duty and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons in the same locations as on-duty officers would be affirmed under a bill passed today by the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said he filed House Bill 314 at the request of the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office in response to a situation in which off-duty officers were prohibited from carrying concealed weapons into a Louisville Palace event. Such situations are especially problematic in Louisville where, Riggs said, police officers are required to carry their weapons both on-duty and off.

He said HB 314 clarifies current law that allows Kentucky law enforcement officers to concealed carry whether or not they are on-duty officers, retired officers, or off-duty officers authorized to concealed carry by their employer.

“What we’re trying to do here is just have a duplicate statute in a section that makes it really clear that this has always been our intent and we want to make it real clear,” said Riggs.

The bill passed the committee with the support of lawmakers like Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who described HB 314 as a life-saving bill.

“There are many people who have had their lives spared because an off-duty police officer or retired police officer was able to deescalate or neutralize a threat. So we’re grateful to you, this is a great bill, I’m voting yes,” Benvenuti said.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, who said carrying a gun “gives a false sense of security.”

“It just encourages and proliferates more violence in our society. I vote no,” she said.

HB 314, which is also sponsored by Rep. Charles Miller, D-Louisville, now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END

 

March 1, 2016

 

Police, fire, health department protections approved by House

FRANKFORT— Those convicted of attempted murder of law enforcement or firefighters in Kentucky would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences under a bill approved today by the House.

House Bill 137 would put criminal attempt to commit murder of a readily identifiable on-duty law enforcement officer or firefighter on par with other violent offenses by setting an 85-percent rule for parole eligibility regardless of whether the officer or firefighter is seriously injured, said Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, the bill’s sponsor.

Those convicted of the crime currently must only serve 20 percent of their sentence to be eligible for parole if the officer or firefighter is not seriously injured, said Watkins.

“The fact is that 33 percent of all inmates in Kentucky are paroled the first time they are eligible,” he said.

Voting in support of HB 137 was Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, who said he was casting his vote in memory of Richmond Police Officer Daniel Ellis, who died last year after he was shot by a robbery suspect. The suspect in the shooting, Raleigh Sizemore, is a convicted felon who was being sought for parole violations before Officer Ellis was killed.

“I totally support this 85-percent rule…and I would encourage every member of this body to get behind it,” Carney said of HB 137.

Also voting in support of HB 137 was Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, who said she was also supporting the bill in honor of Officer Ellis.

“Many of you remember that Officer Ellis was killed in the line of duty,” Smart said. “So this is a really good bill, we need it, and I encourage the body to vote for it.”

HB 137 passed by a vote of 90-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The House also voted to strengthen protections for health department inspectors and other staff by passing HB 210 sponsored by Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, and Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville. That bill would allow anyone who “recklessly…or intentionally causes or attempts to cause physical injury to” on-duty public health officers or health department employees to be charged with third-degree assault.

Currently there are 10 professions in Kentucky that are granted the protections that health department workers would receive under HB 210. Teachers, social workers, law enforcement officers and firefighters are among the professions on the current list. 

HB 210 passed by a vote of 88-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

-END-

 

March 1, 2016

 

Proposed constitutional amendment for crime victim protections advances

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky Senate today approved legislation that would place a proposed constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot to create a crime victim “bill of rights.”

Senate Bill 175, which seeks to enumerate constitutional protections for crime victims that don’t currently exist, passed by a 34-1 vote and was forwarded to the House for its consideration.

Among the bill’s protections are a right to be heard at steps along the justice process such as hearings, plea deal negotiations, sentencings and parole hearings. Victims would also have a stated right to be treated with “fairness and respect,” to be kept abreast of developments as a case progresses and to have reasonable protection from the accused or anyone acting on their behalf if the bill passes.

Many of the provisions are commonly offered to victims, sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said while introducing the bill. Many aren’t codified, however.

Westerfield said there are around 9,000 violent crimes in Kentucky each year.

“For every one of those violent offenses, there’s at least one victim, sometimes more. The rights that they are afforded either don’t exist at all or exist in random places in statute,” he added.

“While we have a lot of people at the end of the day that work to make sure victims are taken care of, I think it’s important that we enshrine (these) rights in the state constitution.”

The only no vote came from Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who said he supported the bill but as an amendment to the state constitution it should be studied further.

If adopted by the House, the amendment would go to a statewide ballot in November. A win there would make Kentucky the 33rd state in the U.S. to enact constitutional protections for crime victims, better known as “Marsy’s Law.”

“Marsy’s Law for All” is a national effort to get those rights recognized in all 50 states. The movement is named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California college student stalked and killed by her boyfriend in 1983. A week later, Nicholas’ mother and brother ran into the suspect at a local grocery store, unaware that he had been released on bail. They had not been notified.

The brother, Dr. Henry Nicholas, spearheaded an effort to get victim rights recognized. The first “Marsy’s Law” passed in California in 2008.

 

--END--

March 1, 2016

 

Nuclear power bill advances in Senate

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would lift a long-standing moratorium on nuclear power plants in the state, was approved today by the Kentucky Senate.

Senate Bill 89 would amend Kentucky Revised Statutes to change the requirement that facilities have means of permanent disposal of nuclear waste. Instead they would only be required to have a plan for its safe storage, and that the plans be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It would also eliminate several other obstacles to the construction and maintenance of nuclear facilities.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah.

“Lifting the nuclear moratorium in Kentucky is no longer a regional issue. It is, without question, a statewide issue,” said Carroll, the latest to introduce the bill – it has passed a Senate vote several times in recent years.

With 99 reactors running in 30 states and a handful being built, Carroll said Kentucky is surrounded by states taking advantage of advances in nuclear energy.

“It has never been more important that we start looking to diversify the energy portfolio in our state,” Carroll said.

“When you run a business, you look for varied funding streams. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket… That’s what we’re doing in our state. Out of fear of nuclear energy, out of efforts to protect the coal industry, whatever the case may be, we are putting all our eggs in one basket.”

“We will left behind if we don’t take action. Soon,” he added.

Other changes proposed with the bill include giving the Public Service Commission authority to hire consultants to perform duties relating to nuclear facility certification.

The bill, in earlier iterations, has received significant attention in the western part of the state where many were out of work when the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant closed in 2013. The facility produced enriched uranium for the U.S. Department of Energy for 50 years before closing.

SB 89 now heads to the House for consideration. 

--END--

 

February 29, 2016

 

Emergency personnel fitness bill goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow local governments to create voluntary health and fitness incentive programs for their fire and law enforcement personnel has passed the Kentucky House.

Blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index (BMI) or other fitness indicators could be used by local governments to measure the health and fitness of personnel who participate in an incentive program created under House Bill 384 should such a program be approved by local ordinance, said Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, the sponsor of the bill. Program participation would be entirely voluntary and could not be used as a measure of someone’s job performance, Riner said.

“The need for the legislation is simply that it provides a mechanism where we can track which communities have a fire department, or a sheriff’s department, or a police department that would like to be involved in an incentive program,” said Riner. It would be up to the state Department for Local Government to retain that information for the public record, he said.

Successes in an incentive program would be rewarded—monetarily or otherwise—based on individual or departmental performance, or the performance of a combination of departments within a local government or even among different local governments, Riner explained.

HB 384 does not include an appropriation, but would allow local governments to accept private or public monies for voluntary health and fitness programs established under the bill, said Riner.

“Local fire departments, police departments and sheriff’s departments could be the recipients of funds collected and given by those who are interested in those departments actually getting involved in … health and fitness,” said Riner. “There is no obligation at all for funding by the state or the local government—it is all a voluntary operation.”

House Bill 384 passed by a vote of 60-9 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

-END-

 

Feb. 29, 2016

  

‘Ultrasound bill’ passes KY Senate, goes to House

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill seeking to change the informed consent process required prior to an abortion in Kentucky by a 32-4 vote today.

Senate Bill 152 would require an ultrasound be performed prior to an abortion and that the woman seeking that abortion be allowed to see the ultrasound image, said State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who sponsored the bill. Calling it the “ultrasound bill,” he said similar legislation had been introduced in the chamber in past years.

“This is inspired in part by a constituent and friend of mine back in Christian County who expressed … regret over the experience that she had some many years ago when she sought an abortion and eventually had that abortion,” Westerfield said. “When she asked for the opportunity to see the ultrasound … the nurse ignored her on the first request.”

Westerfield said the nurse only acknowledged the request after it was made three times but then responded, “It’s best we not go down that road.” Westerfield said the woman regrets to this day not insisting that she see the ultrasound.

“I think regardless of everyone’s position on abortion in this chamber, we can all agree fewer is better,” Westerfield said. “She wishes she had not gone through it then and this would have helped her.”

SB 152 now goes before the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END –

 

 

February 26, 2016

 

This Week in the Kentucky General Assembly

February 22-26

 

With the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2016 in its second half, lawmakers have voted on scores of bills, held numerous budget hearings to dig into the governor’s state spending plan and heard many hours of testimony on the major education, health care, and crime issues confronting Kentucky.

But the legislative process is more like a marathon than a sprint, so the final half of our session is sure to see even more action – especially as the state budget comes closer to a vote in the House of Representatives and delivery to the Senate.

The state spending plan was unveiled one month ago by Gov. Matt Bevin, who proposed 4.5 percent budget cuts for the rest of the current fiscal year and 9 percent cuts across state government for the next two fiscal years. The savings are aimed at helping state pension systems meet obligations.

Not all parts of state government would see spending cuts under the governor’s plan. The main school funding formula, known as SEEK, is spared. So is Medicaid, veterans affairs, school district health insurance, student financial aid and more.

Lawmakers serving on budget committees are currently digging deep into the spending plan’s details and continue to seek information from state officials on how proposed spending cuts would affect state services.

Once House members tailor the spending plan into a document they are satisfied with, the budget will receive its turn in the Senate. By session’s end, Senate and House members are expected to meet in conference committee meetings to iron out differences in each chamber’s preferred spending plans.

While the budget is the issue commanding the most attention in Frankfort, many other bills are also working their way through the legislative process. Bills took steps forward this past week on the following issues:

Heroin. Senate Bill 115, would increase penalties for dealing heroin. It would make trafficking in any amount of heroin a Class C felony for the first offense. A Class C felony is punishable upon conviction by between five years and 10 years in prison. Currently, a person convicted of trafficking in under two grams of heroin faces a Class D felony on the first offense, which carries a penalty of one year to five years in prison. SB 115 would also double the time a person convicted of trafficking less than two grams of heroin would have to serve in prison before becoming eligible for parole. The bill calls for a person convicted of any amount of heroin dealing to serve 50 percent of his or her sentence before being considered for parole. The legislation was approved by the Senate and how awaits action in the House.

Life insurance. HB 408 specifies that a law already on the books requiring life insurance companies to make a good-faith effort to locate beneficiaries of death and burial policies should be applied retroactively. The bill passed the House and has been sent to the Senate.

EMS. Senate Bill 43 would create a death benefit for emergency medical services personnel, if they are employed by a city or county government and killed in the line of duty. The death benefit would be $80,000 and go to the next of kin. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration.

Adventure tourism. House Bill 38 would allow recreational zip lines to be regulated. The bill would require the state to set standards for the use and operation of aerial recreational facilities like outdoor zip line and canopy tours should it become law. The bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

Dog fighting. Senate Bill 14 would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in fighting a felony punishable by one year to five years in prison. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration.

Tenant protection. House Bill 41 would allow victims of domestic violence to get out of a lease with at least 30 days’ notice to their landlord. Additionally, HB 41 would prohibit landlords from denying someone a lease based on the fact that a person has taken out an emergency protective order, domestic violence order or other type of restraining order. The bill also would prohibit landlords from using rental agreements to penalize tenants who request assistance from emergency services and allow a victim to request that locks be changed by the landlord with at least 72 hours’ notice. The bill has been approved by the House. It now awaits consideration in the Senate.

Firefighters. Senate Bill 195 would extend government –paid survivor benefits the families of cancer-stricken firefighters – both professional and volunteer. The $80,000 death benefit would be paid out of the state general fund. Under the legislation, the firefighter would have to be 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years. Their cancer also could not be attributed to a preexisting condition or tobacco. The bill has been approved by the Senate and delivered to the House.

Drones. House Bill 120 would specify in state law that it’s illegal to use a drone to harass someone or for acts of voyeurism, forcible entry, theft or burglary. All offenses would be misdemeanor crimes except harassing conduct, which would be a violation carrying a fine. The bill was approved by the House and has been delivered to the Senate.

Next week also marks deadlines for introducing new bills in the House and Senate. At the time of this writing, about 700 bills have been filed for consideration in this year’s 60-day session. With the approaching deadline to add to that number, Capitol observers will soon have an even clearer picture of the range of issues that will be considered in the days to come

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.

--END--

 

February 26, 2016

 

 

Life insurance benefits bill passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Life insurance companies would have to make a good-faith effort to find beneficiaries of policies they sold before the enactment of a 2012 state unclaimed benefits law under legislation that is on its way to the state Senate.

House Bill 408, sponsored by Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, specifies that the Unclaimed Benefits Act, a law state lawmakers passed in 2012, should apply retroactively to beneficiaries of policies sold before the legislation took effect in 2013. Known as the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act, the law requires life insurance companies to determine if a policy holder has died and then make a solid effort to locate beneficiaries of the policy.

Harris told the House that HB 408 “is a simple consumer-protection bill that helps every single life insurance policy holder in the Commonwealth of Kentucky receive the benefits that their beneficiaries are owed.”

The bill was amended with a floor amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, that clarifies what constitutes a “good-faith effort” by insurance companies under HB 408.

The amendment “simply says that the Department of Insurance shall promulgate (implement) regulations that communicate to insurers what actions, steps and undertakings constitute a good-faith effort,” said Rowland.

HB 408 as amended passed the House 84-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB 408 was filed by Harris this month after the state dropped its defense of the 2012 law in a case filed by several life insurance companies against the law four years ago. The companies argued that the law should not apply to policies issued before the legislation took effect. An appeals court agreed, saying Kentucky law requires a retroactivity provision in any law that is intended to apply to a period before the law took effect 

-END-

 

Feb. 25, 2016

 

Senate approves bill to give stronger bite to state’s dog-fighting ban

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a measure by a 36-0 vote today that would amend Kentucky’ dog-fighting ban to also make it illegal to promote the practice.

Senate Bill 14 would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in fighting a felony punishable by one year to five years in prison. In legal parlance, it makes it the “furtherance” of the act of dog fighting illegal in Kentucky.

State Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said he introduced the legislation because Kentucky is the only state without a similar provision in their animal cruelty laws.

“I started back in June or July … trying to come with some way to make sure Kentucky was not looked at in a negative manner on this particular issue because we had been for quite some time,” said Hornback, who is also a farmer.

He said SB 14 distinguishes farmers who use animals to protect their livestock from people who fight dogs for a sport. Hornback said he has donkeys that guard his livestock against coyotes. He added that he use to have emus that did the same job.

“There are a lot of things out there that go on in the field of agriculture,” Hornback said, “and I wanted to make sure those things are protected. I put exemptions in the bill for that.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, accused some national animal welfare groups of spreading misinformation about SB 14 in an attempt to promote an agenda of eliminating domestic ownership of all animals.

“They manufactured a crisis that says (SB 14) will promote dog fighting,” Webb said. “I respectfully disagree with that.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, was the other primary sponsor on SB 14.

“I want to compliment (Hornback) for his, pardon the pun, dogmatic approach on this bill,” Thayer said. “He never gave up. He brought all sides together.

 SB 14 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

Feb. 25, 2016

 

Senate approves improved survivor benefits for firefighters’ families

FRANKFORT – Surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters are a step closer to qualifying for government-paid survivor benefits after the state Senate approved Senate Bill 195 by a 37-0 vote today. It wouldn’t matter if the firefighter was a professional or volunteer.

“Exposure to dangerous carcinogens is a continuous health hazard to these brave men and women who protect our local communities and cities,” said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London.

SB 195 is sponsored by Robinson and Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.

Under the legislation, the firefighter would have to be 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years. Their cancer could not be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco – they cannot have used tobacco in the 10 years preceding diagnosis.

The death benefit would also be $80,000 and be paid out of the state’s general fund. Estimates have been made of one to four deaths per year that might be determined to be attributed to the conditions addressed in SB 195.

Similar legislation has been introduced for the last five years, and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, introduced Senate Bill 138 earlier in this session that would do the same thing as SB 195. “It should not go unnoticed that the bill did not get in this form without a lot of hard work” by McGarvey, said Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville.

SB 195 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 25, 2016

 

Drone legislation clears House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would define what a drone is and what unlawful use of a drone means passed the House today by a vote of 87-3.

House Bill 120, sponsored by Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, would define a drone as an unmanned aircraft that must be registered with and identified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Unlawful use of a drone would include using a drone to harass someone or for acts of voyeurism, forcible entry, theft or burglary. All offenses would be misdemeanor crimes except harassing conduct, which would be a violation carrying a fine.

The bill would not restrict the use of a drone by law enforcement as part of a criminal investigation, or for “any lawful commercial or personal use,” it states.

A proposed amendment to HB 120 sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, who had sponsored her own drone legislation in the past several legislative sessions, would have retained most of the provisions in Belcher's bill and added a harassment section to create penalties for repeated offenses. The amendment, narrowly defeated by a vote of 43-44, would have spelled out how drones could be used, and by who, including use of drones by law enforcement.

One provision in the proposed amendment that led to some debate would have prohibited law enforcement from using drones to conduct a search unless officers have a search warrant or “exigent circumstances exist.” Exigent circumstances allow for search and seizure without a search warrant if there is probable cause that a serious crime has been, or will be, committed and there is not enough time to obtain a warrant.

House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, questioned why the amendment addresses exigent circumstances for use of drones without a search warrant when use of drones without a warrant under those circumstances is already allowed. “If there is exigent circumstances there is never a need for a warrant,” said Bell.

St. Onge said exigent circumstances are addressed in current law but that several questions raised about drone use in recent years required clarity in HB 120.

Belcher said she filed HB 120 after a drone was shot down by a man living her hometown. She said HB 120 addresses the use of drones without attempting to limit their use by law enforcement or regulate their use in the private sector “because drones are an evolving technology.”

HB 120 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

February 25, 2016

 

Nominations being accepted for 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission (LRC) is accepting nominations for the 2015 and 2016 Vic Hellard Jr. Awards.

While both awards will shine a light on legislative staff members who have exemplified high standards in service to the Kentucky General Assembly, the 2015 award will be presented to a current member of the LRC staff while the 2016 award will go to a past LRC employee.  In future years, the award will alternate between those two classifications

The Hellard award was created in memory and recognition of longtime LRC Director Vic Hellard Jr., who was a champion of legislative independence and played an instrumental role in the modernization of the legislative institution and nonpartisan staffing. Serving nearly two decades at the helm of LRC, Vic was known not just for his contributions to an independent General Assembly, but also for his wit, appreciation of history, and his mentoring of hundreds of young people who now serve the people of the Commonwealth and carry on his legacy.

In 2015, the LRC changed the eligibility criteria for the Hellard Award to specifically honor nonpartisan legislative staff members, past and present.

“We are very pleased to assume responsibility for administering this prestigious award,” said David A. Byerman, Director of the Legislative Research Commission.  “I can think of no greater way to honor Vic Hellard’s legacy than by designating this award to recognize current and former LRC employees.”

A nomination should be made via a letter of no more than three pages and must be submitted to the Office of the Director of the LRC by the close of business on Monday, March 14. Nominations should be sent to:

Hellard Award Selection Committee

Attn: David A. Byerman, Director

700 Capitol Avenue, Room 300

Frankfort, KY 40601

Or by email at: HellardAward@lrc.ky.gov

Nomination letters should explain how the nominee, in past or current service to the General Assembly:

·         Enhanced the role of the legislature in the public eye;

·         Exemplified high standards of excellence in serving the Legislative Research Commission with skill, dedication, professionalism, integrity and dignity;

·         Demonstrated a clear vision and understanding of the role and responsibility of legislative staff in strengthening and upholding the institution of the legislature;

·         Provided distinguished service to the Kentucky General Assembly with a spirit of commitment, caring, generosity, honesty and humor;

·         Demonstrated an appreciation for the legislative process and its integral relationship to preserving the principles of representative democracy;

·         Made exceptional professional contributions through facilitating public dialogue, informing citizens and decision makers, and embracing civic engagement;

·         Demonstrated a clear vision of the role and responsibility of legislative staff, and the need for supportive and collaborative teamwork in strengthening and upholding the legislative branch.

Information on the award is also available online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/HellardAward.htm.

--END--

 

February 24, 2016

 

Autism bill gets Senate committee approval 

FRANKFORT – A bill intended to foster continued improvements in services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee today.

Senate Bill 185, sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, would require Kentucky to have an Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders and a state Office of Autism.  The advisory council has already been created by an executive order in 2013 and the Office of Autism was established in 2014 to coordinate and enhance the services of statewide and regional agencies. The legislation would make these entities permanent by law.

Harold Kleinert, co-chair of the Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders, says that SB 185 would ensure that there aren’t gaps in providing services to individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.

“It’s a complex series of moving parts, and the way to deal with that is an advisory council that represents the key state agencies, state universities, families and self-advocates,” said Kleinert. “No single agency has within its own scope a sufficient charge to really address the lifespan needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.”

SB 185 now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

--END-

 

February 24, 2016

 

Tenant protection bill passes House 90-3

FRANKFORT—Victims of domestic violence would be able to get out of a lease with at least 30 days’ notice to their landlord under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 41, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would allow tenants who have a domestic violence order or interpersonal protective order against someone to get out of a rental agreement or housing lease established after the proposed law takes effect. Civil liability for the landlord’s loss of income due to the lease termination would fall to the alleged abuser, according to the bill.

The provisions would apply whether or not the alleged abuser named in a protective order is a co-tenant, the bill states.

Additionally, HB 41 would prohibit landlords from denying someone a lease based on the fact that a person has taken out an emergency protective order, domestic violence order or other type of restraining order. The bill also would prohibit landlords from using rental agreements to penalize tenants who request assistance from emergency services and allow a victim to request that locks be changed by the landlord with at least 72 hours’ notice.

HB 41 passed the chamber by a vote of 90-3. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

February 24, 2016

 

Life insurance benefits bill passes House panel

FRANKFORT—A 2012 law that requires life insurance companies to make a good-faith effort to locate beneficiaries of policies they have sold would be applied retroactively under legislation that cleared the House Banking and Insurance Committee today.

House Bill 408, sponsored by Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, specifies that life insurance companies must honor life insurance policies and related agreement that they issued before and after the passage of the 2012 Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act. The law requires life insurance companies to determine if a policy holder has died and then make a solid effort to locate beneficiaries of his or her policy.

HB 408 was filed by Harris this month after the state dropped its defense of the 2012 law in a case filed by several life insurance companies against the law four years ago. The companies argued that the law should not apply to policies issued before the legislation took effect. An appeals court agreed, saying Kentucky law requires a retroactivity provision in any law that is intended to apply to a period before the law took effect.

Harris said HB 408 includes that provision, thereby ensuring that thousands of mostly low-dollar burial plans are honored.

“This bill will not require insurance companies to pay one red cent more than their contract requires them to pay. It does however require them to make a concerted effort to pay what they actually owe to our constituents,” said Harris.

Questions about the extent companies would have to go through to find beneficiaries were raised by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, who said many policies were sold door-to-door 50 or 60 years ago and beneficiaries of those policies may be hard to track.

“How much additional work will these smaller insurance companies expected to put into this, you know a $500 policy or $2500 policy sold 50 or 60 years ago?” Montell asked. “I want to enforce payment to beneficiaries, I just don’t want it to be unreasonable on this retroactive part of the law.”

Making a good-faith effort will not require a company to “perform miracles” and locate people who are nearly impossible to find, said Harris. “But it does require them to make a good-faith effort to find some of these beneficiaries who are owed this money and haven’t received it.”

House Banking and Insurance Chair Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said smaller life insurance policies still serve a purpose in the market no matter how many decades have passed, adding “we need to tighten this up some.”

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, told his fellow committee members that adding a retroactivity provision to the 2012 law is “the right thing” to correct what he called an “oversight”. “I am a real estate agent and one thing I’ve learned is … it’s always best to be complete,” said Tipton.

Twenty two states including Kentucky have adopted laws requiring insurers to make a good-faith effort to locate beneficiaries of death and burial benefits, said Harris.

HB 408 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

February 23, 2016

 

Zip line bill passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Recreational zip lines would be regulated by the state under a bill that has passed the House and is on its way to the state Senate.

House Bill 38, sponsored by Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, and Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, passed the House by a vote of 90-1. The bill would require the state to set standards for the use and operation of aerial recreational facilities like outdoor zip line and canopy tours should it become law.

Donohue said he decided to file HB 38 when a zip line began operating in his district.

“The industry has started to self-regulate, but it welcomes this to have guidelines for the whole state of Kentucky,” said Donohue.

Donohue said the legislation has been worked out with input from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which would set the standards and regulate zip lines and related forms of entertainment. The department could rely on industry standards and third-party inspections when setting requirements, and could set reasonable fees to help administer those requirements, according to the bill.  

Those who violate the requirements would be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000, the bill states, with paid penalties placed in an “aerial recreational facilities administration fund.” The fund would be established under HB 38 to pay for regulatory enforcement. 

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, supported the bill, telling the House that HB 38 is needed as so-called “adventure tourism” grows across the state.

 Zip lines “are a fun way to get your blood flowing, as they say, but certainly would be fraught with danger if inappropriately rigged and if not constantly maintained. So I applaud (the bill) to see that they are just that—that they are inspected and that they are kept in a way that will be safe for the folks who come and spend their money,” said Stone.

-END-

 

Feb. 23, 2016

 

Senate panel approves bill to put more teeth in dog-fighting ban

FRANKFORT – A legislative panel approved a measure today that would amend Kentucky’ dog-fighting law to also make it illegal to promote the practice.

Senate Bill 14, as amended in the state Senate Agriculture Committee, would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in dog fighting a felony punishable by one year to five years in prison.

State Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, introduced the legislation. He said Kentucky is the only state without a similar provision in their animal cruelty laws.

Doug Morgan of the Kentucky Houndsmen Association said his group supported the bill.

“There is an old saying among coon hunters, ‘A hound dog knows the difference between being kicked and stumbled over,” he said. “I honestly believe there is nothing in this (amendment) that will come back and kick Kentucky Houndsmen. We have never advocated the fighting of dogs and never will.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said legislators have worked for a year on the bill.

“I know there has been a lot of sweat equity put into this bill,” he said. “I think this is a reasonable compromise.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, cast a “pass” vote in committee but emphasized she supported the intent of SB 14.

“There is nobody that supports dog fighting in this General Assembly … ,” said Webb, adding she wanted to further analyze the language in the bill after a prosecutor testified that the language in the measure would make it hard to get a conviction.

SB 14 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

-- END --

February 19, 2016

This Week at the State Capitol

February 16-19

 

FRANKFORT— As the 2016 General Assembly reached its midpoint this week, a school accountability measure was approved by the Senate and legislation that could impact university construction advanced in the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 1 – a designation that indicates a bill’s importance to Senate leadership – was approved on Wednesday in the Senate chamber. The legislation seeks changes in education practices and accountability standards in Kentucky’s public schools.

It does this by outlining a process to review what students are taught and how they’re tested on key subjects like English, math and science.

Senators approved the legislation on a 25-12 vote. The bill has been sent the House for further consideration.

In the House, lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday that would allow state colleges and universities to move forward with capital building projects even if the projects aren’t included in the state budget.

Under House Bill 265, the projects could still progress if funded by restricted, agency, federal or private money and approved by both the school’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education. The bill passed the House by a 93-0 vote and has been sent to the Senate.

So far this year, the House passed 61 bills, sending them to the Senate for consideration. The Senate, in turn, has passed 52 bills and advanced them to the House.

During the past week, that traffic continued as bills navigated the legislative process, including:

Marriage license forms: Senate Bill 5, which would create two different marriage license forms for couples to choose from, was approved by the Senate and delivered to the House on Thursday. Under the proposal, one version of the marriage license form would identify the couple seeking the license as “bride” and “groom.” The other would be gender neutral.

Synthetic drugs: Senate Bill 136, which would enhance penalties for trafficking synthetic drugs in addition to prohibiting three drugs not currently addressed by law, passed a floor vote on Thursday and is headed to the House for consideration. 

Teacher “planning time”: On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would require that public school teachers be given at least 60 minutes per school day for lesson planning and other “nonteaching” activities. House Bill 107 also stipulates that full-time teachers get 120 minutes a week for other, “self-directed” activities like professional development or outreach. The bill passed by a 77-17 vote, and was sent to the Senate.

Booking photo bill: The House passed House Bill 132 on Thursday, which would make it illegal to post booking photos to a website or include them in a publication then require payment to remove the photos from public view. The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Midwives: The Senate Committee on Health and Welfare moved to create a licensing board for midwives on Wednesday. Senate Bill 85 was approved by the committee. Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said he was introducing the bill to help make sure that parents who choose at-home births have access to qualified care providers. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

State lawmakers welcome citizen feedback on issues under consideration. To share it, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

-- END --

Feb. 19, 2016

 

Senate bill tackles growing list of addictive substances

FRANKFORT – A state Senator described a cat-and-mouse game between police and drug dealers in explaining the need for a controlled substances law he introduced during the 2016 General Assembly.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said law enforcement is constantly trying to keep up with new substances drug dealers are peddling to addicts chasing an ever more powerful and cheaper high. His measure, Senate Bill 136, would increase controls on the semi-synthetic opioid hydrocodone and prohibit three other substances not currently addressed by existing laws – the plant “kratom” and the synthetic opioids known on the street as W-18 and W-15.

“We continue to see synthetic drugs being used and abused and showing up in courts around the Commonwealth,” said Westerfield, a former prosecutor. “Some of these are fairly tame but some of them are much more serious causing people to do strange things.”

After Westerfield’s explanation of the measure, SB 136 passed the state Senate by a 35-1-1 vote on Thursday.

Sen. Perry B. Clark, D- Louisville, said he cast the lone “no” vote because he was concerned about a prohibition on kratom. Clark characterized kratom, known by the scientific name of Mitragyna speciosa, as an herbal supplement.

“Most people in this body do not even know what kratom is,” said Clark, who unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill so it wouldn’t include kratom. “It is an herb. It comes from Asia. It has been around for thousands and thousands of years.”

He said the University of Mississippi is studying whether kratom can be used to wean drug addicts off heroin.

“We should not be banning this substance,” Clark said. “We could be studying this substance.”

Westerfield agreed that kratom was a plant but added it can sometimes be combined with synthetic drugs and abused.

“Its potency is relative low but we are starting to see it in Kentucky, particularly back in Hopkinsville where our drug court participants are using it as an alternative to things they are not allowed to use any more,” Westerfield said. “There is some concern if you use enough of kratom … that it can be habit forming.”

He said possessing kratom would carry a penalty of up to 30 days.

Clark didn’t object to prohibiting W-18 and W-15 which Westerfield said were “far more dangerous.”

“They are hundreds, if not thousands, of times more potent and powerful than fentanyl,” said Westerfield, adding that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analgesic often prescribed to terminal cancer patients but sometimes abused by heroin addicts.

Possession of any amount of W-18 and W-15 would carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Trafficking W-18 and W-15 would carry a penalty of five year to 10 years in prison for a first offense. The penalties would go up for subsequent offenses.

SB 136 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

-- END –

 

February 18, 2016

 

Marriage license bill approved by Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate moved to change Kentucky marriage licenses today, passing a bill that would remove county clerks’ names from the license forms while creating a separate document for same-sex couples.

Senate Bill 5 passed, 30-8. It seeks to codify Gov. Matt Bevin’s Dec. 23 executive order while making adjustments in response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. As such, the bill would provide for two different marriage license forms. One would identify the couple seeking the license as “bride” and “groom.” The other would be gender neutral.

Provisions of the bill would also remove the clerk’s name from the form, though individual clerks could add it later if they desired.

Proponents praised it as a win for religious freedom.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, who supported the bill, was among proponents who cast the bill’s passage as a positive step forward.

“There are individuals out there that want to have their union recognized, and that is the law and we will abide by it,” Stivers said.

“But there are people in this state, [that] have religious beliefs and convictions,” he added, and the traditional “bride/groom” form affirms their beliefs. 

SB5 became a priority after last summer’s Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Following the decision, a handful of county clerks refused to issue the licenses embossed with their names, citing their faith. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was later jailed for five days by a federal judge for contempt for refusing his order to resume issuing licenses to single-gender couples.

Thursday’s bill had clear opposition, including a failed attempt to amend the bill and eliminate the separate forms. Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, proposed the change which would have given applicants a choice of checking “bride,” “groom” or “spouse” on one form. The amendment was voted down, 23-15.

Senate Bill 5 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

--END--

 

February 18, 2016

 

Booking photo bill passes House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—Web sites or publications that use jail booking photographs for profit could face stiff fines under legislation passed today by the state House.

House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, passed the House by a vote of 93-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. The bill would make it illegal to post booking photos to a web site or include them in a publication then require payment to remove the photos from public view, Watkins said.

Violators could be prosecuted in state circuit court and be required to pay damages starting at $100 a day for each separate violation along with attorney fees, he said.

Booking photos and criminal charges loaded onto a jail’s web site after an arrest are later removed when a case is adjudicated, said Watkins. By that time, however, the photos and charges may be circulating on commercial web sites or in paid publications.

“They will not remove (the information) without a fee being paid first. They usually charge around $500 to remove each photograph. If you pay it, other sites do the same thing, and sometimes the same company has several web sites,” said Watkins. “So it never ends—it’s an extortion ring.”

Watkins filed the bill after discussing the practice with a local judge and prosecutor. He said commercial use of booking photographs is recognized by the FBI as a “fast-growing problem nationally.”

Versions of the legislation filed by Watkins in past sessions would have made the practice a Class D felony. When asked by Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, why a violation wouldn’t be a felony in HB 132, Watkins said it came down to what local jailers wanted.

“To endorse and support the bill they wanted it changed to … a fine,” said Watkins. The bill has been endorsed by the Kentucky Jailers Association and the Kentucky Press Association, he said.

-END-

 

Feb. 17, 2016

 

Education overhaul bill passes KY Senate

FRANKFORT – A bill that would overhaul education and accountability standards in public schools passed the state Senate by a 25-12 vote today.

The measure, given the designation of Senate Bill 1, outlines a process to review, and possibly change, what students are taught – and how they’re tested – in key subjects such as English, mathematics, science and social studies. Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who introduced the legislation, said the goal is to align what is taught with what is tested.

“What we have before us is a bill that I sometimes call, ‘Let the teachers teach bill,’” he said. “I couldn’t agree with that more today than I did the first day … I heard it.”

He questioned the results of Kentucky’s current education and accountability standards. He said an Office of Education Accountability study found the percentage of Kentucky graduates entering post-secondary education hadn’t perceptibly increased in the last six years.

“Over the last six years the state has used three different formulas to determine graduation rates,” Wilson said. “Each one yielding a higher measure making it difficult to genuinely determine growth. It’s like if we wanted the Kentucky basketball team to score a little higher we just move the three-point arc in a little bit more.”

Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, also spoke in support of SB 1. He said the bill would replace a school’s self-evaluations called Program Review with a requirement for the principal, school-based council and superintendent to sign a letter of assurance about arts and humanities, practical living, writing and social studies.

“Through this self-assessment process we call Program Review, we’ve caused districts and schools to chase points,” Givens said of the current system.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, explained why he voted against SB 1.

“I like many of you are held accountable by the people back at home that elect to send us here,” he said. “… The folks at home are not supported of this particular piece of legislation.”

He said the emails, phone calls and messages left at the legislative hotline from his constituents are disproportionately against SB 1.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he voted against SB 1 because it would create an academic standards committee consisting of three gubernatorial appointees, six legislators and the commissioner of education.

“What this bill does is politicize our public education,” he said. “It threatens our students’ ability to have the free expression of ideas. In other words … it will probably lead to politicians controlling the content of what our students learn. That is very dangerous and a real threat to democracy.”

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she voted against SB 1, in part, because it would allow high school students to use credits from foreign language, voc-tech or computer classes to satisfy course requirements in the arts and humanities.

“Arts and humanities requirements being substituted for some of the things in this bill causes me a great deal of indigestion,” Webb said. “… The arts are the lifeblood of many students. The arts are what keeps many students in school. I don’t remember much about calculus but I do remember what I learned in band and my appreciation for music.”

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who was the last Senator to cast a vote because the roll call was taken in alphabetical order, explained why he supported SB 1.

“One thing I think that we have missed today also on the Senate floor is the students,” said Wise, a professor at Campbellsville University. “I think a lot of times we have gotten into discussions today talking about the politics. And we have talked about the teachers.

“ … I listen to the students when they come to my classroom.”

He said the over-burdensome amount of paperwork teachers have to fill out and “teaching to a test” are what his students recognized as problems they experienced in school.

“We are failing our students in so many aspects,” Wise said. “ … I think we really need to reevaluate some of the discussions today and think about how this bill is going to let the students learn and allow the teachers to teach.”

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

-- END --

Feb. 17, 2016

 

Panel delivers midwives licensing bill to KY Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate Committee on Health and Welfare passed a bill today that would create a board to license midwives in Kentucky.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who introduced the legislation known as Senate Bill 85, said the need for it was brought to his attention by midwives who felt a state license would help legitimize their profession and bring further safeguards to expecting mothers.

“It is not illegal to have your child at home or, as we obviously see in the news, in a taxicab on the side of the road or police car or emergency vehicle,” he said. “This happens all the time. This is nothing new. This has been going on since Adam and Eve.”

Buford said SB 85 would advance public safety because it ensures families who prefer out-of-hospital births will have access to qualified care providers. He added that Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia and Indiana have similar laws.

SB 85 supporter Robin Elise Weiss testified that home births would save tax dollars because about 50 percent of births in Kentucky are covered by Medicaid. She said of the 56,000 babies born in Kentucky in 2014, 20,000 were delivered by cesarean section – a medical procedure that adds, on average, $3,700 to a hospital bill.

“It brings professionals together for the health and welfare for Kentucky’s birthing families – the most venerable populations in Kentucky with responsibly, accountability and professionalism on all parts,” said Weiss, who teaches at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences. “Currently, home births is an underground marketplace. If you want a midwife, you need to know who to talk to. You can’t go to any respected health entity and ask for a list of vetted professionals. You have to rely on word of mouth.”

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, voted in favor of SB 85.

“As one of the three members of this committee that has given birth, I think this is a great bill,” she said. “I think it is an opportunity for women and their families to be able to share in what should be a 99.9 percent natural occurrence. It is not a disease we are trying to cure here.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he voted for the bill because he believes it would increase the rate of breast feeding in Kentucky.

“Midwives are some of the top proponent … of breast feeding,” he said.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, voted for the bill but said he was concerned about the cost to establish a new licensing board. He cited a legislative staff report that put the startup cost at $62,000.

“I think we have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers to know what it is costing us,” he said. “I think it is a questing we need to ask going forward every time we do licensure … instead of reaching up in the air and grabbing a number.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a pediatrician, voted against SB 85.

He said the bill would establish a new independent medical practitioner in Kentucky but not require the practitioner to have a professional relationship with a doctor or medical facility. He said other health practitioners such as physician assistants have to have a four-year degree, two years of training in addition to a professional relationship with a doctor.

SB 85 will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

February 17, 2016

 

Teacher planning-time bill clears House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Public school teachers would be given at least 60 minutes per school day for lesson planning and other “nonteaching” activities under a bill that passed the Kentucky House today.

Current law says teachers must have “additional time” for nonteaching activities, like planning and reviewing student work, but allows school councils and school districts to determine how much time the teachers get. Under House Bill 107, schools would have to set aside 60 minutes per day period for full-time teachers, with at least 120 minutes allotted to teachers each week for “self-directed” activities like planning, professional development, and outreach.

“This is just to ensure that teachers do have time that they can decide how (to) use,” said Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, who is sponsoring HB 107 with Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington.

Smart said schools can adjust their instructional time to accommodate the proposed nonteaching periods by altering the length of the school day.

“In Madison County we have nine elementary schools and all of them have different start and stop times, so that’s how they (meet their needs),” said Smart. 

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, challenged the bill on the floor. King said her school-based decision making councils say HB 107 would usurp some of their authority under state law.

“Each of my school-based decision making council members at home consider this undermining their authority,” said King. 

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said both he and school superintendents in his area are concerned about the cost of HB 107. He said that while HB 107 it is a “good-intentioned bill”, he and his school officials are concerned “there will be more teachers needed, especially in the elementary grades.”

Smart said the bill would not affect instructional time and therefore would not require more teachers. It allows for “self-directed time” when, she said, a teacher decides what he or she has to get done.

HB 107 passed by a vote of 77-17 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

February 16, 2016

 

 

University projects bill passes House, heads to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—Legislation to allow state college and university building projects to proceed without state budget authorization is on its way to the Senate.

 

House Bill 265 would allow state postsecondary capital projects funded with restricted funds, agency funds, federal funds or private funds to be exempt from the state budget process as long as the projects are approved by the college’s or university’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), and presented to the state legislative Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee.

 

All of the project costs would be the responsibility of the college or university, not the state.

 

“If they can support projects 100 percent with their restricted funds, agency funds or a combination of restricted funds, agency funds, and federal funds—they can bond projects,” said HB 265 sponsor Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville.

 

The House amended the bill to require state college or universities to have a debt policy in place before issuing debt not authorized in the state budget. That amendment, sponsored by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, would also require the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee to determine whether the institution can support the project on its own. The committee would then either approve the project or request more information, which could delay approval, said Montell.

 

“Should a university default on these bonds then ultimately that goes back to the taxpayers,” he said. “So I do think we have to proceed with caution as we move forward.”

 

HB 265 passed the House today by a vote of 93-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

-END-

 

February 12, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

February 8-12

FRANKFORT— Early childhood education and literacy programs in Kentucky got a celebrity boost this past week in the General Assembly.

Jennifer Garner, the actress best known for her role on the television show “Alias,” and Mark K. Shriver, a scion of the Kennedy family, testified to House and Senate committees in support of Save the Children programs.

The nonprofit works with 31 sites in eight Kentucky counties in mostly rural areas, administering early education programs to more than 11,000 children.

The celebrities’ visit was timed to help save state funding for the programs as lawmakers struggle to hammer out another budget under tighter than usual restraints.

Said Garner, who serves as an official ambassador for the nonprofit: “I’m here because I believe so much in Save the Children’s early childhood programs, and I hope you will continue to support them. Certainly, what you are doing here in Kentucky, you are doing right.”

In addition to the brush with celebrity, lawmakers continued moving bills on a variety of topics through the legislative process this week, including:

University projects exemption. House Bill 265 would allow state colleges and universities to move forward with capital building projects even if the projects aren’t included in the state budget. The bill passed out of committee Tuesday and now heads to the House floor for consideration. Under provisions of the bill, projects funded by restricted, agency, federal or private money would be exempt from the state budget process as long as they were approved by the college or university’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education. Costs would be the responsibility of the institution, according to the bill, with no fiscal impact on the state.

Educational standards. A Senate panel this week approved one of the top priorities of its chamber’s leadership: Senate Bill 1, a measure that would change the way that state academic standards are reviewed and the way schools and students are assessed. The measure would also make changes in the way the state intervenes with underperforming schools. The bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Loosened campaign donor limits. On Monday, the House passed a bill that would raise political contribution limits in Kentucky. House Bill 147 passed by a 71-22 vote and heads to the Senate for consideration. The bill would double the limit on individual campaign contributions from $1,000 to $2,000 beginning in July. It would also raise limits on individual donations to political parties and their affiliate groups (from $2,500 to $5,000) and donations from permanent, executive and caucus campaign committees (from $10,000 to $20,000).

The current limits have been in place since 1998.

The bill would also allow corporate contributions to political party building funds and allow married couples to write one check for a contribution up to the individual limits of each spouse.

New bicycle safety regulations. On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 80, which seeks to make the roads safer for bicyclists. The bill passed, 33-4, and heads to the House for consideration. Provisions in SB 80 call for cyclists to keep to the right side of the road, while motorists would be required to keep at least three feet away from bikes when passing them.

Cracking down on “revenge porn.” House Bill 110, which would make it a crime to share sexually-explicit photographs or videos of a person that were never intended to be made public, passed House on Friday. The bill, now on its way to the Senate, would also make it a misdemeanor to share such materials if the subject is identifiable, and the material is shared both maliciously and without the victim’s consent. HB110 would make the dissemination of such material, if done with malice or for monetary profit or other gain, a felony. 

The General Assembly welcomes citizen feedback on issues under consideration. To share it, call the Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

-- END --

 

February 12, 2016

 

‘Revenge porn’ bill approved by the House

FRANKFORT—Malicious distribution of sexually-explicit photos or videos that were intended to be kept private by a person depicted in the images — a practice known as “revenge porn”— would be against the law under a bill now on its way to the state Senate.

House Bill 110, sponsored by Reps. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, and Tom Riner, D-Louisville, would make sharing such images a misdemeanor if they show an identifiable person and are shared with intent to harass, intimidate or otherwise harm without a person’s consent. Sharing the same images maliciously for profit or gain would be a felony. 

The bill was amended by the House to clarify that written consent for distribution of such images must be given by those photographed, and that consent to the creation of an image does not inherently mean consent to its distribution.

Jenkins said revenge porn is a tactic often used to humiliate a former romantic partner when a relationship fails. There are cases where former partners have “sent these photos to (their former partner’s) friends, their minister, their mother, their grandmother in a way that is very harmful and humiliating,” said Jenkins.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said in context of the discussion on HB 110 that “personal decisions have consequences.”

“Your choices have consequences. I know… people fall in love, they do things, but situations like this can impact people for the rest of their life. And I’d just like us to take the opportunity to encourage people to be responsible for your actions and consequences and think about what you’re doing,” said Tipton.

HB 110 passed the House by a vote of 92-0.

-END-

Feb. 12, 2016

 

Education standards bill clears key KY Senate panel

FRANKFORT – Legislation to revamp how academic standards are set in public elementary, middle and high schools could be taken up by the full state Senate as early as next week.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, made the comment after the legislation, given the designation of Senate Bill 1, was passed out of the Senate Standing Committee on Education by a 9-3 vote on Thursday.

“This has been a long process of working on this bill all throughout the interim, making sure we were talking to all stake holders in regards to Senate Bill 1,” said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, who is a sponsor of SB 1 and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

A key component of SB 1 outlines a process to review, and possibly change, what students are taught – and how they’re tested – in key subjects such as English, mathematics and science.

“Our testing does not align with our standards,” Wilson said.

First, SB 1 calls for public input on what the academic standards should be. Then, individual panels for each subject at the elementary, middle and high school levels would review the academic standards. The panels would be made up of six teachers and at least one professor from a state university.

The panels’ recommendations would be forwarded to a 10-person standards and assessments recommendation committee. That committee would include three members appointed by the governor, three senators appointed by the Senate President and three state representatives appointed by the Speaker of the state House of Representatives. The state education commissioner would be a non-voting member.

The final recommendation would be forwarded to the Kentucky Department of Education. Under SB 1, the standards and assessments would be reviewed every six years starting in fiscal year 2017-’18 but could be staggered among subjects.

Sen. Gerald Neal said he liked workforce development and early intervention components of SB 1 but he had concerns over the appointments to the standards and assessments committee. 

“The fact of the matter is you know and I know that is a political process,” Neal said. “When appointments come through those processes, whether we like it or not, it becomes a political piece.

“ … If you have individuals that are appointed that carry a certain ideological or philosophical positions as opposed to a pure education perspective, and that happens throughout our systems, I’m not sure that is a good thing. That gives me concern.”

A provision that would eliminate statewide testing on social studies concerned Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg.

 “If they are not assessed, it seems like to be they get pushed aside and they are not taught…,” he said.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said SB 1 attempts to tackle three issues educators in his district repeatedly identify as hindrances to the education process --  testing, reporting requirements and unfunded mandates.

“These things are killing us,” West said. “These things are not allowing us to teach to our kids.”

-- END --

 

Feb. 12, 2016

 

Anti-bullying legislation sent to Senate

FRANKFORT – A bill intended to add a clear definition to state law books of what constitutes bullying passed in the state House of Representatives yesterday.

House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Rita Smart, D- Richmond, would define bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated” if it occurs at school, on school busses, at school-sponsored events, or disrupts the educational process in some other way.

“To vote against this bill would be a travesty,” said Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, during the discussion of the bill on the House floor. “This bill is for the good of the whole, for our most prized possession: our children.”

Rep. Regina Bunch, R-Williamsburg, who served on the Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force in 2015, stressed the importance of passing HB 316.

“As a teacher of special needs students for over 20 years, I have witnessed what the detriment of bully can cause students,” said Bunch. “We need to be swift, we need to be just in our attention to this and we cannot be complacent.”

HB 316 passed the House by a vote of 94-1 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

February 12, 2016

 

“Spotlight” will introduce Kentuckians to legislative staff

FRANKFORT -- Public servants who often work behind the scenes at the State Capitol will now have moments in the spotlight.

An online feature introducing Kentuckians to the staff of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) starts today. The LRC will highlight a different staff member each week on the Kentucky Legislature Home Page through “LRC Employee Spotlight” stories and photos that will be posted each Friday at: www.lrc.ky.gov/Spotlight.htm.

The LRC Employee Spotlight will focus on the work of public servants who deliver staff support to the General Assembly, said LRC Director David A. Byerman. It will also help recognize LRC employees for their service.

“In this day and age, it’s easy to be cynical about government,” Byerman said.  “But if you really take a close look, you realize just how lucky we are to have these outstanding people serving Kentucky.  The Employee Spotlight will help tell their stories.”

The LRC Employee Spotlight will showcase the wide variety among almost 400 employees in the agency: print shop workers, lawyers, constituent service experts, policy analysts, inventory and maintenance staff, secretaries, researchers, accountants, investigators, information technology professionals and others.

Staff members will share their stories about working in a place where history is made each time the General Assembly convenes.

Today’s inaugural LRC Employee Spotlight features a legislative librarian who first answered questions and provided research assistance to lawmakers and citizens as a cooperative education worker for the LRC while in high school in the ’80s. She is now in charge of a collection of more than 25,000 items in the agency’s library. Read her story here: www.lrc.ky.gov/Spotlight/LeslieSmith.htm.

--END--

 

February 11, 2016

 

P3 bill clears House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow government and private entities to enter into public-private partnerships to fund the Commonwealth’s needs has cleared the Kentucky House.

Should it become law, House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, and Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, would provide a framework for the use of these public-private partnerships, or P3s, as an alternative financing method for major public projects and services at the state and local levels as well as certain transportation projects.

The bill would expressly prohibit the authorization of tolls “for any project involving the interstate highway system that connects the Commonwealth with State of Ohio,” which would include the proposed $2.6 billion replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Northern Kentucky and Ohio. Opposition to tolls for the bridge project hampered the passage of P3 legislation in 2015.

“This bill, HB 309, does not—let me repeat—it does not include one specific project in one part of our state that has been so controversial,” said Combs.

P3 legislation did pass the Kentucky General Assembly in 2014. That legislation, HB 407, was vetoed by former Gov. Steve Beshear. Provisions for non-transportation related public-private partnerships in existing law and the bill’s prohibition against entering into P3s with the state of Ohio without legislative scrutiny were given by Beshear as reasons for his veto.

“We’ve been working very hard on P3 legislation the last two years and here we are in 2016 and maybe we can be successful this year,” said Combs. She stressed the bill includes “tight restrictions” to protect taxpayers through public posting of proposed regulations, public hearings, legislative review, and other transparency measures.

HB 309 was passed by the House by a vote of 83-11 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 11, 2016

 

Bill to ban smoking for those under 21 clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Anyone under the age of 21 would be prohibited from buying tobacco products and inhaled vapor products in Kentucky under a bill approved today by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

House Bill 299, sponsored by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would take effect this August 1 should it become law. Currently, anyone 18 and older can legally buy tobacco and vapor products—including electronic cigarettes—in the state. 

“Smoking contributes to heart disease, it contributes to chronic lung disease, it contributes to cancer, it contributes to peripheral vascular disease, so it does a lot of things that are negative,” said Watkins, a physician. “We raised the age to use alcohol to 21 a long time ago… to me, raising the age for individuals to use tobacco to 21, I think, makes sense.”

Under HB 299, penalties for selling tobacco products to those under age would stay the same for retailers, who now face fines of $100-$500 for a first violation and $500-$1,000 for subsequent violations. The bill would impose new penalties for those buying such products under age--$100-$500 for each violation, with punishment for youth under age 18 handled in juvenile court.

Only Hawaii has raised the legal smoking age to 21 so far, said Watkins.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he would like those who are age 18 and older who either serve or have served in the U.S. military to be exempt from the proposed restrictions in HB 299.

“I do not want to (legally) impose on them who have given and sacrificed… however altruistic it is in this case, on those young men and women who have served in harm’s way in combat situations and are younger than age 21,” said Moore.

Watkins said he has great respect for the military but “I don’t feel like we should make an exception. I think if we want to really do them a favor, we’ll help them to stop smoking.”

HB 299 now goes to the House floor for consideration.

-END-

 

Feb. 11, 2016

 

Dog and cat welfare bill walks through the KY Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed the dog and cat version of the “Look before You Lock Bill” by a 37-0 vote today.

Known as Senate Bill 53, the legislation would provide civil immunity for damaging a vehicle to a person who enters a vehicle with the reasonable, good faith belief that a dog or cat is in immediate danger of death if not removed from the vehicle.

“The person must make a reasonable effort to locate the owner, or the person responsible for the dog or cat, prior to entering the vehicle,” said sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah. He said SB 53 would also require the person to believe the animal was in immediate danger if not removed from the vehicle before emergency responders could arrive.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, thanked Carroll for amending the bill to address her concerns.

“I appreciate the sponsor of the bill addressing some of my concerns in the amendment language,” she said. “I know his intention is very well founded. I hope that it does raise awareness. I don’t think having civil liability would stop me from braking out a window out if I saw an animal in distress but maybe we can keep the conversation afloat and educate even responsible pet owners.”

Carroll said SB 53 was similar to the “Look before You Lock Bill,” or Senate Bill 16, that passed out of the Senate earlier in the session. SB 16 would protect rescuers from being sued for any property damage caused in pursuit of saving the life of a child left locked in a vehicle

-- END –

 

February 11, 2016

 

Bill to ban smoking for those under 21 clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Anyone under the age of 21 would be prohibited from buying tobacco products and inhaled vapor products in Kentucky under a bill approved today by the House Health and Welfare Committee.

House Bill 299, sponsored by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would take effect this August 1 should it become law. Currently, anyone 18 and older can legally buy tobacco and vapor products—including electronic cigarettes—in the state. 

“Smoking contributes to heart disease, it contributes to chronic lung disease, it contributes to cancer, it contributes to peripheral vascular disease, so it does a lot of things that are negative,” said Watkins, a physician. “We raised the age to use alcohol to 21 a long time ago… to me, raising the age for individuals to use tobacco to 21, I think, makes sense.”

Under HB 299, penalties for selling tobacco products to those under age would stay the same for retailers, who now face fines of $100-$500 for a first violation and $500-$1,000 for subsequent violations. The bill would impose new penalties for those buying such products under age--$100-$500 for each violation, with punishment for youth under age 18 handled in juvenile court.

Only Hawaii has raised the legal smoking age to 21 so far, said Watkins.

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he would like those who are age 18 and older who either serve or have served in the U.S. military to be exempt from the proposed restrictions in HB 299.

“I do not want to (legally) impose on them who have given and sacrificed… however altruistic it is in this case, on those young men and women who have served in harm’s way in combat situations and are younger than age 21,” said Moore.

Watkins said he has great respect for the military but “I don’t feel like we should make an exception. I think if we want to really do them a favor, we’ll help them to stop smoking.”

HB 299 now goes to the House floor for consideration.

-END-

 

February 11, 2016

 

Panel approves proposed raises for commercial vehicle enforcement officers

FRANKFORT – Salaries for commercial vehicle enforcement (CVE) officers could be raised to match the salaries of state troopers under legislation that passed the House Labor and Industry Committee today.

House Bill 312, sponsored by House Labor and Industry Chair Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, would close a $10,000 gap in starting salaries between CVE officers and state troopers, as long as the officers have the same rank, grade and position. Kentucky CVE officers’ starting salaries are roughly $28,000.

Ken Hightower, a retired sergeant with the CVE, said that CVE officers and state troopers receive the same basic training and share similar responsibilities on the job.

“It would only be fair that this (bill) gets passed,” said Hightower. “The salary difference is a disparity and our officers’ salaries should help them to have a better livelihood and be able to provide for their families.”

HB 312 still needs to gain the approval of the House and Senate before it could be signed into law 

-END

 

February 10, 2016

 

Bill advances to improve survivor benefits for firefighters’ families 

FRANKFORT – Surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters are a step closer to qualifying for state-paid survivor benefits after the Committee on State and Local Government approved legislation today.

Senate Bill 138, which would determine that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty, passed out of committee by an 11-0 vote. If passed into law, it would make survivors eligible for an $80,000 death benefit.

“One of the biggest dangers facing firefighters right now is one you don’t see. That’s cancer,” Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Latonia. Flanked by leaders of the Commonwealth’s various firefighter advocacy groups, McGarvey said the impetus for the bill was the hidden dangers of the job.

It’s easy to presume the elevated risk for firefighters is lung cancer from breathing smoke, he said. Most cancers come from contact with toxins from burned material, however.

“This is not running into a burning building and breathing smoke. This is not lung cancer. This is bladder cancer. It’s colon cancer. It’s kidney cancer, liver cancer, skin cancer,” he continued, listing other types of the disease with greater risk due to absorbed toxins.

Under the bill, a firefighter will have died as a result of an act performed in the line of duty if they were 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years for the survivors to receive the benefit. Their cancer cannot be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco – they cannot have used tobacco in the 10 years preceding diagnosis.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. McGarvey said he hopes fellow legislators move quickly to pass the legislation.

“Unfortunately, this is a death benefit so it’s not something that will help firefighters when they’re alive,” he said. “But it is the least we can do for firefighters and their families.”

--END--

 

February 10, 2016

 

Senate panel approves redistricting bill

FRANKFORT – Proposed changes to how Kentucky is divided into districts for representation in the General Assembly passed out of the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee today.

Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-Laurel, proposes an amendment to Section 33 of the Constitution of Kentucky which controls how legislative districts are determined. Under the proposed legislation, redistricting of 38 Senatorial and 100 Representative districts would occur at least once every 10 years, during the first even-year session following the release of the decennial U.S. Census.

Another large part of the amendment: Redistricting would only divide a county under specific conditions. Counties with sufficient population for a district would contain at least one whole district before parts could be separated to create others. It would direct the General Assembly to divide as few counties as possible.

The committee approved the bill, 11-0, and forwarded it to the full Senate. If passed there and by the Kentucky House of Representatives, the proposed amendment would be put to Kentucky voters. It advanced to the House floor during last year’s session, but did not pass after two readings.

Robinson said SB 137 was inspired by his home county.

“Laurel County is one of the reasons I’m presenting this. It has 60-plus thousand people in it, cut five different ways and not one representative lives in Laurel County. Laurel is not the only county in this situation,” he said.

The bill also sets out provisions for redistricting to be carried out in a regular and timely fashion. The General Assembly would have until tax day, April 15, of that first even-numbered year to finalize districts. If it did not, members would be required to stay in session – without pay – for the sole purpose of completing the task.

The next U.S. census is set for 2020, meaning redistricting would have to be completed by the end of the 2022 General Assembly session. 

--END--

 

February 10, 2016

 

‘Revenge porn’ bill goes to full House

FRANKFORT—It would be a crime in Kentucky to post “revenge porn”—sexually-explicit photographs or videos of a person that were never intended to be made public—online under a bill that has cleared a House committee.

House Bill 110, sponsored by Reps. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, and Tom Riner, D-Louisville, would make sharing such images a misdemeanor if they picture an identifiable person and are shared both maliciously and without the person’s consent. Sharing the same images maliciously for profit or gain would be a felony.  

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee today and is on its way to the House for consideration.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Metzmeier who has worked with victims of revenge porn through the Jefferson County Attorney Domestic Violence Intake Center told the committee that many cases involve “the most horrible things you can imagine,” including threats of exposing private erotic images if a person tries to leave a relationship. Criminalizing the practice is necessary, he said.

“There might be other criminal charges that will fit… but if the materials are just simply distributed and that’s all, the current state of the criminal law does not cover that. So there’s a gap in the law that HB 110 would fill, and I think it’s needed,” said Metzmeier.

Rep. Thomas Kerr, R-Taylor Mill, said “consent” may need to be clarified in the bill since the images may have been made consensually, but distributed without consent of the victim.

“I just wonder if we should say “consent” means consent to the distribution of the image, it doesn’t matter if they gave consent to the creation of the image,” said Kerr.

Jenkins said she’d work on a floor amendment to satisfy that point.

“We certainly want the intent to be clear,” she said.

-END-

 

February 9, 2016

  

Bicycle-safety bill pedals through KY Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill clarifying how motorists interact with bicyclists by a 33-4 vote today.

Key provisions in the legislation, known as Senate Bill 80, would require bicycles to keep to the right and would require motorists to stay at least three feet away from bicycles when passing.

“Bicycles are a growing mode of transportation both in urban areas and rural areas,” said Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, who introduced the bill, “but we have had a few tragedies of late when it comes to cyclists and sharing the road.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, referenced a well-known lawyer who died after being involved in a wreck on his bicycle last year in Fayette County as influencing his decision to sign on as a sponsor of SB 80.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, also supported SB 80. She noted that bicycles can sell for as much as cars and that bicyclists also pay taxes for services that help support the roads.

“In Lexington, Ky., where I reside and in many cities and rural areas people ride bicycles to be healthy,” Kerr said. “Many people also ride their bikes to the grocery, to the stores, to their job.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, urged senators to join him in voting against SB 80. He said it was enabling bicyclists, going 10 or 12 mph, to ride on state highways with narrow lanes, blind curves and 55 mph speed limits. Hornback also noted that Kentucky has invested in parks and trails for bicyclists.  

“I encourage members to really think about this,” he said. “Roads are built for transportation of goods and services. … I know Senate Bill 80 sounds good. I know it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but it is not in the best interest of public safety.”

Webb, whose home is between Kentucky Trail Towns Olive Hill and Morehead, responded by characterizing SB 80 as a tourism bill. The Kentucky Trail Town Program is designed to help connect communities to trail systems and assist in developing sites as tourist destinations.

“Cyclists spend money,” Webb said. “We want to do everything we can to attract them and make them safe when they are in our communities.”

SB 80 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration 

-- END --

 

February 9, 2016

House approves proposed workforce development study

FRANKFORT – Legislation to track the progress of workforce development in Kentucky was passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives today.

House Concurrent Resolution 97, sponsored by Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, and Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, would direct the Legislative Research Commission to establish a Kentucky Workforce Development Task Force to study workforce issues and submit a final report by Dec. 2016 that includes proposed changes and recommended legislation for workforce development.

Last year, over $1 billion in state and federal funds were provided to train, educate and support Kentucky’s workforce, according to the resolution. Those responsible for workforce development, however, are distributed throughout different state and local agencies, which makes it a challenge to develop a comprehensive plan on what could be improved statewide. 

HCR 97 passed the House by a vote of 95-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Concurrent resolutions, if passed, go to the Governor for his signature but are used only to express opinion or convey messages. They do not become law. 

-END-

 

February 9, 2016

House committee approves anti-bullying legislation

FRANKFORT – A bill intended to add a clear definition to state law books of what constitutes bullying was approved by the House Education Committee today.

House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Rita Smart, D- Richmond, would define bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated” if it occurs at school, on school busses, at school-sponsored events, or disrupts the educational process in some other way.

Clearly defining bullying in the law books will help protect students, said 13-year-old Morgan Guess, who founded the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation in her hometown of Paducah.

“I can understand this definition and I feel protected by it,” Guess said. “We should have one definition that every school uses and every student and parent can understand.”

HB 316 now goes to the full House for consideration.

--END--

February 9, 2016

 

University projects bill clears House budget committee

 

FRANKFORT—State colleges and universities could move forward with their building projects even if those projects aren’t included in a state budget bill under legislation that has passed a House committee.

 

House Bill 265 would allow capital projects funded with a combination of restricted funds, agency funds, federal funds and private funds to be exempt from the state budget process as long as the projects are authorized by the college or university’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education and presented to a state legislative oversight committee. All costs would be the responsibility of the institution, according to the bill, with no fiscal impact on the state.

 

HB 265 was approved by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and sent to the House floor for approval.

 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, said HB 265 would help postsecondary institutions weather budget cuts proposed by the governor.

 

“With the Governor’s proposal on higher education, (postsecondary institutions) are going to take a 9 percent cut but their population is still growing,” said Clark. “We need to give them the opportunity, if they have restricted funds or agency funds, and they can pay 100 percent for their project, that they can fund it.”

 

Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, said the bill is “really taking all the accountability away from the state.”


Clark said the Council on Postsecondary Education “will not let (the institutions) extend their debt service beyond what the capacity is.”

 

-END-

 

February 9, 2016

 

A Hollywood A-lister promotes childhood literacy in KY

FRANKFORT – Actress Jennifer Garner spoke to the state Senate and House committees today on the success of early childhood education programs ran by Save the Children, a nonprofit that first began working with the state’s youth during the Great Depression in Harlan County.

“Thank you so much for having me. It is so wonderful to be back in Kentucky. It is painful to be so close to home and not go visit … my little sister and parents,” said Garner, who grew up in West Virginia where her family still resides.

“I’m here because I believe so much in Save the Children’s early childhood programs, and I hope you will continue to support them. Certainly, what you are doing here in Kentucky, you are doing right.”

Garner, an ambassador for Save the Children, said she wanted to highlight the nonprofit’s success in Kentucky during this tight budget environment. Legislative leaders have said a challenge facing them this session is to craft a 24-month budget while trying to stabilize public retirement systems that have billions of dollars in outstanding obligations.

Testifying alongside Garner was Mark K. Shriver, the president of the Save the Children Action Network, which is a program that works to mobilize Americans to end preventable maternal and newborn child deaths globally and to ensure every child in American has access to a high quality education.

“We are spending over $10 million here in Kentucky to match the $1 million the state has invested in our work,” said Shriver, who previously served eight years in the Maryland legislature.

He said Save the Children currently partners with 31 sites in eight counties, serving 11,154 children in Kentucky. Literacy improvement among program participants was equivalent to an additional 5.7 months of schooling, according to information provided to the Senate Education Committee, and 80 percent of 3-year-olds in the nonprofit’s Early Steps program scored at or about the national range for vocabulary acquisition.

“Our biggest office in the country is in Berea,” said Shriver, adding that the nonprofit has over 300 staff members working full and part time in Kentucky with more than 200 of them stationed in Eastern Kentucky. “Our results here are the best in any state in the union.”

Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, said the nonprofit recently held one of its board meeting at the historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant of Berea College.

“A lot of the people who work in your office are really close friends of mine,” Carpenter said to Shriver during this morning’s Senate Education Committee meeting. “I see them at the store, so I know the work your organization does and the investment and return on dollars. Any time we as Kentuckians can spend a million dollars and get a $10 million return is an excellent return on our dollar. We appreciate you having an office in Berea, and we appreciate the work you do across the commonwealth.”

Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, said during this morning’s House Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting that Save the Children’s efforts are needed.

“For 32 years as a county extension agent I was aware of the wonderful work that Save the Children does, and we did similar work,” Smart said. “And everything that you said was exactly the way it is. I visited many of those homes…and the collaboration with groups such as yours is much needed.”

-- END –

 

 

February 8, 2016

 

Tanning bed bill OK’d by House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—No one under the age of 18 would be able to use a tanning bed in the state of Kentucky—with or without their parent’s permission—except for medical reasons under a bill that has cleared the state House.

Under House Bill 196, sponsored by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, tanning beds could only be used by those under age 18 for phototherapy or another medical purpose. Watkins said he filed the bill in response to an increase in melanoma among young people.

“We shouldn’t be seeing this rise in skin cancers and especially melanoma, which can be deadly,” said Watkins, a physician.

Current state law requires teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 to have a signed parental consent form before they can use a tanning bed. House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, opposed HB 196 and spoke in favor of parental control.

“I like being a parent. I enjoy being a parent,” said DeCesare. “Let parents be parents. We have laws on the books that deal with this issue that allows parents to make the decision for their children.”

Speaking in favor of HB 196 was Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, who said the bill was “just common sense.”

“He’s not trying to take away personal freedom. The man is bringing forth a bill that I think makes just good common sense. Sometimes, it makes sense to use common sense,” said Howard.

HB 196 passed the House by a vote of 55-37 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

February 8, 2016

 

Campaign contribution bill passes House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would double individual campaign contribution limits in Kentucky has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 147, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would double the limit on individual campaign contributions from $1,000 to $2,000 as of this July and double the annual limit on individual contributions to a party’s state executive committee and affiliates from $2,500 to $5,000. It would also double from $10,000 to $20,000 the overall amounts allowed from permanent, executive and caucus campaign committees.

Stumbo said the individual campaign contribution limit proposed in HB 147 would still be below the national average of $2,400 to $5,600 per contribution. Twelve states have no contribution limits, he said.

The increased limits are only part of the bill, which would also allow corporate contributions to political party building funds and allow married couples to write one check for a contribution up to the individual limits of each spouse.

An amendment sponsored by House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was added to the bill that would allow candidates to spend up to $200 (instead of the current $100) in campaign contributions to buy tickets to a campaign event. It would also limit establishment of building fund accounts to state executive committees of a political party whose candidate received no less than 15 percent of the total vote in the last regular election.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he does not think current contribution limits should be changed. He also said he opposed allow corporate contributions to building fund accounts.

“If we can’t sustain our party headquarters by the grassroots folks that believe in the principles of our parties, then what are we doing? We’re just selling our souls,” said Wayne.

Stumbo said the bill “simply raises the bar for campaign donations” in today’s political environment--adding that the state limits have not been changed since 1998.

HB 147 passed the House by a vote of 71-22 and now goes to the Senate.

-END-

 

February 5, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

February 1 – 5, 2016

 

FRANKFORT -- Sign the bill now or later?

That was Gov. Matt Bevin’s question to the group of lawmakers who delivered the first bill approved by both chambers in the General Assembly’s 2016 session to his office on Tuesday.

His question was meant as a courtesy to give lawmakers who helped pass the legislation a say in whether the bill was officially signed into law on the spot or at a later ceremony.

After a short discussion, the governor added his signature to the bill and the room broke out into applause.

With that, a measure known as the “Informed Consent Bill” became the first piece of legislation signed into law this year.

The Informed Consent Bill, officially known as Senate Bill 4, outlines how a woman seeking an abortion must receive medical information at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure. According to the bill, the information must be delivered either during an in-person, face-to-face meeting or via a real-time videoconference. When the new law goes into effect this summer, recorded telephone messages currently used will not suffice for delivering the required medical information.

While only one bill has made it to the governor’s desk so far, plenty of other bills are advancing through the process. Legislation that took steps forward this week include measures on the following issues:

Felon Voting Rights. The House voted 82-9 on Thursday in support of letting Kentucky voters decide whether to automatically restore voting rights of convicted felons. Currently, in Kentucky, a felon’s voting rights can only be restored by a pardon of the Governor. House Bill 70 would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would allow most felons to have their voting rights restored once their sentence or probation is served. Under the proposal, voting rights would not be restored for felons convicted of treason, intentional homicide and specific sex crimes. House Bill 70 now goes to the Senate.

Religious Expression. Senate Bill 15, approved by the Senate on a 31-2 vote on Thursday, would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing. Senate Bill 15 would also spell out the rights of religious student groups to access school facilities during non-instructional hours the same way non-religious organizations do and to use school produced media to announce such meetings. The bill now goes to the House.

Pension Transparency. A bill that would make state retirement systems’ transactions more transparent, hold the systems accountable when contracting out services and require that pension trustees have actual investment experience passed the state Senate by a unanimous vote on Tuesday. The transparency provisions in Senate Bill 2 would require that state retirement systems disclose all fees for each fund it administers as well as most contracts for services, goods or property utilized for the systems. The bill also include a provision that would make gubernatorial appointed trustees to the retirement systems subject to Senate confirmation. In addition, the systems’ executive directors would be subject to Senate confirmation. Senate Bill 2 has been sent to the House for consideration.

Lottery Funding for Education. Legislation that would prohibit the General Assembly from diverting state lottery funds away from Kentucky’s need- and merit-based scholarship programs cleared a House committee on Tuesday. House Joint Resolution 100 would require that all Kentucky Lottery proceeds be appropriated as required under current law. That law stipulates that net proceeds be split 55/45 between the state’s need-based scholarship programs and the Kentucky Educational Excellence merit scholarship program respectively each fiscal year after $3 million is set aside for literacy programs. The legislation is now awaiting consideration by the full House.

Although this past week had its share of busy moments, people throughout the Capitol paused in quiet reflection on Thursday afternoon to pay respects to one of Kentucky’s civil rights heroes as former Kentucky Senator Georgia Powers laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda. She was 92 when she passed away on Jan. 30.

Powers became the first African American to serve in the Kentucky Senate when she was elected in 1967 to serve the 33rd Senate District in Louisville. During her 21 years in the Senate, she sponsored bills prohibiting employment discrimination, prohibiting sex and age discrimination, and mandating statewide fair housing.

Members of the Senate said on Thursday that a bronze plaque would be attached to the desk from which Powers delivered speeches and cast votes as a permanent reminder of her service to Kentucky.

 

--END--

 

February 5, 2016

 

Coal incentives bill goes to Senate


FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow the Kentucky coal industry to qualify for state tax incentives available to other industries in the Commonwealth is on its way to the state Senate.

 

The coal industry is now excluded from certain sales and use tax and income tax incentives that are available to other industries through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act (KEIA) and Kentucky Business Investment Act (KBI), said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. He said House Bill 202, which passed the House today by a vote of 89-0, would help to remedy the situation in the wake of years of coal job losses.

 

“It’s an attempt to right a wrong, in my opinion,” said Adkins, primary sponsor of HB 202. “I know that this bill will not be the magic bullet that will turn the industry around, but at least it will be there as a tool for the industry to use as all other businesses and industries qualify for in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

 

HB 202 would also require the state Cabinet for Economic Development to promote increased exports of Kentucky coal should it become law, according to the bill.

 

--END--

 

February 4, 2016

  

Felon voting rights bill gets House approval 

FRANKFORT—The House voted 82-9 today in support of letting the state’s voters decide whether to automatically restore voting rights of convicted felons.

Currently, in Kentucky, a felon’s voting rights can only be restored by a pardon of the Governor. House Bill 70, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would allow most felons to have their voting rights restored once their sentence or probation is served.

Voting rights would not be restored under the proposal for felons convicted of treason, intentional homicide and specific sex crimes.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently allow automatic restoration of felon voting rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Attempts to put the question of automatic restoration of felon voting rights on statewide ballot have been made in Kentucky for well over a decade, said Owens, but so far to no avail. Similar bills have passed the House but have never passed the Senate.

“With the growing wave of interest and advocacy in criminal justice reform I’m hopeful that, this year, HB 70 becomes law,” said Owens.

Another lawmaker speaking in support of the measure was Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Eastwood, who asked his colleagues to pass the bill.

“I think it’s time that we bring people back in from the dark. Once they complete their sentence and their probation, and they’re non-violent offenders, I think it’s time to bring them back,” said Miller.

HB 70 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

Feb. 4, 2016

KY Senate tackles religious expression in schools

FRANKFORT – In response to a school’s prohibition of scripture readings in a public school’s stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the state Senate passed a bill relating to the expression of religious viewpoints in public schools by a 31-2 vote today.

Senate Bill 15 would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing.

“We live in times in which much political and religious expression … is under attack by those who want opposing viewpoints removed from the public square,” said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, a sponsor of the bill. “There is truly no constitutional reason students can’t perform all of the play just because of the reading of scripture.”

SB 15 would also enumerate the rights of religious student groups to access school facilities during non-instructional hours the same way non-religious organizations do and to use school produced media to announce such meetings.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he had concerns about the constitutionality of SB 15 but that issue was not enough to stop him from voting for the measure.

“I’m a firm believer in the free expression of art and non-censorship in art and literature,” he said. “We ought to have, as a society here in Kentucky, the freedom to express our religious opinions in school and on the sports field.”

Thomas said his concern was a provision in SB 15 that referenced the Bible but not the holy books from other religions.

“That provision is going to prove troublesome if this bill becomes law,” he said. “Having said that, I don’t think we should ever get to the point of taking an individual’s free expression of religion out of schools.”

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, also supported SB 15.

“It is just a restatement of the current law,” he said. “There is no new law in this bill.”

-- END --

February 4, 2016

 

EpiPen bill heads to House 

FRANKFORT—Child care centers and homes could obtain prescriptions for EpiPen for children in their care under a bill that has cleared a House committee.

House Bill 148 sponsored Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, said the bill approved by House Health and Welfare would give certified child care center and family child-care homes the ability to obtain an EpiPen or like epinephrine auto-injector device by prescription for emergency use. EpiPen allows epinephrine to be quickly administered by injection, usually through the thigh, to someone suffering a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction.

Current law allow parents to provide EpiPen to their child care provider but does not allow providers to get prescriptions for the device themselves, said Belcher.

“I’ve talked to the day cares and they weren’t aware (of being covered under current legislation),” said Belcher. She was speaking of 2015 HB 248, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and passed into law last year, which allows EpiPen to be prescribed and dispensed to authorized places or individuals that have appropriate training to use the devices. That legislation does not specifically mention child care centers.

Belcher reminded the committee that all certified child care centers have someone trained in first aid “so we do have people there who can take care of our children, and that is our goal.”

“I think it’s good legislation. Maybe the bill last time did not go as far as we thought it went,” said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington.

HB 148 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

Feb. 4, 2016

 

KY Senate panel wants to lock out child ID thieves

FRANKFORT – A measure to protect Kentucky’s children from identity theft passed the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary today.

Senate Bill 23, as amended in committee, would permit the parents and guardians of children and other vulnerable residents to place a “security freeze” on those citizens’ credit reports. Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said security freezes are designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing one’s credit rating, thus preventing additional lines of credit from being opened.

“Identify theft occurs when criminals unlawfully gain access to someone’s personal information and steal it for their own financial gain – whether it is using someone’s Social Security number to open new accounts or illegally hacking into a banking account,” said Alvarado, who sponsored the bill. “All forms of identity theft can be serious.

“ … Obviously, it is not a new problem, but with so much of our personal information being stored electronically these days, the crime is happening more often – and especially to children.”

He said statistics about child identify theft are limited in part because children don’t become aware that their personal data has been stolen until they are old enough to apply for a driver’s license or credit card. The Child Identity Fraud Report of 2012, however, found that one in three households with children had at least one child whose personal information was compromised by identity criminals.

Alvarado said this past summer he was contacted by a constituent whose son had his identity stolen – ruining the 10-year-old’s credit. The father called the credit reporting agencies to place a security freeze on his son’s account only to learn Kentucky statutes do not permit parents to place freezes on their children’s accounts.

Alvarado, flanked by a representative from the Kentucky Retail Federation, said he prefiled the legislation in October 2015.

“The retail federation was kind enough to notice the bill and had some recommendations on language that would be more representative of the national norm for these types of legislation,” Alvarado said. “As a result a committee substitute was produced.”

SB 23, which is modeled after laws in 23 other states, now goes before the full Senate for consideration. 

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 3, 2016

 

Interlocal agreement bill gets committee’s OK

FRANKFORT—A bill that could expand the jurisdiction of local law enforcement and other local agencies throughout Kentucky has cleared a House committee.

Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, the sponsor of House Bill 189, says his legislation would make it easier for sheriffs, police and other local agencies to enter into existing interlocal agreements, which are contracts that allow local governments to share services. Approval to join an existing agreement must now be sought by all affected local government parties and either the Attorney General or the Department for Local Government, a rule that supporters of HB 189 say is a burden on local agencies.

“The process is cumbersome, lengthy and expensive,” Georgetown City Attorney Andrew Hartley told the House Local Government Committee before it approved HB 189.

Hartley said the bill would allow local governments to bring new agencies into an existing agreement without the extra red tape—as long as the terms of the agreement are basically unchanged.

“This is not automatic and would only happen with the approval of all affected (local) legislative bodies,” but would not require state approval, Hartley said.

HB 189 is backed by dozens of local law enforcement agencies including 26 police and sheriff’s department throughout Central Kentucky that share jurisdiction through an existing interlocal agreement. The agreement has been in place for over a year but has not been able to be easily amended under existing law.

“We’re looking for a mechanism to allow (other law enforcement agencies) into that same system that seems to be working for us in Central Kentucky,” Georgetown Police Chief Michael Bosse told the committee before the vote.

HB 189 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

Feb. 3, 2016

 

KY Senate pedals closer to passing a bicycle-safety law

FRANKFORT – A state Senate committee passed a bill today that its sponsors said will clarify how motorists interact with bicyclists in hopes of making the roads safer for everyone.

Senate Bill 80, as amended in the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation, relates to drivers passing bicycles on the roadway. One key provision of the bills requires motorists to stay three feet away from bicycles during passing.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, a primary sponsor of SB 80, thanked Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, for his help in drafting the legislation.

“He certainly is the cyclist in our group,” Webb said of Givens. “I ride horses so I deferred to his expertise. He is not here today, but I do want to give him a shout-out. I appreciate him helping out on this.”

Webb said SB 80 is a clarification of what motorists should be doing now.

“Bicycles are a growing mode of transportation both in urban areas and rural areas,” she said. “The Department of Transportation is doing a good job with some governments about accommodating cyclists in a safe manner but yet we have had a few tragedies of late when it comes to cyclists and sharing the road.”

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said a trail brings a lot of bike tourism to his district.

“I know some people may think this is a Louisville/Lexington bill,” he said. “I can tell you that it is not true. There are a lot of rural places in the state that have a lot of bicycle traffic. Hopefully this will give these people a sense of security as they travel through our region.”

Webb said her home is between two Kentucky Trail Towns, Olive Hill and Morehead.

“Cyclists spend money,” Webb said. “We want to do everything we can to attract them and make them safe when they are in our communities.”

The Kentucky Trail Town Program is designed to help connect communities to trail systems and assist in developing sites as tourist destinations. The goal is to create an environment that is inviting to travelers, entrepreneurs and economic development.

“Motorized vehicles need to be mindful that this sector is growing, not only for convenience and recreation, but also sometimes out of necessity,” Webb said.

-- END --

 

Feb. 3, 2016

 

KY Senate moves to cut Planned Parenthood funds

FRANKFORT – The state Senate has passed legislation intended to curb the flow of non-Medicaid, state-administered tax dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics in Kentucky.

Dubbed the “Defunding Planned Parenthood Legislation,” Senate Bill 7 passed by a 33-5 vote on Tuesday. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

SB 7 would establish a three-tiered system for the state to fund family planning services, said bill sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville. The first funding priority would be public health departments. The second funding priority would be nonpublic clinics that provide comprehensive primary and preventive health services. The third funding priority – if any money remains – would be to Planned Parenthood.

“Due to existing federal law and prior federal court of appeals decisions, this bill does not impact Medicaid funds that flow to Planned Parenthood,” Wise said. “While that is regrettable … it is the current landscape within which we must work.”

Wise said that Planned Parenthood-affiliated facilities performed more than one-third of all abortions in the United States. “Until more significant changes can be made at the federal level, we must do what we can to keep public funds from groups like Planned Parenthood which callously profit from death.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, voted against SB 7.

“Planned Parenthood serves a profound public purpose in this country and in this state,” said Thomas, who has a Planned Parenthood clinic in his district. “First of all Planned Parenthood serves women who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to … obtain the family planning services that we value as a society.”

He said the clinic in his district served 1,350 people in 2014, adding that 60 percent of those women were below the 100 percent poverty level. He added that Planned Parenthood also provides cancer screening for women – a service badly needed in a state that routinely leads the nation in cancer rates.

Prior to the floor debate and subsequent vote on SB 7, the Senate went into recess so some senators could walk another abortion-related bill to the governor’s office for his signature.

It was the “informed consent” bill, also known as Senate Bill 4, which passed out of the Senate on Monday. SB 4 would require an in-person or real-time video conference between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider at least 24 hours before the procedure. 

-- END –

 

Feb. 2, 2016

 

KY Senate passes public pension reform bill

FRANKFORT – A bill that would make state retirement systems’ transactions more transparent, hold the systems accountable when contracting out services and require that pension trustees have actual investment experience passed the state Senate by a unanimous vote today.

The “pension reorganization legislation,” given the designation of Senate Bill 2, was the result of the two years’ worth of work by the Public Pension Oversight Board that meets monthly, said Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, who introduced the legislation and also co-chairs the oversight board.

“In addition to being a transparency bill, this bill is particularly about the ability of our legislature to be proactive rather than reactive,” said Bowen. “It is about our ability to react on pensions rather than have to react on your pension challenges.”

Kentucky’s burgeoning pension challenge has emerged as a marque issue facing lawmakers during the 2016 General Assembly. The governor’s proposed budget is based on extracting savings on cuts from other government services in order to help stabilize public retirement systems that have billions of dollars in outstanding obligations.

Details of SB 2 include a provision that would make gubernatorial appointed trustees to the retirement systems subject to Senate confirmation. In addition, the systems’ executive directors would be subject to Senate confirmation.

The transparency provisions in the SB 2 would require the systems disclose all fees for each fund it administers as well as most contracts for services, goods or property utilized for the systems.

The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. 

-- END –

 

Feb. 2, 2016

 

KY Senate passes bill concerning ‘jailers with no jails’

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would require elected jailers in counties with shuttered jails to spell out their current job duties – and account for their work time – passed the state Senate by a 32-5 vote today.

Senate Bill 96 would require some fiscal courts to annually pass ordinances which outline the responsibility of their county jailer. The bill would also require the jailer to submit to the same fiscal court a summary of all official duties performed to include information related to inmate transport.

“This bill is not in any way an indictment on jailers whatsoever,” said bill sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah. “However, it is designed to build some accountability and transparency into the situations where the jailer does not have a jail to operate.”

He said the legislation was in response to media reports from last year regarding elected jailers for the 42 Kentucky counties with no jails. Most of these jailers are located in Kentucky’s least populated counties and often only ferry inmates between courthouses and regional detention centers. 

Carroll said those jailers are being paid anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 per year for a job with limited duties. In addition, there are about 100 full- and part-time jail deputies in those 42 counties, costing taxpayers another $2 million per year.

“This bill will put the impetus on the fiscal court to make sure that tax dollars are being spent efficiently and fairly,” he said. “It will hold these very few jailers that have taken advantage of the system accountable to the public that they serve.”

Carroll introduced similar legislation last session. In hopes of increasing the odds of the legislation becoming law, Carroll said this session he removed language that would have given some authority to fiscal courts to set the pay scale during election years for jailers.

“I do feel this session’s bill will still set a level of transparency and accountability,” Carroll said, adding that SB 96 is supported by the Kentucky Jailers Association.

-- END –

 

February 2, 2016

KTRS survivor benefits bill passes House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would let spouses of deceased public school teachers continue to receive survivor benefits if they remarry has passed the state House.

House Bill 172, sponsored by Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, would only apply to spouses who had been married at least five years to a teacher or someone who was vested in the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. It would basically provide a surviving spouse with benefits that have already been earned, Nelson explained.

“Let’s say that you have a teacher who is 51 years old and has 21 years of service. That teacher unexpectedly passes away,” said Nelson. “Under that scenario, the spouse would receive $180 a month until the (deceased spouse) would have turned 55. At that time, the survivor benefit is recalculated… That spouse would receive that (benefit) for the rest of his or her life except if they get married. If they get married they get zero.”

“This is what this would try to correct,” he said.

The requirement that the couple be married at least five years before a surviving spouse could be eligible to retain benefits should they remarry was added to the bill with approval of a floor amendment sponsored by Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville. Montell said the five-year qualifier matches the time it takes an employee to become vested in KTRS, or five years.

“I do think there needs to be qualifier,” Montell said, harkening the House’s attention to the years after the Civil War when Montell said young women would often marry much older men with a war pension.

“As they aged, we saw young women attracted to those aging men and many married those Civil War veterans for their benefits and the government paid benefits for the rest of those young ladies’ lives,” said Montell.

There are currently 459 surviving spouses receiving KTRS survivor benefits who would lose those benefits if they remarry, KTRS officials say. It is unclear how many of those would meet the requirement of having been married five or more years as proposed by HB 172.

HB 172 passed the House 93-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

February 2, 2016

 

Lottery-for-education measure gets House committee OK

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would prohibit the General Assembly from diverting state lottery funds away from Kentucky’s need- and merit-based scholarship programs has cleared a House committee.

House Joint Resolution 100, sponsored by Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, would require that all Kentucky Lottery proceeds be appropriated as required under current law. That law stipulates that net proceeds be split 55/45 between the state’s need-based scholarship programs and the KEES (Kentucky Educational Excellence) merit scholarship program respectively each fiscal year after $3 million is set aside for literacy programs. 

“In every budget recently we have diverted around $30 million each year from the need-based programs,” known as the College Access Program (CAP) and the Kentucky Tuition Grants (KTG) program, said Kay. The result, Kay said, is fewer students with money for college.

“Student loan debt … is a growing burden that faces every student that wants to go to school, but more importantly, (it affects) the poor students who can’t afford assistance from their parents, who can’t afford the time to work for an ever-growing tuition,” said Kay.

Had money not been diverted from need-based scholarships in 2015, an additional 15,000 students could have been served, according to HJR 100.

House Minority Whip Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, noted that Gov. Matt Bevin has said lottery proceeds over the next biennium “would go toward education, 100 percent” including money for workforce development scholarships. Kay said he is waiting for that funding proposal to be outlined in the budget.

“I’m not against the governor and his proposal; I’m not against workforce development. I’m for the principle that we do what we are required to do by law,” said Kay.

DeCesare passed on voting on the measure, saying he believes the Governor needs a “little leeway” on his proposal. “I’d like to hear more before we act too hastily on a piece of legislation that may deter something that may be a good thing down the road,” he said.

HJR 100 now goes to the full House for consideration. If passed by both chambers, it would have the force of law.

-END-

 

February 1, 201

 

‘Informed consent’ bill heads to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT – The first bill the 2016 General Assembly delivered to the governor would require a an in-person or real-time video conference between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider at least 24 hours before the procedure.

The state Senate gave final passage of “informed consent” legislation, also known as Senate Bill 4, as amended by the House of Representatives by a 33-5 vote today. On Thursday, the House amended SB 4 to include the video conference option, known as “telehealth.” Backers of the House amendment said the telehealth provision would eliminate the burden of women having to make an extra trip to a clinic that provides abortions.

“This is a momentous occasion for this body,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who noted that proponents have pushed for this legislation for 12 years. “Today we will give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said women seeking an abortion must already be told about the procedure and its risks, the probable age, child-support laws and agencies that assist women who opt to proceed with their pregnancy. Adams said what SB 4 does is “clarify” this information cannot be relayed just through a telephone conversation.

“I wanted to thank all the pro-life members of this chamber, and the ones over in the House, who have been steadfast in their determination to care, not only for the wellbeing and health of women, but for the unborn,” said Adams, who introduced the legislation.

Senate Minority Whip Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, voted for the measure and thanked his colleagues who also supported SB 4.

“This clearly reflects the opinion of a number of us in my party … ,” Carroll said. “We are quite pleased this legislation has now passed both the House and Senate to protect the unborn in Kentucky.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he voted against SB 4 because it is unnecessary. He then cited studies that found the majority of women receiving abortions are college educated.

“It is obvious these women understand, given their age and education, what it means to be pregnant,” he said. “To require these women to have a conference … to explain the obvious is just ridiculous. I see no reason, no purpose, for this legislation. 

-- END –

 

February 1, 2016

  

Campaign contribution bill goes to House floor

FRANKFORT— Legislation that calls for the first increase in campaign contribution limits in Kentucky in nearly 18 years was approved by a House committee.  

Key changes under House Bill 147, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and approved by the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs, would double the limit on individual campaign contributions from $1,000 to $2,000 as of this July and double the annual limit on individual contributions to a party’s state executive committee and affiliates from $2,500 to $5,000. It would also double from $10,000 to $20,000 the overall amounts allowed from permanent, executive and caucus campaign committees. 

The increased limits are only part of the bill, which would also allow corporate contributions to political party building funds and allow married couples to write one check for a contribution up to the individual limits of each spouse, among other provisions.

The legislation would also help combat what Stumbo called an influx of out-of-state soft money into Kentucky by modernizing the contribution limits. Soft money is typically defined as a contribution going to a political party, not directly to a candidate.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, voted against the bill in committee, something he said was “very difficult” to do but that he said was rooted in American politics today.

“People are tired of the political system in which money controls how we elect people,” said Graham.

The committee agreed that some changes to HB 147 recommended by the state Registry of Election Finance could be addressed in a floor amendment.

HB 147 now goes before the full House for consideration.

-END-

January 25, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

January 25-29, 2016

 

FRANKFORT -- Getting our financial house in order.

That was a theme Gov. Matt Bevin returned to several times as he gave his first budget address on Tuesday night during a joint session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The governor’s State of the Commonwealth Budget Address unveiled a two-year spending plan that calls for 9 percent cuts across state government with the much of the savings aimed at helping state pension systems meet obligations.

In addition to the proposed 9 percent cuts over the next two fiscal years, the governor also announced 4.5 percent budget cuts for the final half of the current fiscal year.

Not all parts of state government would be hit by cuts under the governor’s spending plan. The main school funding formula, known as SEEK, is spared. So is Medicaid, Veterans Affairs, school district health insurance, student financial aid and more.

While budget cuts would be widespread, the governor’s spending plan calls for increased spending for some front-line public servants including the Kentucky State Police and other peace officers, social workers, public defenders, correctional officers and others.

Now that the governor has delivered his spending plan, it’s time for lawmakers to take the proposal apart and reassemble it in a manner they are satisfied with. The state budget bill is currently in the House, where budget subcommittees will dig into all parts of the budget in the weeks to come. Once the House approves a spending plan, it will be the Senate’s turn. By session’s end, Senate and House members are expected to meet in conference committee meetings to iron out differences in each chamber’s preferred spending plans. With the 2016 session scheduled to adjourn on April 12, there’s much work to do in the time available.

As lawmakers focused on budget issues this week, they also continued moving a number of bills through the legislative process, including legislation on the following topics:

Informed Consent. A consultation between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider would have to occur during an in-person meeting or through real-time video conferencing under the version of Senate Bill 4 approved by the House this week. The version of the bill approved by the Senate last week called for in-person consultations but did not provide the videoconferencing option. Information is already legally required to be provided to women seeking abortions 24 hours before the procedure, but currently the info is sometimes delivered over the phone rather than in person. Senate Bill 4 has returned to the Senate for consideration of the House changes to the legislation.

CPR. A bill that would require public high school students to learn CPR passed the state Senate this week. Senate Bill 33 as amended would require CPR be taught in physical education, health or junior ROTC classes in either ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th grade. The bill has been sent to the House for consideration.

Minimum Wage. The state’s minimum hourly wage would be raised to $10.10 over the next two and half years under a bill that cleared a House committee this week and is now awaiting consideration by the full House. House Bill 278 would increase Kentucky’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $8.20 this August, $9.15 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018. The increase would not apply to businesses that have a recent average annual gross volume of sales of less than $500,000.

Concealed Carry. Senate Joint Resolution 36 urges Virginia, which borders Eastern Kentucky, to restore a so-called reciprocal agreement that allowed Kentucky concealed carry permit holders to legally carry a concealed firearm in Virginia. The legislation was approved in the Senate this week and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Infant Protection. Parents of newborns would have up to 30 days to surrender their baby at a state-approved safe place without facing criminal charges under legislation approved by the House this week. Current law gives parents 72 hours after a child is born to leave the baby at a hospital, police or fire station or with emergency medical services personnel if they feel unable to care for the child. House Bill 97 would expand that to 30 days and add churches or other places of worship to the list of approved safe places where a child could be surrendered. Parents would not face charges for surrendering the baby as long as the child is not injured. The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

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

--END--

 

 

January 29, 2016

EMS death benefits bill heads to Senate 

FRANKFORT—The House today passed a bill that would give families of paramedics and other emergency service personnel killed in the line of duty the same $80,000 state death benefit now provided to families of fallen police and firefighters.

House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, was filed following last November’s death of Jessamine County paramedic John Mackey. The 40-year-old died after being hit by a car while on ambulance duty.

Families of paramedics, emergency medical technicians, ambulance and rescue squad members and local emergency management employees killed on the job on or after June 30, 2015 would be eligible to receive the $80,000 benefit under HB 54. Free tuition and fees to any state college, university or vocational training school would also be made available under the bill to the spouse or children of emergency service workers killed or disabled while on duty.

Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, recognized John’s Mackey family who were in the House chamber for the vote on the bill. Among them were Mackey’s children who Meyer said “who are going to benefit from this act.”

“They’re all with us here today in support of this,” said Meyer.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said HB 54 is about “creating equity. We already provide this for police officers, for firefighters. For some reason the EMS personnel were not included originally, but now’s the time to make this right.”

The bill cleared the House on a 95-0 vote and now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

-END-

 

January 28, 2016

 

Informed consent bill clears House, returns to Senate

FRANKFORT – A consultation between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider would have to occur in an in-person meeting or through real-time video conferencing under a bill approved tonight by the state House.

The video conference option was added to Senate Bill 4 by the House Health and Welfare Committee shortly before the bill cleared the House on a 92-3 vote. Only in-person, face-to-face consultation would have satisfied the state’s informed consent requirement under the original bill, sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, which the Senate approved by a 32-5 vote last week.

SB 4 now returns to the Senate for consideration of the House changes.

Kentucky law already requires information be provided at least 24 hours before an abortion, but that information is often given over the phone, say supporters of SB 4.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who successfully moved for passage of a floor amendment to correct an error in the bill before the House floor vote, said that moving SB 4 through the legislative process “has been a battle.”

“It’s a tough issue for a lot of people. Many people believe very strongly on both sides of the issue,” said Hoover. “To be singled out as we are many times for particular issues from those who oppose our point of view—that’s not an easy thing to do. But there are good people with strong principles on both sides of this issue.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called SB 4 a “remedy” that would allow women to receive information without creating an additional financial burden on them at an already difficult time.

“If you believe that (the informed consent law) hasn’t been adhered to because … information is given electronically via telephone… then this is the way to remedy that, and it’s a way to remedy it in a manner that’s fair to people that live all across Kentucky,” said Stumbo. 

-END-

 

January 28, 2016

 

KY Senate bill seeks to expand CPR training in schools

FRANKFORT – A bill that would require public high school students to learn CPR passed the state Senate by a 32-6 vote today.

Senate Bill 33 as amended would require CPR be taught in physical education, health or junior ROTC classes in either ninth, 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Bill sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said at least one emergency medical service employee in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties has volunteered to conduct the training.

“We don’t know when one of us is going … to be called upon to save someone’s life,” Wise said while a contingent of visiting EMS employees looked down from the Senate gallery. “Learning a basic skill like this could possible help do such a thing.”

He said that each year nearly 424,000 people will have sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital and only 10 percent of those victims will survive. When a CPR trained bystander is nearby, these victims’ survival rates double to triple.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, explained that his “no” vote wasn’t because he was against CPR training. He said some school superintendents in his district have concerns about the legislation.

“In an area of reduced funding and paper work to me, to them, it was another unfunded mandate to put on them,” West said, adding that it’s already taught in many schools.

Wise responded by stressing the training will be provided free of charge, and that 27 other states have a similar law. SB 33 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

-- END --

 

January 28, 2016

 

KTRS survivor benefits bill heads to House 

FRANKFORT—Spouses of deceased Kentucky public school teachers could remarry without losing survivor benefits from the state teachers’ retirement system under a bill passed today by the House State Government Committee.

 “If this bill were to pass, if they were to go ahead and get married, they would not lose their spouse benefits. And I think that’s only fair because their spouse paid into the system,” said House Bill 172 sponsor Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro.

There are now 459 surviving spouses receiving Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) survivor benefits who would lose those benefits if they remarry, said KTRS General Counsel Robert Barnes. The average monthly benefit drawn per individual is $1,777, he said.

While the system has not tracked those who have lost survivorship benefits due to remarriage before 2015, Barnes said retirement survivor benefits were revoked in two cases last year because the surviving spouses remarried. The revocation of those benefits, he said, cost the surviving spouses a combined $7,000 a year. 

“It would appear historically that the cost of this bill would be pretty minimal,” said Barnes, adding true actuarial analysis is pending.

Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, said he thinks “it’s a shame that we do encourage folks to remain single even though they do wish to marry” but that the bill may need a qualifier for retaining benefits, perhaps based on length of marriage to the deceased spouse. “Maybe we can talk about some kind of qualifier to make sure the late spouse was a lifelong companion, but I think it’s a good bill,” he said.

A few other lawmakers on the committee also suggested tweaking the bill should it come to a vote on the House floor.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said HB 172 is a “pro-marriage bill” which he feels needs no added language. “This is a good bill as it is,” he said.

HB 172 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

 

January 28, 2016

State minimum wage increase proposal moves to House floor

FRANKFORT—The state’s minimum hourly wage would be raised to $10.10 over the next two and half years under a bill that cleared a House committee today.

House Bill 278, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, would increase Kentucky’s current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $8.20 this August, $9.15 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018. The increase would not apply to businesses that have a recent average annual gross volume of sales of less than $500,000.

Stumbo said HB 278, if passed into law, would put an extra $2,000 or so a year into the pockets of Kentucky minimum wage workers. Those workers now earn around $15,000 annually for full-time work, he said.

“Can you live on that? I don’t think so,” the Speaker said to House Labor and Industry Committee members. The bill also includes language prohibiting wage discrimination based on race, gender, or national origin.

Kentucky’s current minimum wage, which mirrors the federal minimum wage, has not increased since 2009. That increase was approved by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2007. Only Louisville and Lexington have approved a minimum wage above the state rate.

Twenty nine states and Washington D.C. now have a minimum wage above Kentucky’s minimum wage and the federal minimum wage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lawmakers voicing concerns with HB 278 included Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Eastwood, who said some surrounding states, including Virginia and Indiana, have the same minimum wage rate as Kentucky. Miller expressed concern that companies may move their business across the border if a Kentucky minimum wage increase were passed.

“The market’s the best way to raise wages,” said Miller.

Representatives from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Retail Federation and the Kentucky office of the National Federation of Independent Business also spoke in opposition to the bill.

Stumbo responded that 13 states have raised their minimum wage since 2014 and the unemployment rate in every one of those states has fallen in the past year and half.

HB 278 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

January 28, 2016

 

Public benefit corporation bill heads to House

FRANKFORT—Legislation approved by the House in years past that would allow public benefit corporations to operate in Kentucky just got another chance at becoming law.

House Bill 50, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. It would allow for-profit corporations to organize for a specific “public benefit” and require those corporations to balance the interests of their stockholders with a broader public interest.

Public benefit is defined in HB 50 a “positive effect or reduction of negative effect” of an artistic, economic or other nature on persons or entities other than the corporation’s stockholders.

Nearly identical legislation has been sponsored by Flood in past sessions, including 2015 HB 11 which passed the House 68-29 and 2014 HB 66 which passed the House 58-34.

Flood said such public benefit corporation investments total $40 billion in 31 states. “I’d like to bring it to Kentucky,” she said.

Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, asked if there is a limit on expenses public benefit corporations can use for a public benefit. Flood said the corporations are structured for profit and a societal good and “it is considered the cost of doing business but there is no limit on it…because it is what the shareholders determine to be their bottom line.”

Rep. Thomas Kerr, R-Taylor Mill, made a motion that language be struck from the bill over concerns that it that might negatively affect shareholders of other for-profit corporations that are not for a public benefit. That motion was approved. 

HB 50 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

January 27, 2016

 

KY Senate resolution urges Virginia to recognize concealed carry law

FRANKFORT – Leaders from both parties came together on the Senate floor today to condemn Virginia’s recent decision to stop recognizing Kentucky concealed carry permits by passing a joint resolution condemning the move.

Senate Joint Resolution 36 urges Virginia, which borders Eastern Kentucky, to restore a so-called reciprocal agreement that allowed Kentucky concealed carry permit holders to legally carry a concealed firearm in Virginia. The resolution passed by a by a 37-1 vote.

“The governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the attorney general have arbitrarily and unilaterally made a determination that the Commonwealth of Virginia would no longer recognize Kentucky’s concealed carry permits,” said Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II of Pikeville. “Now, this is a significant problem for Kentuckians, particularly those of us from Eastern Kentucky who, when we travel south, have to travel through the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Republican Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown joined Jones as a primary sponsor of the resolution. Eighteen other senators were cosponsors.

“Tens of thousands of Kentuckians, law-abiding citizens, have been trained and permitted to carry firearms for personal protection and defense of their family,” Jones said. “As we see so many mass shooting and terrorist attacks on American soil, I believe it is vitally important that Americans have the right to protect themselves, their families and their friends.”

Jones, a licensed NRA firearms instructor, said Kentucky’s concealed carry law has been a model since its inception and that Kentucky concealed carry holders are not the ones committing mass shootings.

“Gun violence is a problem in this country,” he said. “It is a horrific problem in this country … but the question is how do you address the violence. Do you address it by infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens? I don’t believe that is the answer.”

SJR 36 now goes to the House for consideration. 

-- END --

 

 

January 26, 2016

 

General Assembly’s 2016 session calendar adjusted

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly will begin its veto recess on March 30, one day later than originally scheduled, under an adjustment to the legislative calendar.

The change was made in response to last week’s cancellation of chamber proceedings on Friday due to concerns over hazardous travel conditions caused by Winter Storm Jonas.

Although the veto recess will start a day later than originally planned, lawmakers are still scheduled to return from the recess on April 11, the same day as expected under the original calendar.

Final adjournment of the 2016 session is scheduled for April 12.

The revised 2016 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/calendars/16RS_calendar.pdf.

--END--

 

January 25, 2016

  

Bill to expand abandoned infants law goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Parents of newborns would have up to 30 days to surrender their baby at a state-approved safe place without facing criminal charges under legislation that’s on its way to the Senate.

Current law gives parents 72 hours after a child is born to leave the baby at a hospital, police or fire station or with emergency medical services personnel if they feel unable to keep the child. House Bill 97, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, would expand that to 30 days and add churches or other places of worship to the list of approved safe places where a child could be surrendered.

Parents would not face charges for surrendering the baby as long as the child is not injured.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 92-0 today.

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, voiced concerns with a floor amendment to the bill that he said would open safe places—namely churches—up to liability for negligence should they become safe places under HB 97. The bill would give churches and other safe places allowed under the bill immunity from civil or criminal liability for taking in a child, but the amendment, which narrowly passed by a vote of 44-43, would allow liability for negligence should the child be injured while in a safe place’s care.

 “If you want churches to essentially be able to be sued, then you’ll want to support this floor amendment,” said Lee. “I would encourage you to vote against this floor amendment.”

Burch said churches should not be exempt from liability involving negligence of a child.

“Had we allowed churches not be sued you would not have seen all these sexual abuse cases brought (in recent years),” he said.  

Lee said that “has nothing to do with trying to save newborn babies. If we really want to save newborn babies then I think we ought to afford these churches immunity from civil liability.”

Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, thanked Burch for working with her to offer the option of places of worship as a safe place under HB 97. “I believe that if only one parent is led to know they can leave a child, a newborn at a church, a staffed house of worship, and it saves one baby’s life then I think it’s worth (it),” said Mayfield.

-END-

January 22, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

January 18-22

FRANKFORT -- As Winter Storm Jonas approached Kentucky, many eyes turned to the forecasters whose Doppler radars and high-tech instruments could predict the wind chill and expected snowfall.

But when school superintendents must decide whether to call a snow day, they often depend on something less sophisticated but just as precise: Many are out in the dark checking roads at 4 a.m. so they know the driving conditions they face.

A similar point could be made about forecasting a legislative session. Polls hint at the public mood and commentators provide educated analysis. But often, it’s lawmakers’ direct contact with citizens – phone calls, coffee shop discussions, and meetings in the Capitol and in their home districts -- that most clearly reveal which issues are picking up momentum and which are about to hit an icy patch.

At the end of Week 3 of the General Assembly’s 2016 session, it’s still too early for legislation to have gathered the momentum to reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law. But many bills are moving through legislative committees and a handful have already been approved by the Senate or House and sent to the other chamber for consideration.

Issues that took steps forward this week include:

Cancer. House Bill 115 would expand eligibility for screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines. The bill was approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate.

Drunken Driving. Senate Bill 56 would strengthen penalties for habitual drunken drivers by changing what is known in legal circles as the “look back period” from five years to 10 years. That means if someone is convicted of drunken driving multiple times in a 10-year period the penalties for the crimes can be increased. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House. 

Elections. Senate Bill 10 would move elections for governor and other statewide constitutional offices to the same years as presidential elections. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Human Trafficking. House Bill 229 is aimed at improving investigation and prosecution of human trafficking by including the Kentucky Attorney General among those with jurisdiction over those crimes. The bill has been approved by a House committee and is expected to be voted on by the full House next week.

Informed Consent. Senate Bill 4 would specify that consultations between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider that are required 24 hours prior to the procedures must take place in face-to-face meetings. Those consults are currently often done through recorded phone messages. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has received two readings in the House.

Legislator Pensions. Senate Bill 45 would disclose the value of state legislator’s public pensions by making those figures subject to open records laws. The bill was approved by the Senate and has been received by the House.

Victim Protection. House Bill 59 would make it easier for those at risk of violence to shield their home addresses from people who could harm them. Kentucky already has an address protection program that allows domestic violence victims and those at risk of violence to use a substitute address in cases where public records could make their home addresses accessible to those who pose a risk. House Bill 59 would allow people at risk of violence to apply for a substitute address without first obtaining a domestic violence order. A sworn statement would suffice for program eligibility. The bill was approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

To share your thoughts on the issues confronting Kentucky with your state lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181.

--END--

 

January 21, 2016

 

‘Dog bite bill’ passes out of KY Senate

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation today that supporters say will put a leash on frivolous dog bite litigation in Kentucky’s courts.

Senate Bill 68, known as “the dog bite bill,” was introduced by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. He said it would protect landlords from being held liable when a negligent tenant’s canine bites someone. SB 68 would do this by amending the current statute to modify the definition of persons who would qualify as the owner of a dog.

Alvarado said the legislation was prompted by a 2012 Kentucky Supreme Court opinion that a landlord could be considered a dog owner of his tenant’s dog for the purposes of legal liability. He said that opinion puts unfair pressure on property owners who may not even know that a dog is living on their property.

Sen. Robin L Webb, D-Grayson, was one of six Senators who voted against SB 68.

“It would totally take the landlord out of any potential recovery, whether they knew, not knew, promoted, or encouraged any activity,” she said. “It would fully insulate the landlord regardless of conduct.”

SB 68 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

-- END --

 

January 21, 2016

 

Senate passes bill protecting state’s vulnerable

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill aimed at better protecting child victims of repeated abuse by a 36-0 vote today.

Many children who have experienced repeated abuse over time, referred to as a continuous course of conduct, have difficulty remembering the details of each specific incident of abuse, said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. The legislation, known as Senate Bill 60, would accommodate a child’s more generalized testimony when a tragedy of repeated abuse occurs.

“This bill is to protect … young victims or victims with intellectual or developmental disabilities who can’t articulate when something happened to them,” said Westerfield, who introduced the legislation.

Westerfield said he filed the bill after the Kentucky Supreme Court last year overturned the conviction of a man accused of sexually assaulting his 6-year-old stepdaughter in the case Ruiz v. Commonwealth. In Ruiz, the child victim testified that she was sodomized and abused up to three times a week by her stepfather while her mother was on military deployment, but her inability to distinguish between the events helped lead to the case being overturned.

A similar piece of legislation, known as House Bill 109, passed out of the state House of Representatives by a 91-0 vote this past Tuesday.

-- END --

 

January 21, 2016

  

LRC offices will be closed Friday 

FRANKFORT – Legislative Research Commission (LRC) offices will be closed tomorrow due to Winter Storm Jonas and dangerous road conditions.

Although LRC offices will be officially closed on Friday, January 22, some LRC staff will be working over the coming weekend to fulfill legislative support duties, including preparations to receive the governor’s state budget proposal next week.

The Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives also will not meet in session tomorrow due to hazardous weather and dangerous travel conditions.

--END-

 

January 21, 2016

 

Address protection bill heads to Senate 

FRANKFORT—A bill to make it easier for potential victims of abuse to get a substitute legal address unknown to their abusers has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 59, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chair Tom Burch, D-Louisville, would allow potential victims of domestic violence and others to apply for a substitute address under the state’s address protection program without first obtaining a domestic violence order. A sworn statement would suffice for program eligibility.

Those who qualify for a substitute address would be issued a residency letter, document or card “to offer as proof that he or she actually resides in a specific county,” HB 59 states.  The address could be used on driver’s licenses and state-issued personal ID cards and would not interfere with a potential victim’s ability to vote.

“I got the bill from the state of Colorado. I went out there and witnessed first-hand how it was adopted and how they used it,” said Burch.

 

“It worked very well, and I thought it would work well here in Kentucky.”

 

The address protection program was established to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse, stalking and related crimes under a 2013 Kentucky law.

 

HB 59 passed by a vote of 94-0 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

-END-

 

 

January 21, 2016 

Kentucky Senate and House will not meet in session tomorrow

FRANKFORT – Due to inclement weather and concerns about hazardous road conditions, the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will not convene on Friday, January 22.

Both chambers are scheduled to convene on Monday, January 25, at 4 p.m.

--END--

 

January 21, 2016

  

Senate approves bill to crack down on repeat DUI offenders

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would strengthen penalties for habitual drunken drivers.

Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, would change what is known in legal circles as the “look back period” to 10 years from five years. What that means is that if someone is convicted of drunken driving multiple times in a 10-year period the penalties for the crimes can be increased. The bill would also expand the quarterly reporting window of pending DUI cases to 180 days from 90 days.

“For a lot of people, the first DUI is a mistake,” Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said during discussion of the bill on the Senate floor. “But the second one is not a mistake. The third, fourth and the fifth are big problems and we need to correct that.”

According to Parrett, statistics show that 99.6 percent of habitual drunken drivers’ DUI cases fall within a 10-year period.

If the bill becomes law, it would be named the Brianna Taylor Act. Brianna was 17 when she died in a car wreck in the summer of 2014 in Hardin County. The Elizabethtown High School graduate was on her way home from a fishing trip at the time of the crash. 

Similar legislation was approved in the Senate last year but did not become law. SB 56, which was approved by the Senate on a 35-1 vote, will now go to the state House for consideration.  

--END--

 

January 20, 2016

Human trafficking measures heads to House

FRANKFORT—Kentucky’s Attorney General would be given jurisdiction over the state’s human trafficking cases under a bill approved today by the House Judiciary Committee.

Jurisdiction over these cases now lies with Kentucky’s Commonwealth’s Attorneys and county attorneys. House Bill 229 would expand that jurisdiction to the Attorney General’s Office to beef up investigation and prosecution of such cases, said HB 229 sponsor House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly.

 “Too often we are finding (these cases) are not progressing through investigation and through to a conviction,” said Overly, D-Paris. HB 229 would help fix that, she said.

Her comments were echoed by Attorney General Andy Beshear who joined Overly before the committee.

“I’m ready to go to work,” Beshear said. “My office is ready to go to work. We’re going to work every single day to make sure we get results.”

HB 229 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

January 20, 2016

 

Police overtime bill clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would mean more time off work for Louisville Metro police officers and overtime savings for the city has passed a House committee.

Under House Bill 149, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Fairdale, Louisville Metro police officers would work 12-hour shifts totaling less than 80 hours over 14 days without triggering overtime pay per a city agreement with the Louisville area Fraternal Order of Police. Louisville police officers currently work 8-hour shifts for six days before getting two days off, said Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad who testified on the bill before the House Local Government Committee.

Conrad said HB 149 would allow officers to get more time off which he said means “less fatigue, less stress, and use less sick leave.” It would also, he said, help the city lower its costs.

“Without this change in state law we’d be required to pay overtime over the first week and then an officer would work less than 40 hours in the second (week),” said Conrad, who testified on the bill alongside River City FOP #614 President Dave Mutchler and Donohue.

 “(This) puts more police officers on the shifts that we have so I think it’s beneficial to the community,” Donohue told the committee. 

Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, asked if the city can revert back to 8-hours shifts if the outcome of the agreement is unsatisfactory. Conrad said yes, but it is unlikely that his department would want to return to 8-hour shifts.

HB 149 now goes to the full House for consideration.

-END-

 

January 19, 2016

Senate unanimously approves legislative pension transparency bill

FRANKFORT – Bills that would disclose the value of state legislators’ public pensions passed the Senate today by a 38-0 vote.

State Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation was designed to strengthen the public’s faith in the democratic process. Known as Senate Bill 45, it would allow pension managers to disclose the name and benefit amount for any current or former lawmaker by making those figures subject to the state’s open records laws.

“This requirement will introduce a greater level of accountability to those of us who have to cast ballots on some of the most difficult, contentious and painful issues confronting us today,” McDaniel said.

He said one of the greatest challenges of the session will be to find more money for the public pension systems. The systems carries more than $30 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. State economists say the main pension plans for government workers and public school teacher are in the most trouble.

SB 45 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END –

 

January 19, 2016

 

Bill to change KY election cycles moves to House

FRANKFORT – A bill that would move the governor’s race to even-numbered years passed out of the state Senate today by a 28-9 vote.

State Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who introduced the legislation, known as Senate Bill 10, said it would increase voter turnout by aligning state elections with federal elections. He said voter turnout in Kentucky is usually 20 percent higher in even-numbered years when there are federal elections.

“This measure carries with it many benefits but chief among them is what it does and what it means to our democracy,” McDaniel said. “The death of our democracy is not likely be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment.”

McDaniel said SB 10 would also save Kentucky $3.5 million and its 120 counties more than $14 million every four years by consolidating the dates elections are held. That translate to $603,000 in saving for Kenton County, $173,000 in saving for Pike County, $45,000 saving for Clay County and $1.3 million in saving for Jefferson County.

State Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, explained her vote against SB 10. She said saving money on elections doesn’t strengthen democracy or increase citizen involvement. “I think anything that suppresses voters, or suppresses elections, or the disengagement of the populous isn’t good for democracy,” Webb said. “Therefore, I vote no.”

If SB 10 passes the state House of Representatives, it would still require a vote of the people since it’s in the form of a constitutional amendment.

-- END --

 

 

January 19, 2016 

Tobacco research bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—Research of snuff and other smokeless tobacco products would get some assistance under a bill now on its way to the state Senate.

House Bill 83, sponsored by House Agriculture and Small Business Chair Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, would expand the state’s definition of reference tobacco— or tobacco products made specifically for research and not for public use—to include smokeless tobacco products like snuff and a moist snuff called snus labeled specifically for research and experimental purposes.

Current state law limits the definition of reference tobacco to cigarettes.

Reference tobacco product work in Kentucky currently takes place exclusively at the University of Kentucky which is in the process of applying for a $7 million federal grant for reference tobacco research. The recipient of that grant is expected to be announced by the Federal Drug Administration next month.

A floor amendment to HB 83 sponsored by Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, would allow any accredited college or university in the state to engage in reference tobacco research. It would also exempt reference tobacco products from tobacco excise taxes. The amendment was approved by a vote of 92-1.

HB 83 as amended passed the House by a vote of 94-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

-END-

 

January 19, 2016

 

KY Senate approves informed consent legislation

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed an abortion-related measure by a 32-5 vote today.

Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), introduced by state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, would require a face-to-face meeting between the pregnant woman and a healthcare provider at least 24 hours before an abortion takes place. It is currently often done via a recorded telephone message, she said.

“What this bill does not do is restrict a woman’s rights,” Adams said. “How could anyone consider the receiving of medical information as restrictive?”

State Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he voted against SB 4 because it is unnecessary and women already understand what the procedure entails.

SB 4 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END --

 

January 15, 2016

 

This Week at the State Capitol

January 11 - 15, 2016

FRANKFORT -- Legislative committee rooms lack the grandeur of the historic Senate and House chambers. But those modest rooms often reveal the first, close-up glimpse of the big issues that will later take center stage in the State Capitol. 

Committee discussions often show which legislative issues have momentum, which are in for a tough ride, which issues will highlight differences among individuals and which will bring disparate factions together in support of a bill.

In the just-concluded second week the 2016 General Assembly, a number of bills were voted out of Senate and House committees and a few were voted on in full chambers by week’s end. Bills that took steps forward this week include the following:

·         House Bill 40 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee early in the week and passed the House later in the week on an 80-11 vote. The bill would allow the courts to seal the felony records of up to 94,000 Kentuckians. The proposal would allow many Class D felons and those who were never formally accused or convicted of a Class D felony to have their records expunged, removing the records from public view.

·         Senate Bill 9 would exempt school and university construction projects of $250,000 or more from the state’s prevailing wage laws. The bill would cover the construction of school dormitories, administration buildings, sport facilities, parking facilities, and health facilities.

·         House Bill 115 would expand eligibility for screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines. The bill was approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee and now goes to the full House for consideration.

·         Senate Bill 11, which would make a host of changes to the state’s 1930s-era alcohol laws, came to a vote in a Senate committee this week as well as the full chamber, which approved the measure on a 29-8 vote. The omnibus bill would raise the amount of packaged alcohol that could be sold at distilleries to nine liters from the current three liters. It would also increase the size of samples handed out at distilleries to 1.5 ounces from the current 1 ounce. The measure is meant to promote “bourbon tourism.”

·         Senate Bill 12 would allow liquor sales at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta before 1 p.m. on Sundays. After receiving approval from a Senate committee, the bill passed the Senate on an 28-8-1 vote.

This is a key time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share views on the issues that will be voted on in the days to come. To offer your feedback, please call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.  

--END--

 

January 15, 2016

Prosecutors of crimes against children would get help under bill headed to Senate

FRANKFORT—Prosecutors would have another tool to convict abusers of Kentucky’s most defenseless citizens under legislation passed today in the House.

House Bill 109 sponsor Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively,said the bill would create a “continuing course of conduct” tool to aid prosecution of sex abuse and other serious crimes perpetrated against vulnerable victims like young children. It would allow these victims to testify to a pattern of abuse rather than specific dates that Jenkins said are often hard for young children to recall.

Jenkins filed the bill after the Kentucky Supreme Court last year overturned the conviction of a man accused of sexually assaulting his six-year-old stepdaughter in the case Ruiz v. Commonwealth. In Ruiz, the child victim testified that she was sodomized and abused 2 to 3 times a week by her stepfather while her mother was on military deployment, but her inability to distinguish between the events helped lead to the case being overturned.

 “Think about a small child. They can remember horrific acts that were committed in some detail but may not remember the specific date,” said Jenkins.

Questions about the cost of the bill to the state’s corrections system were raised by some lawmakers. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg responded that there is no corrections impact for HB 109. “(HB 109 doesn’t) enhance penalties for existing crimes…it (doesn’t) have any fiscal impact because it (doesn’t) create a new crime—it simply creates a rule of evidence for prosecutors to help them prosecute these awful crimes.”

Stumbo said crime and punishment bills that come before the House routinely have a corrections impact statement attached.

HB 109 passed the House by a vote of 91-0 and now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

The bill includes an emergency clause, which means it would take effect immediately should it become law.  

-END-

 

January 15, 2016

 

 

Felony expungement bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would allow the courts to seal the felony records of up to 94,000 Kentuckians passed the House today by a vote of 80-11.

If passed into law, HB 40 would allow many Class D felons and those who were never formally accused or convicted of a Class D felony to have their records expunged, removing the records from public view. It would also prohibit the expunged files from being used in judicial or administrative proceedings involving hiring and other matters.

“HB 40 is about redemption,” said House Judiciary Chair Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville who shares primary sponsorship of the bill with Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown. “It’s about second chances.”

Convicted felons could ask the courts to expunge their records five years after completion of their sentence or probation; Those accused of a felony, but never indicted or convicted, could apply for expungement much sooner. Sex offenders, those who committed an offense against a child or vulnerable adult, those with a prior felony conviction, those who have recently been convicted of a misdemeanor or violation, or those against whom charges are pending would not be eligible for felony expungement under HB 40.

The bill was amended by the House to also exclude those convicted of felonies involving abuse of public office, human trafficking and child pornography. 

Owens said the bill would mostly affect low-level felony offenders convicted of felony drug possession, forgery, wanton endangerment, theft, and evidence tampering. But some lawmakers questioned the safety of the proposal. One of those was Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who said felonies that could be expunged under HB 40 include fourth-degree domestic violence, third-degree arson, reckless homicide, third-degree assault and more.

“These are not low-level misdemeanors,” said Benvenuti, who voted against the bill on the floor. “You can expunge somebody’s records but you can’t expunge facts—you can’t expunge behavior. That’s the reality.”

Kentucky law currently allows for expungement of misdemeanors. Those are lesser crimes than felonies which include offenses like shoplifting, bad check writing, and driving on a suspended license.

Floyd said the courts have discretion over whose records will be expunged and whose will not, and that would be the case under HB 40.

“Those violations that you have mentioned, that person in that local community will be known. If he or she evaded a police officer (the community will) know they have not changed their ways and they don’t recommend to the judge that that expungement be carried out,” said Floyd.

HB 40 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 

-END-

 

January 15, 2016

  

Bills loosening alcohol and prevailing wage laws clear Senate

FRANKFORT – Liquor and labor were the subjects of the first three pieces of legislation the state Senate passed during its current session.

Legislation (Senate Bill 11) that would make a host of changes to the state’s 1930s-era alcohol laws passed by a 29-8 vote on Thursday. The omnibus bill would raise the amount of packaged alcohol that could be sold at distilleries to nine liters from the current three liters. It would also increase the size of samples handed out at distilleries to 1.5 ounces from the current 1 ounce. Both provisions are designed to promote “bourbon tourism.”

As many of the state’s bourbon titans watched from the chamber’s upper gallery, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, described how the bill would strengthen one of the state’s signature industries.

“You hear it said all the time: Government needs to just get out of the way and let industry work,” said Schickel, a primary sponsor of the bill. “And we really need to get out of the way of this bourbon industry and let it soar. If you go anywhere around the world someone will ask you about Kentucky bourbon.”

Senate Democratic Whip Julian M. Carroll of Frankfort said he has six distilleries in his district drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists a year to the area.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, challenged the bourbon titans to invest in Eastern Kentucky, whose economy has suffered because of a loss of coal mining jobs. In addition to opening “legitimate” distilleries, Stivers suggested that the distillers invest in cooperages, places that makes the wooden barrels where bourbon is stored while aged.

“We have one wonderful resource in the east that is not carbon related and that is timber, white oak” he said. “I ask these icons who have asked us to help their industry … to help Eastern Kentucky by investing in that region of the state.”

The other liquor legislation (Senate Bill 12) acted upon on Thursday would allow liquor sales at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta before 1 p.m. on Sundays. It passed by a 28-8 vote with one Senator abstaining because of a potential conflict of interest. The primary sponsors of SB 12 where Carroll and Schickel.

The legislation was conceived after inclement weather in 2013 forced the speedway’s marquee event, a Saturday night NASCAR Sprint Cup race, to be ran on a Sunday – a day where alcohol sales are currently prohibited until 1 p.m.

Legislation (Senate Bill 9) that would exempt school and university construction projects of $250,000 or more from the state’s prevailing wage laws also prompted lively debate on Thursday. Despite some vocal opposition, it passed the Senate by a 26-vote majority.

“We decided to focus on educational facilities for two reasons,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, a primary sponsor of the bill. “One being is that there is already precedence in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As you may recall, from 1982 to 1996, there was an exemption for these buildings.”

He said the second reason was a recent Legislative Research Commission study that found prevailing wage requirements increased labor costs from a sample of school projects by 51 percent relative to what labor costs would have been had workers been paid the same rate they are on private construction projects.

“Passage of this bill will greatly save the commonwealth money,” said Schroder, a primary sponsor of the bill.

Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II of Pikeville was one of 11 Senators who voted against SB 9.

“We hear a lot of talk about the decreased costs associated with appealing prevailing wages,” Jones said. “But what we do know, is when contractors bid on prevailing-wage jobs, they can’t bid on the back of construction workers. If this bill passes, it would affect approximately 75,000 construction workers.”

He said states that have rolled back prevailing wage laws have seen an increase in injuries and deaths of construction workers who were working for less money and benefits

The three bills now move to the state House of Representatives for consideration. 

-- END --

 

January 14, 2016

 

Bill would make underinsured eligible for colon cancer screenings

 

FRANKFORT—Underinsured Kentuckians who meet accepted guidelines could receive colon cancer screenings under a bill headed to the House floor.

 

House Bill 115, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chair Tom Burch, D-Louisville and approved by the committee today, would expand current law that limits screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines.

 

The bill would also require the Department of Public Health, which oversees the program, to adopt income-based fees that may be charged for the screenings. Other treatment could be provided with available funding.

 

“This is primarily going to remain a screening program,” said gastroenterologist and Colon Cancer Prevention Project founder Dr. Whitney F Jones, M.D.

 

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, voted in favor of the bill but said he is concerned of its potential costs to taxpayers and the privately insured.

 

“This is the slippery slope we’re now traveling on where people who have private insurance have incurred such huge increases … in both premiums and copayment that now their access is greatly hampered,” he said. “I think we’re heading down a path that creates both an insurance premium issue and a subsidy issue.”

 

Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, also voted in favor of the bill, saying change is needed.

 

“We’re still one of the poorest health states in the nation, and we definitely need to make some changes,” said Watkins. “If we don’t change, we aren’t going to get any improvement.”

 

-END-

 

January 13, 2016

 

Election and legislative pension bills advance

FRANKFORT – Bills that would disclose the value of state legislators’ public pensions and move the governor’s race to federal-election years were passed out of a Senate committee today.

Members of the Senate Standing Committee on State and Local Government unanimously voted for the legislative pension bill (Senate Bill 45) and the election cycle bill (Senate Bill 10).

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsored both bills, said the pieces of legislation were designed to strengthen the public’s faith and increase citizen participation in the democratic process.

SB 45 would allow pension managers to disclose the name and benefit amount for any current or former lawmaker by making those figures subject to the state’s open records laws.

“The issue of pensions in the commonwealth have been shrouded in a level of secrecy that is unparalleled to elsewhere in state government,” McDaniel said, who is also a member of the committee. “This requirement will introduce a greater level of accountability to those of us who have to cast ballots on some of the most difficult, contentious and painful issues confronting us today.”

Legislative leaders say one of the greatest challenges of this session will be to find more money for the public pension systems. The systems carry more than $30 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. State economists say the main pension plans for government workers and public school teacher are in the most trouble.

SB 10 is in the form of a constitutional amendment. It would move election for governor and other statewide constitutional officers to even-numbered years when congressional and presidential elections are held. If it passes the General Assembly, the proposed change to the state Constitution would appear on the November ballot.

McDaniel said SB 10 would save Kentucky $3.5 million and its 120 counties more than $14 million every four years by consolidating the dates elections are held. That translate to $603,000 in saving for Kenton County, $173,000 in saving for Pike County, $45,000 saving for Clay County and $1.3 million in saving for Jefferson County.

“When every level of government is struggling for funding, this is a simple way to save a significant amount of money,” McDaniel said.

-- END --

 

January 13, 2016

 

Tobacco research bill clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Research of smokeless tobacco products like snus and snuff would get some assistance under a bill that cleared a House committee today.

House Bill 83, sponsored by House Agriculture and Small Business Chair Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, would expand the state’s definition of reference tobacco— tobacco products made by manufacturers specifically for research and not for public use—to include smokeless tobacco products like snuff and snus when the products are labeled specifically for tobacco-health research and experimental purposes. Current state law limits the definition of reference tobacco to cigarettes.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration after being approved by the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee.

The bill coincides with the University of Kentucky-based Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center’s application for federal funding to research four types of smokeless tobacco products including snus, center director Orlando Chambers told the committee today. The Federal Drug Administration is expected to announce recipients of the funding next month.

“This is something that is viewed positively both by the industry as well as regulators,” said Chambers. “I think it’s a very positive thing for the University of Kentucky and something that is certainly beneficial for our program to bring in that kind of federal funding.”

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, asked why HB 83 only allows state public universities to participate in the research. “Why not state colleges and universities that have the appropriate facilities? It seems like we’re potentially limiting what might happen in the state of Kentucky,” he said.

McKee said no other universities or colleges in the state besides UK have expressed an interest in applying for such research, calling the research “unique.”

Chambers said he would not be opposed to other universities’ participation.

-END-

 

January 13, 2016

 

Felony expungement measure clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would allow Kentucky’s courts to expunge the felony records of up to 94,000 Kentuckians cleared the House Judiciary Committee today.

House Bill 40, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, was discussed for over an hour before the committee approved it. The bill is nearly identical to 2015 HB 40, which passed the House by a vote of 84-14 but stalled in the Senate last session. Other versions of the bill have been considered in earlier sessions.

This session’s felony expungement bill would:

·         Allow the expungement—or sealing—of felony charges that did not lead to a grand jury indictment with input from affected parties, including any victim or victims.

·         Allow expungement of Class D felonies with input from all affected parties, including any victim or victims. Sex offenders, those who committed an offense against a child or vulnerable adult, those who have recently been convicted of another offense or violation, or those against whom charges are pending would not be eligible for expungement.

·         Prevent information pertaining to an expunged conviction from being use in a civil suit or proceedings involving negligent hiring or licensing.

Any felon eligible for expungement, and certain non-felony offenders eligible for expungement under the bill, could petition the courts to have their records sealed no matter how long ago they were convicted, according to the legislation.

Floyd told the committee that Kentucky’s rate of felony recidivism—or committing another offense —would be “greatly reduced if there was hope at the end of the tunnel for these individuals.” The current rate of recidivism stands at 41 percent, according to testimony on the bill from Lexington attorney Russell Coleman.

House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, called the bill “a common sense approach” that will give judges discretion to review each case while giving felons the “an opportunity at redemption and hope.”

“It’s very important to our society and the future of the state,” Bell said.

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he continues to have concerns about the legislation.

“It seems in part by this legislation that … philosophically, we’re sort of taking away people’s ability to knowingly forgive. We’re hiding it from people,” said Lee. “There are other considerations that I think we need to fully vet before this bill becomes law.”

Kentucky’s expungement statutes do not currently allow for expungement of felonies, although Class D felons may be allowed to complete pretrial diversion to clear their name. There is a pathway under Kentucky law for expungement of misdemeanor crimes.

-END-

 

January 13, 2016

 

Senate bill tackles health care reimbursements

FRANKFORT – An adolescent is admitted to a psychiatric hospital last April for taking a gun to school. Before the child could shoot a classmate who had bullied him, he elbowed a teacher in the ribs. That’s when the teacher discovered a 9 mm pistol.

The teacher took the gun and the child, whose father was in prison for murder, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital – but a Medicaid managed-care organization refused to pay for this treatment, said The Ridge Behavioral Health Systems CEO Nina Eisner. She used the example while testifying at today’s meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare.

Eisner spoke in support of Senate Bill 20. The legislation would create an independent review process for health care providers to appeal claims that have been denied by managed-care organizations (MCOs), private companies contracted by Kentucky to administer Medicaid. Under the current structure, appeals have to be made directly to the MCOs.

Currently about 1.1 million individuals are served via MCOs in Kentucky, and this accounts for about 69 percent of the total state Medicaid budget. Last year Kentucky renegotiated the MCO contracts in hopes of reducing the number of disputes over rejected claims but health providers testified that it’s still an ongoing problem.

Eisner, who is also the chairwoman of the 42-member Kentucky Association of Hospitals Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency Forum, said there are examples all over the state of patients with homicidal ideations unable to get their care paid for by MCOs.

“Senate Bill 20 is a very important piece of legislation to us because it gives all Kentucky Medicaid providers access … to an independent appeal process to resolve legitimate disputes with Medicaid managed care organizations,” she said. “It is really untenable and it is also unreadable to expect Kentucky providers to deliver health care services for free. The bill gives providers nothing more than an opportunity for an independent administrative hearing to address legitimate disputes concerning medical necessity denials.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, is the primary sponsor of SB 20. The legislation is modeled after, and nearly identical to, existing laws in Virginia and Georgia where three of the five Kentucky MCOs are already operating. Similar legislation was also introduced last year.

SB 20 calls for the Kentucky attorney general’s office to be the independent arbitrator, prompting Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, to ask how much that will cost.

Alvarado said the appeals process costs Georgia, a state with three times the number of Medicaid patients, about $4 million per year. Alvarado added that he has asked legislative staff to come up with a cost estimate for Kentucky but said it could possibly be about a third of Georgia’s costs.

Thomas also expressed concern that there could be a potential conflict of interest with the attorney general’s office because it already investigates medical providers through the Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse.

Despite the concerns, the SB 20 unanimously passed the committee. It will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

January 13, 2016

 

 Felony expungement measure clears House committee

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would allow Kentucky’s courts to expunge the felony records of up to 94,000 Kentuckians cleared the House Judiciary Committee today.

House Bill 40, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, was discussed for over an hour before the committee approved it. The bill is nearly identical to 2015 HB 40, which passed the House by a vote of 84-14 but stalled in the Senate last session. Other versions of the bill have been considered in earlier sessions.

This session’s felony expungement bill would:

·         Allow the expungement—or sealing—of felony charges that did not lead to a grand jury indictment with input from affected parties, including any victim or victims.

 

·         Allow expungement of Class D felonies with input from all affected parties, including any victim or victims. Sex offenders, those who committed an offense against a child or vulnerable adult, those who have recently been convicted of another offense or violation, or those against whom charges are pending would not be eligible for expungement.

 

·         Prevent information pertaining to an expunged conviction from being use in a civil suit or proceedings involving negligent hiring or licensing.

Any felon eligible for expungement, and certain non-felony offenders eligible for expungement under the bill, could petition the courts to have their records sealed no matter how long ago they were convicted, according to the legislation.

Floyd told the committee that Kentucky’s rate of felony recidivism—or committing another offense —would be “greatly reduced if there was hope at the end of the tunnel for these individuals.” The current rate of recidivism stands at 41 percent, according to testimony on the bill from Lexington attorney Russell Coleman.

House Majority Whip Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, called the bill “a common sense approach” that will give judges discretion to review each case while giving felons the “an opportunity at redemption and hope.”

“It’s very important to our society and the future of the state,” Bell said.

House Minority Caucus Chair Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he continues to have concerns about the legislation.

“It seems in part by this legislation that … philosophically, we’re sort of taking away people’s ability to knowingly forgive. We’re hiding it from people,” said Lee. “There are other considerations that I think we need to fully vet before this bill becomes law.”

Kentucky’s expungement statutes do not currently allow for expungement of felonies, although Class D felons may be allowed to complete pretrial diversion to clear their name. There is a pathway under Kentucky law for expungement of misdemeanor crimes.

-END-

 

January 13, 2016

  

Farmers market, fairground improvements receive oversight from legislative committee

 

FRANKFORT— The state Agricultural Development Board last month approved $90,000 in state agricultural development funds for improvements at a farmers market and a county fairground, a legislative oversight panel was told yesterday.

 

State agricultural development funds totaling $50,000 were approved for the farmers market in the City of Marion, which also received $5,000 in county agricultural development funds for the project. The remaining $40,000 in state funds went to the Woodford County Fair Association to cover part of the cost of a new metal livestock building for the county fairgrounds.

 

The funding was reported to the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee by Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Project Manager Luther Hughes, who said both projects received fewer state agricultural development funds than were originally requested. The funding request for the fairground project was revised after the Woodford County Fair Association received a $100,000 grant through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. For the City of Marion, the Board approved a smaller amount than requested.

 

“They have a pretty nice stream of income coming in to help fund this project,” Hughes said of the city. “They were very satisfied with that arrangement.”

 

House Agriculture and Small Business Chair Rep. Tom McKee, D-Cynthiana, asked if applications for farmers market funding could be made even if there was no permanent location yet available. The answer was yes.

 

 “The (Board) is interested in investing state dollars in farmers market structures even though it may just have a county impact,” said Bill McCloskey Director of Financial Services for the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. McCloskey added that farmers market projects that have come before the Board have not, to his knowledge, received agricultural development funds totaling more than 50 percent of the project’s cost.

 

 “I’m not aware of any funded that have received more than half the cost of the project in agricultural development funds or a combination of county and state funds,” said McCloskey.

 

Stone said that shows the shared interest in such projects.

 

“That shows the local buy-in—that folks are serious enough about it that they’re willing to invest in it,” said Stone.  

 

Other items approved by the Board last month include County Agricultural Investment Program cost-share projects in Anderson, Fleming, Lyon and McCreary county, funds for deceased farm animal removal, and a shared-use project that will provide a manure spreader to Madison County farmers on a rental basis.

 

Kentucky has invested over $454 million in county, state and area agricultural projects with state tobacco settlement dollars since 2001, according to the GOAP.

 

-END-

 

January 12, 2016

 

Omnibus alcohol bill passes Senate committee

FRANKFORT – A push to modernize the state’s 1930s-era alcohol regulations to maximize the economic impact of a worldwide thirst for bourbon and birth of the craft beer and small-farm wine industries in Kentucky continues during this year’s General Assembly.

Setting it up to become one of the first bills to come to the floor of the Senate for a vote, the Senate Standing Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations this morning passed an omnibus alcohol regulations bill (Senate Bill 11) as amended by the committee.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said the general provisions of the bill include:

·         outlawing powdered alcohol;

·         allowing malt beverages to be sold at festivals;

·         allowing drinking on quadricycles, commonly called party bikes;

·         specifying who pays for special elections to expand alcohol sales;

·         allowing bed and breakfasts to sell liquor by the drink;

·         allowing alcohol wholesalers to give discounts to retailers;

·         allowing brewers, distillers and vintners to taste their products for quality control;

·         authorizing package liquor stores to give samples;

·         and synchronizing all alcohol license renewal dates.

“A lot of things in this bill, taken by themselves, are very minor,” said Schickel, who is a sponsor of the bill and chairman of the committee. “But if you put them together, it is a major piece of legislation that is going to have a major impact on this industry.”

SB 11 also embodies a number of additional provisions targeted specifically at distilleries and small-farm wineries and one of those provisions prompted a lively debate. That provision would raise the amount of packaged alcohol that could be sold at distilleries to nine liters from the current three liters.

“We are not here to ask you guys to vote ‘no’ on Senate Bill 11,” said Jason Underwood, who handles government relations for Sazerac Company, the owner Buffalo Trace, 1792 and Glenmore distilleries in Kentucky. “Senate Bill 11 is not fatally flawed, however, there are some issues that we do have.”

He said the No. 1 concern was increasing the on-premise distillery sales to nine liters.

“Nine liters is a case of spirits,” Underwood said. “Currently, you can buy three bottles in the souvenir shops.”

He said increasing it to nine liters could hurt mom-and-pop liquor stores.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he too was concerned for the small retailer. He was the only committee member to vote against SB 11.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said that he didn’t think SB 11 would be economically harmful to small liquor stores.

“Not one single retailer will be put out of business because of this,” said Thayer, the other primary sponsor of the SB 11. “My experience, doing research on the bourbon trail, is that we have a majority of guests coming in from out of town. They are not going to make a trip to the local liquor store and stock up.”

He said he hopes to bring SB 11 to the Senate floor for a vote before week’s end.

In other business, the committee also passed Senate Bill 12. It would allow liquor sales at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta before 1 p.m. on Sundays.

The speedway’s marquee event is a NASCAR Sprint Cup. It is traditionally ran on a Saturday night but the race was delayed because of inclement weather in 2013 to Sunday – a day where alcohol sales are currently prohibited until 1 p.m.

“You can’t take alcohol off the premises anyway,” said Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger. “You can’t come and buy it and leave.”

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, whose district includes Sparta, said an obligation of legislators is to do what is best for the entire state of Kentucky.

“When this came to my attention, one of the first things I did was determine whether or not what we are seeking to do would in any way distract from worship services in the immediate areas,” he said. “There are no churches out there by the racetrack. … I see no harm but I see a lot of dollar bills coming into the state treasury by allowing them to go on and make sales that they would go on and make after 12 noon. It harms nobody.”

Carroll and Schickel are the two primary sponsors of the bill.

Schickel also announced that the committee will not meet next week because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

-- END --

 

 

January 8, 2016

Which issues are lawmakers tracking in General Assembly’s 2016 session?

House and Senate members offer responses in new video

FRANKFORT -- State lawmakers identify the legislative issues they’re keeping their eyes on during the 2016 legislative session in a video available on LRC Capitol Connection, the official YouTube channel of the Legislative Research.

The video can be viewed by clicking here.

--END--

 

This Week at the State Capitol

January 8, 2016

FRANKFORT -- As Kentucky lawmakers returned to the State Capitol this week to start the 2016 legislative session, they entered Senate and House chambers that had undergone major renovations to preserve century-old furnishings while also introducing new technology.

The mixture of the old and new was a good representation of the issues themselves that lawmakers will confront throughout this winter’s session. Some of the matters are perennial issues while others are emerging challenges unique to our times.

The big issue, though, is clearly the challenge of crafting the state’s next budget, a two-year plan that will guide about $21 billion worth of spending. For the first time in a while, incoming revenue is a bit ahead of projections. Still, the few million dollars Kentucky will have beyond initial projections in the next fiscal year is far outsized by the spending request from universities, state police and many other agencies. Once again, the budget is likely to feel tight to many.

The budget process will take a big step forward on January 26 when Gov. Matt Bevin presents his spending plan in a speech to lawmakers that will be delivered during a joint session of the General Assembly and broadcast to a statewide audience by Kentucky Educational Television. Once the budget proposal is handed off to lawmakers, budget subcommittees will start digging into the spending plan and lawmakers will begin considering changes to ensure that the final plan that they agree is one that reflects their own priorities.

A couple other major issues of the 2016 session came into focus this week as legislative leaders unveiled “Senate Bill 1” and “House Bill 1” – bills that receive the top numeric designation to indicate their importance to each chamber’s leadership.

The focus of Senate Bill 1 is on education, with supporters saying it will reform educational standards and assessments in a way that helps produce college and career ready Kentucky graduates.

House Bill 1 proposes that the state issue $3.3 billion in bonds to help shore up the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and curtail the system’s unfunded liability.

With so many big issues about to start moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues that will be voted on in the days to come. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to the General Assembly:

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

           To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305. 

--END--

 

January 7, 2016

 

Bill would expand Safe Infants law

FRANKFORT—Parents who feel they can’t keep their newborn baby would have up to 30 days to leave the child at a state-approved safe place under a proposal discussed today in a House committee.

Parents or those acting on their behalf now have up to three days after a child is born to leave the newborn at a safe place under the 14-year-old Kentucky Safe Infants Act. They would have 27 additional days to make that decision under House Bill 97, sponsored by House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville.

“Some feel (72 hours) is not enough time to allow a woman to make that decision. So this bill will extend that up to 30 days,” Burch said today. “We need to get the wording right so nobody has liability problems.”

The bill may also expand the list of acceptable safe places to leave a newborn according to Burch, who said he is working on an amendment with Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, to include religious facilities among the list. The only safe places to leave a newborn under current law are hospitals, police stations, fire stations and in locations with EMS (emergency medical services) personnel.

As long as the baby is not injured, the law ensures that the parent or person acting for them will not be liable.

“No one will call the police, and no one will ask for your name. The baby will get medical care and be placed with a family for adoption,” according to a Kentucky Safe Infants Act brochure from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

HB 97 is expected to be brought to a vote before the House Health and Welfare Committee in coming days.

-END-

 

January 6, 2016

 

Photos of General Assembly’s opening day featured in video

FRANKFORT -- A video featuring photos from the opening day of the General Assembly’s 2016 session is available for viewing on LRC Capitol Connection, the official YouTube channel of the Legislative Research Commission.

The video can be viewed here.

--END--

January 5, 2016

 

Preserving historic and architectural treasures at State Capitol

Senate and House chamber renovations featured in new video

FRANKFORT -- The story of the historic renovations that have occurred over the past nine months in the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives chambers is told in a video that makes its debut today on LRC Capitol Connection, the official YouTube Channel of the Legislative Research Commission.

The video can be viewed by clicking here.

--END-

 

January 5, 2016

 

Many ways for citizens to follow General Assembly’s 2016 session

FRANKFORT – When the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives are gaveled into order at noon today, Kentuckians will have many ways to stay connected to action throughout the 2016 legislative session.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page (www.lrc.ky.gov) is updated daily to provide the latest legislative information. Web surfers can view 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.

In addition to general information about the legislative process, the website provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including their phone numbers, addresses and legislative committee assignments.

A mobile-friendly version of the website can be viewed by going online to www.lrc.ky.gov/isite/index.html and adding the site to a smartphone’s home screen. The LRC seal that will appear on the home screen allows users to connect to some of the more popular features of the website including the legislative calendar and a directory of the state legislators with their photographs.

Citizens are also welcome to see proceedings in person in the State Capitol’s legislative chambers and committee rooms, which are open to the public.

Those who can’t make the trip to Frankfort can tune in to chamber proceedings and committee meetings on The Kentucky Channel, KET KY. Kentucky Educational Television also provides online streaming of its legislative coverage at KET.org/legislature.

Citizens can also use toll-free phone lines to follow legislative action and offer their input to lawmakers. Those who want to give lawmakers feedback on issues under consideration can call the Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. Those who prefer to offer their feedback in Spanish can call the General Assembly's Spanish Line at 866-840-6574. Citizens with hearing impairments 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.

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.

The 2016 session is expected to last 60 working days, the limit allowed by the Kentucky Constitution, and is scheduled to adjourn on April 12.

--END--

 

January 4, 2016

 

LRC launches its first official YouTube channel

FRANKFORT – The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) has created another way for Kentuckians to stay connected with their State Legislature with the launch of an official channel for YouTube.

The channel, named “LRC Capitol Connection,” provides on-demand videos focusing on the Kentucky General Assembly, legislative issues, and state lawmakers. LRC Capitol Connection can be viewed at http://bit.ly/CapitolConnection.

 “Capitol Connection is one of many new strategies we are developing at LRC to promote participatory democracy and engagement,” said LRC Director David Byerman.  “While we are nonpartisan on the important issues that come before the legislature, we are advocates for participation in the legislative process itself.”  As part of this strategy, Byerman recently started his own Twitter feed @DirectorLRC.

LRC Capitol Connection’s inaugural video focuses on the history of the LRC and its development into a nationally recognized agency capable of providing administrative and research support for a legislature that, over the course of decades, asserted itself as a coequal branch of government.

Tomorrow, on the first day of the General Assembly’s 2016 session, a video that tells the story of the historic renovations that have taken place over the past year in the Senate and House of Representatives chambers will make its debut.

Throughout the 2016 legislative session, LRC Capitol Connection will feature videos that provide updates on legislative action and share lawmakers’ views on the issues under consideration. The channel will also feature educational material and videos to keep people connected to their lawmakers’ work at the State Capitol.

To subscribe to LRC Capitol Connection and receive updates when new videos are posted, please log on to your YouTube account and click the subscribe button on the LRC Capitol Connection page.

--END--

 

September 23, 2015

  

Lawmakers Vote to Name David A. Byerman as Legislative Research Commission Director

FRANKFORT -- Legislative leaders voted today to hire David A. Byerman on a two-year contract as the next Director of the Legislative Research Commission.

The move was expected. Legislative leaders signaled earlier this month that Byerman was their choice for the job, pending the formal ratification of contract terms today by the full 16-member Legislative Research Commission (LRC). 

"I am grateful to Kentucky’s legislative leaders for entrusting me with this important role,” Byerman said. “I look forward to working with LRC's 390 talented and dedicated employees to provide outstanding services for legislators and the public."

Byerman, 44, is an award-winning legislative administrator with experience in leading governmental organizations at the state and federal levels. He served two terms as Nevada’s Secretary of the Senate, the chamber’s chief executive officer and parliamentarian.

Byerman is expected to start as LRC Director on October 1. As Director, he will be responsible for the performance of nonpartisan staff employed by the General Assembly and for delivering high quality, professional services to legislators and the legislature.

The Kentucky General Assembly’s top leaders reviewed over thirty applications and interviewed several individuals before making Byerman their ultimate choice.

Senate President Robert Stivers said Byerman’s background helped him stand apart from other applicants.

“We felt that Mr. Byerman’s qualifications, along with the way he conducted himself in his interview, made him the best fit for the position, especially understanding the internal problems that we’ve had,” President Stivers said. “I think Mr. Byerman has a very good grasp of the process and what is needed based on his prior experience, and will not have any type of preconceived notions or affiliations coming here from out of state.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Byerman’s talents and experience make him a good fit to serve as LRC Director.

“We had many very qualified applicants, so it wasn’t an easy process to go through. But I think, in the final analysis, that we’ve made a good choice,” Speaker Stumbo said. “David Byerman brings a wealth of legislative experience with him. He is an accomplished parliamentarian and has been recognized by national organizations. I look forward to his coming on board and I think our staff will be impressed with him.”

Byerman’s career path has given him experience in external affairs, communications, government relations, non-profit leadership and organizational management.

He was credited with bringing innovative practices to the Nevada Senate while he served as the chamber’s chief executive from 2010 to 2015. As Secretary of the Senate, Byerman was responsible for overseeing 90 session employees and managing a $21.5 million biennial budget.

Prior to serving as Nevada’s Secretary of the Senate, Byerman was the U.S. Census Bureau’s Chief Government Liaison for Nevada. He served twice in that role, from 1999 – 2000 and from 2008 – 2010.

Byerman has also served as Director of Communications for MGM Mirage, a Fortune 500 company; President of Byerman Solutions Group; Chief of Program Development for the Nevada Department of Transportation; Executive Assistant to Nevada Gov. Bob Miller; and Executive Director for Greater Philadelphia Clean Cities, Inc.

The winner of numerous public service awards, Byerman received the Kevin B. Harrington Award for Excellence in Democracy Education awarded by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2014. He also received the Liberty Bell Award from the Clark County Law Foundation last year and the Jean Ford Award for Participatory Democracy from the Nevada Secretary of State in 2013.

Byerman earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Redlands in California with a double major in political science and history. He earned a Master of Governmental Administration degree from the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.

The annual salary range advertised to candidates for the LRC Director position was between $120,000 and $140,000. Under terms of the two-year contract approved today, Byerman will receive an annual salary of $135,000 and he will be eligible for a 5% increase after six months of continuous employment in good standing

--END--

 

September 17, 2015

 

State’s aerospace industry is soaring high

 FRANKFORT -- Though better known for horses, bourbon and car manufacturing, Kentucky should also be known as an aerospace leader, lawmakers were told during the Sept. 17 meeting of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

The aerospace industry surprised many when it was listed as the state’s top exporter in a report issued last year by the Cabinet for Economic Development.

 It really sort of happened on accident,” said Ben Malphrus, director of the Kentucky Space Science Center at Morehead State University. “The report came out from the Cabinet for Economic Development in 2014 and we were all sitting around looking at each other saying, ‘Who the heck are these companies and where does the industry exist?’”

Turns out, aerospace success stories are all around: Five Kentucky-made satellites have been sent into space and two are still circling overhead; sophisticated turbine airfoils for aircraft engines are built in Madisonville; $6 billion worth of aircraft materials and parts move through a distribution center in Erlanger; drones have been used by emergency responders and radio tower inspectors; Morehead State University is producing graduates from its space program and Eastern Kentucky University is graduating a generation professionals with aviation degrees; researchers in Lexington are studying the possibility of medical solutions in low-gravity space that aren’t possible on earth. Even aluminum plants can be seen in a different light once you realize some exist solely to provide materials for aerospace products.

Despite the lack of a coordinated effort to make Kentucky an aerospace leader, the state currently ranks as the nation’s third biggest aerospace producer, said Mike Young, acting director of the Kentucky Aerospace Council.

”It’s unimaginable where we’d be if what was going on that took us to third place had been coordinated,” Young said.

The aerospace industry in Kentucky was “just a blip” from 1996 to 2003, with about $500 million in exports, said Robert Riggs, who serves on the Kentucky Aviation Association’s board of directors. “Then it just skyrocketed,” climbing to $7.8 billion in 2014. Kentucky’s aerospace exports are on track to near $9 billion this year, he said.

The Aerospace industry in Kentucky is now larger than the state’s Corvette, Toyota and Ford manufacturers combined. “Not only are we well positioned, we are growing rapidly,” Young said.

“It’s a great example of things we make here in the U.S. that we can sell all over the world,” said Clif Morehead, government relations manager for GE Aviation. “There are lots of opportunities in the engineering sector, in the technician sector and certainly additive manufacturing. As aircraft engines get more sophisticated and lighter weight and more fuel efficient, there are greater opportunities.”

“We have the thriving industry. We have the workforce pipeline. But we really haven’t stitched it all together,” Malphrus said. “It’s not a coordinated effort like it needs to be, but the elements are there.”

The coordinated effort aerospace leaders want is in the works. State lawmakers passed a joint resolution this year calling for state agencies to work together on a major study of the economic impact of the aerospace/aviation industry in Kentucky, opportunities for future growth and possible ways that government agencies and educators can support the industry’s needs.

Malphrus described it as “a landmark study for the aerospace industry.”

While there’s much to look forward to, one particularly bright spot ahead is a $12 million project at Morehead State University that will create a space probe called the Lunar IceCube to search for ice on the moon. It will be launched in 2018 on the maiden voyage of NASA’s Space Launch System.

“We’ll be on the first voyage of the largest rocket ever built in the history of the world,” Malphrus said.

At the end of Lunar IceCube’s mission, it will be disposed of with a crash landing on the moon. “So students literally will have their fingerprints on the moon before the end of the mission,” Malphrus said.

The benefits of space technology aren’t limited to space explorers; they are already ingrained in the daily life of Americans, Malphrus said.

“When you go to the gas station and put your credit card in the gas pumps, part of that transaction is taking place up in space, beaming data to a satellite,” Malphrus said. “For data transfer, for financial transactions, for homeland defense, for national security, for navigation, for the Internet, for long distance or for remote sensing, it’s incredible what all we use space for.”

Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to support an ascendant aerospace industry, said Lee Todd, a former University of Kentucky president who currently works for a Louisville software company.

“This is a tipping point,” Todd said. “It is a major opportunity to start thinking about a progressive vision for an economy in Kentucky to use the talent we know our children have and that they can develop. We need to invest in specific economic development initiatives focused on aerospace and advanced manufacturing.”

Young put it in terms worthy of a space explorer’s sense of adventure. “I see aerospace not only as our future, but our destiny.”

--END--

 

September 11, 2015

 

Proposal would halt ‘sweeping’ of some excess funds

NEWPORT – Calling it a bad budgetary practice, a state lawmaker told a legislative panel on Sept. 11 that a bill he has prefiled would discourage the use of professional licensing fees to balance the state’s general fund.

“I think what I am going to present … is the beginning of a small fix to a very large problem,” said Montell, R-Shelbyville. “It’s something that has been going on for a number of years in state government, but especially dating back to say 2000 and forward. The issue is sweeping money from restricted funds to the general fund.”

Montell testified about the prefilled bill, known as BR 72, before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations. He told committee members that Kentucky “swept” $214 million last fiscal year and an additional $70 million this fiscal year.

During the past eight years $10.8 million was taken just from the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction. Montell said. Of that amount, 62 percent came out of the department’s divisions of electrical; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); and plumbing. Montell said this caused licensing fees for those professionals to go up because those divisions depend on those fees to pay for things like inspectors.

BR 72 would only apply to the divisions of electrical, HVAC and plumbing. Those divisions could keep up to 20 percent of excess funds in restricted accounts. That is money generated from licensing fees. Montell said anything greater than 20 percent could still be used to balance the state’s general fund.

BR 72 also would require licensing fees for electricians, HVAC contractors and plumbers to be reduced if excess funds are carried over on a yearly basis.

Tim House, executive director of Kentucky Association of Master Contractors, testified in support of BR 72.

“We have come to you with a problem just as we would hope you would come to a plumber with a plumbing problem, an electrician with an electrical problem and a HVAC contractor with a HVAC problem,” House said. “Our problem is sweeping or transferring, whatever you want to call it, of restricted funds.”

Committee member Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said the practice was a symptom of a larger problem – a broken tax system. He said more tax revenue will have to be generated in order the stop the practice.

Montell said the question is whether lawmakers want to continue the “problematic” practice or approach balancing the state’s budget in a difference fashion.

Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, who chaired the meeting, said he agreed to hear testimony on BR 72 after similar legislation introduced last session generated a lot of questions from his fellow lawmakers on the committee.

“We pride ourselves on airing things like this out when we have time to debate them so when it comes time for the session the committee is fully informed,” Keene said.

--END--

 

September 10, 2015

 

David A. Byerman to be hired as new director of the LRC

Earned awards and praise as Nevada Senate’s chief executive

 

FRANKFORT – Leaders of the Kentucky General Assembly reached an agreement Thursday in plans to hire David A. Byerman as the next director of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) pending ratification of the full committee.

Byerman is an award-winning legislative administrator with experience in leading governmental organizations at the state and federal levels. He served two terms as Nevada’s Secretary of the Senate, the chamber’s chief executive officer and parliamentarian.

The Kentucky General Assembly’s top leaders reviewed in excess of 30 applications and interviewed several individuals before making Byerman their ultimate choice. Commission members and lawmakers authorized the LRC co-chairs – Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Greg Stumbo – to negotiate terms of employment with Byerman, who would be expected to take the helm of the LRC in October.

The LRC director is responsible for overseeing the performance of nonpartisan staff employed by the General Assembly and for delivering high quality, professional services to legislators and the legislature.

Byerman’s career path has given him experience in external affairs, communications, government relations, non-profit leadership and organizational management.

He was credited with bringing innovative practices to the Nevada Senate while he served as the chamber’s chief executive from 2010 to 2015. As Secretary of the Senate, Byerman was responsible for overseeing 90 session employees and managing a $21.5 million biennial budget.

Prior to serving as Nevada’s Secretary of the Senate, Byerman was the U.S. Census Bureau’s chief government liaison for Nevada. He served twice in that role, from 1999 – 2000 and from 2008 – 2010.

Byerman has also served as director of communications for MGM Mirage, a Fortune 500 company, president of Byerman Solutions Group, chief of program development for the Nevada Department of Transportation, executive assistant to Nevada Gov. Bob Miller and executive director for Philadelphia Clean Cities, Inc.

The winner of numerous public service awards, Byerman received the Kevin B. Harrington Award for Excellence in Democracy Education awarded by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2014. He also received the Liberty Bell Award from the Clark County Law Foundation last year and the Jean Ford Award for Participatory Democracy from the Nevada Secretary of State in 2013.

Byerman earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from the University of the Redlands in California with a double major in political science and history. He earned a master’s in governmental administration from the Fels Center of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.

The annual salary range advertised to candidates was between $120,000 and $140,000; and it has been negotiated that Byerman will earn an annual salary of $135,000.

--END--

 

September 1, 2015

 

Lawmakers tour new Ohio River bridge construction sites

 

LOUISVILLE – A legislative panel received a status report Tuesday on a $2.3 billion roads project that included digging a tunnel and erecting two interstate bridges – the first spans constructed over the Ohio River in that region of the state for the last half century.

When Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, asked a state highway engineer the biggest surprise in managing the project – one of the biggest public works projects currently under construction in Northern America – the engineer didn’t hesitate with an answer.

“My biggest surprise, having some history in construction, is how smoothly everything is going,” said Andy Barber, who is managing the bridge project for the Kentucky Transpiration Cabinet. “What could have gone wrong, has not gone wrong.”

The lawmakers heard Barber’s testimony during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transpiration held at the Muhammad Ali Center, which overlooks the Ohio River and the new downtown Louisville bridge. Lawmakers toured the bridge construction sites after the meeting.

Riggs reminisced that his father relocated to Louisville more than 50 years ago to work on the last bridges constructed over the Ohio River in Louisville.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that,” he said.

When Barber said the bridges were first conceived 46 years ago to relieve traffic, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, asked if it would take that long for the Interstate 69 bridge project in Western Kentucky to come to fruition.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock said it will depend on the funding.

Under what has been touted as a model for the nation, Indiana is overseeing the construction of the so-called East End bridge between Utica, Ind., and Prospect. That bridge will link Lee Hamilton Expressway in Indiana and the Gene Snyder Freeway in Kentucky, completing a loop around the east end of the metropolitan area. Indiana is using a private sector team for financing, construction and long-term maintenance of the bridge.

Kentucky is overseeing the financing and construction of the downtown portion – a new Interstate 65 bridge, a reconfigured Kennedy Bridge and modernization of the downtown interchanges on both sides of the river. The Commonwealth will use money collected from tolls to help pay for the project.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, asked how the tolls would be collected.

“We are using all electronic tolling which means there won’t be toll booths,” Hancock said. “There will be no cash stations. We will take a picture of your license plate, cross reference that with some of our databases and send you a bill. No one will have to stop.”

Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, asked what would happened if toll revenue projections don’t materialize.

“We can’t imagine that won’t materialize,” Hancock said.

Hancock and Barber emphasized the economic impact the project is having on the region.

Over the next 30 years, the project is expected to infuse $87 billion in the economy, create 15,000 area jobs, add $29.5 billion in personal income and $7 billion in tax revenues, according to figures presented to the committee.

“We are not the only cranes in the sky,” Barber said in reference to the cranes towering over the new downtown Louisville bridge and other construction projects. “We are really seeing a lot of development despite the temporary inconvenience of the road construction. It is very exciting.”  

-- END --

 

June 30, 2015

 

LRC launches search for permanent director

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Legislative Research Commission has begun its search for a permanent director to take the helm of the 67-year-old institution.

The person will serve as the chief executive officer for the Kentucky General Assembly and report to the Legislative Research Commission, known as the LRC. The director is responsible for the performance of the nonpartisan staff employed by the General Assembly and for their delivery of high quality, professional services to legislators and to the legislature.

Applicants are expected to have a minimum of a graduate degree in public administration, law, political science or related field and eight years practical experience in governmental administration. The candidate should have demonstrated exemplary moral and ethical leadership while holding a significant leadership position in business, government, military service, or a nonprofit organization or charity. The candidate must be willing to avoid personal involvement or activity of a partisan political nature.

The candidate should be available to fill the position on Oct. 1, three months before the 2016 General Assembly begins.

The salaried position pays from $120,000 to $140,000 per year and includes state benefits.

The job opening has been posted on the LRC website and will be advertised in The Courier-Journal in Louisville, The Lexington Herald-Leader and The Cincinnati Enquirer. It will also be shared with the National Conference of State Legislatures and Council of State Governments.

Current Acting LRC Director Marcia Seiler announced today her plan to retire at the end of July and said she will not seek the permanent director’s job.

 

--END--

 

June 16, 2015

New state laws go into effect June 24 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End-of-life care. SB 77 will allow Kentuckians to use a health care directive known as a “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for end-of-life care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be physician’s orders and are signed by both the patient or patient’s legal surrogate, and the patient’s physician.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

--END--

March 27, 201

 

This Week at the State Capitol

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 25, 2015

 

General Assembly's 2015 session ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End-of-life care. SB 77 will allow Kentuckians to use a health care directive known as a “medical order for scope of treatment.” These orders spell out patients’ wishes for end-of-life care. Unlike advance directives, the orders are considered to be physician’s orders and are signed by both the patient or patient’s legal surrogate, and the patient’s physician.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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March 25, 2015

 

Road fund bill receives final passage, goes to governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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March 25, 2015

 

Dating violence bill receives final passage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-END-

 

 

March 25, 2015

 

Ignition interlock legislation heading to Governor

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

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

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

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

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

-- END --

 

March 24, 2015

 

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