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Recent News

Change in law sought for study of alcoholic drinks - 08/18/17

Kentucky National Guard well-trained, well-prepared, lawmakers told - 07/14/17

DNA advancements laid before Judiciary panel - 07/08/17

Cities seek local revenue options, lawmakers told - 06/28/17

New state laws go into effect June 29 - 06/22/17

FRYSCs successes, challenges shared with state panel - 06/13/17

Lawmakers hear plans  for state's WWI centennial observances - 06/09/17

Legislative panel warns of tight budgets ahead - 06/08/17

Renewed call for child abuse offender registry aired before committee - 06/08/17

New transportation laws being rolled out - 06/07/17

LRC’s John Snyder to receive 2017 Carter/Hellard Award - 06/05/17

State officials seek lower gas prices in NKY - 06/02/17

Lawmakers eye THC content of state’s industrial hemp - 05/03/17

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2017 session ends - 03/31/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/31/17

General Assembly overrides vetoes issued by Gov. Bevin - 03/29/17

Comprehensive education reform bill heading to Governor’s desk - 03/29/17

Sheila Mason announced as 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award winner - 03/21/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/17/17

Charter school bill passes, goes to governor - 03/15/17

Nuclear power bill headed to governor - 03/15/17

Education reform bill advances in House - 03/15/17

Quit-smoking bill receives final passage- 03/14/17

Playground protection bill receives final passage- 03/14/17

Senate approves bill to tighten reporting of toxicology screenings- 03/14/17

Bill to change postsecondary funding formula goes to governor - 03/14/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/10/17

Measure to keep autopsy photos private going to Gov. Bevin - 03/08/17

School calendar bill goes to governor - 03/08/17

Legislature tightens rules on shock probation - 03/08/17

Finalists for Vic Hellard Jr. Awards announced - 03/08/17

REAL ID compliance bill advances to Senate - 03/07/17

Religious, political freedom bill receives final passage - 03/06/17

House advances charter schools bill - 03/03/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/03/17

House approves changes to Casey’s Law- 03/02/17

Senate approves juvenile record expungement bill- 03/02/17

Senate advances bill for Bowling Green vets’ nursing home - 03/02/17

Nuclear power bill approved by Senate - 03/01/17

Senate approves bill to give foster kids “educational stability”- 03/01/17

Medical review panel bill clears House, returns to Senate - 03/01/17

Senate OKs bill to make military surplus vehicles street legal- 02/28/17

DUI ‘look back’ bill heads to Senate- 02/28/17

House OKs strong penalties for those dealing in opioids - 02/28/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/24/17

Gang violence prevention bill passes state House - 02/24/17

Senate pension transparency bill nears final passage - 02/23/17

Bill to fund state’s fifth veterans’ nursing home advances - 02/23/17

Senate approves performance-based funding formula for universities- 02/23/17

House votes to give landlords relief under state dog bite law- 02/22/17

Senate panel approves measure to increase options for kids who need homes- 02/22/17

Senate panel approves bill to make some military surplus vehicles street legal - 02/22/17

Opioid education bill passes House, heads to Senate - 02/21/17

Bill to fund new veterans’ nursing home clears committee - 02/21/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/17/17

Education reform passes the Senate’s test - 02/17/17

Accessible parking abuser: You may lose your spot- 02/16/17

Fentanyl crackdown bill clears House committee - 02/16/17

Senate moves to snuff out smoking in schools - 02/15/17

Foster youth driver’s license bill heads to Senate- 02/15/17

Public benefit corporation bill heads to Senate- 02/14/17

House panel OKs school-based opioid abuse prevention bill- 02/14/17

Bill to make attacks on first responders a hate crime clears panel - 02/08/17

“Big Four” agriculture programs receive big support from state - 1/07/17

This Week at the State Capitol - 01/07/17

Seven bills passed today by General Assembly, sent to governor - 01/07/17

Lawmakers adjust 2017 session calendar; will meet in session on Saturday- 01/06/17

Senate committee advances right-to-work bill - 01/06/17

Right to work bill, repeal of prevailing wage pass House - 01/05/17

Senate approves ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy - 01/05/17

Ultrasound bill passes KY House, goes to Senate - 01/05/17

Repeal of prevailing wage law gets House panel's OK - 01/04/17

Right to Work bill passes House panel - 01/04/17

 

 

August 18, 2017

 

Change in law sought for study of alcoholic drinks

FRANKFORT – Universities across Kentucky are offering classes in distilling, brewing and wine making, but students can't necessarily taste the spirits they're studying in class – even if they're of drinking age.

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, said he wanted to address that in testimony today before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. He spoke in favor of proposed legislation that would allow accredited universities to conduct alcoholic beverage sampling for students who are old enough to drink as part of an educational program.

"There is ambiguity in the law right now," said Kay, who has proposed similar legislation in prior sessions. "We want to make it clear that these education programs … are not in violation of the law."

In response to a question by Sen. Dan "Malano" Seum, R-Fairdale, Kay said the proposed legislation is part of a larger effort to raise the reputation of these burgeoning educational programs.

"This isn't a booze fest," Kay said of the education programs. "This isn't so underage kids can drink. This isn't so undergraduates can have a good time at the expense of their parents and their universities."

Kay agreed with Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, that the proposed legislation would also boost workforce development efforts in the state. Kay added that there are also tourism opportunities, citing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and various wine and craft beer trails.

"We have programs developing in universities and colleges all across Kentucky," Kay said. "Those programs have to go outside of their institution to get a third-party vendor to even have alcohol. Some of them are brewing alcohol, distilling bourbon … and doing other things culinarily."

Midway University has a culinary degree program that has included bourbon distilling, said Kay, whose district includes the university. He added the university is now looking at offering degrees for craft brewers and local vintners.

At the University of Kentucky, Professor Seth Debolt directs the wine and brewing programs.

"Those classes serve as a technical foundation for the students to decide whether they would like to seek further education in that space and develop the required knowledge to enter the workforce," he said while testifying before the committee. "It has been successful. We have around 300 to 320 a year in the classes."

Peter Weiss of Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company testified that his company has partnered with Western Kentucky University to brew a type of beer marketed as College Heights Ale.

"The way we did that was that we actually went down to Bowling Green and built a brewery on the campus of Western Kentucky University," he said. "This is our brewery under our license and it is our brewers brewing the beer. What we do is allow the students that are in the program at Western Kentucky University to come into our brewery and use it basically as their lab class – get hands-on experience with the sciences behind brewing and distilling."

The program also includes classroom studies where students learn how to run a small business, hire people and read the laws behind brewing and distilling.

After the presentation, Committee Co-chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, asked Kay to work with Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control officials to draft legislation that could be introduced during the upcoming session.

 --END--

 

 

July 14, 2017

 

Kentucky National Guard well-trained, well-prepared, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT—Kentucky has 197 National Guard personnel currently deployed with the U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force, with future mobilizations planned for later this year and in 2018 and 2019, state lawmakers were told yesterday.

Kentucky Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Hogan, who is the head of the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard and Executive Director of the state Department of Military Affairs, told the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection that most of those now mobilized are soldiers. The 207th Engineers out of Hazard and Jackson have 155 personnel deployed around the world, with 34 more from other groups and divisions also mobilized. Another 160 or more are planned to be mobilized starting this month through April 2019, he said.

But national defense is only part of the agency’s mission, said Hogan. Another part is responding to state needs.

“The citizen aspect of this is just as important as the military aspect of this,” he told lawmakers. That includes readiness for disaster including cyber or general terrorism, earthquake, snow or fire—including wildfires.

Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, asked Maj. Gen. Hogan about the Kentucky National Guard’s readiness to assist in time of fire or other natural disasters. Rothenburger recalled wildfires that ripped through areas of Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee in recent years.

“Last year, Gatlinburg was extremely devastated by the catastrophe,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Hogan said the response to those fires was air-delivered buckets. His agency is ready to deliver that same response today, he said. Putting trained personnel on the ground, he added, would take 72 hours of preparation.

Ensuring Kentucky National Guard personnel are ready for any eventuality is key, Maj. Gen. Hogan explained. Soldiers must be physically fit and mentally able to confidently serve in the Kentucky National Guard—and they are.

“We are right now as physically adept as our active duty counterparts,” he told lawmakers.

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, complimented the National Guard’s dedication to training. Burch entered the U.S. Navy when he was 17 years old, and not with the best training, he explained. “We were trained the minute we were met with the conflict,” said Burch.

Today, Maj. Gen. Hogan said, soldiers and air personnel are given much more attention before they go into battle.

“The young soldiers in the active Army and active Air Force and the active force, they were trained on their systems and their apparatus … and how to manage the war fight,” he told Burch.

Maj. Gen. Hogan was awarded the committee’s Distinguished Veteran Award as he concluded his presentation. The committee created the program, said USAF Reserve Col. and the committee’s Co-Chair Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, to recognize that some Kentucky veterans “have risen to the level of being distinguished due to their lifelong commitment of serving both in and out of the military.”

We have made it clear “we stand with and behind those who are serving all of us in any kind of uniform capacity,” said Moore.

The award was presented by fellow committee Co-chair Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, who chaired the meeting today.

--END--

 

 

 

July 7, 2017

 

DNA advancements laid before Judiciary panel

FRANKFORT—Laura Sudkamp with the Kentucky State Police crime lab remembers when it took months to process one DNA sample.

“You literally had to stick the film in the freezer for six to eight weeks,” the KSP Central Lab manager told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary today. Her lab can now generate a profile on a DNA sample in one or two days, she said, but even that’s a bit longer than need be under some new technology.

Enter rapid DNA testing, which allows DNA to be processed and possibly matched to an individual in two hours or less.  The technology was first used by the U.S. military and is now put to use in some labs, with federal plans underway to allow it to be used at booking stations like jails.

Sudkamp wonders if a time will come when the technology is used here in Kentucky, too.

She appeared before the committee with KSP Lt. Col. John Bradley and DNA database supervisor Regina Wells to discuss the idea of DNA collection upon felony arrest—something that 31 states now allow for some or all felony arrests, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Combined with rapid DNA technology, samples collected in Kentucky could produce a match (if there is one) in open cases involving serious offenses in two hours or less, she said.

“It’s a big change in the technology,” she said, adding that rapid DNA testing can also be used to identify mass casualties from plane crashes or other events, and potentially be used in sexual assault cases.

But there is some resistance to DNA collection by law enforcement, something Lt. Col. Bradley admitted but challenged. He called DNA collection “an identification service that’s much more precise than fingerprints” and useful in both exoneration and conviction.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said she opposes DNA collection in pre-conviction scenarios. She suggested that lawmakers who are considering approving DNA testing upon arrest also consider taking law enforcement out of the testing scenario.

“We might ought to in the interest of justice, and efficiency sometimes, look at moving it out of the purview of law enforcement and actually letting it be independent,” she told the committee.

Sudkamp tried to assuage some concerns about DNA collection from arrestees. She told lawmakers that a DNA sample from someone who is not convicted or who has their case expunged would have their DNA removed from the DNA database. And she said that her lab has the capability to handle an increase in DNA samples should Kentucky agree to DNA collection upon felony arrest.

“We are right now turning around our convicted offenders within 7 to 9 days,” she said. “We can handle 104,000 samples and we get about 55,000 felony arrests a year.”

The KSP brought a rapid DNA testing kit to the meeting to demonstrate how it works. One lawmaker who volunteered to have his DNA profiled was the committee Co-Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who is a self-professed advocate for arrestee DNA collection. 

“I was happy to get swabbed … If you didn’t get swabbed you missed your chance,” joked Westerfield.

One thing Westerfield was serious about is ensuring that operators of rapid DNA testing equipment be trained and certified, should the Kentucky General Assembly allow rapid DNA testing to be used at booking stations in the state. Sudkamp assured him that they would be registered, certified and trained.

Rapid DNA is an advancement of an older technology, said Lt. Col Bradley. It is ultimately up to Kentucky’s policy makers, he said, to decide how to proceed.

“I think we can have debate about that and decide the most efficient way, both as an Executive branch and as a General Assembly body,” he said. “The first brick in building that road is to let you all know what’s out there.”

--END--

 

 

June 28, 2017

 

Cities seek local revenue options, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT—It took around $150 million to revitalize Owensboro’s waterfront, says the city’s mayor Tom Watson. But paying for the project under the city’s existing tax structure wasn’t easy.

No new city revenue stream was available for the project at the start, said Watson, pushing the city seek other funding sources including some federal funds.  Having more local tax options—including the option to levy a restaurant tax, which Owensboro cannot levy under current Kentucky law—would help cities like his build their infrastructure and be more competitive, he told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government today.

Kentucky is one of only a handful of states that does not give cities or counties authority to level a local option sales tax, although proposals have been considered in recent legislative sessions.

“We think we have as much understanding as anybody of what our community can tolerate, of what they’d be interested in,” Watson told the committee. “I’m not a tax-and-spend guy, I promise you … and this is just an option. We’d like to have some control and some say in what happens.”

Joining Watson before the committee was Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) President and Sadieville Mayor Claude Christensen, who said his response to local tax reform is “yes, please.” With only 332 residents, Sadieville doesn’t have much tax revenue. And it’s not alone: Most of Kentucky’s cities, or 52 percent, have fewer than 1,000 residents, said Christensen.

Another issue raised was city-county revenue-sharing. Watson said he would like to see more on that front, although Committee Co-chair Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, cautioned against General Assembly involvement in such situations.

“I think it’s a city-by-city, county-by-county kind of situation that probably we don’t, as a General Assembly, need to step into because it is really a case-by-case basis,” said Meredith.

Committee Co-chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said the issues affecting Owensboro and Sadieville affect cities all across Kentucky.  He mentioned the 2014 General Assembly changed the way cities are classified under state law, with all cities now falling under two classifications – first-class (Louisville) and Home Rule (all other cities)—instead of the previous six. The change removed what KLC has called the “restrictions and red tape” of the old classification system to help all cities while safeguarding certain privileges the old system gave smaller cities.

“It’s an economy of scale,” said Bowen.

Still, Watson and Christensen see room for improvement. Owensboro is still prohibited from levying a restaurant tax. Only cities classified as fourth or fifth class cities as of January 2014 can do that. And Sadieville, a former sixth-class city, is limited in its ability to raise revenue as well, specifically occupational tax, said Christensen.

“I can’t levy an occupational tax in Sadieville. By statute, I’m prohibited from doing that,” said Christensen. “So we’re limited.”

Christensen said he wants to partner with the General Assembly as both a small-town mayor and KLC President to level and improve the local tax structure.

“So if your question today for me, at least, is what we need in small towns, we need you to trust us. We have adding machines and calculators, we have smart people, we have capable people to manage money,” said Christensen. “We need flexibility.”

Meredith reassured the mayors that providing more local flexibility is part of discussions at the state legislative level, including discussions relating to local taxation.

“Hopefully we can move those forward,” he said.

--END--

 

 

June 22, 2017

 

New state laws go into effect June 29

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2017 regular session will go into effect on Thursday, June 29.

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature unless they have a special effective date, are general appropriations measures, or include an emergency clause that makes them effective immediately upon becoming law. Final adjournment of the 2017 Regular Session was on March 30, making June 29 the normal effective date for most bills.

Laws taking effect that day include measures on the following topics:

Adult education. HB 195 creates an alternative to the GED program by requiring the Kentucky Adult Education Program to create college and career readiness programs for those seeking high school equivalency diplomas. At least one program must be a test that meets current college and career readiness standards.

Bible literacy. HB 128 allows schools to offer an elective course on the Bible that teaches biblical content, poetry, narratives and their impact today.

Caregivers. SB 129 allows hospital patients to legally designate someone as a “lay caregiver” for the purpose of providing after-care to the patient when he or she returns home. The lay caregiver can be someone age 18 or older who is a relative, partner, friend or someone else who is close to the patient and willing to provide non-medical care at the patient’s home.

Charter schools. HB 520 will allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky starting with the 2017-18 school year. The charter schools could be authorized by local school boards, which would establish charter schools by contract. The schools would then be governed by independent boards.

Coal fields. HB 156 creates the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority which will use coal severance dollars to fund infrastructure, economic development, public health and more in the east and west Kentucky coal regions.

Emergency vehicles. HB 74 only allows white light to be emitted from motor vehicle headlamps, although non-halogen headlamps will be allowed to emit a slight blue tint if they were factory-installed. The intent of the bill is to make it easier for motorist to distinguish emergency vehicles from other vehicles.

Fentanyl and other opioids. HB 333 will create stronger penalties for trafficking in any amount of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives, define prescribing authority, and allow the state to investigate prescribing irregularities and report those instances to appropriate authorities.

Fish and wildlife. SB 83 requires the state to identify areas where deer and elk pose a “significant threat” to human safety by causing automobile accidents or pose a significant threat to agriculture. The state may then take necessary steps (including, but not limited to, special hunts) to reduce the deer and elk populations in those areas.

Hate crimes. HB 14 will allow an attack on a first responder such as a police officer, firefighter or rescue squad member to be considered a hate crime during the sentencing phase for certain crimes.

 

Hospitals. SB 42 allows law enforcement to arrest someone for fourth-degree assault in any part of a hospital without a warrant if the officer has probable cause that the crime was committed. Such arrests were previously restricted to hospital emergency rooms. 

 

Juvenile offenders. SB 195 creates a process for expungement of felony juvenile records two years after the offender reaches adulthood or is unconditionally released from commitment to the state.  Expungement will not be granted to those whose felony record includes violent and/or sexual offenses or those who have proceedings pending against him or her.

 

Local school boards.  HB 277 allows individuals to serve on a local board of education if they have an aunt, uncle, son-in-law or daughter-in-law employed by the school district. State law previously precluded someone from serving on a local school board if any of those relatives were employed by the district.

Nuclear power. SB 11 allows construction of nuclear power in Kentucky after vetting of proposals by the federal and state governments.

Playground safety. HB 38 bans registered sex offenders from public playgrounds unless they have advanced written permission to be on site by the government body (city council, etc.) that oversees the playground.

Primary care agreements. SB 79 allows patients to enter into contracts with their primary care provider that spell out services to be provided for an agreed-upon fee and period of time. The “direct primary care membership agreement” will not require a patient to forfeit private insurance or Medicaid.

 

Religious freedom. SB 17 specifies in statute that Kentucky public school and public colleges and university students have the legal right to express their religious and political views in their school work, artwork, speeches, and in other ways.

 

School calendars. SB 50 allows school districts to use a “variable student instructional year,” requiring the same hours of instruction required by existing law but allowing for fewer school days than the minimum of 170 days required by existing law. Districts could begin using the variable schedule in the 2018-19 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

Veterans. SB 117 allows a veteran with a bachelor’s degree in any field to receive a provisional certificate to teach public elementary or secondary school if he or she has an academic major or passing assessment score in the area in which he or she seeks certification. After completing a required teaching internship, the veteran will receive a professional teaching certificate.

 

--END--

 

 

June 13, 2017

 

FRYSCs successes, challenges shared with state panel

FRANKFORT—With a state budget shortfall of around $100 million expected when the  fiscal year ends later this month, Kentucky’s over 800 Family Resource and Youth Services Centers—or FRYSCs—know the next state budget will be tight.

They also know they have the support of at least a few state lawmakers before the next budget session even begins.

Rep. Regina Bunch, R-Williamsburg, yesterday informed her fellow members of the Interim Joint Committee on Education that the services provided by the centers to more than 1,160 schools statewide are “immeasurable.”

“There is no measure to what I have witnessed. If you see a young lady ready for the prom who didn’t think she could go, how do you measure that? So I commend every service you provide. I think it’s every dollar well-spent,” said Bunch.

Her comments followed those made by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, who said that FRYSCs are in competition with other programs for state funding. Meredith suggested the centers may want to physically track their success so lawmakers can consider that data when each state budget cycle rolls around.

State FRYSC Division Director Melissa Goins said FRYSC success is typically measured by the feedback that the centers receive from their “stakeholders”— teachers, parents, school administrators and others.

“You’re right, there is a lot of competition, all over the state—a lot of competition for dollars,” said Goins. She said it is the FRYSC program’s hope that the stakeholders will speak up if expectations aren’t being met.

Retired Kentucky high school principal Rep. Charlie Miller, D-Louisville, was a school administrator when FRYSCs were created as a component of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. He stressed the importance of the centers’ work to his colleagues on the committee.

“I know money is tight, but kids need help,” said Miller. “If we didn’t have FRYSCs, they might fall through the cracks.”

Goins said that the fiscal year 2018 operating budget for the state’s FRYSC program is $52.1 million. Less than three percent of the funding pays for administrative costs, with the remainder divided among the centers based on the number of free-lunch eligible students they serve. The amount budgeted per free-lunch eligible student in fiscal year 2018 comes out to $170.05, said Goins. (That’s less than in some prior years: In 2008, Goins said $210 was budgeted per free-lunch eligible student, but an increase in students who are free-lunch eligible in recent years has reduced the per-student rate.)

Students who aren’t on free lunch may also receive services, said Goins, if a need is there.

“We fund centers based on free lunch, but if a student has a need, we don’t ask them, ‘Hey, do you qualify for free lunch?’ before we respond to that need,” she said.

While FRYSCs provide a long list of services, two of the most popular services provided in 2015-16 were dental services and personal safety services. Personal safety services may include teaching a student proper use of the Internet, or where to go for help when a student feels his or her safety is threatened.

 

--END--

 

 

June 9, 2017

 

 Lawmakers hear plans for state's WWI centennial observances

FRANKFORT – More than 100,000 young men from across the United States trained at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville before being shipped overseas to fight in the Great War.

To highlight Kentucky’s contribution World War I, a life-replica of one of the camp’s barracks will be on display at the upcoming Kentucky State Fair, said Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Director Heather French Henry while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Projection. The replica will be part of an exhibit covering nearly a quarter acre that will also include a trench made of 480 sandbags, donated by Fort Knox, containing 20 tons of sand.

“There are over 600,000 folks that travel through the state fair,” said French Henry, a member of the Kentucky World War I Centennial Committee. “It is the most excellent way to get the word and message out to the most diverse population that enters into any realm in the state.”

The United States officially entered WWI on April 6, 1917. Seven months later, the sprawling Camp Zachary Taylor training facility opened. It was the largest of 16 camps that dotted the United States and contained more than 2,000 buildings that housed more than 40,000 troops.

“We had a profound effect on the servicemen that were going overseas and really contributed to the great Allied victory of World War I,” French Henry said.

The camp was auctioned off as 1,500 different parcels of land in 1921 and became the Camp Taylor neighborhood. Many of the parcels were bought by the soldiers returning to the area after completing their term of service.

“World War I is largely a forgotten war,” French Henry said. “It’s been over 100 years. We have no living World War I veterans.”

Kentucky’s last WWI veteran was Robley Henry Rex of Louisville.

“Even in his elderly years, he still had a great mind, could recognize faces,” French Henry said of Rex. “And he hugged about as tight as anyone else I have ever hugged in my life. He was a wonderful representative for us. But sadly, sometimes that history … goes by the wayside when they are not among us.”

Rex died four days before his 108th birthday, in April 2009, at the veterans hospital in Louisville, later renamed the Robley Rex V.A. Medical Center.

Kentucky had more than 2,000 casualties during WWI, and French Henry’s department has a casualty list by county.

“It happens that almost every county – all 120 – contributed their sons and daughters to the efforts of the United States in the Great War,” French Henry said. “Even if it is 100 years later, it is never too late to remember someone’s sacrifice and service.”

Committee Co-chair Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he was impressed that French Henry could organize such an exhibition since no state money was budgeted for it.

“I can’t tell you how impressed I am,” Moore said of the fair exhibit and other events planned for the centennial. “We expected something to come together, but not the incredible plethora of activities and educational opportunities you have outlined for us today.

In other news, French Henry announced that the Radcliff Veterans Center, a 120-bed skilled nursing facility, has now started accepting its first residents. Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said there is a pent-up demand for such a facility in the region.

“I’m starting now to get phone calls all the time,” he said in reference to inquiries from veterans wanting to move there.

French Henry said a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center is set for July 21.

-- END –

 

 

June 8, 2017

 

Legislative panel warns of tight budgets ahead

COVINGTON – The mainframe computer processing all of Kentucky’s unemployment insurance claims was built a decade before the 1980s-era arcade game Pac-Man.

“Think about that,” Deputy Secretary for Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Brad Montell said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue yesterday at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. “This thing is old. It’s slow. It’s not employer friendly at all. It runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and then it is done. It’s got to rest. It’s got to have time to think. And it will only run five-and-a-half days a week. We got to shut her down for the weekend – literally.”

Montell, who served seven terms in the state House before joining the executive branch in October, proposed upgrading the 1973 technology with a percentage of the employer contribution to the unemployment insurance trust fund. While he didn’t say what percentage would be redirected, the minimum amount needed to update the technology is estimated at $35 million.

After the Great Recession plunged the trust fund into nearly $1 billion in debt by January 2012, its coffers have since been replenished. The fund had a positive cash balance of $425.2 million as of June 1. Montell said federal authorities have advised his cabinet that the state needs about $800 million in positive cash flow for a healthy fund.

“Good things happen when our trust fund is healthy,” he said. “We are reaping the benefits of those good things.”

Benefits have increased while employer contributions continue to fall, Montell said. The next reduction for employer contributions is forecasted to take effect in January.

In addition to upgrading the 44-year-old mainframe, Montell said the state Office of Vocational Rehabilitation needs an additional $3.8 million in state tax dollars in order to receive the total amount of federal matching money earmarked for the state. Montell said Kentucky is losing about $10 million in federal tax dollars because the state doesn’t fully fund its vocational rehabilitation office. He said the lack of money means the office tasked with finding jobs for all Kentuckians with disabilities can only assist persons with the most severe disabilities.

“That is really a shame,” Montell said in reference to Kentuckians with disabilities who are turned away.

After hearing Montell’s testimony, committee Co-chair Christian McDaniel had a warning for state cabinets and advocates of various causes: Any additional tax dollars for capital projects should create enough savings within the budgeting cycle to pay for itself.

“The fact is, absent tax and pension reform, we can expect a double-digit cut in every sector of government,” said McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. “The pension system has simply gotten into too bad of a state – been neglected far too long. When pension and Medicaid in a decade go from 18 percent to 38 percent of the commonwealth’s budget it’s got to come from somewhere.”

He said justice, social service and education advocates all have an interest in keeping the state pension systems solvent.

“You have skin in the pension game,” McDaniel said. “You’ve had it for a long time, but now a lot of long-term problems have to have very near-term solutions. It is going to be some tight budgeting times.”

In other business, Cabinet for Economic Development Deputy Commissioner John Bevington also testified at yesterday’s meeting that his cabinet hopes to entice more businesses to expand and locate in Kentucky to increase the tax base and ease the budget constraints.

Businesses have announced $5.8 billion in new investment forecasted to create more than 9,500 jobs so far this year, he said. The largest of those investments is $1.3 billion to upgrade and retool of Toyota Motor’s assembly plant in Georgetown, $1.5 billion to locate Amazon’s air freight hub to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron and $1.3 billion for Braidy Industries to build an aluminum rolling mill in Greenup County.

“We want to surpass the highest level of announced capital investment in the state’s history and announce more than 17,000 new jobs, “Bevington said of his cabinet’s goals. “We want to move the commonwealth into the top quartile of business-friendly state rankings.”

-- END --

 

June 8, 2017

 

Renewed call for child abuse offender registry aired before committee


COVINGTON—Jennifer Diaz was at work the day before Thanksgiving 2014 when she got a call that something was wrong with her little girl.

The young mother rushed home to find her four-month-old daughter, Sophie, with injuries to her head and face. The babysitter, Desiree Rankin, told Diaz that Sophie had been having seizures. But a criminal investigation would find another reason for Sophie’s injuries: child abuse.

Rankin was charged in the case, took a plea deal and was sentenced to some time in jail.  Diaz, determined to do what she can to prevent other cases of abuse, spends much of her time advocating for stricter child abuse laws.  She and Sophie, now a toddler, appeared together before a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary in Covington yesterday to once again ask lawmakers to consider legislation that would allow the names of convicted child abusers in Kentucky to be made available to the public through a state-maintained online child abuse offender registry.

“Sophie was very fortunate,” Diaz told the committee. “She survived. But I think it is so important to have a registry to protect our children.”

A bill to create the registry passed the Kentucky House last session but did not pass into law before session’s end. That legislation, sponsored by House Health and Family Services Chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, and Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, was House Bill 129, dubbed “Kylie Jo’s and Sophie’s Law” after both Sophie and Kylie Jo Sizemore, another little girl allegedly abused by her babysitter when she was only a few months old.

By passing legislation similar to HB 129 next year, Wuchner said Kentucky could become only the second state in the nation to create an online child abuse offender registry for convicted child abusers. The first state to create such a registry? Indiana, which went live with its child abuse offender registry this year.

“We are in the top 10” in child abuse and neglect cases, along with Indiana, Wuchner told the committee. Kentucky and Indiana have led the nation in child abuse and neglect over the years, she said, alternating between first and second place in sheer numbers of child abuse and neglect cases.

While the registry won’t be a cure-all for child abuse and neglect in the Commonwealth, Wuchner said it will help. It would join other child abuse prevention laws passed by the General Assembly in recent years including a law designed to prevent pediatric abusive head trauma (also known as “Shaken Baby Syndrome”) and HB 524 passed last session which clarifies, among other provisions, what constitutes serious physical injury of a child under age 12.

“We can’t make up for what happened to Sophie or other children,” said Wuchner. “But we can try to ensure that others do not have to go through what these parents and children have had to go through.”

How to structure child abuse offender registry legislation for consideration in 2018 drew comments from some committee members. Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he’s like to know how long names would remain on the registry, among other things.

 Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said she hopes the bill stresses the importance of knowing the background of potential hires. Current law requires that specific child care workers, including those in day care and foster care, undergo a state background check before being hired to determine if there are any substantiated abuse or neglect cases against them.

A presentation on the Campbell County Detention Center’s Chemical Dependency Program was also shared before the committee. The relatively new program gives female inmates pathways to addiction treatment while in jail, followed by 18-24 months of outpatient care in the community.

--END--

 

 

June 7, 2017

 

New transportation laws being rolled out

FRANKFORT – Coming to Kentucky roads this year: surplus military Humvees, three-wheeled vehicles dubbed autocycles and maybe even golf carts modified to deliver online purchases.

Legislation addressing these three types of vehicles were among the transportation-related bills passed during this year’s regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly, said Rick Taylor, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Vehicle Regulation. He testified on the progress of implementing these and other transportation-related bills into law during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation.

One of the first updates state legislators received was on House Bill 410. Known as the REAL ID Bill, HB 410 was written to bring Kentucky into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act by Jan. 1, 2019, and will by far affect more Kentuckians than the other transportation bills discussed at the meeting.

Taylor said he expects to hear by July 10 whether the Department of Homeland Security will extend a waiver allowing Kentucky to remain in noncompliance with the federal act until the new state driver’s licenses are available.

“Everything has been positive,” he said in reference to the extension request. “I don’t have any reason at this time to feel uncomfortable about that.”

Taylor said Kentucky will begin soliciting bids on Sept. 1 from companies able to produce driver’s licenses that meet the federal security requirements. The goal is to have a company selected by Jan. 1, 2018. He added that will allow time for the new licenses to be rolled out across the state’s 120 counties. 

“We will ask you to keep us up-to-date as this progresses because we have all lived through this controversy and the issues,” committee Co-chair Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, said in reference to a vigorous debate that took place about the best way to bring Kentucky into compliance.

The other transportation-related bills legislators received updates on include:

         House Bill 192 makes it easier for 16- and 17-year-olds in foster care to apply for driver’s permits and driver’s licenses. State officials have already drafted a nine-page application to ensure a child’s eligibility and a letter for foster parents to give local driver licensing clerks. Transportation officials said it will take a little longer to solicit bids for car insurance to cover children in the state foster-care system but who are not living with foster parents.

 

         House Bill 404 creates a commercial low-speed license plate for golf carts and other utility vehicles used for deliveries. It ensures that the vehicles have commercial insurance on file with the state. Transportation officials hope to have the license plates available by the middle of September so delivery companies can have the golf carts ready to deploy during this year’s holiday shopping season.

 

         Senate Bill 73 lays out guidelines on how autocycles, a type of three-wheeled vehicle growing in popularity, are to be licensed, taxed and insured. Transportation officials said the guidelines should be finalized by July.

 

         Senate Bill 176 allows for Humvees and other demilitarized vehicles to be licensed for use on public roads by the general public. (There is already an exception carved out for law enforcement.) The state began getting requests from civilians for such licenses after the Pentagon started auctioning the camo-covered, husky, troop-transporting High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) to civilians in 2014. Transportation officials said they are on track to begin issuing the license plates for the vehicles on July 1.

-- END –

 

 

June 6, 2017

 

LRC’s John Snyder to receive 2017 Carter/Hellard Award

Award recognizes excellence in staff support to state legislature

 

FRANKFORT -- A longtime Kentucky transportation policy expert is being recognized as one of the South’s top state legislative staff members with today’s announcement that the Legislative Research Commission’s John Snyder will receive the Southern Legislative Conference’s 2017 Carter/Hellard Legislative Staff Award.

The award is given annually to a legislative staff member from across 15 Southern states who demonstrates a longstanding commitment to a legislative institution, understands the role of legislative staffing in representative government, and approaches legislative work with grace and good humor under pressure.

Snyder said he was “absolutely speechless” upon learning that he would receive the award.

“Public recognition is not something you come to expect as a legislative staffer,” Snyder said. “I am still not quite sure I consider myself worthy of such an honor. Out of the 28 distinguished recipients of this award, I am especially humbled to be joining three other Kentucky recipients with whom I have been immensely proud to work with at LRC: former Deputy Director Peggy Hyland, former Director and award namesake Vic Hellard, who saw something in me 28 years ago when he hired me as a kid fresh out of grad school, and Sheila Mason, my first boss and a woman whom I have been blessed to have as a mentor throughout my career.

“I also appreciate LRC Director David Byerman for submitting my name in nomination, and was deeply touched by the sentiments he expressed in his letter. Being chosen to receive the Carter/Hellard Award is truly one of the highlights of my legislative career.”

The Carter/Hellard Award is named in honor of the late Sam Carter, a former Director of Research of the South Carolina House of Representatives, and the late Vic Hellard, Jr., who served as Director of Kentucky’s Legislative Research Commission for nearly two decades until his 1995 retirement.

Snyder, a University of Louisville graduate, joined LRC as an Analyst and Project Manager for the agency’s Program Review staff in 1989. After serving as an Analyst for the agency’s Transportation Staff from 1997 to 2004, he was promoted to his current position as Committee Staff Administrator for Transportation.

LRC Director David Byerman, who nominated Snyder for the award, wrote in his nomination letter that Snyder is well respected and admired throughout LRC because he is generous in sharing his knowledge and good humor with coworkers.

“John has an encyclopedic knowledge of transportation road projects and transportation funding and he shares his knowledge in an engaging and approachable manner,” Byerman said. “He is an honorable public servant who performs an invaluable role with the highest standards of accuracy and professionalism.”

The 2017 Carter/Hellard Award will be presented at the Legislative Service Agency Director’s Luncheon at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), which runs from July 29 to August 2 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The SLC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Atlanta that gives state lawmakers from across 15 southern states opportunities to come together to share best practices and speak in a unified voice on issues impacting the region.

It is the largest of four regional legislative groups operating under The Council of State Governments. The 15 SLC member states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

--END--

 

June 2, 2017

 

State officials seek lower gas prices in NKY

FRANKFORT – Northern Kentuckians are fond of saying that the river that runs between them and Cincinnati is sometimes as wide as an ocean.

And the saying couldn’t be truer when it comes to gasoline prices.

The average gas price last month in Cincinnati was about 15 cents lower than just across the Ohio River in Covington, said Sean Alteri, head of Kentucky’s Division for Air Quality, during his testimony on Thursday before the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources & Energy. He said that gas stations in Cincinnati – despite being separated by a river only 400 yards wide – have gained an unfair economic advantage because they are no longer required to sell a type of low-emissions gas.

That’s why the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet sent a letter to the federal government on April 18 asking that the Northern Kentucky counties of Boone, Campbell and Kenton be exempt from selling more expensive reformulated gas, Alteri said.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, asked if switching back to conventional gas would cause Northern Kentucky to be in violation of federal ozone standards. Alteri said Northern Kentucky should still be able to meet those standards. In the 22 years following the adoption of reformulated gas, Alteri said refiners began producing cleaner conventional gas and vehicles started getting more fuel efficient.

“There have been significant improvements in conventional gasoline,” Alteri said. “There is just a marginal difference in between the emissions from reformulated gas and conventional gas. Conventional gas has gotten so much cleaner.”

Flood also asked Alteri if it was likely that the federal government would allow Northern Kentucky to switch back to conventional gas. Alteri said he was “confident” the request would be approved, in part, because similar requests were approved under the prior administration of President Barack Obama for Columbus, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; and Memphis, Tenn.

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, asked Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Charles G. Snavely if he also planned to seek an exemption for Jefferson County, another region with reformulated gas.

“We are working with district officials to determine whether it would be an appropriate strategy for them,” Snavely said of the possible switch in Jefferson County.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said reformulated gas is certainly a topic of discussion among Northern Kentucky residents.

“Anything we can do to help you with this application, let us know,” Schickel said in reference his fellow members of the Northern Kentucky Caucus. “At least for the people I represent, they surely want to get rid of this reformulated gas.”

Alteri said he would update legislators when he gets a response to the petition from federal regulators.

-- END--

 

 

May 3, 2017

 

Lawmakers eye THC content of state’s industrial hemp

FRANKFORT—Industrial hemp legally grown in Kentucky is not considered marijuana. It has only a fraction of THC—or tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive compound—found in marijuana. And state regulators aim to keep it that way.

Around 100 pounds of industrial hemp grown under Kentucky’s three-year old Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program were destroyed just three weeks ago after the state found the crop had a higher THC level than the law allows. An April 13 Associated Press article on the destroyed crop reported that it registered THC levels of between 1.2 and 0.4 percent, or slightly above the federal and state legal limit of 0.3 percent.

Kentucky mandated 0.3 percent as the legal THC limit for industrial hemp grown in the state four years ago when it passed legislation allowing industrial hemp production as part of a state pilot program cleared by the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. Hemp grown under the state program is routinely tested—as the destroyed crop was—to ensure that its THC level falls at or below the legal limit.

Questions about the destruction of the non THC-compliant crop were raised today before the state legislative Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee by Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg. King asked for more information about what happened with the crop from representatives of Atalo Holding of Winchester and Sunstrand of Louisville, two companies that process industrial hemp at their facilities.

Atalo Holdings Chairman Andrew Graves said the crop is question was a variety most commonly grown in the western U.S. “In this climate, when it’s grown, the THC level tends to be a higher level than it should be.” He said there wasn’t any question that the crop needed to be destroyed.

“It’s not a problem with us. We are used to regulated industries—tobacco is heavily regulated—and so this is as well,” said Graves.

King said she is pleased the system worked.

“I’m very, very inspired and I’m very, very hopeful that the system caught a portion of the crop that tested above the legal limit,” said King. “I just wanted some additional discussion on that.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, mentioned the use of industrial hemp in the production of CBD or cannabidiol oil, which is extracted from hemp. CBD oil reportedly helps with balance, mood, sleep, appetite and can help relieve pain. It has also been known to help with epilepsy. And, since the oil is made from low-THC hemp, it doesn’t create the sensation of being high, like marijuana can.

Hornback asked Graves and others testifying before the committee if medicinal products made from industrial hemp, including CBD oil, are more effective if the THC level is above 0.3 percent. Atalo Holdings Research Officer Tom Hutchens said that, as of yet, is unknown.

“We don’t know the answer to that, truly, because there hasn’t been enough research. I think it will probably get (to a) higher (level) somewhere along the line, but all of this has to do with the national scope,” said Hutchens.

Graves said he’d like to see Kentucky increase its legal limit of THC in industrial hemp from 0.3 percent to 1 percent to improve plant breeding options. That would give Hutchens “some leeway, where he wouldn’t be under the scrutiny of law while he’s trying to breed some new variety that could be indigenous to Kentucky and beneficial to farmers here,” he said.

Cultivation of up to 12,800 acres of industrial hemp for research purposes has been approved by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) for 2017. That is nearly three times the acreage approved for industrial hemp cultivation in 2016, according to a press release from the KDA. Kentucky has “the largest state industrial hemp research project program in the nation,” the KDA reports.

Some funding for hemp processing in Kentucky has come from the state’s share of the national Master Settlement Agreement, a 1998 multi-billion dollar agreement between major tobacco companies and 46 states including Kentucky. Spending of those funds are overseen by the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.

-END-

 

 

 

March 31, 2017

 

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2017 session ends

FRANKFORT – The 2017 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly ended Thursday evening shortly before midnight after months of work that led to passage of over 130 bills that will impact most areas of Kentucky life, from public education to the fight against drug abuse.

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

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

Abortion. Senate Bill 5 prohibits abortions in Kentucky at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The prohibition does not apply in cases where an abortion is required to save the life or prevent serious risk of permanent bodily harm to the mother.

Autopsy photos. House Bill 67 will limit distribution of autopsy photos, videos or other autopsy images to law enforcement, attorneys or others with a right to the information. The measure, named Jack’s Law, honors a Kentucky child killed in an accident whose autopsy photos were distributed to the media against his parents’ wishes.

Bible literacy. HB 128 will allow schools to offer an elective social studies course on the Bible that teaches biblical content, characters, poetry and narratives and their impact on today’s world.

Charter schools. HB 520 will allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky beginning next school year. Local school boards would be allowed to authorize an unlimited number of the schools, which will be established by contract and governed by independent boards. A local board’s decision regarding charter schools could be overridden by the state school board, although the courts could be called on to review the state board’s action. Also included are provisions requiring that teachers and administrators hired to work at the charter schools be state-certified and that the mayors of Louisville and Lexington be allowed to authorize charter schools in their cities upon request.  

Coal fields. HB 156 establishes the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority to fund improvements to infrastructure, water, economic development, public health and technological access in the east and west Kentucky coal regions. Improvements will be funded with $7.5 million in state coal severance dollars, and projects will be selected based on their economic development and job creation potential and their ability to be self-sustaining.

Driver’s licenses. HB 410, known as the REAL ID Bill, will create a voluntary travel ID or enhanced driver’s license to board airplanes and enter federal facilities, including military facilities, as of Jan. 1, 2019. The legislation is designed to meet anti-terrorism standards in the federal REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005. It also spells out rules for issuing a “standard” driver’s license, permit or state personal ID card.

Education reform. SB 1 will create new rules for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in Kentucky public schools. The legislation will require a review of academic standards in the schools beginning next school year and every six years thereafter while implementing a performance-based assessment of student learning and new benchmarks for measuring college and career readiness.

Emergency vehicles. HB 74 will only allow white light to be emitted from motor vehicle (including motorcycle and moped) headlamps, although non-halogen headlamps will be allowed to emit a slight blue tint if they were factory-installed. The intent of the bill is to make it easier for motorists to distinguish emergency vehicles from non-emergency vehicles. Fines will be levied for violations.

Fentanyl and other opioids. HB 333 would create strong penalties for trafficking any amount of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and fentanyl derivatives that are destroying Kentucky lives and families. It would also clarify definitions and requirements for the prescription of controlled substances, define prescribing authority within long-term care facilities, and allow the Cabinet for Health and Family Services Office of Inspector General to investigative patterns of prescribing and report irregularities to appropriate authorities.

Hate Crimes. HB 14 will allow an attack on a first responders, such as police, fire fighters and EMTs, to be considered a hate crime. Current state law considers it a hate crime if an attack is based on the victim’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Hemp. SB 218 is designed to improve the state’s industrial hemp production program, first established in 2014. This year marks the Commonwealth’s largest industrial hemp crop under the program with more than 12,000 acres approved for production.

Juvenile offenders. Senate Bill 195 will help some juvenile offenders have their criminal records expunged. Currently, children convicted of a misdemeanor must go through a court process to have their records expunged. Senate Bill 195 will create a process for expungement of felony juvenile records two years after the offender reaches adulthood or is released from commitment. However, anyone who has convictions for felony or public offenses in the two years prior to applying for expungement or who has pending charges would not be eligible for expungement.

Labor unions. SB 6 requires public or private employees (with some exceptions under federal law) to request membership in a labor union in writing before they can be enrolled in that organization. It also specifies that dues or fees paid to labor organizations cannot be withheld from earnings without employee approval. Existing agreements between employers, employees and labor unions made before the legislation takes effect would be exempt.

Medical malpractice. SB 4 requires peer review of medical malpractice complaints by medical review panels before medical malpractice cases could go to court. A complaint can bypass the panel and go directly to court only by agreement of all parties.

Nuclear power. SB 11 will allow construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky after vetting by the federal government and state of Kentucky. It also changes requirements for a prospective nuclear power plant’s handling of nuclear waste, requiring plants to have an approved plan for nuclear waste storage instead of a federally-approved means of high-level nuclear waste disposal before they can be certified.

Playground safety. HB 38 will ban registered sex offenders from public playgrounds unless they have advanced written permission to be on site by the local government body (city council, etc.) that oversees the playground.

Postsecondary education. SB 153 will establish performance-based funding for state colleges and universities by basing state funding for all but mandated programs on the schools’ student success rate, course completion, and operational needs.

Prevailing wage repeal. HB 3 repeals the state’s prevailing wage law that dictates the hourly base wage for construction workers hired for certain public works projects.

Primary care agreements. SB 79 will allow patients to enter into contracts with their primary care provider that spell out services to be provided for an agreed-upon fee over a specific period of time. The “direct primary care membership agreement” would not require a patient to forfeit private insurance or Medicaid coverage.

Religious freedom. SB 17 will specify in statute that Kentucky public school and public college and university students have the legal right to express their religious and political views in their school work, artwork, speeches and other ways.

Retirement transparency. SB 3 requires that the retirement benefits of current and former General Assembly members be made public. Disclosure would include the member’s name and estimated or actual monthly allowance.

Right to work. HB 1—the House majority’s top priority for this session—makes Kentucky the 27th state nationally to enact right-to-work legislation. It prohibits Kentuckians from being required to join labor unions as a condition of employment.

School calendars. SB 50 will allow school districts to use a “variable student instructional year” that would require the same hours of instruction now required by law but allow for fewer school days than the minimum of 170 days that the law requires. Districts could instead use the variable schedule beginning with the 2018-19 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26.  

Ultrasounds during pregnancy. HB 2 requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an obstetric ultrasound of her baby explained to her by her health care provider before she could give required informed consent for an abortion. Women could decline to see the ultrasound image or hear the fetal heartbeat if they choose.

Veterans’ nursing home. HB 13 authorizes $10.5 million in state bond funds for construction of a veterans’ nursing home in Bowling Green. The funds are a required match for $19.5 million in federal funds slated to build a 90-bed state veterans’ nursing facility. The bill also requires that unobligated debt service funding from the state’s General Fund go toward paying down debt on construction of the Bowling Green veterans’ home before it is used for the Kentucky Communications Network Authority’s public-private partnership contract. 

--END--

 

 

March 31, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

2017 Legislative session draws to a close

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly wrapped up its 2017 legislative session on Thursday night after a final swirl of meetings, debate and eleventh-hour votes. After leaving Frankfort for a nearly-two-week veto recess, members of the House and Senate returned this week for two final days during which several major pieces of legislation achieved final passage and seem poised to become law.

One of the most closely-watched measures was Senate Bill 1, which makes sweeping changes to public education in Kentucky by changing how students, teachers, and schools are evaluated and held accountable. The bill is designed to return more control to local school districts, giving them a stronger voice in measuring and improving performance, including that of schools that are struggling.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, Kentucky schools would review and revise academic standards with recommendations from educators and suggestions invited from members of the public. Local school boards would also be responsible for evaluating teachers, the amount of paperwork now required of teachers and administrators would be reduced, and new locally-controlled accountability measures would be enacted for success indicators such as graduation rates and college admissions. The bill had widespread support from education groups and easily passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 1 comes on the heels of another major change for education in the Commonwealth – the passage of the charter schools bill earlier in March. House Bill 520 passed both chambers, clearing the way for local school boards to authorize and operate charter schools in Kentucky. Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, such schools can be established by contract and governed by independent school boards, providing students with programs that meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the state’s Board of Education.

A third measure affecting Kentucky schools was House Bill 128, which establishes a method for allowing public high schools to offer courses in Bible literacy. The classes, which would be voluntary for schools to offer and elective for students to take, would be part of a school’s social studies curriculum. The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday after being cleared earlier by the House, so it is now in the hands of Gov. Matt Bevin.

Also achieving final passage this week was Senate Bill 120, which is designed to give convicted felons an easier path to successfully re-enter society. The bill would enable prisoners to gain work experience while still incarcerated, reduce probation and parole times for certain offenders, and prevent defendants from being jailed for inability to pay their court costs.

One of the week’s more vigorously-debated measures was House Bill 333, which would prevent physicians from prescribing more than a three-day supply of opioid painkillers such as fentanyl and carfentanil, with some exceptions allowed. The bill, which is now in the hands of Gov. Bevin, also increases penalties for trafficking in opioids and authorizes the Kentucky Office of the Inspector General to investigate trends in drug usage and trafficking in a further effort to tackle the state’s increasing problem with painkiller addiction.

Also achieving final passage this week were:

         House Bill 524, a measure to prevent and reduce human trafficking, including sexual and labor exploitation, in Kentucky. The bill requires public schools and highway rest areas to post hotline phone numbers for reporting human trafficking.

         House Bill 253, legislation to require unannounced welfare checks on children who have been the subject of reported child abuse or neglect. Such visits would continue until the child’s safety has been ascertained, and schools would be unable to deny access to a child who is the subject of an investigation.

         House Bill 309, which enables tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease  with 30 days’ notice to their landlords and prevent abuse victims from being denied a lease because of their history as domestic violence victims.

Finally, the General Assembly voted this week to override Gov. Bevin’s vetoes on four pieces of legislation that had been approved by the legislature earlier in the session:

         Senate Bill 91, which will allow court-ordered outpatient treatment for certain mentally ill people and hospitalization in some cases after getting a petition from loved ones, legal guardians, law enforcement or medical professionals.

         Senate Joint Resolution 57, which will designate honorary names and sign placements on Kentucky roads.

         House Bill 540, which will create state regulations for drones.

         House Bill 471, which will create funding for public charter schools. The governor’s line-item veto on this bill would not have affected charter school funding, though. It only targeted a portion of the bill dealing with the disbursement of funds from a multimillion dollar legal settlement with Volkswagen

Although the legislative session has concluded, constituents are still encouraged to contact their Representatives and Senators to voice their opinions about issues of interest. If you’d like to share your thoughts and ideas with state lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at (800) 372-7181, or find contact information for individual legislators at www.lrc.ky.gov.

--END--

 

 

March 29, 2017

 

 

General Assembly overrides vetoes issued by Gov. Bevin

FRANKFORT—Four vetoes issued by Gov. Matt Bevin in recent days were overridden by the Kentucky General Assembly today, allowing the legislation to pass into law. 

The Governor had vetoed Senate Bill 91, Senate Joint Resolution 57 and House Bill 540, as well as a portion of House Bill 471. The Senate and House voted to reject the vetoes by wide margins earlier today, the second-to-last day of the General Assembly’s 2017 regular session.

SB 91, also known as “Tim’s Law”, sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, will allow court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for certain mentally ill Kentuckians who have previously been involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness at least twice in the past year. Bevin vetoed the law, saying it “is well intentioned, but would set a dangerous precedent…” in his veto message. The Senate voted 35-1 and the House voted 91-0 today to successfully override that veto.

SJR 57, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, designates honorary names and sign placements on roads throughout the Commonwealth.  In his veto message on the measure, Bevin said provisions of SJR 57 naming portions of roads in McCreary and Whitley counties as “Copperhead Trail” fell outside of state policy. The General Assembly disagreed, with the Senate voting 34-2 and the House voting 92-0 to override the veto.

HB 471, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, is widely known as the funding bill for public charter schools legislation. Bevin vetoed other parts of HB 471 that would require the General Assembly to approve spending of any funds the state receives from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Agreement, a multi-billion national agreement that settles allegations of emissions test cheating by the automaker.  The General Assembly voted 89-0 in the House and 37-0 in the Senate to override the veto.

The final veto overridden by the General Assembly today was the veto of HB 540, a bill sponsored by House Small Business and Information Technology Committee Chair Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park. Bevin vetoed the bill – a bill dealing with the regulation of drones – calling HB 540 “a well-intentioned, but premature piece of legislation that is preempted by federal law” in his veto message. The veto was overridden by a vote of 35-1 in the Senate and 93-0 in the House.

 

--END--

 

 

March 29, 2017

 

Comprehensive education reform bill heading to Governor’s desk

FRANKFORT— A wide-reaching education reform bill that would change how Kentucky public schools are held accountable for student progress, as well as how teachers are evaluated, has achieved final approval from the state’s General Assembly.

Among other goals, Senate Bill 1 is designed to place more control and accountability in the hands of local school districts, enabling them to have a stronger voice in how to improve performance by both students and teachers, and to turn low-performing schools around.

The sweeping new law requires regular reviews of academic standards in Kentucky schools,  makes schools accountable for success indicators such as graduation rates and college admissions exam scores, offers state-funded opportunities to assess students’ academic progress through taking early college admissions tests, returns responsibility for teacher evaluation back to local school boards, and reduces the amount of paperwork that now takes time from teachers and administrators.

Noting that the measure had widespread support from numerous education associations across the state as well as bipartisan support in the General Assembly, Sen. Mike Wilson, D-Bowling Green, the bill’s sponsor, said, “We can now provide significant guidance to the state Board of Education. This bill will increase the post-secondary readiness of Kentucky graduates, and it significantly impacts every classroom and future generations of Kentuckians.”

Referring to it as the “Let Teachers Teach Bill,” Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, added his support, noting that the legislation “gives local control back to Kentucky schools.”

Senate Bill 1 now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin’s office for his signature.

--END--

 

 

March 21, 2017

 

Sheila Mason announced as 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award winner

Longtime legislative staff member honored for nonpartisan service to General Assembly

FRANKFORT – A veteran Legislative Research Commission (LRC) staff member who has mentored hundreds of college students through a legislative intern program has been named the winner of the 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award.

Sheila Mason, who serves as LRC’s Legislative Record Compiler and Legislative Intern Coordinator, was chosen for the award that bears the name of a longtime LRC director. Hellard was known as champion of legislative independence who played an instrumental role in the modernization of the legislative institution and nonpartisan staffing.

“Vic Hellard would be very proud of Sheila’s continuing work for the Legislative Research Commission,” said David A. Byerman, Director of the agency.  “The impact she has had on LRC and on the young people who have come through our internship program has been tremendous.  I can think of no better example of one who has continued to work to uphold Vic Hellard’s legacy.”

Mason was chosen for the award for sharing many of the same characteristic that Hellard brought to public service, including a dedication to promoting civic engagement and serving the General Assembly with commitment, care, generosity, and humor.

“Vic set high standards for staff and established a culture of intense dedication and loyalty, not so much to him, but to this legislative process and the legislators we serve,” Mason said. “The strength of this staff has deep roots and will forever be at the forefront of his legacy.   To be singled out from among so many deserving colleagues makes me so appreciative of the numerous co-workers and legislators whom I’ve learned so much from and dearly respect.”

Mason has held a number of key positions since joining LRC as an Analyst on the Program Review and Investigations Staff in 1980. Since then, she has since served as a Committee Staff Administrator and Assistant Director. As the current Legislative Record Compiler, she has worked long hours to ensure that citizens and legislators all have accessible and accurate accounts of General Assembly actions. As the Legislative Intern Coordinator since 2002, she has helped hundreds of interns go into the world as ambassadors for the work of the General Assembly, public service and the Commonwealth.

A letter nominating Mason for the Hellard Award describes her as “an unsung wonder of LRC who works tirelessly and calmly behind the scenes to promote LRC and its role in government, to uphold the institution of the legislative branch, to encourage and facilitate public engagement and dialogue, and to enhance the reputation of the agency.”

The 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award will be formally presented to Mason when she is recognized in the Senate and House chambers on March 29.

The LRC changed eligibility criteria for the Vic Hellard Jr. Awards in 2015 to specifically honor nonpartisan legislative staff members, past and present. The award alternates annually between current staff members and retired ones


The Vic Hellard Jr. Award was created in memory and recognition of a former agency Director who served nearly two decades at the helm of LRC. Hellard retired in 1995 and passed away in 1996. He 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 17, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Many bills ready to be signed into law as session nears final days

FRANKFORT -- This has been a year for early arrivals at the State Capitol.

Within a week of the 2017 legislative session’s start in January, bills started arriving in the governor’s office to be signed into law, an extraordinarily quick start for a session of the General Assembly.

We’ve had more early arrivals at the Capitol in recent weeks as hundreds of the tulips in the Capitol gardens have already started blooming, a couple weeks ahead of their usual schedule.

Amid these signs that spring is coming, lawmakers continued to send a growing number of bills to the governor’s office this week. One high-profile measures that’s expected to soon be signed into law would allow charter schools to operate in Kentucky.

House Bill 520 would allow local school boards to authorize public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The schools would established by contract and governed by independent boards to provide Kentucky residents with educational programs that meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education.

Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In other business, lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that would lift a moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants in the state. Senate Bill 11 would amend statutes to change the requirement that facilities have a way to permanently dispose 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.

There are currently about 100 nuclear reactors across 30 U.S. states.

Senate Bill 11 has been delivered to the governor’s office to be signed into law.

Other bills sent to the governor’s office this week include the following:

         Senate Bill 89 would make treatment to help Kentuckians quit smoking or stop using other tobacco products more easily accessed under health insurance plans or Medicaid.

 

         House Bill 38 would ban registered sex offenders from public playgrounds unless they have written permission from the local governing body.

         House Bill 410, known as the REAL ID Bill, would create a voluntary travel ID—an enhanced driver’s license – that could be used to board airplanes and enter certain federal facilities, including certain military facilities, as of Jan. 1, 2019. The legislation is aimed at creating a form of state-issued identification that meets federal anti-terrorism standards. The bill also spells out rules for the issuance of a “standard” driver’s license, permit or state personal ID card.

         House Bill 314 would tighten the reporting of toxicology screenings by requiring certain hospitals to report positive drug screenings to the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  The measure is part of an ongoing effort to fight prescription drug abuse in Kentucky.

The General Assembly’s 2017 session is now in its veto recess, the period of time in which lawmakers return to their home districts and give time for the governor to consider casting vetoes. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on March 29 and 30 for the final days of the 2017 legislative session.

Till then, legislators are interested in getting feedback on the issues confronting our state. If you’d like to share your thoughts and ideas with state lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at (800) 372-7181.

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March 15, 2017

 

Charter school bill passes, goes to governor

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky Senate and House each voted today in favor of legislation to allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky. The bill now goes to Gov. Matt Bevin, a supporter of charter schools, to be signed into law.

House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman and public school teacher John Carney, R-Campbellsville, HB 520 would allow local school boards to authorize public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The schools would established by contract and governed by independent boards to provide Kentucky residents with nonsectarian educational programs that “meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education,” according to the bill.

The Senate voted 23-15 this afternoon in favor of the bill. The House, which already approved a version of the legislation earlier this month, cast a 53-43 vote this evening officially accepting changes made to the bill by the Senate.

Changes to the bill approved by the Senate and the House would allow the state school board to override a local school board’s decision regarding authorization of charter schools and allow for judicial review of the state board’s decision. It would also allow mayors of the state’s two largest cities (Louisville and Lexington) to be authorizers of charter schools upon their request, and emphasize that only certified teachers and administrators approved by the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board could be hired to teach at the schools.

Other approved changes would allow, not require, charter schools to give enrollment preference to lower-income students, and would allow charter school students who cannot participate in state-sanctioned school athletics at their school to participate in sports at the traditional public school in their district, along with a few other changes.

Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, read from a Presidential Proclamation issued by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to make the case in support of charter schools in the Senate this afternoon. McDaniel quoted Obama’s proclamation as saying: “Whether created by parents and teachers or community and civic leaders, charter schools serve as incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country.  These institutions give educators the freedom to cultivate new teaching models and develop creative methods to meet students' needs.”

In a House debate this evening, Carney said that that public charter schools will give Kentuckians a choice in public education.

“The reality is we have a system that does not work for every child in Kentucky. We teach to the middle,” he said. “Too many folks are being left behind.”

Among those voting against HB 520 was former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green. Richards said that charter schools would be money-making ventures governed by what he described as “for-profit” companies. 

“If you believe it’s unfair for a for-profit management company to take money away from your school system, you can’t vote for this bill. And it will. These management companies have to make money, folks,” said Richards.

Following passage of HB 520, the House voted 61-34 for final passage of House Bill 471, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah. That bill would amend the 2016-2018 executive branch budget to create a funding mechanism for charter schools created under HB 520.

Bills to allow charter schools in Kentucky have been filed for consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly since 2008. No charter school bills have passed the House until this year.

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March 15, 2017

 

Nuclear power bill headed to governor

FRANKFORT – Construction of nuclear power plants would be allowed in Kentucky, with vetting by federal and state government, under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House and is now on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, would end the state’s 33-year-old moratorium on construction of the facilities. The moratorium, enacted by the state in 1984, prohibits construction of nuclear power plants in Kentucky until there is a federally-approved means of high-level nuclear waste disposal.

Under SB 11, nuclear power plants would have to have a plan for storage, not disposal, of high-level nuclear waste. Construction of a plant could be certified by the state once the facility and its waste storage plans are approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  It would be up to the state to ensure the “costs and environmental consequences” of having a nuclear power facility in the state are fully considered during the permitting and certification process.

Construction of low-level nuclear waste disposal sites would be prohibited under the bill unless approved by the Kentucky General Assembly and the Governor.

Although he said it may take decades for a nuclear power plant to be approved under SB 11, Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said passing the bill will help the state economically in the future.

“The focus of our energy policy as a state must be a balanced portfolio to facilitate low-cost energy for our residents and existing businesses and industry,” said Rudy. “I believe that our energy portfolio should include fossil fuels, renewables, and nuclear.”

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington. She reminded House members of the nuclear waste dump at Maxey Flat, a northeast Kentucky town that became a site for disposal of low-level radioactive waste for hundreds of corporations and government agencies in the 1960s and 70s. The site was listed as a federal Superfund site in the late 1980s, making it eligible for federal funds to facilitate cleanup of the contamination.

“We let that happen. We were luring the industry here,” said Flood. “We need to remember our history as we speak about removing this moratorium.”

There are currently about 100 nuclear reactors across 30 different U.S. states, according to earlier testimony on the bill in the Senate. 

SB 11 passed by the House by a vote of 65-28 and will soon go to the Governor to be signed into law. It was approved by the Senate on a 27-8 vote on March 1.

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March 15, 2017

 

Education reform bill advances in House

FRANKFORT— Measuring productivity—not activity—is the plan for Kentucky’s public education system under an education reform bill that the Kentucky House advanced today on a 94-0 vote.

Sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, Senate Bill 1 would be the basis for how students are taught and tested and how teachers are evaluated in Kentucky public schools. Wilson told the House Education Committee on March 7 that SB 1 would hold schools accountable for student progress in core subjects while allowing for what he called “more genuine measures of postsecondary readiness” than ranking schools by an overall numerical score.

Specifically, SB 1 would require a review of academic standards in Kentucky schools beginning next school year and every six years thereafter, while proposing what Wilson called a “mastery-based approach” to competency and performance-based state assessment of student learning with new benchmarks for measuring college and career readiness of students.

Schools “will be accountable for increasing their percentages of students graduating with at least one of these benchmarks” including college and admissions exam scores, college credit, apprentice hours and more, said Wilson.

For college readiness, the bill would provide for students to take two national college admissions exams—one in 10th grade and one in 11th grade—paid for by the state to assess their academic progress.

“That will be a true indicator of growth and what is needed within that time frame. We can still have a couple of years to invest in those students to help bring them to an even higher score. And kids always try harder on tests that matter,” said Wilson.

Schools would also submit less paperwork under SB 1, which Wilson said would reduce “unnecessary” documentation on ongoing instructional plans, student intervention, staff effectiveness and other data. And the bill would also return teacher evaluation back to local school boards, among dozens of other proposed reforms.

“The principal will now be able to work and tailor that (evaluation) to their own district because each district is different,” Wilson said in his testimony.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, said SB 1 is a step in the right direction for Kentucky public education.

“We’ve all watched as this bill has progressed over a number of years. We all are looking for the best ways to evaluate, hold accountable, to ensure that our students progress through this educational system that we’ve set up. I believe this bill is the correct step moving forward,” said Meeks.

The bill was amended by the House to include advanced learners in a school district’s response-to-intervention system and to allow the state Department of Education to develop program standards for the visual and performing arts.

The bill now returns to the Senate for final passage.  

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March 14, 2017

 

Quit-smoking bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT—Drugs and services that help Kentuckians quit smoking or stop using other tobacco products would be more easily accessed under health insurance plans or Medicaid under a bill now on its way to becoming law.

SB 89 “will improve the health of Kentuckians and save taxpayer dollars by helping smokers quit smoking when they are ready to quit,” said Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, who presented the bill on the House floor for a vote. The bill is sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville.

Moser said federal law already requires that private insurers and Medicaid cover tobacco cessation drugs and services but that prior authorization, step therapy – which requires patients to try one therapy before they try others—and other requirements are barriers to treatment. Under SB 89, prior authorization for tobacco cessation treatment would only be allowed in limited cases. Most other barriers, like copays for treatment and required counseling, would be prohibited.

Kentucky has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation and leads the nation in cancer deaths, Moser said. Nearly 9,000 Kentuckians die annually from smoking-related illnesses, she added.

“So for these reasons, SB 89 is important so that Kentuckians are provided barrier-free access to proven smoking cessation treatments,” she said.

SB 89 received final passage in the House on a 90-1 vote. It passed the Senate 35-2 on Feb. 22.

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March 14, 2017

 

Playground protection bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT—A bill that would ban registered sex offenders from public playgrounds unless they have written permission to be on site is on its way to the governor.

House Bill 38, sponsored by Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, passed overwhelmingly on a final House vote of 91-0. The bill was amended before passage to require that advanced written permission for a sex offender to enter a public playground come from the local governing body (city council, etc.) that oversees the playground.

House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said the bill as passed will offer “additional protection” to children on public playgrounds.

Current state law bans Kentucky registered sex offenders—and those living outside the state who would be required to register as sex offenders if living in Kentucky—from being on the grounds of a school, preschool or licensed day care facility without advanced written permission. It does not, however, specifically ban them from public playgrounds.

Registered sex offenders are prohibited under current Kentucky law from living within 1,000 feet of a public playground, as well as within 1,000 feet of a school, preschool or licensed day care facility.

HB 38 was passed by a vote of 37-0 in the Senate on March 8.

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March 14, 2017 

 

Senate approves bill to tighten reporting of toxicology screenings

FRANKFORT -- A bill to tighten the reporting of toxicology screenings by Kentucky hospitals passed the state Senate today, clearing its way to become law pending the signature of Gov. Matt Bevin.

House Bill 314, which was approved by the House of Representatives late last month, requires certain hospitals to report positive drug screenings to the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  The measure is part of an ongoing effort to fight prescription drug abuse in Kentucky.

The bill also permits federal prosecutors and medical professionals, including pharmacists, to use the state's KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) database containing reports of misuse of controlled substances.

"For the KASPER system to be effective,  we need to stay on top of it," said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah. "We need every tool available to us."

The bill passed the Senate 33-3 and now goes to the Governor's desk for his consideration.

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March 14, 2017 

 

Bill to change postsecondary funding formula goes to governor

FRANKFORT—State funding for Kentucky public colleges and universities would be allocated based on the schools’ performance under a bill now on its way to becoming law.

Funding would be based on student success, course completion, and school operational needs under the comprehensive funding model created by Senate Bill 153, sponsored by President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, with initial distributions drawn from $42.9 million appropriated by the state in 2017-2018 to the “postsecondary education performance fund” created by the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly. Funding in subsequent years would allow 100 percent of state funding allocated for state universities and the state’s community college and technical system (KCTCS)—with exceptions for mandated programs—to be allocated under the bill.

Although SB 153 would take effect immediately, it would prevent reductions in funding to public colleges and universities based on the formula for fiscal year 2019, and limit reductions for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, said the bill is the result of work completed by the state Postsecondary Education Working Group in 2016.

“The purpose of this bill was to look at the funding disparity that exists between some of the universities in the Commonwealth and to level that playing field based upon a fair method,” she said. “We have a task force where we’ve gathered together experts in the field of higher education and…they have all—each of the experts—signed on to this.” 

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, emphasized in his comments that Kentucky’s public college and university presidents reached a “consensus agreement” to move forward with the provisions in the bill. He said state lawmakers can always come back in a later session and “tweak” the legislation if necessary.

“The bottom line is this is not a perfect piece of legislation, but it is a starting point,” he said.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, who said “massive” layoffs at a factory in his district will increase local community college enrollment. Once those displaced workers graduate and eventually find work, Sinnette said he thinks community college enrollment—along with the number of degrees and certificates earned at those colleges—will decrease, along with state funding for those colleges under SB 153.

“I think that we have moved too fast on this piece of legislation when we look at the layoffs that have happened in my region. And I’m scared of that; I’m scared ACTC (Ashland Community and Technical College) will lose funding premised upon the fact that their enrollment will be up and then go down. ” said Sinnette.

SB 153 received final passage by a vote of 65-29.  It had passed the Senate by a vote of 36-1 last month.  

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March 10, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

March 6 - 10, 2017

FRANKFORT -- As the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly headed into its final weeks, legislators moved closer to the possibility of resolving the state’s “REAL ID” issue, as well as allowing public charter schools to operate in the Commonwealth.

A REAL ID is an enhanced driver’s license that includes new security features mandated by the federal government as an anti-terrorism measure. If the state does not provide a solution that meets federal standards, Kentuckians will have to show a passport or other acceptable form of identification to board domestic flights and enter certain federal facilities, including military bases such as Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, beginning in 2018.

House Bill 410 would enable Kentucky residents to get a “voluntary travel card” that would meet the REAL ID requirements while also serving as a valid driver’s license. The card would cost $48, compared with $43 for a standard, non-compliant license, and would be valid for eight years. Immigrants who are not citizens or permanent residents would pay an additional $30.

The measure passed the House in a 77-19 vote and now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

Also heading to the Senate is House Bill 520, which would allow public charter schools to operate in Kentucky, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, as an alternative to traditional public or private schools. Only students living in Kentucky would be eligible to attend, and the schools would have no entrance requirements or tuition aside from the fees other public schools are allowed to charge.

Following a 56-39 vote, the measure was sent to the Senate.

Other legislation advancing this week included:

         Senate Bill 17, which would specify that students in Kentucky’s public schools, colleges and universities could express their religious and political opinions in their school work, artwork speeches and clothing, and be allowed to distribute political materials on school grounds and use school media to announce religious meetings. The bill now has passed both chambers and moved to the Governor for his signature.

         House Bill 14, which would make it a hate crime to attack a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical professional, adding them to the categories of individuals protected by law because of race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. Having passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the bill now needs only Gov. Bevin’s signature before becoming law.

         House Bill 222, which would prohibit a judge from granting shock probation – early release from incarceration in favor of probation – to people convicted of second-degree manslaughter while driving drunk. The bill has been cleared by both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

         Senate Bill 50, which would give school districts more leeway in setting school calendars while maintaining the current requirement to provide at least 1,062 hours of instruction per year. The bill is designed to provide more flexibility for individual districts to operate on a “variable student instructional year,” choosing to provide the required number of hours without necessarily fitting them into the current mandate of 170 instructional days. The measure now awaits the Governor’s signature.

         House Bill 67, which provides protections against the release of autopsy photos and other images to news outlets, bloggers and anyone else who does not have an official need for access to them. The measure now has moved to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and signature.

         House Bill 305, which would improve treatment options and costs associated with involuntary treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. The bill, which passed the House 95-0 and now moves to the Senate, would allow a judge to order a person to undergo treatment for up to a year with the option of an additional year, and limit the costs that could be incurred by a family member or friend who asks the court to order involuntary treatment for a loved one, among other provisions. 

The legislative session is winding down, but there is still plenty of time for Kentuckians to reach out to lawmakers and express their opinions on upcoming legislation.

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

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March 8, 2017

 

Measure to keep autopsy photos private going to Gov. Bevin

FRANKFORT – Kentucky families will have an easier time keeping autopsy photos of their loved ones private thanks to new legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly.

House Bill 67, which passed the Senate 36-1 after previously clearing the House of Representatives 94-0, provides additional protections against the release of autopsy photographs, videos and other images to non-essential outlets such as the news media and Internet bloggers. The measure was prompted by the case of a young Kentucky boy who was killed in an accident and whose parents were unsuccessful in halting the release of his autopsy photos to media outlets.

“If you Google his name today, you can still find those photos online,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who spoke in favor of the bill. Westerfield also noted that the measure does not affect the release of autopsy reports, including images, to law enforcement officials or others who typically are entitled to receive that information.

The new law, which now goes to the Governor for his signature, will be designated as Jack’s Law in honor of the child whose death inspired it.

“Nothing can bring Jackson back,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, in whose district the family lives, “but this can keep this situation from occurring with another grieving family.”

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March 8, 2017

 

 School calendar bill goes to governor

FRANKFORT—A bill that would give school districts more leeway in setting school calendars is on its way to the governor’s desk after passing the Kentucky House today.

Senate Bill 50, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would allow school districts to operate on a “variable student instructional year” that would offer the same 1,062 or more hours of instructional time that’s required for students under current rules. Districts that opt for the variable instructional year wouldn’t have to meet the state’s 170-day requirement for the school year, as long as students receive the number of hours’ worth of instruction that are proportionately equivalent to 170 school days.

Districts could begin using the variable student instructional year with local board approval beginning with the 2018-2019 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, who explained the bill before the House vote, said the variable option is “completely voluntary” and is designed to give school districts more flexibility.

“When we look at schools, after testing, many days have become track-and-field and band field trip days,” said Linder. “Many schools go these days just to get those days in. This bill will allow them (if they start on the Monday closest to Aug. 26) to use this and only use the 1,062 hours.”

House Minority Whip Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, was concerned that the bill limits school days to seven hours.

“If districts don’t elect to extend their school day somehow, either at the beginning or the end of the day, then it would be very difficult for school districts to start the 26th of August and still not be going into June,” said Stone.

The bill also would allow for creation of school district calendar committee (comprised of a school principal, office administrator, a school board member, parents of students in the district and a few others) that would recommend school calendar options to the local board. And it would require that the media be notified of school board meeting regarding the school calendar at least 24 hours in advance.

SB 50 passed the House by a vote of 77-18. It was approved by the Senate on a 33-1 vote on Feb. 9.

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March 8, 2017

Legislature tightens rules on shock probation

FRANKFORT – People convicted of second degree manslaughter while driving drunk would no longer be eligible for shock probation, according to a bill that now has passed both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Currently, judges are able to use their own discretion in deciding whether to shorten an offender’s sentence in favor of probation.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said one of her constituents was dismayed when the person convicted of killing the constituent’s daughter in a drunk driving accident served only 63 days of a five-year sentence after being released on shock probation.

“Kentucky is one of only six states that allows shock probation in cases like these,” Raque Adams said. “This bill clearly points out that a conviction and sentence that has been imposed shall stand.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, opposed the measure, noting that it takes away judicial discretion for a practice that is rarely used.

House Bill 222, which was sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, passed the Senate 33-4 and now goes to the Governor for his signature.  

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March 8, 2017

 

 

 Finalists for Vic Hellard Jr. Awards announced

Awards honor nonpartisan legislative staff for outstanding service 

FRANKFORT -- Three 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 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award.

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 before retiring in 1995. Hellard passed away in 1996.

The finalists for the 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award are:

         Sheila Mason, the LRC’s Legislative Intern Coordinator and Legislative Record Compiler;

         Anita Muckelroy, who served as the LRC’s Assistant Director for Legislator Support Services before she passed away last month after a brief illness;

         Joel Redding, Chief Information Officer for the LRC.

“Last year we refocused the Vic Hellard Jr. Award to recognize the incredible contributions made by LRC’s nonpartisan staff,” said David Byerman, Director of the Legislative Research Commission. “This year’s slate of finalists honors the memory of Director Hellard. They have each contributed powerfully to continuing Vic’s legacy of public service.”

Additional information on the 2017 finalists can be viewed online: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/2017HellardFinalists.pdf.

Ellen Hellard, the widow of Vic Hellard Jr., served as chair of the selection committee that determined the finalists and recipient for the 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award.

The 2017 Vic Hellard Jr. Award will be presented later this month at the State Capitol. All finalists will be honored at a reception at the Capitol.

The Vic Hellard Jr. Award goes each year to someone who embodies the values that longtime LRC Director Vic Hellard Jr. brought to his long career: A public servant of vision, appreciating history while finding new ways to do things, someone who champions the equality and dignity of all, nurtures the processes of a democratic society and promotes public dialogue while educating and fostering civic engagement, approaching that work with commitment, caring, generosity, and humor

Hellard was known as a champion of legislative independence who 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 7, 2017

 

REAL ID compliance bill advances to Senate

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 77-19 today to create “voluntary travel ID” cards that would meet federal REAL ID requirements, while also voting to change procedures for issuance of standard Kentucky driver’s licenses and permits.

House Bill 410, sponsored by Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, would create the voluntary travel ID—an enhanced driver’s license that could be used to board airplanes and enter certain federal facilities, including certain military facilities, as of Jan. 1, 2019 while meeting security standards of the 2005 federal REAL ID Act. The bill would also spell out rules for the issuance of a “standard” driver’s license, permit or state personal ID card as of that date.

The licenses, permits and IDs under HB 410, both enhanced and standard, would be issued by the state Transportation Cabinet instead of the state Office of the Circuit Court Clerk, as they are now, and allow the documents to be renewed for eight years instead of the current four.

DuPlessis said a standard driver’s license would be standard issue, although those who choose that over the voluntary travel ID would not be able to use a standard license to board an airplane or enter certain federal facilities, as they would with a voluntary travel ID.

“If that person wants to get on an airplane they will need to take their standard Kentucky driver’s license along with some supplemental that the government has listed, maybe a passport,” said DuPlessis. “Standard practice, standard driver’s license, and enhanced practice gives you the voluntary travel ID.”

New fees for driver’s licenses and personal ID cards issued to non-U.S. citizens or non-permanent residents would also be established under the bill, which would add a $30 fee onto driver’s license, permit and personal ID applications for those individuals. Proceeds from that fee would go into the state’s Road Fund.

Kentucky issued driver’s license and/or permits and personal ID cards to around 20,000 immigrants in the state in 2016, said DuPlessis. If that same number were issued annually under HB 410, he said that could mean around $600,000 in additional state Road Fund dollars.

Other provisions of HB 410 would allow former members of the Kentucky National Guard and Reserve to have that service designated on their driver’s license, and allow spouses and dependents of active duty military stationed outside Kentucky to get a Kentucky driver’s license or personal ID.

When asked by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, if there would be public education and outreach about the new licensing and ID procedures that would be established under HB 410, DuPlessis answered with a swift “yes.”

“I’ve spoken with the Transportation Secretary and he’s emphatic that we would do exactly that,” he told Marzian.

HB 410 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

March 6, 2017

Religious, political freedom bill receives final passage

FRANKFORT—A bill that would that specify in state law that Kentucky’s public school students and public college or university students are allowed to express their religious and political views in their school work, artwork, speeches and other ways is heading to the governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, also states that public school students are allowed to display religious messages on their clothes while at school, use school newspapers and public address systems to announce student religious meetings, and distribute political literature on school grounds. And Kentucky public colleges and universities would be prohibited from both unreasonable restrictions on student speech exercised outdoors on campus and from give religious and political organizations “equal access to public forums.”

Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said SB 17 clarifies that liberties granted by the U.S. and state constitutions will not be denied in Kentucky. 

“We’ve seen in other locales where the clear constitutional right to religious liberty has been imposed upon,” Moore said.

“It is right that we in Kentucky make very clear as a body—as our fellows down the hallway have done by an overwhelming bipartisan majority—that we will protect the right to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools and public postsecondary institutions,” said Moore. SB 17 passed the Senate by a vote of 31-3 on Feb. 10.

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville. “At this time in our nation’s history—when we are experiencing so much division, when we are experiencing so much hatred against Jews, Muslims and whoever else is not in the mainstream—I think we need to be really cautious about bills like this,” he said.

SB 17 received final passage by a vote of 81-8.

--END--

 

 

March 3, 2017

 

House advances charter schools bill

FRANKFORT—Public charter schools would be allowed to operate in Kentucky under a bill advanced today by the Kentucky House.

House Bill 520, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman and public school teacher John Carney, R-Campbellsville, passed the House by a vote of 56-39 and now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

The bill would allow local school boards and the mayors of Louisville and Lexington to authorize and oversee public charter schools in their school districts beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. The charter schools would be public schools, established by contract and governed by independent boards, that would offer nonsectarian educational programs that “meet or exceed student performance standards adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education,” according to the bill.

Students would have to live in Kentucky to attend the schools, the bill states, with preference given to students who live in the local school district. Enrollment would be voluntary and the schools would not have entrance requirements or charge tuition or fees, other than those fees that are allowed at other public schools.

Governor Matt Bevin, an advocate of charter schools, spoke in favor of House Bill 520 when it was passed the House Education Committee earlier in the day. Bevin said the bill would give every public school student a chance to succeed.

“We have students that we know for a fact, their odds of even graduating are very, very slim—almost nonexistent in many of our schools,” said Bevin. HB 520, he said, would give every child “the same opportunity to get a public education.”

Kentucky is one of seven states that do not already allow public charter schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Concerns with the bill were raised by several lawmakers on the House floor including Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. A retired public school teacher, Graham said the state’s public schools have been improving, citing rankings that show Kentucky as a national leader in K-12 public education with at least 69 percent of its students classified as college-and career-ready.

“To me, this piece of legislation does not direct us where we really need to go,” he said. “To me, this piece of legislation is a direct attack on the public education system in Kentucky,” said Graham. “Let’s not change our direction as innovators of education reform.”

Carney, however, told the House that there are thousands of Kentucky public school students who are not getting the education they need.

“I have found one size does not fit all” when it comes to public education, he told his colleagues.

--END--

 

March 3, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

February 27 - March 3, 2017

FRANKFORT – Improving the lives of Kentucky’s children was on the minds of the state’s legislators this week as several bills made their way through the General Assembly. Included were measures to stabilize the lives of children in foster care, stem the tide of young people being recruited into criminal gangs, and broaden the scope of background checks for adults who work in proximity with children.

Senate Bill 190, which passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote and now moves to the House of Representatives, would enable a child placed in foster care to remain in the same school even if the foster home is in a different school district. Currently, children are required to attend school in their home district, so those who enter foster care or are moved from one home to another must switch to the district in which their new home is located, causing further disruption in their lives.

The bill states that if placement cannot be found in the district in which the child is already enrolled, transportation should be provided to the child’s home school. If it is determined that it is in the child’s best interest to switch schools, the legislation would require the new school to enroll the child immediately, without waiting for records that might be delayed.

Also advancing to the House was Senate Bill 236, which would enable parents to request a background check for child abuse or neglect, through records maintained by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, before hiring a nanny or babysitter.  The measure also would require school superintendents to conduct similar background checks for anyone being considered for employment, including non-teaching staff members, and tighten the practices of youth camps with regard to employees and volunteers with a record of child abuse or crimes against children.

The Cabinet for Health and Family services would be required to provide a letter of clearance if its records showed no findings of abuse or neglect against the individual, and to notify the child care provider or potential employee of the results of its check.

House Bill 315, which now moves to the Senate for its consideration, is designed to crack down on gang violence by, among other measures, protecting children from being recruited into gangs or forced to commit crimes.  The bill would stiffen penalties for adults who recruit children into gangs, enable anyone who encourages another individual to join a gang to face enhanced charges for repeat offenses, and establish minimum sentencing requirements for some misdemeanors committed by defendants found beyond a reasonable doubt to have been a gang member when the crime was committed.

Also moving to the House was Senate Bill 195, which would enable juvenile offenders to have their criminal records expunged, or erased completely. Although adults who have been convicted under age 16 can now file a court motion to have their juvenile records removed, this measure would create a process for expungement of felony juvenile records two years after the offender reaches adulthood or is released from commitment. However, anyone who has convictions for felony or public offenses in the two years prior to applying for expungement or who has pending charges would not be eligible for expungement.

Several other bills advanced this week, including:

House Bill 333, which would limit prescriptions for opioids pain killers like fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone to a three-day supply with certain exceptions for medical need. The measure, which now awaits consideration by the Senate, would also increase jail time for anyone convicted of selling opioids on the street.

Senate Bill 4, which would require peer review panels to assess malpractice complaints against a health care provider before a plaintiff could file a case in court based on that complaint. The panels, which would include an attorney and three health care providers licensed in Kentucky in the specialty in question, would issue an opinion about the validity of the claim, and that opinion could be used as evidence in court if the case proceeded. The bill now has passed the House on a narrow vote and returns to the Senate for final passage.

Senate Bill 11, which would eliminate a number of obstacles to constructing and maintaining nuclear power plants in Kentucky, including changing the requirement that facilities have the means for permanent disposal of nuclear waste. Instead they would be required to have a plan for its safe storage as approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That measure now awaits consideration by the House.

Senate Bill 176, which would make certain military surplus vehicles “street legal” by enabling Kentuckians to receive a title and license for them, once they were retrofitted with appropriate equipment to meet federal regulations. The measure passed the Senate 37-0 and now moves to the House of Representatives.

 House Bill 261, which would ensure that anyone convicted of a DUI in Kentucky could only get a more lenient, first-offense sentence once in a lifetime. This would reverse the current law that enables someone with a DUI conviction more than 10 years old to essentially be given a clean slate and have a new conviction considered as a first offense. The measure will now be considered by the Senate.

Kentuckians still have plenty of time to get in touch with lawmakers and express their opinions on upcoming legislation.

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--

 

 

March 2, 2017

 

House approves changes to Casey’s Law

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky House tonight advanced legislation that supporters say would improve a state law that allows involuntary treatment for alcohol and drug addiction.

Rep. Kim Moser, a primary sponsor of House Bill 305,, said the legislation, would improve treatment options and costs associated with involuntary treatment under Casey’s Law, passed in Kentucky in 2004 in honor of Matthew Casey Wethington who died of a heroin overdose at age 23.

HB 305 “allows for better outcomes for those in need of treatment of their addiction” who are served by Casey’s Law, said Moser, R-Taylor Mill. The bill’s fellow chief sponsor, Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, praised HB 305 for addressing what he called the “multi-dimensional” problem of addiction.

“It helps the sick,” he said of the bill.

Proposed changes to Casey’s Law under HB 305 would allow a judge to order a person to undergo treatment for up to a year (while allowing a petition to be renewed beyond a year) and would clarify that someone who petitions the court for involuntary treatment of a friend or family member under the law is only responsible for evaluation and treatment costs that aren’t covered by a third-party payor, such as private insurance and Medicaid, said Moser. The bill would also allow court-ordered treatment to be changed, where appropriate, at no additional costs to the petitioner, among other provisions.

“It eliminates any delay in treatment,” she explained.

HB 305 passed by House 95-0 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

March 2, 2017

 

Senate approves juvenile record expungement bill

Juvenile offenders would be able to have their criminal records expunged under a bill passed by the Kentucky Senate today.

Currently, children convicted of a misdemeanor must file a motion and go through a court process to have their records expunged, or erased completely, giving them an opportunity for a fresh start and the ability to pass criminal background checks as adults.

But Senate Bill 195 expands Kentucky’s current system, creating a process for expungement of felony juvenile records two years after the offender reaches adulthood or is released from commitment. However, anyone who has convictions for felony or public offenses in the two years prior to applying for expungement or who has pending charges would not be eligible for expungement.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said the bill seeks to bring the juvenile expungement process in line with changes made to the process for adults during last year’s legislative session.

The bill passed the Senate 37-0 and now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

--END--

 

March 2, 2017

 

Senate advances bill for Bowling Green vets’ nursing home

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky Senate has approved a measure that marks a step toward building a nursing home for veterans in Bowling Green.

Senate Bill 13, which passed 37-0 today, authorizes $10 million in state bond funds to construct the Bowling Green Veterans’ Center Nursing Home. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will also provide $20 million in federal funding for the project, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, the bill’s sponsor.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, spoke in favor of the bill, but also noted that Eastern Kentucky has approximately 800 veterans for each available nursing home bed, about twice the number in Western Kentucky. The approved bill includes an amendment expressing Smith’s hope that future funding for such projects will be directed toward a veterans’ nursing home in Magoffin County.

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, which has already approved similar legislation this year.

--END--

 

March 1, 2017

 

Nuclear power bill approved by Senate

FRANKFORT -- A bill that would lift a moratorium on nuclear power plants in the state was approved today by the Kentucky Senate.

Senate Bill 11 would amend 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.

Sen. Danny Carroll, the sponsor of SB 11, said states need diverse energy portfolios to remain economically competitive.

“… U.S. energy demand will rise 22 percent by the year 2040 even with modest economic growth,” said Carroll, R-Paducah. “That means the United States will need many new power plants of all types to meet the increased demand and replace older facilities that are retired. To ensure a diverse portfolio, many of these new power plants will have to be nuclear.”

There are currently about 100 nuclear reactors across 30 different U.S. states, Carroll said.

“As it stands right now, approximately 20 percent of the power supply in the United States is supplied by nuclear energy,” Carroll said. “It is an excellent source of baseload energy.”

Carroll said nuclear plants provide good-paying jobs and have long-reaching economic impacts in areas where they are located. He noted that businesses and industries sometimes look at a state’s energy policy before deciding where to expand. “They look at whether a state depends entirely on fossil fuels, do they promote green energy, do they have nuclear as an option?”

Even if SB 11 becomes law, it’s unlike that a nuclear plant will be built quickly in Kentucky, Carroll said.  “However, energy policy must be planned decades if not centuries into the future. I think it’s very important that we look … at what the future holds for us and make sure that we make decisions that will serve us well.”

Senate Bill 11 was approved on a 27-8 vote and now goes the House of Representatives for consideration.

--END--

 

March 1, 2017

 

Senate approves bill to give foster kids “educational stability”

FRANKFORT -- A child placed in foster care wouldn’t have to switch schools, even if the foster home is outside the child’s school district, under a bill that passed the Kentucky Senate today.

Senate Bill 190 is aimed at providing education stability for children at a time when their lives are already disrupted.

“This bill would allow a foster child to remain in their home school even though the state chose to move them to another home or another family,” said Sen. Dan Seum, the sponsor of SB 190. “Currently these children are being disrupted as it is and (the bill) merely tries to put some stability in that child’s life.”

The legislation states that a child going into foster care should, if practicable, be placed in a home in the school district where the child is already enrolled. If that’s not possible, then transportation should be provided so that the child can continue attending the school he or she is used to.

If it’s determined that it’s in the child’s best interest to switch schools, the new school should accept the child without delay, even if all of the kid’s records aren’t available right away, according to the bill.

“The new school will immediately enroll them so they’re not sitting out for 10, 15, 30 days waiting for their records to show up,” said Seum, R-Fairdale.

Members of the Senate approved SB 190 on a 35-0 vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representative for consideration.

--END--

 

March 1, 2017

 

Medical review panel bill clears House, returns to Senate

FRANKFORT—Medical malpractice lawsuits can now be filed in Kentucky at any time. But under a bill passed narrowly today by the Kentucky House, peer review of malpractice cases would be required before they could go to court.

“Medical review panels” proposed under Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would be required to review any malpractice complaint against a health provider before a case based on that complaint could be filed in court. Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said SB 4 “provides a balanced, unbiased and thoughtful approach for both patients and health care providers” when he presented the bill to the House today.

SB 4, which passed the House 51-45, would provide mediation on the “front end” of the medical malpractice process to expedite the process and balance it out, Benvenuti said.

The current medical malpractice process “is not a fast process,” Benvenuti said. “It drags on for years and years and years. (And) it ends by the judge encouraging, or sometimes ordering, mediation. And both sides get more of an understanding of their case,” he said.

Each review panel created under SB 4 would be made up of an attorney chairperson and three Kentucky health care providers licensed in the medical specialty in question. The panel would issue an opinion that includes one of three outcomes—that failure to meet appropriate standards of care was a “substantial factor” in the patient outcome, failure to meet those standards was not a substantial factor in the patient outcome, or that evidence doesn’t show a failure to meet appropriate standards.  That opinion could then be used as evidence in court.

Only by agreement of all parties could a case bypass a medical review panel and go directly to court, the bill states.

Among those speaking against the bill was Rep. Alan Gentry, D-Louisville, who told the House that he has spent a lot of time researching the issue of medical review panels.

“After all my research,” he said, “I did one thing: I took that pile of research and I threw it straight in the trash. Why? Because I came to the simple logical conclusion. We already have a panel. It’s called a jury. A jury made up of the people from all walks of life—the foundation of our American judicial system. We don’t need a second panel.”

SB 4 now returns to the Senate for final passage.

--END--

 

 

February 28, 2017

 

Senate OKs bill to make military surplus vehicles street legal

FRANKFORT – The Senate today approved a bill that would make it possible for Kentuckians to receive a title and license for certain military surplus vehicles like Humvees.

Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, would give citizens who purchase military surplus vehicles a way to make them street legal by outlining a framework for the state to follow when licensing and titling the vehicles.

“It requires the Transportation Cabinet to create a new inspection form for military surplus vehicles since a vehicle must be inspected prior to titling,” said West, R-Paris. “In order to get a title, the vehicles would have to be retrofitted with all the appropriate equipment – safety harnesses, et cetera – to meet the federal regulatory guidelines.”

Prior to passing the bill, senators approved an amendment that removed a specification in the legislation would have limited it to four-wheeled vehicles. West said the amendment was the result of the realization that it would be helpful to expand the legislation to cover larger trucks that can used for agriculture and other purposes.

The bill was approved by the Senate on a 37-0 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

--END--

 

February 28, 2017

 

DUI ‘look back’ bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT— Getting a DUI in Kentucky every 10 years is like getting a DUI for the first time in the eyes of the law, the result of a Kentucky ‘look back’ law that treats a DUI conviction handed down at least 10 years after a person’s last conviction as a first offense.

That would change under House Bill 261—approved today by the Kentucky House—which would only allow DUI offenders to receive the more lenient first-offense DUI conviction once in their lifetime.

HB 261 sponsor Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said his legislation “is a common sense bill” that would save lives by limiting the amount of drunk drivers on Kentucky’s roads.

Under HB 261 “You get one first offense in your lifetime. After that, it’s at least number 2,” DuPlessis told the House, which approved the bill 94-0.

The bill was amended before it was passed to clarify that it would not be applied retroactively. It was also amended to allow first offense DUI cases to be expunged 10 years after the date of the offense for employment purposes.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, said she was concerned about how expungement could affect state judges’ ability to do their jobs and asked if they would have access to information, if needed, for penalty enhancement or other purposes. DuPlessis said that they would.

“The record will be expunged but it will still be there for the court to see,” he said. “The bill doesn’t seek to tell judges how to inform their defendants. But it seeks to be very clear, very clear as to what the penalty phases will or will not be.”

HB 261, which is also sponsored by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, now goes to the Senate.

--END--

 

 February 28, 2017

 

House OKs strong penalties for those dealing in opioids

FRANKFORT—With one lawmaker calling it a crisis starting “in our medicine cabinets,” the Kentucky House today voted 96-1 to pass a bill that would fight Kentucky’s opioid addiction epidemic by limiting the amount of opioids pain killers prescribed and increasing jail time for those who deal opioids on the streets.

Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, praised provisions in House Bill 333 that would limit prescriptions for addictive opioid pain killers like oxycodone, fentanyl and morphine to a three day supply, with exceptions for the terminally-ill and some others.  Addiction, Kay said, usually begins at home with a 30-day prescription to prescription opioids like Percocet or Lortab—not by buying drugs on the street.

“This pill problem is starting in our medicine cabinets, and we’ve got to get it under control,” he said. “Unfortunately in many, many cases we’re not going to stop addiction from happening. But we can stop it from happening in our medicine cabinets. We can stop is from happening in our homes."

HB 333, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would also increase felony penalties for those who illegally deal in the synthetic opioid pain killer fentanyl and make it a felony to deal in drugs derived from fentanyl as well as carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer. Trafficking in any amount of fentanyl, its derivatives or carfentanil would carry up to 10 years for a first offense, with longer sentences for repeat offenders and those who deal over certain amounts of the drugs.

Moser said these are just a few steps that HB 333 would take to solve what she called the “opioid and addiction crisis” in Kentucky.

“We continue to see increases in overdoses and deaths due to heroin and other opiates,” said Moser. She cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows over 52,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015. “Sixty three percent, or 33,091 of those deaths involved an opioid.”

“If Kentucky is, in fact, the epicenter of this crisis, we must be leaders in addressing this crisis head-on,” she said.

HB 333 would also make it a felony carrying up to 10 years in prison to illegally bring any amount of fentanyl or its derivatives or carfentanil into the state for sale or distribution. And it would create the felony offense of “trafficking in a misrepresented controlled substance” for those who try to pass off fentanyl, its derivatives or carfentanil as a legitimate prescription drug.

While state law now has strong penalties for selling heroin, HB 333 would ease penalties for those found guilty of selling a small amount—under two grams—of heroin if a court finds the defendant had a substance use disorder involving heroin when the crime was committed. Those individuals would face one to five years in prison instead of five to 10 years for others convicted of a first offense (with higher penalties for repeat offenders).

Finally, the bill would exclude cannabidiol, or CBD, products from the definition of marijuana under state law if the products are approved as a prescription medication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cannabidiol is a cannabis compound that is believe by many to have medical benefits, although it has not yet been FDA-approved.

“This is only when and if they become FDA-approved. These are hemp derivatives—it’s not marijuana—and again, they must be FDA-approved,” said Moser. “Upon FDA approval, cannabidiol products would not be allowed as prescriptions if we don’t change this language.”

HB 333 now goes to the Senate.

--END--

 

 

February 24, 2017

 

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Kentucky General Assembly’s 2017 session passes halfway mark

FRANKFORT -- With the first half of the General Assembly’s 2017 session in the rear view mirror, some of the session’s major bills have already passed into law while matters like criminal justice reform and education initiatives continue to make steady progress through the legislative process.

Further work on strengthening the state’s troubled public pension system was among the matters that advanced in the House of Representatives this week. Senate Bill 2, which the House approved on a 99-0 vote, is aimed at making state retirement system more transparent and accountable.

The legislation would provide better oversight of those serving on state retirement system boards, tighten requirements for investment experience, and hold retirement system board members, staff and investment advisers to the same standard code of conduct followed by the larger investment community. It would also codify a reorganization of the Kentucky Retirement Systems board that was called for in an executive order issued by the governor last year. Senate Bill 2 now returns to the Senate for final passage.

In the Senate, a major higher education bill was among the measures that advanced this week. Senate Bill 20 would direct that universities be funded in accordance with performance-based measures that align with Kentucky’s top postsecondary education goals.

Supporters of the legislation say it will phase out a funding model that, instead of basing funding on educational success, bases it on how much a school received in a previous budget cycle.

The legislation is the result of a work group made up of the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, university presidents, state budget officials and legislators. The group’s final report endorsed the Council on Postsecondary Education’s goal of raising the percentage of Kentuckians with postsecondary degrees or certificates from the current level of 45 percent to 58 percent by 2025.

Under Senate Bill 153, the postsecondary funding formula would appropriate 35 percent of funds based on student success tied to outcomes, 35 percent would be tied to total student credit hours, and 30 percent would be based on supporting vital campus operations.

The funding model established by SB 153 would be phased in over several years. A postsecondary work group would review the results of the new funding approach every three years to see if it is successful and make recommendations to the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 153 was approved by the Senate on a 36-1 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.

Other bills that took steps forward this week include the following:

         House Bill 13 would authorize $10.5 million in state bond funds for construction of a state veterans’ nursing home in Bowling Green. Kentucky’s four state veterans’ nursing homes are currently in Hazard, Wilmore, Hanson and Radcliff.  The measure passed the House and has been sent to the Senate.

         Senate Bill 120 would help make sure that who leave prison can successfully rejoin society and turn away from crime. The legislation includes improved reentry substance abuse supervision and would remove government licensing restrictions in order to expand job opportunities for those with records. The bill passed the Senate and now goes to the House for consideration.

         House Bill 112 would protect landlords from liability if a tenant’s dog bites someone. The bill was approved by the House and delivered to the Senate for consideration.

         House Bill 180 would allow children removed from their homes by the state to be placed with a close family friend, such as a neighbor or babysitter, even if that person isn’t related by birth, adoption or marriage. The measure was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and now awaits action in the full Senate.

         House Bill 241 would specify in statute that a student-athlete suspected of sustaining a concussion can not return to a practice or competition until cleared by a physician to do so. The legislation was approved by the House and has been delivered to the Senate for consideration.

With so many big issues moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers and share their views on the issues that will be voted on in the days to come. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to the General Assembly.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

--END--

 

February 24, 2017

 

Gang violence prevention bill passes state House, 91-3

FRANKFORT—Children ages 11 and 12 and even younger are being recruited by criminal gangs in Kentucky, Rep. Robert Benvenuti told the state House today as he explained his bill to crack down on gangs and gang violence.

“It’s about protecting children who are extremely vulnerable in our Commonwealth. Because if you’re dead, there’s nowhere else for you to go. It’s over,” Benvenuti, R-Lexington, an attorney and former Inspector General of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said before the House voted 91-3 to pass House Bill 315. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

HB 315 would use many approaches to rout out criminal gang activity including felony penalties for criminal gang recruitment, with stiffer penalties for adults 18 and older who recruit children under age 15 to join gangs and require children who do join to commit a crime, said Benvenuti. Anyone, he said, of any age, who intentionally encourages someone to join a criminal gang would face misdemeanor or felony charges for repeat offenses.

The bill would also set minimum sentencing requirements for certain misdemeanors committed by criminal gang members if the defendant is found “beyond a reasonable doubt” to have been a gang member when the crime was committed, he said. Those convicted of a felony that endangered the safety of the public and was committed by a criminal gang member would also face stronger penalties and be required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, with some exceptions for juveniles.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, an attorney, said there are some low-level misdemeanors in the bill that would bring stiffer penalties if committed in connection with criminal gang activity. (Some of the misdemeanors listed include fourth-degree assault, menacing, and second-degree wanton endangerment.) When asked why they were included, Benvenuti said those misdemeanors are considered by law enforcement to be most often associated with gang crime.

“These would be the most effective in stopping that low-level criminal gang activity,” he told Cantrell.

Remaining provisions of the bill would levy stricter sentencing requirements for members of criminal gang syndicates (defined as three or more people acting as a criminal gang), allow the courts to hold hearings to determine if someone arrested for a gang-related offense was a member of a criminal gang or acting in a gang’s interest at the time of the crime, and give victims of criminal gang activity the ability to sue for damages.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said while there is no “perfect bill” to address problems like those HB 315 attempts to address, the bill is “a step in giving tools to law enforcement to intervene in young lives.” She said she hopes the General Assembly will also consider increasing funding for other tools that can be used in the fight against crimes, tools that she said include local school-based Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSCs) and “wraparound services” for families that improve quality of life.

HB 315 contains an emergency clause, which would make the provisions in the bill effective immediately after the bill is signed by the governor or otherwise becomes law. 

--END--

 

February 23, 2017

 

Senate pension transparency bill nears final passage

FRANKFORT—A bill that could slow the financial hemorrhaging of the state’s public pension systems by improving system transparency and performance advanced today after passing the Kentucky House 99-0.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, would provide better oversight of those serving on state retirement system boards, tighten requirements for investment experience, and hold retirement system board members, staff and investment advisers to the same standard code of conduct followed by the larger investment community, said Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge.

It also includes provisions to require that investment expense and return reporting be completed on a quarterly basis and preserve a ban so-called “placement agents” –individuals who help fund managers with financing—among others.

Linder, who chairs the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Personnel, Public Retirement, and Finance and serves on the legislative Public Pension Oversight Board, called SB 2 a true pension transparency bill.

“I think most of us in this body would agree that the two main problems that face the commonwealth at this moment in time are heroin and our unfunded pension liability. Billions and billions and billions of dollars in unfunded liability,” said Linder.  SB 2, he said, will help to fix some of the problems the state retirement systems face.

“This is good government at work. This is compromise. It’s a good government bill,” said Linder.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who represents thousands of state employees and retirees, said the bill isn’t perfect. But, he said, SB 2 “is a bill which I think all of us can agree upon.”

SB 2 now returns to the Senate for final passage.

--END--

 

February 23, 2017

 

Bill to fund state’s fifth veterans’ nursing home advances

FRANKFORT—A bill that would authorize $10.5 million in state bond funds for construction of Kentucky’s fifth veterans’ nursing home passed the state House today by a vote of 99-0.

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, the sponsor of House Bill 13, said the bond funds are a required match for $19.5 million in federal funds slated to build the 90-bed state veterans’ nursing facility in Bowling Green. Kentucky’s other state veteran’s nursing facilities are located in Hazard, Wilmore, Hanson and Radcliff.

The Bowling Green facility—which would serve a 17-county area in south central Kentucky—is approved for funding “as long as we have our state matching money,” said Meredith.

The bill was amended to encourage that any future beds allocated by the federal government or reallocated by the state for a state veterans’ nursing home be set aside for Magoffin County, where plans are underway to locate a sixth state veterans’ nursing home.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, the sponsor of the amendment, said that it will help meet the needs of veterans in East Kentucky.

“Every veteran comes out a winner,” Blanton said. 

HB 13 has an emergency clause, which means the bill would become law immediately after it is signed by the governor or otherwise becomes law.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 23, 2017

 

Senate approves performance-based funding formula for universities

FRANKFORT -- Postsecondary education funding would be guided by performance-based measures, such as the number of students receiving degrees, under legislation approved yesterday by the Kentucky Senate.

Supporters of the legislation say it will phase out a funding model that, instead of basing funding on educational success, bases it on how much a school received in a previous budget cycle.

The goal of Senate Bill 153 “is to change this funding model, to refocus us on that goal of degree attainment,” said House President Pro Tem David Givens, who is a primary sponsor of the legislation, along with Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

The legislation is the result of a work group made up of the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, university presidents, state budget officials and legislators. The group’s final report endorsed the Council on Postsecondary Education’s goal of raising the percentage of Kentuckians with postsecondary degrees or certificates from the current level of 45 percent to 58 percent by 2025.

Under Senate Bill 153, the postsecondary funding formula would appropriate 35 percent of funds based on student success tied to outcomes, 35 percent would be tied to total student credit hours, and 30 percent would be based on supporting “vital campus operations and student support,” Givens said.

Prior to voting in favor of the bill, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, described himself as “a tuition-paying parent” who’s grateful that the state supports its universities. But he said university funding has lacked accountability. “The universities are going to have to compete in order to get us up to the national standard in degree attainment and the thresholds included in this bill,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he supported the legislation and commended those who worked on it, but expressed some reservations.

“We can talk about performance-based funding and all the different goals that are set out in the bill … but the simple fact of the matter is that unless this General Assembly is willing to put more money into postsecondary education as we go forward, the cost of a college degree will only continue to increase for tens of thousands of Kentucky students who want to better their lives,” Jones said.

The funding model established by SB 153 would be phased in over several years.

”This four-year phase-in before we reach full implementation provides us a period of confidence that the model is working correctly and provides stability for these institutions as they move into what is a bold but very appropriate new funding model,” Givens said.

The bill also calls for a postsecondary work group to review the results of the new funding approach every three years to see if it is successful and make recommendations to the General Assembly.

The Senate approved the bill on a 36-1 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

--END--

 

February 22, 2017

 

House votes to give landlords relief under state dog bite law

FRANKFORT—Landlords now held liable when a tenant’s dog bites someone would receive some relief under a bill that advanced today in the Kentucky House.

House Bill 112, sponsored by Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, would effectively remove landlords from liability for their tenants’ dogs under the state’s dog bite laws by redefining a dog owner as someone who both keeps and cares for a dog on property that the person both occupies and owns or leases. Current law does not specifically include tenants under the definition of dog owner.

Lee said the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 87-9, would give landlords the same protection they enjoyed under Kentucky’s dog bite laws prior to 2012 when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in the case of Benningfield v. Zinsmeister. The landlord in that case was found responsible “despite the fact that landlord had made an effort to go to his leased tenant and say ‘please remove that dog,’” said Lee.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, an insurance agent, said he supports HB 112. Greer said he has had clients who own rental property struggle with the current law even in cases where tenants agreed in writing that they would not have a dog.

“If they get a dog later, what bothers me is my insureds … are held accountable. I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg. Hatton said there is no protection for dog bite victims under the legislation.

“If six pit bulls were trained to kill and let run loose by a tenant, there’s no liability. There’s no protection under this legislation for any person who’s injured by a dog…” she said.

HB 112 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

February 22, 2017

 

Senate panel approves measure to increase options for kids who need homes

FRANKFORT – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee today approved a bill that would allow children removed from their homes by the state to be placed with a close family friend.

House Bill 180 would allow people with emotionally significant relationships to children to be among those with whom a child could be placed in an emergency. Such people, considered “fictive kin” by the bill, includes those who have a close relationship with a child, but aren’t related by birth, adoption or marriage.

“Often, when a child has to be removed from a home, there is another alternative, perhaps that is someone who has meaningful relationship with that child but is not a member of their immediate family,” said Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, the sponsor of House Bill 180.

The legislation is a simple, but helpful, said Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Families and Health Services.

“It increases the universe of people who the cabinet can place a child with in an emergency situation,’ Feeley said. “Many times, in an emergency situation where children have to be removed because the parents have drug problems or domestic violence, there might be a babysitter, a church member, a family friend, who is known to the child, who the child is comfortable with.”

House Bill 180 “gives the cabinet the ability to do a quick background check on that individual and place the child with that individual. … This is better for the children in that they can stay in a home they are comfortable in or already know rather than going to strangers in what is already a traumatic situation,” Feeley said.

Kentucky First Lady Glenna Bevin appeared at today’s committee meeting in support of the bill. She was praised for her support of measures to help children by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.

“We appreciate you so much and for this being your platform and the thing you advocate for,” Kerr said. “You have turned your inspiration into perspiration very personally for a long, long time and we appreciate you taking this and inspiring us.”

House Bill 180 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

February 22, 2017

 

Senate panel approves bill to make some military surplus vehicles street legal

FRANKFORT -- In an effort to make it possible for citizens to title and license certain military surplus vehicles like Humvees, the Senate Transportation Committee today unanimously passed Senate Bill 176.

“It is basically taking care of a problem that was brought to me by one of my constituents,” said Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris.

West told committee members the bill would give citizens who purchase certain military surplus vehicles a way to make them street legal. The bill would set up a way to get them licensed, titled and ensure that they’ve been retrofitted as needed and have seat belts installed. 

The proposed legislation calls for military surplus vehicles to be inspected before they are titled. Additionally, a new inspection form for the vehicles will be created and a military surplus vehicle will be defined as a motor vehicle.

The bill now goes to the Senate for full consideration.

--END--

 

February 21, 2017

 

Opioid education bill passes House, heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill to require lessons for public school students from elementary through high school about the dangers of prescription pain killers and addiction cleared the House today by a vote of 97-0.

Recommendations for a prescription opioid abuse prevention curriculum would be developed by the state Office of Drug Control Policy and published on the Kentucky Department of Education’s website for school districts to access under House Bill 145, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville.

“We’re facing a crisis situation,” Tipton told the House before the vote on HB 145. This bill “will not eliminate this problem but I truly believe that it’s a step in the right direction of providing the information and education our young people need.”

Prescription opioids—including drugs like morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl—are strong and frequently addictive painkillers used to treat moderate to severe pain. They have also been tied to dozens of overdose deaths, according to news reports.

HB 145 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 21, 2017

 

Bill to fund new veterans’ nursing home clears committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would authorize $10.5 million in state bond funds for construction of a 90-bed state veterans’ nursing home in Bowling Green is one step closer to becoming law.

House Bill 13, sponsored by Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, advanced to the floor of the Kentucky House after receiving the approval of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee today. The bill’s supporters say the bond funds are required to match $19.5 million in federal funding for the proposed facility.

The Bowling Green facility would serve veterans in 17 south central Kentucky counties and is the only proposed federal veterans’ nursing home in the state with a funding application approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Meredith told the committee. The facility would be the fifth veterans’ nursing home in Kentucky, with other facilities now located in Hazard, Wilmore, Hanson and Radcliff.

“We are already approved for federal funding as long as we have our state matching money,” said Meredith, adding that work to get funding for the home began four years ago. “There are no other facilities in the state that have an application that has been submitted and approved by the federal government.”

“It’s my understanding … we can only have one facility on that active funding list at one time and Bowling Green is already there,” he said.

But there is a movement underway to fund another state veterans’ nursing home, specifically in Magoffin County. Two bills have been filed this session by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, to help make that possible: HB 140, which would authorize state bond funds for the construction of the facility, and HB 139 which would prohibit federal or state bond funds from being authorized for construction of a state veterans’ nursing home unless the facility accommodates “the total unused number of beds allotted” to the state by the federal government. Supporters of HB 139 say that number is 137 beds, 47 more than are slated for the Bowling Green home.

House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, emphasized to the committee that there is a need for veterans’ nursing care in Eastern Kentucky, too.

“The information we’ve received for East Kentucky really shows a need as well, as a matter … there was a very attractive piece of property that was donated ready for the site,” said Adkins. “I still need to have some questions answered.”  

HB 13 has an emergency clause, which means the bill would become law immediately after it is signed by the governor or otherwise becomes law.


--END--

 

 

February 17, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

February 13 – 17, 201

FRANKFORT -- Headlines in recent days have made it clear that Kentucky’s problems with heroin, other illegal opioids and prescription drug abuse, continue to take lives and devastate communities at a shocking rate.

In-state newspapers have recently reported the more than 52 drug overdoses occurred over a 32-hour period in Louisville, and nine overdose calls came in over 12 hours in Madison County. A national publication reported that one rural Kentucky county filled enough prescriptions over 12 months to supply 150 doses of painkillers to every person in the county.

The same conversations held across the state about the way the drug crisis is impacting the court system, police, health care workers, treatment facilities, social workers, prison officials and families are also being held in the State Capitol. Those deliberations resulted in a number of bills aimed at addressing the issue, including several bills that took steps forward in the legislative process this week.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 14, which is aimed at getting drug dealers off the streets by strengthening penalties for trafficking in heroin and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. Under the legislation, which was approved on a 36-0 vote, trafficking in less than two grams of these substances would be elevated to a Class C felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison.

Later in the week, a pair of bills addressing the drug crises were also approved in the House committees.

House Bill 333 would make it a felony to illegally sell or distribute any amount of fentanyl, carfentanil – a powerful opioid intended for large animals – and related drugs. Trafficking any amount of these drugs could result in up to 10 years in prison under the legislation. The bill would also restrict prescriptions for some painkillers to a three-day supply, though exceptions would be allowed in some circumstances. House Bill 333 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now goes to the full House for consideration.

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 145, which would help fight opioid addiction by requiring that public school students be educated about the dangers of prescription pain killers and their connection to addiction to heroin and other drugs

Bills on other issues that advanced in the General Assembly this week include the following:

         Senate Bill 1 is a sweeping education reform measure that sets the course to change educational standards and accountability for public schools. The more than 100-page-long bill is an omnibus measure aimed at empowering state education officials, locally-elected school board members and teachers to decide the best teaching methods for their communities. It would set up several committees and advisory panels to review educational standards. The bill would change how students are tested, and it would also set up a new way for intervening in low-performing schools by placing more power in the local school district during those interventions. The bill passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.

 

         House Bill 14 would give police, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel protection under the state’s hate crime statutes. Under the bill, those who assault, kidnap, or commit certain other violent offenses against first responders could face stricter sentencing in court. Currently only the legally-protected classes of race, color, religion and national origin, as well as sexual orientation, are covered under the state’s hate crime statute. House Bill 14 passed the House on a 77-13-1 vote and has been sent to the Senate.

 

         Senate Bill 78 would require public schools across Kentucky would to go smoke-free by next school year. The bill would outlaw the use of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, on elementary, middle and high school campuses in addition to buses. The bill was approved by the Senate on a 25-8-2 and has been sent to the House.

 

         Senate Bill 75 would increase the amount donors can contribute to election campaigns. Under the legislation, individuals and political action committees could donate $2,000 in the primary and general elections in Kentucky– up from the $1,000 limit. The bill passed the Senate on a 27-10 vote and has been delivered to the House.

 

         House Bill 192 would make it easier for 16- and 17-year-olds in foster care to apply for driver’s permits and driver’s licenses. The bill, which passed 96-0 before being sent to the Senate,  would allow those in foster care to get a driver’s license or permit without requiring them to have a parent’s or other adult’s signature on the permit or license applications.

Members of the General Assembly are eager to receive feedback on the issues under consideration. 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--

 

February 17, 2017

Education reform passes the Senate’s test

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate passed a measure today that could result in the rewriting of public school lesson plans and tests in favor of a locally-centric form of educating.

After the approval of Senate Bill 1, dubbed the let the teacher teach act, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, hailed the moment as the day in which Kentucky set a successful course for its public school curriculum.

“Our No. 1 resource is our children,” said Wilson, the primary sponsor of the bill. “They will be the future leaders sitting here one day when we are gone.”

Wilson said the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 paved the way for the passage of SB 1 in Kentucky. The federal act stated that states do not have to follow Common Core, a set of academic standards in mathematics, English language, arts and literacy. Wilson said SB 1 would take advantage of this development by empowering state education officials, locally-elected school board members and teachers to decide the best teaching methods for their communities. In essence, it could change what students are taught and how.

Wilson said SB 1 would “purge” language from a series of federal education initiatives going back nearly two decades, including the No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top, that has left state education law an unmanageable patchwork of education theory du jour.

This doesn’t mean Kentucky is abandoning quality control, Wilson said. The more than 100-page-long SB 1 is an omnibus measure that would utilize Kentucky teachers to create new standards that are rigorous and ensure students are prepared for the industries operating in their communities. The bill sets up several committees and advisory panels to review the standards.

SB 1 would also change how students are tested. Wilson said local educators would be able to align what is taught with what is tested. He said it would allow teachers to stop wasting valuable learning time ”teaching to the test,” a colloquial term for a teaching style that is heavily focused on preparing students for a standardized test.

Wilson said SB 1 further empowers teachers by replacing school self-evaluations called Program Reviews that bog down educators with onerous paperwork. It would also set up a new way for intervening in low-performing schools by placing more power in the local school district during those interventions.

“It allows educators to do what they feel like that are called to do, and love to do, which is teach our children,” he said. “Teachers invest in our future – and nobody does it better.”

It was the second session in a row that an education reform bill was given the designation as Senate Bill 1, a designation usually reserved for the Senate president’s top legislative priority. While last year’s version passed out of the Senate with a 25-12 vote before stalling in the state House of Representatives, this year’s version passed with a 35-0 vote.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the measure picked up votes this year because of the collaborative approach of Wilson, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. Wilson said he was aware he had talked extensively about education reform to anyone who would listen – and some that probably didn’t want to listen – for the last two years.

Passages of the measure were changed to alleviate last year’s concerns from Kentucky’s arts community that high schoolers would be able to meet arts credit requirements by taking classes such as computer programming. Also gone from the measure is language that would have created “bands” of similar schools that would be used for comparing academic growth.

The changes brought Senate Minority Whip Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort to rise in support of SB 1.

“The reason you don’t see anyone standing to question this bill at this point is because this bill has been explained in detail to each and every one of us separately from this day and we have had our questions answered,” he said. “Because of that, we are in strong support of this bill.”

Sen. Gerald N. Neal, D-Louisville, said Wilson’s bipartisan approach should be lauded.

“This is exactly how this body should function,” Neal said. “(Wilson’s) approach to this was to include individuals in the process. But the most remarkable thing he did was to listen, and he listened well.”

SB 1 now advances to the state House of Representatives for considering.

-- END --

 

February 16, 2017

 

Accessible parking abuser: You may lose your spot

FRANKFORT – State senators moved today to crack down on able-bodied drivers who use parking placards intended for those with disabilities.

By a 35-0 vote, senators approved Senate Bill 61 to curtail what was described as nothing short of an explosion in the number of the placards being issued. Kentucky saw a 506 percent increase in the number of the placards in 2009 when fees for the item were dropped. Kentucky went from issuing 33,000 in 2008 to issuing more than 200,000 the following year.

“This bill addresses the abuse and fraud that has happened over the years,” said Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, who sponsored the bill. “Last year, the state issued just over 283,000 placards.”

In a Senate Transportation Committee meeting chaired by Harris earlier this week, a disabled person testified about difficulty in trying to find accessible spaces. He recounted how his van was vandalized when he had to double park in order to have enough space to extend his wheelchair ramp at a Kentucky mall during the busy Christmas holiday.

Harris said SB 61 would allow the issuance of one placard per person that could be transferable between vehicles. The bill also would take the responsibility of determining if someone legitimately needs a placard out of county clerk hands by requiring a doctor’s note.

Permanent blue-colored placards would cost $10 while temporary red-colored placards would be half that amount, Harris said. The placards would be valid for six years instead of the current two years.

SB 61 also calls for transportation cabinet officials to monitor state-issued death certificates to ensure able-bodies drivers do not use placards issued to the dead.

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, said he really gets irked when he sees drivers with the placards who spring out of their cars like spring chickens at his local convenience store.

“It’s time to tighten the law up some,” Carroll said. “This bill does it and I ask you to vote for it.”

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

-- END --

 

 

February 16, 2017

 

Fentanyl crackdown bill clears House committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would make it a felony to illegally sell or distribute any amount of fentanyl, carfentanil and related drugs tied to an increase in drug overdoses in Kentucky has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

Trafficking in any amount of fentanyl, a pain killer now frequently imported for illegal street sales, and drugs derived from fentanyl as well as carfentanil—a large animal anesthetic said to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine---would carry up to 10 years in prison under House Bill 333, sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill. Trafficking over certain amounts of the drugs could carry even longer sentences.

The bill would also make fentanyl derivatives—which potentially number 800 or more, state officials say--part of the same class of drugs as heroin and LSD. Those drugs are classified as Schedule I by the federal DEA which describes the drugs as having no “currently accepted medical use.”

“Whatever (fentanyl derivative) is thrown at us in the future will be a Schedule I controlled substance under Kentucky law,” if HB 333 passes, Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram told the committee.

Fentanyl, carfentanil and fentanyl derivatives are being mixed with heroin and sold on the street as heroin or other drugs. Some cities and counties have experienced dozens of overdoses in the span of a day or two because of the potency of the drugs which, Ingram said, can be disguised as pharmaceuticals like Xanax or Percocet.

“The business model for drug cartels is to mix fentanyl with heroin and make it look like (something else),” said Ingram. “It’s a much better ---- for them. It’s a very deadly situation for our population.”

HB 333 would also create a felony offense called trafficking in a misrepresented controlled substance for those who pass off carfentanil, fentanyl or fentanyl derivatives as an actual pharmaceutical, like Xanax. 

Another provision in the bill would limit prescriptions for fentanyl to a three-day supply with few exceptions, said Moser. Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Pikeville, questioned how the legislation would prevent someone from getting another dose from another physician after receiving their three days’ worth. Moser said the KASPER system, which tracks prescriptions written in Kentucky for all scheduled drugs, is still in place to monitor what is prescribed.

“This language does not preclude the fact that physicians have to document with the PDMPs or prescription drug monitoring programs. KASPER is still a way to monitor… that’s still a requirement,” said Moser.

HB 333 now goes to the full House for consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 15, 2017

 

Senate moves to snuff out smoking in schools

FRANKFORT – Public schools across Kentucky would have to go smoke free by next school year under legislation the state Senate passed by a 25-8-2 vote today.

Senate Bill 78, dubbed tobacco-free schools bill, would outlaw the use of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, on elementary, middle and high school campuses, said bill sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester.  He added that the ban would extend to school trips and school buses.

“It is time for Kentucky to step up to the plate and protect its kids,” said Alvarado, who is also a physician. “Let’s get our children healthier. Let’s save taxpayer money. Let’s save some Kentucky lives.”

He said 16.9 percent of Kentucky high school students smoke regularly compared to 15.1 percent of U.S. adults.

“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” Alvarado said. “A strongly enforced tobacco-free school policy can prevent or delay students from using tobacco. Some studies have shown up to a 30 percent reduction in student smoking.

“Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism. Exposer to secondhand smoke is one of the leading triggers of asthma attacks. Youth who smoke report more respiratory problems and illnesses than their non-smoking peers.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, asked whether state legislators wanted to mandate from Frankfort what locally-elected school boards must do.

“I would urge members to think about this,” said Hornback, who voted against the bill.

School boards can decide for themselves under current laws. And just over half of Kentucky’s public-school students are in school districts with tobacco-free policies. That is 62 of the state’s 173 districts, covering 654 schools.

Hornback also asked if a student would be in violation of the ban if they drove to school with a pack of cigarettes in their car. Alvarado said it would be a violation, but added that school boards set the penalty.

Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, said he passed on SB 78 out of concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation. He said smokers may not purchase tickets to school sporting events if they can’t light up. That would hurt revenue for cash-strapped districts, said Turner, a former high school basketball coach.

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

-- END --

 

 

February 15, 2017

 

Foster youth driver’s license bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in foster care could apply for driver’s permits and driver’s licenses under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. Larry Brown, R-Prestonsburg, said the bill will give foster children access to the same rite of passage that most teenagers enjoy—the ability to get a driver’s license or permit—without requiring them to have a parent’s or other adult’s signature on the permit or license applications.

Brown said teens in foster care could sign permit or license applications for themselves as long as the application is verified by the state and the teenager has proof of insurance.

“Foster youth are very disadvantaged in this respect because most of them have to wait until they turn 18 to be able to get a driver’s license. This will allow them to do so on their own signature,” said Brown.  

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, described the bill as a positive step for Kentucky’s foster youth.

Foster youth “have felt like there is a stigma attached because all of their peers were able to get driver’s licenses but they just had an ID that basically said who they were,” said Marzian.

HB 192 passed by a vote of 96-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

February 14, 2017

 

Public benefit corporation bill heads to Senate

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House has voted 78-17 for a bill that would allow public benefit corporations to do business in the Commonwealth.

Should House Bill 35 become law, Kentucky would become one of more than 31 states that allow for the creation of public benefit corporations-- companies that make investments in a public benefit, or public good, part of their corporate philosophy while maximizing profits, said HB 35 sponsor Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville.

Miller said “value investments” made by public benefit corporations totaled around $4 billion in 2012 alone.

“This is something that Kentucky needs,” Miller said. “Public benefits that currently have to be provided by government can be met by public benefit corporations that are interested in creating long term value and in serving the public.”

There are now Kentucky companies that have an interest in becoming public benefit corporations, he told the House, including software company MobileServe in Louisville, Victory Hemp in Campbellsburg and others. The bill may even bring companies back to Kentucky that are now in other states, he said. Rubicon Global, a full-service Atlanta-based waste and recycling company founded by Kentuckian Nate Morris, could be one of those companies, Miller explained.

Morris “has recently become very active in the Gatton School at the University of Kentucky, and I hope that if we pass this legislation, companies like Rubicon Global and others will bring their business here,” said Miller. 

Concerns about the bill were raised by Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, who asked Miller how it is determined that a corporation’s values are a public benefit. Miller said those values are laid out in the company’s bylaws and articles of incorporation and can cover a variety of goals.

Gooch said he still doesn’t understand the necessity for the legislation. “We’re setting up a totally different type of corporation here, maybe even before we determine what the public benefit is.”

HB 35 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.  

--END--

 

February 14, 2017

 

House panel OKs school-based opioid abuse prevention bill

FRANKFORT—Students could soon be learning about the dangers of prescription pain killer abuse under a bill that cleared the House Education Committee today.

House Bill 145, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, would require that elementary, middle and high school students be educated on the dangers of prescription opioid painkiller abuse and on the connection between prescription opioids and addiction to heroin and other drugs. Recommendations for a prescription opioid abuse prevention curriculum would be developed by the state Office of Drug Control Policy and published on the state Department of Education’s website.

Prescription opioids—which include drugs like morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl—are strong and addictive painkillers used to treat moderate to severe pain. They have also been tied to dozens of overdose deaths including two that Tipton was made aware of in recent days.

While he admitted HB 145 will not completely solve the drug epidemic, Tipton described the bill as “common sense” legislation that is needed to protect children in today’s drug culture.

“They are exposed to it every day, and they need to be properly educated. Hopefully this legislation will prevent some deaths in the future,” Tipton said.

Speaking in favor of HB 145 was Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, who said drug education is important--although she would like to see parents more involved in the drug education process.

“The parents are the first line of defense,” said Marzian. “I hope at some point we could include maybe adult ed classes or amend (the legislation) and say materials could be sent to the parents… You have to have the parent involved.”

Tipton said school-based prescription opioid abuse prevention education is working in other states.  In Ohio, students in elementary through high school receive age-appropriate training in the responsible use of drugs and medications, he told the committee.

HB 145 now goes to the full House for consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 8, 2017

 

Bill to make attacks on first responders a hate crime clears panel

FRANKFORT—Police, fire fighters and emergency medical services personnel would be added to those protected under Kentucky’s hate crime statute if a bill passed by a House committee today becomes law.

Under House Bill 14, sponsored by House Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, those who assault, kidnap, or commit certain other violent offenses against first responders could face stricter sentencing in court. Currently only the legally-protected classes of race, color, religion and national origin, as well as sexual orientation, are covered under the state’s hate crime statute.

“I just think we need to show if you attack one of our first responders, you’re going to get the full brunt of the law,” Bratcher said.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, voted against the bill in committee. She said she understands the urge to pass the bill as a “philosophical pat on the back,” but said real help for officers would come from safeguarding their pensions and reducing gun and drug crime.

Speaking in favor of HB 14 was Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who said the bill would offer first responders protection under the law even when they are not “engaged,” or involved in a physical action, with a suspect.

“We’re not talking about a situation where a police officer is involved in an action—there are already crimes for that when they are killed or injured,” said Benvenuti. “We’re talking about executions of individuals because of the shield they have on their chest. Nobody… ought to be subject to execution because they put on a badge in the morning.”

HB 14 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

--END--

 

 

February 1, 2017

 

“Big Four” agriculture programs receive big support from state

FRANKFORT—Over $4.1 million in Kentucky agricultural development funds were recently approved for four programs that have earned the nickname “the Big Four” from state agricultural officials because of their statewide impact.  

Kentucky Proud, the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, Kentucky Beef Network and the Kentucky Horticulture Council were approved for $1,657,750, $1,003,675, $909,500 and $617,500 respectively at the Dec. 2016 meeting of the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (ADB), Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP) Deputy Executive Director Bill McCloskey told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee today.

“Each one of these projects … are required to meet with a committee of board members three times to review their progress, to go over their program goals (at least for 2017),” said McCloskey, with each project serving thousands of Kentuckians. Kentucky Proud serves over 3,800 members, the Kentucky Horticulture Council serves over 8,000, and the Beef Network has over 38,000 cattlemen on its rolls, according to the GOAP’s Annual Report for 2016.

Over at the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, staff work with the state’s 612 dairy producers to ensure profitability and competitiveness, GOAP officials told the committee. The KDDC has been challenged to visit every dairy producer in Kentucky at least once this year alone, said McCloskey.

GOAP Executive Director Warren Beeler said KDDC has helped Kentucky’s dairies maintain production of about one billion pounds of milk even as the number of dairies across the Commonwealth has dropped from 2,200 to 612.

“Progress has been off the charts,” he told lawmakers.

Looking back at the history of the ADB, Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, praised the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly’s move to diversify Kentucky agriculture with half of the state’s share of a multi-billion-dollar 1998 national tobacco settlement. Legislation passed by the state in 2000 has funneled over $450 million into Kentucky agriculture through the state’s Agricultural Development Fund, according to the GOAP, and Webb said that fund needs protection.

“Protect this fund. It’s dwindling, it’s not going to be here forever but we’ve got to protect this fund because, especially in times of recession or budget crisis, everybody looks at our tobacco fund,” said Webb. “The way I look at this committee is to protect our mission.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, a freshman Senator who is new to the committee, said he would “like to put Sen. Webb’s concerns to rest” in regards to protection of tobacco settlement funds for Kentucky agriculture.

“I’m on board, and I certainly will do everything to protect the integrity of this fund and this program. Congratulations on the success you’ve had. People notice,” said Meredith. 

--END--

 

 

January 7, 2017

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Jan. 7, 2017

 

FRANKFORT -- An endless variety of instruments may be used for power-wielding, politics and governance. But the tool of choice for enshrining a historic shift of power in Kentucky this week was a Phillips-head screwdriver.

Just minutes after lawmakers convened the General Assembly’s 2017 session on Tuesday, a Capitol caretaker walked to the front of the House chamber with screwdriver in hand. After a minute’s worth of twisting screws into the mahogany of the Speaker’s rostrum, he stepped away and the gaze of a standing-room-only chamber fell upon his handiwork.

There, for the first time in 96 years, the name on the bronze nameplate affixed to the chamber’s focal point was a Republican’s. The moment highlighted that Kentucky has, for the first time, Republican control of both legislative chambers, as well as the governor’s office.

This ascendency of Rep. Jeff Hoover to the House Speaker’s chair and the arrival of a new Republican 64-member supermajority in the House this week certainly marked the turning of page in Kentucky politics. But, though there were moments of celebration and pageantry, the session’s first week wasn’t all about fanfare, or settling in, or even getting accustomed to the new dynamics in Frankfort. It was largely about action.

Over the course of five days, members of the Kentucky House and Senate pushed seven significant bills through the legislative process and delivered them to Gov. Matt Bevin’s office. Because emergency clauses were added to the bills, each one will go into effect the moment the governor signs his name to them.

What will the newest laws in our commonwealth do? They will affect pregnant women, unborn children, economic development officials and job recruiters, members of labor unions, university students, construction workers, manufacturers, open government advocates and citizens in every corner of this state. More specifically:

         Senate Bill 3 will expand openness in government by making information about the retirement benefits of state lawmakers available for public viewing.

         Senate Bill 5 will prohibit a woman from having an abortion if she is 20 weeks or more into a pregnancy.

         Senate Bill 6 will prevent employees from being enrolled in labor organizations or having money withheld from their earnings for union dues unless they give permission in writing.

         Senate Bill 12 will reorganize the University of Louisville board of trustees by establishing a new, 10-member board.

         House Bill 1 will make Kentucky a right-to-work state. Under this measure, membership in a labor union would optional instead of mandatory for workers at unionized workplaces.

         House Bill 2 will require a woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an obstetric ultrasound and receive a medical explanation of what that ultrasound shows. Women could decline to see the ultrasound images if they choose.

         House Bill 3 will repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. That action will remove a guaranteed base wage to construction workers on certain public works projects.

In other business this week, lawmakers took care of matters typically required before they can start passing laws, such as adopting rules and electing leadership, which included the re-election of Sen. Robert Stivers as president of the Senate.

Senate and House members have now wrapped up the first part of the 2017 session and will return to their home districts for a scheduled break. They will come back to the Capitol on Feb. 7 to convene the second part of the session.

If you would like to offer feedback on the issues confronting Kentucky, you can share your thoughts with state lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

January 7, 2017

Seven bills passed today by General Assembly, sent to governor

FRANKFORT—Seven bills were given final passage today by the Kentucky General Assembly and delivered to the governor’s desk.

The bills, covering matters ranging from labor unions and their membership to changes in the state’s informed consent and abortion laws, all include an emergency provision to ensure that they take effect the moment they are signed by the governor. All seven bills were introduced on the first day of the 30-day 2017 Regular Session that began on Tuesday and received final passage within five days—the minimum time possible.

The legislation passed by the General Assembly and sent to Governor Matt Bevin for his signature are:

House Bill 1. HB 1, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would make Kentucky the nation’s 27th right-to-work state. Right-to-work states prohibit mandatory membership in or payment of dues to labor unions. HB 1 received final passage in the Senate by a vote of 25-12.

Senate Bill 3. SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, would require that the retirement benefits of current and former General Assembly members be made public. Disclosure would include the member’s name and estimated or actual monthly allowance. SB 3 received final passage in the House by a vote of 95-1.

House Bill 2. HB 2, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover and Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, would require a woman seeking an abortion to have an obstetric ultrasound of her baby explained to her by her health care provider before she could give required informed consent for an abortion. Women could decline to see the ultrasound image or hear the fetal heartbeat if they choose. HB 2 received final passage in the Senate by a vote of 32-5.

Senate Bill 5. SB 5, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would prohibit abortions in Kentucky at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill would not apply in cases where an abortion is required to save the life or prevent serious risk of permanent bodily harm to the mother. SB 5 received final passage in the House by a vote of 79-15.

House Bill 3. HB 3, sponsored by Speaker Hoover and Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law that dictates the hourly base wage for construction workers hired on for certain public works projects. HB 3 received final passage in the Senate by a vote of 25-12.

Senate Bill 6. SB 6, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, would require public or private employees (with some exceptions under federal law) to request membership in a labor union in writing before they can be enrolled in that organization. It also specifies that dues or fees paid to labor organizations cannot be withheld from earnings without employee approval. Existing agreements between employers, employees and labor unions made before the legislation takes effect would be exempt from the provisions. SB 6 received final passage in the House by a vote of 57-39.  

Senate Bill 12. SB 12, sponsored by Senate President Stivers, would abolish the current board of trustees of the University of Louisville and clarify the number of members allowed on the new board along with qualifications and conditions of membership. The bill would also require Kentucky Senate confirmation of board appointments. SB 12 received final passage in the House by a vote of 57-35.

The 2017 legislative session will adjourn today for a scheduled break and then re-convene on Tuesday, Feb. 7.  The session is scheduled to end on March 30.

--END--

 

 

January 6, 2017

 

Lawmakers adjust 2017 session calendar; will meet in session on Saturday

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will convene tomorrow (Saturday, January 7) under a change in the 2017 legislative calendar approved by legislative leaders.

After working tomorrow, lawmakers will return to their home districts and are scheduled to come back to Frankfort for the second part of the 2017 session on February 7.

The second part of the session is still scheduled for final adjournment, as originally planned, on March 30. However, under the recent change to the session schedule, March 9 has been added to the days on which lawmakers will not be gaveled into session.

The latest version of the 2017 session calendar can be viewed online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/calendars/17RS_calendar.pdf.

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January 6, 2017

 

Senate committee advances right-to-work bill

FRANKFORT -- Legislation that would make Kentucky a right-to-work state was approved today by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

The proposal, which would make membership in a labor union optional rather than mandatory for workers at unionized workplaces, now goes to the full Senate for consideration. The House of Representatives has already approved the measure, known as House Bill 1, a designation given to House leadership’s top priority bill.

Testifying in support of the measure at today’s meeting, House Speaker Jeff Hoover, a primary sponsor of HB 1, said the legislation would boost Kentucky’s labor market.

“Right-to-work is simply the name given to the ability of an employee to negotiate his or her wages and negotiate his or her benefits directly with the employer without being compelled to be a member of a labor union,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown. “I don’t see why government should stand in the way of a worker opting to not join and be given the ability to negotiate on their own if they so choose.”

“…Recent history proves that not only is passing right-to-work not a hindrance to labor union membership, it can actually help labor unions grow. For example, both Indiana and Tennessee … are right-to-work states and they have more union members today then what they had prior to enacting this legislation. That is simply because of the economic development that has been brought to those right-to-work states.”

Hoover said private sector employment grew 17.4 percent in right-to-work states between 2001 and 2013, more than double the 8.2 percent in states that don’t have right-to-work laws.

Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, a primary sponsor of HB 1, said Kentucky has lost job-creating opportunities to other states that have right-to-work laws. “The governor has an initiative to make Kentucky the epicenter of advanced manufacturing in the world. … There’s no reason why we can’t expand our economic opportunities by passing right-to-work legislation,” he said.

Opponents of right-to work legislation testified that Kentucky’s manufacturing sector is already strong compared to neighboring right-to-work states.

“Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that among all states, Kentucky already has the fifth-highest manufacturing employment as a share of total jobs,” said Anna Bauman, a research and policy associate for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “A larger share of Kentucky workers are in manufacturing than workers in both Virginia and Tennessee, two of our three neighbors with active right-to-work laws.”

Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, also testified against the right-to-work proposal, emphasizing that unions come to workplaces where a majority of eligible workers vote in favor of them.

“…Workers have a variety of options if they are unwilling to financially support or become union members,” he said. “They have the freedom not to seek employment in unionized workplaces if they are displeased that a union was voted in to a workplace by a majority vote. In such cases, the individual can seek employment in the 89 percent of workplaces in Kentucky that are not unionized.”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, predicted the state’s economy will quickly enjoy a boost if Kentucky becomes a right-to-work state.

“We will see the results very quickly across this commonwealth as the numbers, the leading economic indicators in this state, start pointing in the right direction,” he said.

House Bill 1 contains an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately upon being signed into law by the governor.

--END--

 

January 5, 2017

 

Right to work bill, repeal of prevailing wage pass House

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would make Kentucky the 27th right-to-work state by outlawing mandatory membership in a labor union as a condition of employment passed the House today by a vote of 58-39.

Supporters say House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would boost jobs by allowing employees to negotiate benefits and wages directly with their employers. Committee testimony on the bill yesterday said job growth in right-to-work states has been more than double that in non-right-to-work states like Kentucky in recent years.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, whose grandfather worked for 43 years in the coal mines, said he voted in support of HB 1 to try and bring jobs to his district where, he said, 3,000 people are out of work.

“I reluctantly vote yes,” said Fugate, adding some of his constituents are for right-to-work and some are against it. Fugate said he isn’t against unions, but “our coal miners are not working in the mountains in case anybody didn’t know that.”

“I’ll work my rear end off to make sure that I do everything I can for them to get jobs so they don’t have to move to another state or another place to provide for their families,” Fugate said.

Opponents of right-to-work legislation like HB 1, however, claim such bills weaken wages of the working and middle classes. Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively told House members that studies show right-to-work legislation hurts the wages of working men and women in Kentucky.

“I proudly stand with my union brothers and sisters and all workers across this Commonwealth and vote no,” said Jenkins.

Also passed by the House today was HB 3, sponsored by House Speaker Hoover and Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. That legislation, which passed the House 57-40, would repeal the state’s prevailing wage law which guarantees an hourly base “prevailing” wage to construction workers on certain public works projects. Koenig said the process for determining that base wage “is unlikely to yield wages that are representative of market wages.”

Koenig said the only reason the bill was filed is to save the taxpayers money. “That is our motivation for filing this bill,” he said.

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, who said prevailing wage was designed to ensure quality work done by local workers.

HB 1 and HB 3 now go to the Senate for its consideration. They both include emergency provisions, which make them take effect immediately if signed into law.

--END--

 

January 5, 2017

 

Senate approves ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy

FRANKFORT -- The state Senate today approved legislation that would prohibit a woman from having an abortion in Kentucky if she is 20 weeks or more into a pregnancy.

The legislation, Senate Bill 5, would “protect pain-capable children from the horror of having an abortion performed on them,” said a primary sponsor of the bill, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard.

Smith said books for expecting parents describe a 20-week-old fetus as capable of sucking its thumb, yawning, stretching, making faces and responding to pain.

SB 5 passed on a 30-6 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, was among the opponents of the measure, arguing that women should be able to make decisions on their pregnancies without the limitations of SB 5.

“My fear is that by adopting this bill that we’re going to ultimately go back to what we saw in the 50s and 60s when we had back-alley butcher shops to take care of situations rather than having a safe medical procedure,” Thomas said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, a primary sponsor of the legislation, says it focuses on the wellbeing of the unborn child. “We’re not just talking about these women who are seeking abortions. ... We’re talking about the child that is a life. That life deserves a chance to survive. Twenty weeks – that’s five months. … We’re not stopping anyone from getting an abortion. We’re not doing anything that gets in the way of (women’s) conversations with their partner, their spouse, their physician, their priest or minister. We’re not stopping any of that. But we are going to recognize that life exists there.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, a medical doctor, said that medical advances are reducing the age at which fetuses are viable, or able to survive outside the womb. “All we’re trying to do here with this bill is give those children an opportunity to survive,” he said.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, voted against SB 5 and urged lawmakers to focus on other issues. “One in four children in Kentucky are living in poverty and over 7,000 live in foster care. Our young people, if they are fortunate enough to graduate from college, come out with huge student loans and can’t find jobs. Four-hundred-thousand people may fall through the cracks and lose their health insurance. My question is: why do we spend our precious time in this body attacking a woman’s right to choose … when Kentucky faces so many more demanding issues?”

While casting his vote in favor of the legislation, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, also quoted statistics.

“We heard statistics earlier … But I want to say there are also statistics of 58,586,256 abortions that have been performed in the United States since 1973. That’s an average of over 1 million abortions per year,” he said.

SB 5 contains an emergency clause, which would make it effective immediately upon being signed into law by the governor.

--END--

 

January 5, 2017

 

Ultrasound bill passes KY House, goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Women seeking an abortion would be required to have an obstetric ultrasound and receive a medical explanation of what that ultrasound shows under a bill that today passed the state House of Representatives on an 83-12 vote.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, who is a primary sponsor of House Bill 2 along with House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the ultrasound proposal is about informed consent.

“In this Commonwealth, it is important that we give women full and informed consent. We have moved historically from a time when women were just given the bare information about medical procedures to making sure that we respect their autonomy and their decision-making process in issues…that impact their lives,” said Wuchner.

Any woman seeking an abortion would have to comply with the proposed ultrasound requirement before she could give informed consent for an abortion, according to the bill. Revised in 2016, Kentucky’s informed consent law requires women seeking an abortion to have an in-person or teleconferenced medical consult at least 24 hours before the procedure.

The bill would also require the woman’s physician or health care provider to display the ultrasound images to the woman and allow her to hear her fetus’ heartbeat, although the women would not have to look at the images or listen to the heartbeat. Signed certification would be placed in the woman’s medical record noting that she was presented with the required information and noting if she viewed the images and listened to the heartbeat or declined to do so.

No ultrasound would be required in cases of medical emergency where an abortion is considered a “medical necessity,” according to HB 2. Health care providers who do not comply with the requirement would face fines of $100,000 for a first offense and $250,000 for additional offenses.

Several floor amendments were proposed to the measure, including amendments to outlaw all forms of abortion in Kentucky, provide an exception to the proposed ultrasound requirement in cases of rape or incest and ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation. Each floor amendment called stalled on a procedural vote.

One freshman member who voted against HB 2 was Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, who said half of her constituents are female. “I have spent years mentoring women who are older than me, younger than me and in my own age group and have found the importance of trusting women to make their own decisions,” said Scott. 

Among those voting in favor of HB 2 was freshman member Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill. The former neo-natal intensive care nurse said HB 2 will give pregnant women a clear understanding of their medical condition so they can make informed decisions.

“As a medical professional, it is my obligation to ensure patients have accurate access to medical information regarding their medical diagnosis and that it should be available to them,” said Moser.  “It is with accurate information that a patient can make an informed decision regarding their treatment, whether it is treatment for a brain tumor requiring an MRI or a CT scan, or if it is to determine the health and the progress of a pregnancy through an ultrasound.”

HB 2 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

January 4, 2017


Repeal of prevailing wage law gets House panel's OK

FRANKFORT—A bill that would repeal a state law requiring payment of an hourly base wage—or prevailing wage—to workers on public works construction projects has passed a House committee.

House Bill 3, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, would apply to projects for which bids have not yet been awarded at the time the bill, should it pass, takes effect. An emergency clause included in HB 3 would ensure the bill takes effect immediately upon being signed into law by the governor.

Koenig, who presented HB 3 to the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee before the committee approved the bill today, said prevailing wage laws are “unlikely to yield rates that are representative of market wages.” They are also a financial strain on local governments and school districts, Koenig said, emphasizing that saving money was the motivation for filing HB 3.

The bill has the support of Boone County Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Poe who testified alongside Koenig. Poe told the committee that higher construction fees on prevailing wage projects have cost his school district as much as $50 million over the last 19 years.

“The higher fees we pay through prevailing wage keeps us from improving upon traditional space versus portable space (for) our students,” said Poe. “This is about creating more space for our students.”

Speaking against the bill was Bill Finn, the state director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council. Finn said that nine out of 11 economic studies since 2001 have showed no increase in overall construction costs due to prevailing wage. “Twenty three percent is the entire pie that prevailing wage affects,” said Finn.

HB 3 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

--END--

 

January 4, 2017


Right to Work bill passes House panel

FRANKFORT—A House panel has passed right-to-work legislation that would prohibit Kentuckians from being required to join labor unions as a condition of employment.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown and Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, would prohibit mandatory membership in or payment of dues to labor organizations with few exceptions involving federal law and agreements entered into before HB 1 would take effect. Violators would be subject to prosecution.

The legislation passed the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee favorably after an hour-long discussion that began with comments from Governor Matt Bevin. “Jobs come from private sector employers and they’re incentivized by the kinds of things you’re going to hear in coming days,” said Bevin. “This is a zero-sum game.”

Right-to-work bills have been filed several times in past legislative sessions said Speaker Hoover, who told the committee that HB 1 will give employees the ability to negotiate benefits and wages directly with their employer without being part of a union.

“I personally have no problem with an individual opting to be part of a labor union,” said Hoover. “… But government shouldn’t stand in the way of someone who opts not to join a union.” He said HB 1 would make Kentucky the 27th Right to Work state in the country, putting it on par with most Southern states as well as Indiana and labor-heavy Michigan.

Hoover said private sector employment in right-to-work states increased over 17 percent between 2001 and 2013 compared to around an 8 percent increase in non-right-to-work states like Kentucky.

Those opposing the bill included Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, who told the committee that  tax code changes and the paring-down of regulatory burdens could do more for Kentuckians than right-to-work legislation.  “I don’t believe personally a right-to-work law is (a) silver bullet,” he said.

Also speaking against the bill was Kentucky Center for Economic Policy analyst Anna Baumann who said Kentucky’s manufacturing sector is strong without right-to-work—Kentucky has the fifth-highest manufacturing employment as a share of total employment nationally, she said. But Hoover, backed by officials from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce as he gave his testimony, said data shows the economy is stronger in right-to-work states. 

“Economic development is not only my primary, but my sole motivation in proposing this legislation,” said Hoover.

HB 1 would also prohibit public employees in Kentucky from engaging in work strikes. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

--END--

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