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Recent News

                   Educators discuss teaching during COVID-19 - 06/02/20

          State revenue shortfalls projected                

                 COVID-19 concerns mean fewer people on Capitol campus, but public has ways to stay connected

                 Legislative leaders direct LRC staff to assist with unemployment benefits backlog

                 KY General Assembly adjourns 2020 session

                General Assembly overrides budget vetoes        

                 Voter photo ID law coming to KY -04/14/20                

                  General Assembly to reconvene on April 14       

                  This Week at the State Capitol - 04/03/20                 

                  General Assembly approves one-year state budget - 04/01/20                

                  This Week at the State Capitol - 03/27/20                  

                   Economic relief related to COVID-19 receives final passage - 03/26/20                 

                   Direct shipment of alcohol bill heading to governor - 03/26/20

                   Bill banning female genital mutilation passes - 03/26/20                    

                    COVID-19 cited as reason for pared-down budget - 03/20/20

                    General Assembly passes COVID-19 relief for schools - 03/19/20

Mental health first-aid training bill heads to governor - 03/19/20

Transportation budget, state road plan clear House - 03/19/20

Online streaming of legislative action expands during health emergency - 03/17/20

Bill promoting SIDS research clears Senate - 03/17/20

FAFSA requirement advances to Senate - 03/17/20

COVID-19 concerns mean fewer people on Capitol Campus, but public has ways to stay connected to General Assembly - 03/16/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/13/20

Tim’s Law changes given final passage - 03/12/20

Kentucky General Assembly postpones session until March 17

Assistance dogs bill advances in KY Senate - 03/11/20

Proposed amendment on abortion advances to Senate - 03/11/20

Proposed amendment targets 1792 language- 03/10/20

Senate acts to rein in ads for drug injury lawsuits - 03/10/20

House Bill 2 advances to state Senate - 03/10/20

KEES access bill clears House hurdle - 03/10/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/06/20

State budget bill advances to Senate - 03/06/20

State budget bill advances to Kentucky House - 03/05/20

Animal abuse reporting bill passes Senate - 03/05/20

Senate bill reorganizing education board moves - 03/05/20

Bill to rein in surprise medical billing advances - 03/04/20

Broadband deployment bill passes KY House - 03/04/20

HB 2 advances to floor of KY House - 03/04/20

Bill tackling addiction in the workplace advances - 03/04/20

Voter ID bill passes House, returns to Senate - 03/03/20

Real ID rollout bill advances to full House - 03/03/20

Senate passes bill tackling gender gap in coding - 03/02/20

Bill targets legal ads aimed at prescription drugs - 03/02/20

National Guard life insurance bill advances to Senate - 03/02/20

Secretariat resolution advances to Senate - 03/02/20

Bill would make it a crime to 'dox' minors - 03/02/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/28/20

EMS funding bill advances to Senate - 02/27/20

Voting rights restoration bill heads to House - 02/27/20

'Boots to Business' could expand under bill - 02/27/20

Proposed constitutional amendment regarding local governments advances to House - 02/27/20

Bill to restrict governors' pardon power advances - 02/26/20

Vaping tax bill advances to Senate - 02/26/20

Critical infrastructure security bill advances - 02/26/20

Senate again moves to enshrine victims’ rights - 02/25/20

Pension beneficiary changes OK’d by House - 02/25/20

Election changes get approval of state House - 02/24/20

Bill aims to increase participation in jury system - 02/24/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/21/20

Public assistance reform in HB 1 advances to Senate - 02/21/20

Medical marijuana bill advances in KY General Assembly - 02/20/20

Public assistance reform in HB 1 advances to full chamber - 02/20/20

Transportation secretary hiring reform advances - 02/20/20

Insulin cost-saving bill advances to Senate - 02/19/20

‘Jill’s Law’ gets House committee approval - 02/19/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/14/20

Insulin cost-saving bill heads to KY House - 02/13/20

Foster child student bill advances to Senate - 02/13/20

Medicinal marijuana bills clears House hurdle - 02/12/20

House supports UofL purchase of KentuckyOne assets - 02/12/20

Bill addresses transportation secretary hiring - 02/11/20

Dual credit bill moves to House - 02/11/20

KY 911 service fee bill advances to Senate  - 02/11/20

Excise tax proposal for vaping devices heads to House - 02/11/20

Bill targets access to care for eating disorders - 02/10/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/07/20

House votes to end corporal punishment in schools - 02/7/20

School safety bill headed to governor - 02/7/20

 Black History Celebration to honor contributions to U.S. military - 02/06/20

School principal hiring bill moves to House - 02/06/20

Pension and pay measures advance in House - 02/06/20

Bill aims to address youth suicide and violence - 02/06/20

Resolution to make DST permanent moves to Senate - 02/5/20

Expungement bill passes House Judiciary Committee - 02/5/20

Bill outlines principles of picking principals - 02/5/20

Eating disorder treatment bill moves in Senate - 02/5/20

Bill banning sanctuary policies heads to House - 02/4/20

Insurance fraud measure moves to Senate - 02/4/20

Donations-for-fines bill gets House approval - 02/4/20

Bill addressing animal abuse reporting advances - 02/4/20

Kentucky hemp bill receives final passage - 02/4/20

Two bills addressing children’s health advance - 02/4/20

This Week at the State Capitol - 01/31/20

First bill of session achieves final passage - 01/31/20

KY hemp bill heads back to House - 01/31/20

Medical marijuana resolution passes to Senate - 01/30/20

Bill banning sanctuary policies advances - 01/30/20

Anti-pension spiking measure moves to Senate - 01/29/20

Bill addressing lawmakers’ pensions advances - 01/29/2020

Bill updates childcare center standards - 01/29/2020

Bill tackles blood-test refusals in DUI cases - 01/28/20

Youth mental health bill clears House hurdle - 01/28/20

School bus safety bill rolls on to full House - 01/28/20

KY House passes bill to hurry construction of vets’ nursing home - 01/28/20

Senate passes new school safety bill  - 01/27/2020

This Week at the State Capitol - 01/24/20

Bill raising age to buy tobacco passes Senate - 01/23/20

A voter photo ID bill heads to House - 01/23/20

Mental health first-aid training bill advances to Senate - 01/23/20

School safety bill passes out of Senate panel - 01/23/20

Pension spiking, other issues tackled by retirement clean-up bill - 01/23/20

Senate panel hears ‘born-alive’ legislation - 01/23/20

KY takes step to ban female genital mutilation - 01/22/20

Foster care system tweaks pass Kentucky House - 01/22/20

Voter ID bill receives favorable hearing - 01/22/20

Bill to tighten sex offender limits clears House panel - 01/22/20

Kentucky hemp bill passes House, 70-17

This Week at the State Capitol -  01/17/20

Public health ‘transformation’ bill clears committee - 01/16/20

State Senate passes first bills of Regular Session - 01/16/20

Sports wagering bill clears House committee - 01/15/20

Bill banning female genital mutilation advances - 01/15/20

Bill to curb damaging rental properties heard - 01/14/20

House Transportation hears of Real ID rollout - 01/14/20

This Week in Frankfort - 01/10/20

 

 

 

June 2, 2020

Educators discuss teaching during COVID-19

 

FRANKFORT – A legislative panel was briefed today on the challenges COVID-19 poses to reopening public schools across the state

“Schools are a major part of the economy,” Oldham County Schools Superintendent Greg Schultz said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Education. “We recognize that. We want to be open. We want to incorporate safe and healthy practices in regards to COVID, but to be able to do so, the requirements must be doable.”

Schultz gave a presentation on superintendents’ concerns related to the pandemic via video chat while committee members practiced social distancing by sitting at least six feet apart or also using video chat to participate in the meeting.

Schultz said policymakers needed to balance what could realistically be done with ideal public health protocols.

For example, Schultz said guidance that urged one student per seat in every other row of a school bus was unfeasible. “There is just no way most school districts will be able to get their students to school in a timely fashion or a cost-effective fashion under that guidance,” he said.

Social distancing would also be a problem in the school building. Schultz said the physical size of classrooms would make it impossible to follow social distancing guidelines in some buildings. He said this would be a particular problem at high schools because of the larger class sizes in those grades.

For second-graders and younger, Schultz said it would be challenging to enforce the mask guidance. He added that even the most benign guidance, such as frequent hand washing, would take away from instructional hours in the lower grades.

“Sometimes we just need to keep in mind the responsibility of teachers in all of this as well,” Schultz said. “Teachers are being asked to play the role of lunchroom monitor as we eat in our classrooms, health coordinator as they check on the wellness of their students, and janitors as they are asked to clean their rooms.”

He said the added duties would be compounded by the teacher shortage and the aging teacher population.

Schultz said there is also the question of what to do with students who have or live with someone with a compromised immune system. He said with teachers back in the classrooms there would be fewer instructors available to provide distance learning to those students.

That’s all in addition to concerns regarding state funding models based on attendance and liability issues around COVID-19, Schultz added.

Kelly Foster of the Kentucky Department of Education testified that the reopening guidance was already being “refined” based on the feedback.

“We have heard those (concerns) loud and clear,” she said. “We want to recognize our partnership with public health. We are meeting with them at least once a week, sometimes more than that.”

Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, said she wholeheartedly agreed with the concerns.

“The variables within the school day ... do make following the guidelines problematic,” said Huff, co-chair of the committee. “You bought up some good points. I think we do need to look at some of the points that you made and make some changes and suggestions.”

As school districts closed in-person classes earlier this year, teaching was done through take-home packets, the internet and telephone. Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, asked what the academic performance has been of children during the non-traditional instruction.

Schultz said non-traditional instruction probably exasperated the equity issues. He said students who do not have a computer, reliable internet service and supportive family will likely fall behind.

“I think what we will see ... is that achievement gaps will widen because there is just not the same level of support,” Schultz said. “We have achievement gaps when students are in front of us. That tends not to get better when they are not in front of us.”

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, asked Schultz when his district would intervene with students who fell behind during non-traditional instruction. He said that could be as soon as June 15.

Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, spoke about the mental wellbeing of students.

“The emotional and mental health of our students has deteriorated during this time,” Riley said. “Oftentimes I talk to parents who say their children are crying because they don’t get to see their friends.”

END

 

 

March 22, 2020

 

State revenue shortfalls projected

FRANKFORT— The state is bracing for a $456.7 million – or four percent – General Fund revenue shortfall and a nearly $162 million shortfall in the state Road Fund this fiscal year, based on revised estimates from the group responsible for the state’s revenue forecasts.

The Consensus Forecasting Group—a panel of independent economists whose forecasts are used in state budget decisions – today revised its estimates for both funds for Fiscal Year 2020 at the request of State Budget Director John Hicks.

Hicks requested the revisions in an April 30 letter amid economic disruptions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State budget officials told the CFG that the projected General Fund shortfall can be addressed through a budget reduction plan. That plan was included in the enacted FY 2020-21 Executive Branch budget found in 2020 House Bill 352, according to Office of the State Budget Director official Greg Harkenrider.

Budget reduction plans can be used when an “actual or projected” General Fund or Road Fund shortfall is five percent or less below the official enacted estimate approved by the Kentucky General Assembly, said Harkenrider.

With the projected Road Fund shortfall for fiscal year 2020 expected to fall 10.4 percent below the official enacted estimate, that shortfall would not fall under the enacted budget reduction plan in HB 352. It must instead be addressed by future action of the General Assembly, said Harkenrider.

That could precipitate the need for the Governor to call lawmakers into special session “given (that) there is less than six weeks left in FY 20,” he told the panel.

The revised estimates agreed to by the CFG were based on “pessimistic” scenarios that anticipate steep declines in consumer spending, real GDP, manufacturing employment, and other key economic indicators – a reflection of the current national recession, which OSBD official J. Michael Jones, PhD said began the third quarter of this fiscal year.

Although the recession is only expected to last for three quarters, Jones said overall recovery time is expected to be “significantly longer” than in more optimistic scenarios.

Kentucky’s General Fund collections were up 6.4 percent in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 with year-to-date General Fund growth of 3.9 percent after March. That growth fell 1.2 percent after April, according to the OSBD. Total receipts fell 33.6 percent for April, a decline of $432.9 million, the agency reports.

For the Road Fund, the revised estimate largely reflects April receipts in motor fuels, motor vehicle usage revenue, and motor vehicle license revenue.  Motor fuels receipts fell $7.5 million, or 11.8 percent, while motor vehicle usage receipts dropped $29.9 million or 60.1 percent per the OSBD. Receipts for motor vehicle licenses fell 20.2 percent.

The revised revenue estimate for the state’s General Fund for FY 2020 is $10.9 billion, down from the official enacted estimate of $11.4 billion. The revised revenue estimate for the Road Fund for FY 2020 is $1.39 billion, down from an estimated $1.55 billion in the official enacted estimate.

--END-

 


 

 

 

May 15, 2020

 

COVID-19 concerns mean fewer people on Capitol campus,

but public has ways to stay connected to General Assembly

FRANKFORT – Public access to the State Capitol and the Capitol Annex buildings remains temporarily restricted as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, but Kentuckians still have numerous ways to stay connected to the work of their state lawmakers.

Kentucky Educational Television (KET) provides coverage of the General Assembly’s committee meetings. Meetings are livestreamed on KET’s Legislative Coverage web page at: https://www.ket.org/legislature/. If a scheduling conflict prevents a meeting from being covered by KET, LRC will livestream the meeting on the following site: https://legislature.ky.gov/Public%20Services/PIO/Pages/Live-Streams.aspx.

The calendar for legislative meetings is available here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/LegislativeCalendar. Meeting information is also available on a recorded message by calling 1-800-633-9650.

To share feedback on an issue with lawmakers, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 7-1-1.

To directly reach a lawmaker’s office, call 502-564-8100. An operator will transfer the call to the office of the lawmaker you want to reach.

Web surfers also can see for themselves the issues before lawmakers by browsing prefiled bills at: https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislation/Pages/default.aspx. The page also offers links to issues of the Interim Record, a publication that provides the minutes of legislative committee meetings. Information on legislative committees – including materials and handouts prepared for legislative committee meetings – can be viewed on the committee pages available at https://legislature.ky.gov/Committees/Pages/default.aspx.

In addition to general information about the legislatures, the Kentucky General Assembly website (https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx) provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including their legislative committee assignments, contact information, and Twitter handles.

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

--END-

 


April 27, 2020

 

Legislative leaders direct LRC staff to assist with unemployment benefits backlog

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne have instructed Legislative Research Commission (LRC) Director Jay D. Hartz to arrange for legislative staff members to assist in reducing the state’s backlog of unemployment insurance applications.

The authorization from legislative leaders will allow LRC staff to start working with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet to process information needed to file unemployment insurance claims.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has everyone looking for ways to help,” said Stivers, R-Manchester. “One priority is to get financial assistance to people across Kentucky who currently aren’t working due to business closings and the economic fallout of COVID-19. Legislative staff members are ready to assist with processing the state’s record number of unemployment insurance claims.”

“Seven weeks into this shutdown, we are still hearing from constituents across the state about difficulties getting through to a live operator. They’re calling us concerned that they won’t be able to pay their bills or provide for their families. We understand that this system was not designed to handle so many calls and applications. Our LRC staff have a great deal of institutional knowledge and help our constituents all the time. If they can help make unemployment benefits more accessible, we appreciate their willingness to step up,” said Osborne, R-Prospect. 

Hartz said his agency is currently working with the cabinet to set up training that will allow LRC staff members to begin assisting with unemployment insurance applications  

--END--

 


 

 

April 15, 2020

  

KY General Assembly adjourns 2020 session

FRANKFORT -- Every legislative session develops a unique personality. COVID-19 shaped the character of the 154th regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly that ended today.

The worldwide pandemic prompted the legislature, an institution steeped in tradition, to make changes to usual procedures. Lawmakers went from considering drafts of a two-year state budget to instead passing an austere one-year spending plan, an acknowledgment of the difficulties of making long-term revenue projections amid the economic turmoil of a pandemic. COVID-19 relief bills were quickly drafted and acted upon during the latter part the session.

Efforts to promote social distancing left the marble corridors of the 109-year-old Capitol quieter than usual for a budget session. Broadcast coverage of the session was expanded after the general public was restricted from visiting the Capitol. House members were allowed to cast votes while not in the chamber. Ultimately, the legislators gaveled into session for only 53 days -- seven days less than allowed by the Kentucky Constitution.

The $11.3 billion executive branch budget, however, will keep steady the basic per-pupil funding for Kentucky schools and support safety measures envisioned when lawmakers approved a major school safety bill last year. The spending plan, contained in House Bill 352, also provides the full actuarial-recommended level of funding for state public pension systems.

A COVID-19 relief measure, contained in Senate Bill 150, will loosen requirements for unemployment benefits and extend help to self-employed workers and others who would otherwise not be eligible.

It will also expand telemedicine options by allowing out-of-state providers to accept Kentucky patients, provide immunity for health care workers who render care or treatment in good faith during the current state of emergency, extend the state’s income tax filing deadline to July 15, address open meeting laws by allowing meetings to take place utilizing live audio or live video teleconferencing, and require the governor to declare in writing the date that the state of emergency ends.

Additional bills that the General Assembly approved include measures on the following topics:

Addiction treatment: Senate Bill 191 addresses certification and educational requirements for alcohol and drug counselors. The bill also directs Kentucky to establish guidelines employers can use to develop programs to help more individuals struggling with substance use disorders while maintaining employment.

Alcohol: House Bill 415 will allow distillers, wineries and breweries to be licensed to ship directly to consumers -- in and out of Kentucky. The bill imposes shipping limits of 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine and 10 cases of malt beverages per month. Packages of alcohol will have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. HB 415 will also prohibit shipping to dry territories, communities where alcohol sales are prohibited by local laws.

Eating disorders: Senate Bill 82 will establish the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The group will oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education, prevention and research programs.

Elections: Senate Bill 2, dubbed the voter photo ID bill, will require voters to present photographic identification at the polls, starting in the general election in November. If a voter does not have a photo ID, they will be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote. The bill also allows poll workers to vouch for a voter they personally know even if that person has no valid ID. Another provision of SB 2 will provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.

Hemp: House Bill 236 will conform Kentucky’s hemp laws to federal guidelines that changed after the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. That bill removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, which allowed farmers across the nation to grow hemp legally. The bill also expands the number of labs authorized to test hemp for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis.

Human rights: House Bill 2 will require a national anti-human trafficking hotline number to be advertised in airports, truck stops, train stations and bus stations. Posters with the hotline number are currently required in rest areas. The bill also closes a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime.

Senate Bill 72 will ban female genital mutilation, often referred to as FGM, in Kentucky. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018. The bill will also make performing FGMs on minors a felony, ban trafficking of girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the licenses of medical providers convicted of the practice. The World Health Organization classifies FGM, a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, a human rights violation.

Infrastructure protection. House Bill 44 will strengthen security for critical infrastructure across Kentucky by specifying that above-ground natural gas and petroleum pipelines in addition to certain cable television facilities aren’t suitable areas for drone flights. The legislation also defines tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief.

Jurors: Senate Bill 132 will add people with state-issued personal identification cards to the pool of potential jurors in the county where they live. Currently, the pool draws from driver’s license lists, tax rolls and voter registration lists.

Lt. Governor: House Bill 336 will let gubernatorial candidates select their running mate for lieutenant governor before the second Tuesday in August instead of during the spring primary campaign.

Marsy’s Law: Senate Bill 15 would enshrine certain rights for crime victims in the state constitution. Those would include the right to be notified of all court proceedings, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of a release or escape, and the right to full restitution. SB 15 is tied to a national movement to pass statutes that have been collectively known as Marsy’s law in honor of Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-old California college student who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. A similar proposed constitutional amendment passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was subsequently approved by voters, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid due to unconstitutional ballot language.

Now that it has been approved by lawmakers, Kentucky voters will decide on the proposed constitutional amendment this November.

Mental health: House Bill 153 will establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program. The plan would be aimed at training professionals and members of the public to identify and assist people with mental health or substance abuse problems. The program would also promote access to trainers certified in mental health first aid training.

Senate Bill 122 will make a change to Tim’s Law of 2017, a much-heralded law that has rarely been used by the courts. The law allowed judges to order assisted outpatient treatment for people who had been involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 12 months. SB 122 extends the period to 24 months.

Mobile phones: House Bill 208 will require wireless providers of Lifeline federal-assistance telephone service to make monthly 911 service fee payments to the state. It will restore over $1 million a year in funding to 911 service centers.

Pensions: House Bill 484 separates the administration of the County Employees’ Retirement System (CERS) from the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ board of trustees. CERS accounts for 76 percent of the pension assets KRS manages and makes up 64 percent of the KRS membership -- but controls only 35 percent of the seats on the KRS board.

Public health: House Bill 129, dubbed the public health transformation bill, will modernize public health policy and funding in Kentucky. It will do this by streamlining local health departments by getting them to refocus on their statutory duties. Those are population health, enforcement of regulations, emergency preparedness and communicable disease control.

REAL ID: House Bill 453 will allow the transportation cabinet to establish regional offices for issuing driver’s licenses and personal identification cards. It also requires a mobile unit to visit every county multiple times per year to issue such credentials. It will ensure Kentucky complies with the federal REAL ID ACT enacted on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation.

School safety: Senate Bill 8 will require school resource officers (SROs) to be armed with a gun. The measure also clarifies various other provisions of the School Safety and Resiliency Act concerning SROs and mental health professionals in schools.

Sex offenders: House Bill 204 will prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a publicly leased playground. Sex offenders must already follow these standards for publicly owned parks.

Students’ wellbeing: Senate Bill 42 will require student IDs for middle school, high school and college students to list contacts for national crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide.

Taxes: Senate Bill 5 will require library boards, and other so-called special-purpose governmental entities, to get approval from a county fiscal court or city council before increasing taxes.

Terms of constitutional offices. House Bill 405 proposes a constitutional amendment that would increase the term of office for commonwealth's attorneys from six years to eight years beginning in 2030 and increase the term of office for district judges from four years to eight years beginning in 2022. It would also increase the experience requirement to be a district judge from two years to eight years. The proposed constitutional amendment will be decided on by voters this November.

Tobacco: Senate Bill 56 will raise the age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21 from 18. The move will bring Kentucky’s statute in line with a new federal law raising the age to 21. The bill will remove status offenses for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco, often called PUP laws, and will shift penalties to retailers who fail to follow the increased age restriction.

Veterans: House Bill 24 will support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation appropriates $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility. That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start construction on the proposed $30 million facility.

Most new laws -- those that come from legislation that doesn’t contain emergency clauses or special effective dates -- will go into effect in mid-July. Proposed constitutional amendments must be ratified by voters in November before they would take effect.

--END--

 


 

 

April 15, 2020

 

 

General Assembly overrides budget vetoes

FRANKFORT— The General Assembly today voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes of portions of a one-year $11.3 billion state Executive Branch budget.

All 18 gubernatorial vetoes to the state budget bill, or House Bill 352, were read by bill sponsor and House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, before he called the House to cast a single vote to override the vetoes. That vote passed, 57-33.  In the Senate, the vote to override the vetoes on HB 352 was 27-7.

Supporters of the governor’s vetoes to HB 352 cited the need to give the governor more flexibility to address budget uncertainties in the face of a viral pandemic that has forced massive unemployment in Kentucky and nationally.

The governor has cited a rising number of unemployment claims as one reason he vetoed language that he has said could limit the ability of state agencies to address the crisis.

Other language in HB 352 that was vetoed by the governor but reinstated by the General Assembly will give Kentucky’s Attorney General the final word regarding any questions that arise regarding interpretation of HB 352 or the Transportation Cabinet budget.

Under current law, the Finance and Administration Cabinet has the authority to decide questions regarding the meaning of the Executive Branch budget and Transportation Cabinet budget when the General Assembly is not in session.

In response to questions, Rep. Steven Rudy, Chair of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said language in the budget does not restrict the governor’s ability to deal with the current state of emergency.

“I don’t know of any specific areas where we are giving him limits on how he can deal with the coronavirus,” said Rudy, R-Paducah. He said the Executive Branch has access to a year’s worth of restricted funds appropriated by the General Assembly.

“I don’t see there is any possible way they would run out before January” when the General Assembly reconvenes to consider passing a budget for the second year of the 2020-2022 biennium. If more funding is needed, Rudy said the General Assembly has the sole constitutional authority to provide it.

“We, the General Assembly, are an important part of our three branches of government. We are the appropriators of the money and I think it’s important that we’re included in that process,” he added. 

House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said she agrees that the General Assembly is an important body, but added that “I gather from your answer to that last question that should the future-- which is very hard to predict at this time -- indicate that the governor does not have the flexibility to move money, he would then almost be obligated to call us back into special session.”

Rudy said if there was an “extraordinary” need for revenue or appropriations then the governor is the only authority that can call the General Assembly back to act on such legislation.

Veto actions on HB 351—often referred to as the “revenue bill”—were overridden on a 57-32 vote in the House and 24-9 in the Senate.  Rudy said the governor’s veto actions on HB 351 were “invalid” since line-item vetoes can be made to appropriations bills but not revenue measures. HB 351 is not an appropriations bill per definitions set forth in the state constitution, said Rudy.

“The primary and specific aim of HB 351 was not to appropriate tax dollars, but rather HB 351 is an act of general legislation containing provisions of general law,” he stated. Even if the bill had included an appropriation, Rudy said that would not make the bill an appropriations bill in its entirety.

House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, defended the governor’s actions. She said HB 351 may not be called an appropriations bill but that it includes appropriations language. “It is utterly appropriate that we would allow a veto of appropriations language,” she said.

The Senate and House also voted to override vetoes of portions in the two-year state Road Plan found in HB 354,  and the funding for that plan plus other needs included in the state Transportation Cabinet budget found in HB 353 by votes of 59-31 and 58-32 respectively in the House and 28-6 on both bills in the Senate.

All bills with vetoed provisions reinstated by the General Assembly will be filed with the Secretary of State instead of being returned to the governor.

 

--END--

 


 

 

April 14, 2020

 

Voter photo ID law coming to KY

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly voted today to override a veto of legislation that will impose stricter voter identification requirements across the state, starting with the general election in November.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 2, will require voters to present photographic identification at the polls.

“2020 is an important election year with many federal and state races,” Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said before the Senate voted 27-6 to override the governor’s veto of SB 2. “The most recent elections in Kentucky have shown just how important a handful of votes are and how even one illegal vote ... could change the outcome of an election.”

The House of Representatives followed with a 60-29 vote to override.

Another provision of SB 2 will provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.

House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, explained her opposition to SB 2.

“Not only are clerks’ offices closed at this time as we battle the coronavirus in this state, but we also just voted to move to 12 regional offices our ability to get a driver’s license,” she said in reference to legislation to ensure Kentucky’s compliance with the REAL ID Act. “For my people, that means driving at least an hour and a half.”

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, defended the override vote.

“There have been many comments made about this not being the time to debate the issue, and I’ll concede that,” he said, adding that the time was March 3 when SB 2 was originally passed. Osborne said the reason the bill was being debated today was because the governor vetoed it.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said SB 2 addressed a problem that didn’t exist. He added that there is no evidence of in-person voter fraud during modern times in Kentucky.

“The American way is to encourage voting, not deter it,” Thomas said. “This bill will certainly deter people from voting.”

Mills said SB 2 just adds safeguards to the integrity of Kentucky’s elections. If a voter does not have a photo ID, Mills said the voter will be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote. The bill will also allow poll workers to affirm, in writing, that they personally know a voter who has no form of ID.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, cited the high number of people who remain on Kentucky’s voter rolls after moving away or dying, as a reason a voter photo ID law is needed in Kentucky.

“In an era where six House races were decided by single digits two years ago, it is important that everybody who attempts to vote to prove that they are who they say they are,” said Thayer, who also sponsored SB 2.

As House members discussed the bill, Osborne added that the number of registered voters in 41 of Kentucky’s 120 counties outnumbered the total population of those counties.

--END--

 


 

 

April 9, 2020

 

General Assembly to reconvene on April 14

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session will reconvene on Tuesday, April 14.

Both the Senate and House are scheduled to gavel in at noon.

By returning to the State Capitol on April 14, lawmakers will resume the legislative session one day later than previously announced. The number of session days has been reduced as a precaution against COVID-19.

When lawmakers reconvene, they can consider overriding vetoes cast by Gov. Andy Beshear. The governor’s time to veto recently passed bills expires on April 13. Overriding a veto requires the support of a majority of elected members in each chamber.

In addition to meeting on April 14, lawmakers have the option to convene on April 15, the latest possible day they can meet in regular session this year under state constitution guidelines.

--END--

 


 

April 3, 2020

 This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- Over the past month the number of Kentuckians who have tested positive for COVID-19 has grown from zero to 770, the stock market has suffered record-setting plunges and unemployment numbers have skyrocketed.

In this environment, no one yet knows the toll the pandemic will ultimately take on the economy.

Lawmakers acknowledged as much on Wednesday as they approved an austere state budget. Although state budgets typically outline spending for a two-year cycle, the plan produced this week covers only one year. Lawmakers said they were reluctant to make revenue projections too far into the future at a time of so much uncertainty.

In passing a one-year spending plan, they set the stage for a return to budget-making in next-year’s legislative session, if they aren’t called into a special session before then, to make any needed revisions to the spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year while also starting from scratch on a budget for the following fiscal year.

Lawmakers reset their sights from what was widely envisioned earlier this year when earlier drafts of the budget proposal outlined increased school funding as well as pay raises for teachers and state employees. Those plans have been deferred. The budget is now based on the most pessimistic projections the state’s budget forecasters provided in December, though even those projections are expected to fall short of accounting for the toll the pandemic is taking.

The $11.3 billion spending plan approved on Wednesday keeps steady the basic per-pupil funding for Kentucky schools and supports safety measures envisioned when lawmakers approved a major school safety bill last year. It also provides the full actuarial-recommended level of funding for state public pension systems.

The budget is programmed to end the fiscal year with $303 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, though lawmakers acknowledge that fund will likely be used as a “shock absorber” if revenue estimates aren’t met as full effect of the economic downturn is realized.

On the same day the budget was passed, lawmakers approved a revenue package that includes a new tax on vaping products that is expected to generate $25 million over the next two years.

Lawmakers have now returned to their home districts for a veto recess, a period of time that gives them a chance to see whether the governor vetoes any legislation before his time to do so runs out. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 13 to consider overriding any vetoes. Final adjournment for this year’s legislative session is scheduled for April 15, the last day allowed by the state constitution.

To offer feedback to lawmakers on the issues confronting Kentucky, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

  

 

 

April 1, 2020

 

General Assembly approves one-year state budget

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky General Assembly wrapped up its final day before the start of a veto recess by passing a one-year Executive Branch budget.

Lawmakers admitted that the $11.3 billion general fund spending plan -- approved today on a final 80-10 vote in the House after being approved earlier on a 34-0 vote in the Senate -- is not what they expected earlier this session when a two-year budget with increases for education and state employee and teacher raises had been proposed.

Those plans changed with the slowdown of the economy as a result of COVID-19, House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, told the House today.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is putting unprecedented strains on the health of our communities, this commonwealth, our nation, and truly all of the Almighty’s creation,” said Rudy.  “And we have no way to know how far this recession is going to go, how deep it will truly be, and what it will mean to the coffers here in Frankfort.”

The one-year budget found in House Bill 352 as amended by the General Assembly today is based on so-called “pessimistic” revenue estimates that were handed down by economic forecasters last December. Rudy described the pessimistic scenario as the best option, “knowing that it is not pessimistic enough” in light of the current economic downtown.

Although the approved plan meets the state’s obligation to the state Teachers’ Retirement System insurance fund and would allow the system to fully meet its actuarially required pension contribution, it would not include pay raises for teachers or state employees that lawmakers had earlier hoped to provide.

Lawmakers also had to do away with a planned increase in guaranteed per-pupil base funding for K-12 education known as SEEK—although Rudy said current funding levels won’t be reduced. SEEK will remain at $4000 per pupil under the approved budget.

The bill would invest in mental health professionals per school safety requirements found in 2020 Senate Bill 8 while also meeting the state’s commitment under last year’s SB 1, said Rudy. And it would authorize $47.5 million in bonds to assist with construction of four schools listed as priorities by the state.

Other highlights in HB 352 as amended include appropriations of $2.5 million for pediatric research; $17 million received from the Volkswagen emissions settlement appropriated for new school buses and transit buses; reinstatement of a two-percent stop loss in the performance-based funding formula for state postsecondary institutions; $1.6 million in fiscal year 2021 to support medical services at county jails; and debt service for the state Bowling Green Veterans Center, with intent for support of a future facility in Magoffin County, among other spending items.

“I wish I could stand here today excited about this document,” said Rudy. “I think this is the best we can make of this situation at this current time.”

Sharing that sentiment was Senate Appropriations and Revenue Chair Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who said the approved bill “will mandate that we are back here in January to finish the second year of the budget.”

But at that time, it would be all of our hopes that we will have a more stable environment, a better look at the future and a more accurate ability to predict for the commonwealth,” said McDaniel.

Although she admitted having concerns with HB 352 as amended, House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said the bill is what is required at this point in time.

 “As difficult as it is right now I think it helps to remember that our parents and grandparents and generations before them dealt with hardships as well … But they rose to the challenge, and as we’ve shown over the past month so have we,” said Jenkins. “We are in effect buying time, and the hope is that when the General Assembly returns in January we will have a much clearer picture of where we stand, and what should be done next.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, voted in favor of the budget and said it was a moment for people to come together.

I wish there had been more funds for some of the causes I care about, but we will come back and fight for those things when we revisit this issue as late as January, if not in a special session,” he said.  “I expect the governor to veto some of the provisions with which I have a problem, and I hope the legislature will thoughtfully consider his vetoes. We are all in this together.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, defended the budget plan.

“This budget gets as close to a bipartisan budget as any I have seen during the time I have been up here as we have laid down our partisan armor and put together a budget,” said Thayer.

Also passed by the General Assembly today before the veto break was the Judicial Branch budget and the Legislative Branch and the state’s highway plan, or “Road Plan,” which would still extend over two years. Funding for the Road Plan was included in the state Transportation Cabinet budget, which was also approved today. Highway projects slated as priorities in future years, through fiscal year 2026, were included in a joint resolution approved today. 

All legislation passed today now goes to the governor’s desk.  

--END--

 

  

 

 

March 27, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- Progress continued this week on two matters considered top priorities by many state lawmakers: the next state budget and relief for workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the schedule for the General Assembly’s 2020 session abbreviated in response to COVID-19 precautions, the Senate and House convened one day this week. Lawmakers serving on a budget conference committee also met this week to continue ironing out differences among proposals that would guide state spending over the next two years. Many say the next budget is likely to be austere – more so than expected just several weeks ago – as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn. Lawmakers are working with an eye toward having a budget plan both chambers can vote on next week before a veto recess begins.

Broad bipartisan agreement was reached on efforts to provide COVID-19 relief this week. On Thursday, both the Senate and House approved Senate Bill 150, legislation that originally dealt with out-of-network insurance billing but was amended after the virus that causes COVID-19 arrived in Kentucky to strengthen the state’s response and offer relief to those impacted by the pandemic.

Senate Bill 150 would loosen requirements for unemployment benefits and extend help to self-employed workers and others who would otherwise not be eligible. It would also:

  • Expand telemedicine options by allowing out-of-state providers to accept new patient visits. Insurers would be required to cover those visits at the same rate as in-person visits.

  • Provide immunity for health care providers who render care or treatment in good faith during the current state of emergency. It would also give immunity to businesses that make or provide protective equipment or hygiene supplies that are outside their usual scopes of business.

  • Extend the state’s income tax filing deadline to July 15, the same extension offered by the federal government.

  • Address open meeting laws by allowing meetings to take place utilizing live audio or live video teleconferencing.

  • Require the governor to declare in writing the date that the state of emergency ends.

The legislation was approved by both chambers on Thursday. The Senate approved the bill on a 30-0 vote and the House approved the measure 82-0 before sending it to the governor’s office.

Other bills approved over the past week include the following:

House Bill 415 would allow distillers, wineries, and breweries to be licensed to ship their beverages directly to consumers. Packages would have to be clearly labeled and signed for by someone 21 or older. Shipping to “dry” areas that don’t allow alcohol sales would be prohibited. The legislation was approved by the Senate 21-11 on Thursday. The bill has been delivered to the governor.

House Bill 2 would require a national anti-human trafficking hotline number to be advertised in airports, truck stops, train stations and bus stations. Posters with the hotline number are currently required in rest areas. The bill would also close a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime. Those convicted of human trafficking offenses would face a minimum $10,000 fine. House Bill 2 was approved by the Senate 33-0 on Thursday and has been delivered to the governor’s office.

Senate Bill 72 would ban female genital mutilation, which the World Health Organization describes as procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedures are mostly carried out on young girls. Kentucky is among 15 states where they are not illegal. Senate Bill 72 would make performing female genital mutilation on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for the procedure and take away licenses from medical providers convicted of the practice. On Thursday, the Senate concurred with a House amendment that placed an emergency clause in the legislation so that it would become effective immediately upon being signed into law. The bill has been delivered to the governor.

To offer feedback to lawmakers on the issues under consideration, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

  

 

March 26, 2020

 

Economic relief related to COVID-19 receives final passage

FRANKFORT—Economic relief for COVID-19-impacted businesses and workers--including extended eligibility for unemployment--has received final passage in the Kentucky House.

Senate Bill 150, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, that originally dealt with out-of-network insurance billing, as amended in free conference negotiations between the House and Senate passed the House 82-0 after clearing the Senate 30-0 earlier today. 

The relief provisions—which include all provisions added and approved by the House last week and new provisions agreed to in the free conference committee today -- would be triggered immediately after the bill is signed into law by the governor or otherwise becomes law. The relief would sunset, or cease, once the current state of emergency ends by declaration of the governor or, otherwise, by action of the General Assembly in regular session.

A key provision added to SB 150 today would extend unemployment eligibility to the self-employed, including many small business owners and gig workers who were not previously eligible for unemployment benefits under Kentucky law, said Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, who presented SB 150 for a vote in the House.

Rowland said other provisions added by the free conference committee would shield Kentucky taxpayers from tax filing penalties and interest due to an extension of the state’s tax filing and payments deadline in adherence with federal changes, expands telehealth opportunities, and provides immunity to health care providers who provide treatment “in good faith” during the current health emergency, among other provisions.

Other provisions in the bill that were added by the House last week would:

  • Allow government agencies or appropriate boards or commissions to waive license fees for businesses forced to close or significantly impacted.

  • Help displaced workers access benefits quickly.

  • Protect small business owners forced to lay off workers by preventing an increase in the calculated unemployment rate

  • Allow restaurants to repurpose their business plans to allow retail sale of items out the door without requiring new licensing.

  • Allow liquor by the drink to be sold at eligible establishments, among other provisions.

Voting in support of the bill was Rep. Rachel Roberts, D- Newport, who called SB 150 “good government.”

“This bill came through a real bipartisan effort that was championed at both ends of this hallway,” she said. “I know I’m new here, but I feel this was what we were brought here to do and I’m really grateful that we got this work done.”

SB 150 now goes to the governor for his signature.

--END--

 

 

 

March 26, 2020

 

Direct shipment of alcohol bill heading to governor 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation today that would allow direct shipment of alcohol.

The measure, known as House Bill 415, was lauded as a tax revenue generator, job creator and a new source of business for distilleries, wineries and breweries by Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown.

“Right now the bourbon tourism industry is flat on its back, closed because of COVID-19,” he said. “The same goes for tours of small-farm wineries and our craft brew locations around the state. This will create a new revenue stream for those producers on the other side of this COVID-19 crisis.”

HB 415 passed the Senate today by a 21-11 vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, and Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, previously passed the House by a 52-33 vote.

The legislation would allow distillers, wineries, breweries -- in or outside of Kentucky -- to get licensed with Kentucky to ship directly to consumers. Retailers and distributors wouldn’t be eligible for the direct-to-consumer shipping licenses.

It would impose shipping limits that are lower than the amount of alcohol one can purchase in person at a producer. The shipping limits would be 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine and 10 cases of malt beverages per month.

Packages of alcohol would have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. HB 415 would also prohibit shipping to “dry territories,” areas where alcohol sales are prohibited by law.

“This direct-shipping bill has been in the work for many years,” Thayer said. “It has been the subject of … a numerous number of interim committee meetings over the past few years and a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get us where we are today.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, stood to explain his “yea” vote.

“This bill also corrects something that many, many, many Kentuckians are very concerned about,” said Schickel, chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. “I hear about it all the time. That is people who want to order wine, to have wine shipped to Kentucky from various locations. This will correct that problem once and for all.”

--END--

 

 

March 26, 2020

 

Bill banning female genital mutilation passes

FRANKFORT – Legislation to ban female genital mutilation in Kentucky is headed to the governor’s desk.

The Senate voted 31-0 for the measure, known as Senate Bill 72, as amended in the House of Representatives. The House amendment placed an emergency clause in the bill, meaning it becomes effective immediately upon being signed into law rather than 90 days after adjournment.

The World Health Organization states that female genital mutilation, often referred to as FGM, includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female organs for non-medical reasons. It is mostly carried out on young girls.

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, a primary sponsor of the bill, previously testified that Kentucky is among 15 states where FGM is still legal. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018.

SB 72 would make performing FGMs on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the medical licenses from providers convicted of the practice. The bill would, among other things, classify FGM in state statutes as a form of child abuse and provide outreach to communities and professionals likely to encounter the practice.

--END-- 

 

 

March 20, 2020

COVID-19 cited as reason for pared-down budget

Senate Appropriations & Revenue Chair Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, presents House Bill 352, the executive branch budge, during yesterday's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – An expected drop in tax revenue and corresponding rise in need for social services brought on by the coronavirus disease were reflected in the proposed state budget passed by the Kentucky Senate.

“Budgets are never easy,” Senate Appropriations & Revenue Chair Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said yesterday before the budget, contained in House Bill 352, was passed in the Senate by a 24-7 vote. “They are never simple to balance in good times but especially challenging times like this. We have worked diligently to ensure we have a solid, responsible budget – a budget that recognizes that the next two years may bring levels of uncertainty that we have not seen in decades.”

He said the economic forecast underpinning the 24-month executive budget was calculated before COVID-19 disrupted economies around the world, including here in Kentucky, where mass gatherings have been banned.

McDaniel said that economic uncertainty led to “bumpers,” areas where the Senate obligated money but gave flexibility to the governor in the event revenue estimates were not met.

The Senate’s version of the budget would provide for a 1 percent pay raise for state employees in the first year. A 1 percent raise in the second year, however, would be contingent on the state hitting the forecasted growth numbers.

HB 352 would increase the budget reserve trust fund, better known as the rainy day fund, to $525 million from the House’s $392 million. The governor proposed $316 million for the fund.

“That is necessary … because frankly we do not know, nor do the experts, exactly where we will end up,” McDaniel said. “We may very well need that money.”

For the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, HB 352 would provide $426 million for the first year and $437 million in the second year. McDaniel said that was the full statutory contribution required for the teachers’ pension.

There is another $500 million per year for teachers’ pensions in the budget. That money would go into the teacher retirement plan if there were “structural” changes to that system. If not, it would go into the Kentucky Employees Retirement System plan for non-hazardous employees. McDaniel said the non-hazardous plan needs all the money it can get because it's funded at only 13 percent.

“Going into these trying times, we will need every dime available to meet the pension obligations that affect our health departments, our mental health agencies, our universities and all of our other state agencies and their retirees,” he said. “I think that is important to note.”

McDaniel said HB 352 would fund the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding program, a formula-driven allocation of state funds to local school districts, at a historic high. The budget would set SEEK funding at $4,161 per pupil. Six dollars of that for each pupil would go towards textbooks.

A second “bumper,” however, would require the Kentucky Education Department to hold $10 per pupil in reserve, pending revenue forecasts being met.

McDaniel said the Senate’s version of the budget provided all the money necessary to give teachers the raises the governor proposed. The only restriction would be a 1 percent raise be given to the non-teaching school employees, such as bus drivers and custodians.

“Beyond that, we leave it to the school superintendents to decide exactly how those monies work within the pay and operational policy within their districts because we trust them to make those decisions,” McDaniel said.

HB 352 would provide $18.7 million to “harden” schools, a reference to investments in physical safety measures such as reinforced doors, and $49 million to hire more school mental health professionals. These were called for in the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act.

Here are other highlights from the Senate version of HB 352:

ˇ         It would provide a 2 percent raise to current social workers, a 4 percent raise to their supervisors and provide funding for 50 additional social workers. The governor sought 350 new social workers.

ˇ         It would send a majority of coal severance money back to coal counties, rather than the 50 percent required by statute. It would, however, take $2 million off the top each year to pay for 25 mine inspectors.

ˇ         It would provide $4.5 million to assist Ford Motor Co. to retrain its workforce in Louisville to assemble electric vehicles.

ˇ         It would provide $1 million to the Horse Racing Commission to hire people to combat “doping” of racehorses. “In order to maintain the integrity of this commonwealth’s leadership in the area of horse racing, it is important that people know that horses that race in the commonwealth are ‘clean’ horses,” McDaniel said.

ˇ         It would provide for $8 million in bonds for Eastern Kentucky University’s aviation program.

ˇ         It would provide $250,000 for Morehead State University to install a space antenna as part of a partnership with Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, was among a handful of senators who questioned why the body was voting on HB 352 in light of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings – even at the Capitol.

“We don’t have people here in the Capitol,” she said. “The stakeholders can’t be here. The citizens can’t state their position. We have not had them before our appropriations and revenue committee. Even the lobbyists can’t be here.

“There are a lot of people who haven’t had the opportunity to read (the proposed budget), digest it, see how it applies to them and respond to us. I have a little bit of a problem with that.”

Some of the areas Webb said she was concerned with, in light of COVID-19, included funding amounts for mental health centers, health departments, a state-run project to bring fiber optic cable to every county called KentuckyWired, legal aid, libraries and the Commission on Women.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said he supported HB 352 because it prioritized education. “Is this a perfect budget, not by any means,” he said. “I can stand here all day and tell you a laundry list of things I would like to see funded ... but the tax dollars are just not there.”

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said he supported HB 352 because the legislature had a constitutional requirement to pass a budget – no matter how dire the situation. “Nothing could be said about this that hasn’t been said about hemorrhoids,” he said of the havoc caused by COVID-19. “This is a terrible situation we are in. Finances, money, economy, everything seems to be dropping like a hammer.”

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, defended the decision to continue the legislative process. “Is the president going home? No, he is being the president,” Stivers said. “Is the governor going home? No, he is being the governor. Is Nancy Pelosi going home? No, she is being the leader of the United States House of Representatives.”

He added that the Senate shared the same responsibility to ensure a functioning government.

The differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill will be worked out in a conference committee of senators and representatives, starting on Monday. Once the two chambers agree on a budget, the governor will have 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or veto items in the bill. Lawmakers would have to return to the Capitol to consider whether to override any vetoes before April 16.

END

 

 

March 19, 2020

 

General Assembly passes COVID-19 relief for schools

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, presents a bill to provide relief for Kentucky’s public school districts. A hi-res photo can be found here.


FRANKFORT—The Kentucky General Assembly has approved emergency relief for local school districts that have been impacted by the novel coronavirus since March 6, when the governor declared a state of emergency to address the pandemic.

The relief measure—passed today by a vote of 84-0 in the House and 30-0 in the Senate—would become effective immediately should it be signed by the governor or otherwise become law in coming days.

Approved in an amended version of Senate Bill 177, a bill sponsored by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, the educational relief found in SB 177 would:

-      Allow local school districts to use 2018-19 school year data to determine average daily attendance for funding under the state’s SEEK formula, which is the main source of K-12 education funding for Kentucky’s public schools.

-     Include language in amended House Bill 461, sponsored by Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, which extends the number of nontraditional instructional days available to school districts to help them make up school days lost due to COVID-19.

-      Allow school districts to request unlimited nontraditional instruction days throughout the current pandemic—a provision that House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, said would help districts that may not be able to return to the traditional classroom until well into May.

-      Permit distance and tutorial learning, while allowing districts seeking additional instructional hours this year to work with the state on extended scheduling options or, in certain circumstances, request that hours be waived.

The measure would also require school districts to approve emergency leave for teachers or classified employees with COVID-19 health or related concerns, as well as allow districts to continue to provide free lunch in accordance with established emergency procedures, among other provisions.

Economic relief for workers and many businesses in Kentucky was also approved by the House today under SB 150, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, that originally dealt with out-of-network billing by insurers. The amended bill – which would sunset once the governor’s declared COVID-19 state of emergency is over—now awaits a vote in the Senate. The bill in its current form would do the following:

-          Allow government agencies or appropriate boards or commissions to waive license fees for businesses forced to close or significantly impacted.

-          Allow displaced workers to collect benefits quickly.

-          Protect small business owners forced to lay off workers by preventing an increase in the calculated unemployment rate.

-          Allow restaurants to repurpose their business plans to allow retail sale of items out the door without requiring new licensing.

-          Allow liquor by the drink to be sold at eligible establishments, among other provisions.

Like SB 177, SB 150 was passed by the House on a vote of 84-0 and contains an emergency clause that would make the legislation effective immediately after the legislation passes the General Assembly and is signed by the governor, or otherwise becomes law.

 

END

 

 

 

 

March 19, 2020

 

Mental health first-aid training bill heads to governor


FRANKFORT—  Educators, police, and anyone else who works with a member of the public who may be at risk of a mental health crisis could receive “mental health first aid” training under a bill that has been given final passage in the Kentucky House.

House Bill 153 sponsor and House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, says her Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training bill would give individuals access to evidence-based training on how to diffuse a mental health crisis.

Training would be administered by certified trainers overseen by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, with the cost of training courses and approved fee subsidies covered by grants drawn from a state-administered training fund as funding becomes available.  Moser said all public and private moneys in the fund would be reserved for the program.

 “Any money in this trust fund would be used specifically for this training program or suicide prevention programs,” she told the House when the bill first passed the chamber in January.

Mental health first aid training programs are already available in pockets of the state, said Moser. HB 153 would take the training statewide as Kentucky battles what Moser called “significant mental health issues,” including substance use disorder and suicide.

Mental health first-aid knowledge taught as part of a training course under HB 153 would include how to recognize symptoms of a mental health disorder, provide initial help, refer individuals for appropriate professional help, prevent further deterioration of someone’s mental health state, and promote the person’s healing and recovery.

HB 153 received final passage on a vote of 82-1 yesterday after being amended and passed in the Senate by a vote of 34-0 last week. It now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

 

END

 

 

 

March 19, 2020

 

Transportation budget, state road plan clear House

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, presents the proposed state Transportation Cabinet budget and biennial state Road Plan for a vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.


FRANKFORT—A $4.7 billion spending plan that would fund over $2 billion in highway and bridge projects throughout the Commonwealth through fiscal year 2022 has advanced to the state Senate.

The House yesterday voted 71-14 to approve House Bill 353, the biennial Transportation Cabinet budget which would fund upwards of $2.3 billion in projects approved separately in the biennial state highway construction plan – or “state Road Plan”—found in HB 354. That bill passed later in the day by a vote of 72-12.

Rep. Sal Santoro, chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, said that public safety was a priority as lawmakers worked on both bills. Santoro, R-Florence, presented the bills for a vote in the House at the request of the bills’ sponsor, House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah.

 “With the limited funds we had to work with, I think we did a marvelous job,” Santoro said, telling the House that HB 353 would provide additional millions for transportation needs in Kentucky over the next two years, including an $18.3 million boost in aviation funding and over $3 million for work on railroad crossings. Riverport improvements would also get a boost with an added $1 million in funding over the biennium.

At least $8 million would be provided for guard rail installation statewide, he said. And up to $20 million or more would be made available to support state compliance with the federal Real ID security mandate.

HB 353—which would appropriate state and federal funds, as well as bond funds and restricted funds – would also cover funding of operations and administration of the Transportation Cabinet itself.

Santoro said not all projects requested by lawmakers were able to be accommodated in the proposed Road Plan in HB 354 since needs “far outweigh our resources.” Part of the problem, he said, is the state’s pending loss of all available federal toll credits – a resource that Kentucky has used for years to draw in federal transportation grants.

Still, Santoro said HB 353 and 354 will help. 

“This is a realistic approach that should bring accountability from the Executive Branch,” he told the House.

Some lawmakers questioned the process used to prioritize projects in the proposed Road Plan. Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said a major roundabout project near WKU in her district was a top priority under the Transportation Cabinet’s SHIFT program, or Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow, a data-driven program for prioritizing projects and funding. The roundabout project is not in HB 354, Minter said.

“I hope everybody is going to raise some serious questions about how this (process) has been done,” she told the House.

Rudy said the proposal was designed to avoid significant overprogramming of the Road Plan, a practice that he said can push projects back for years. HB 354 is designed to avoid that and give the General Assembly more control over the planning process, he added.

“It’s a big, diverse state,” said Rudy. “And (Santoro) alluded to the issue of funding.”

A separate piece of legislation approved by the House contains highway construction projects recommended for funding outside the biennium through fiscal year 2026, or what lawmakers call the “out years.” That legislation, House Joint Resolution 66, also sponsored by Rudy, passed on a vote of 74-10.

“This…allows us to prepare for the future,” Santoro said of HJR 66.

Both HBs 353 and 354 and HJR 66 now go to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

 

March 18, 2020

 

 

Online streaming of legislative action expands during health emergency

Viewers can watch all of legislature’s standing committee meetings online

 

FRANKFORT – For the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency that has restricted visitors at the State Capitol and Capitol Annex, live video of all General Assembly standing committee meetings will be available for online viewing.

Kentucky Educational Television (KET) already livestreams Senate and House proceedings as well as many committee meetings. During the time that visitor access to the Capitol and Capitol Annex is restricted, KET will expand its daily online coverage to show even more committee coverage.

The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will livestream any committee meetings that aren’t covered by KET. LRC’s livestreams will be available for viewing on YouTube.

Between the expanded coverage provided by KET and LRC, every Senate and House standing committee will be available for live online viewing, starting today.

To see the daily meeting list with links to livestreams, go to: https://legislature.ky.gov/Public%20Services/PIO/Pages/Live-Streams.aspx.

 

 

 

 

March 17, 2020

 

Bill promoting SIDS research clears Senate

 

FRANKFORT -- Eighty-five words.

Sen. Max Wise said that is the number of new words legislation he filed would add to an existing statute to promote research and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome, known as SIDS, and other unknown causes of death.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 237, would allow a parent or guardian to request a tissue sample be collected during an autopsy of a child who has succumbed to SIDS.

Wise said he was made aware of sudden infant death syndrome in May 2013. That’s when his friends, Dwayne and Chrissy Ellison, lost their third child, Finley, to SIDS at three months of age. The Scott County couple have gone on to spread awareness about SIDS and safe sleep across the nation.

Wise said it’s the hope of the Ellisons that SB 237 will lead to more answers surrounding SIDS and the causes. He added the legislation could become a model for the nation.

Wise said the passage of SB 237 would help memorialize Finely, who lived 105 days.

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown thanked the Ellisons, who live in his district, for their tireless advocacy. Wise said the couple has raised more than $40,000 for SIDS awareness and research.

SB 237 passed by a 34-0 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

--END--

 

 

 

March 17, 2020

 

FAFSA requirement advances to Senate


FRANKFORT—The acronym for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form isn’t the easiest one to pronounce. Some say “FAFSA,” others “FASFA,” with a few pronunciations falling somewhere in between.

No matter how they say it, all Kentucky public high school seniors would be required to complete and submit the free application as a state graduation requirement beginning in the 2021-2022 school year under a bill that today cleared the state House.

Students who choose not to file the application as required by House Bill 87 could have their parent or guardian file a signed local school board-issued “noncompletion waiver” form on their behalf, or they could file the waiver themselves if they are at least age 18. Students who are unable to submit an application or a noncompletion waiver may be eligible for a hardship waiver per policy that would be developed by the local school board.

Homeschool students would be specifically exempt from the bill’s requirements, should they choose not to participate.

HB 87 sponsor and House Education Committee Chair Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, said the requirement would be a “companion piece” to the ACT college admission test, which is already a requirement for public high school juniors statewide.

“This has a direct correlation to academics and the child’s (ability) to prosper,” said Huff. “Adding this piece is just a component to develop on the ACT scores.”

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, voted against the bill. The Louisville educator said that she has filled out the FAFSA for her children for several years and is concerned that HB 87 would set up a requirement for parents, not students.

“My concern will this bill is that we’re putting a requirement on students for graduation that requires the parents to participate, and I don’t think that’s an appropriate graduation requirement,” said Bojanowski.

Supporting HB 87 was Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville. Tipton said the bill is “another tool” for students and their families to explore financial aid options.

“We know that we need people who have the skills in our workforce going forward, and this is just another tool that I think will help our young people be able to succeed in life,” he said.

HB 87 advanced to the Senate on a 48-33 vote.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 16, 2020

 

COVID-19 concerns mean fewer people on Capitol Campus,

but public has ways to stay connected to General Assembly

 

FRANKFORT – Several hours after Gov. Andy Beshear said access to the State Capitol Campus will be temporarily limited to essential staff, the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) announced that access to the Capitol Annex building will also be curbed in light of COVID-19 concerns.

The Capitol Annex is closed to everyone but legislators, essential staff, LRC-credentialed media, and specifically approved individuals. Other visitors will temporarily not be allowed in the Annex at a time when health officials discourage large crowds from gathering to help contain and mitigate the possible spread of the COVID-19.

Kentuckians have numerous ways to stay connected to the work of the General Assembly even if they can’t come to the Capitol Campus.

  • Kentucky Educational Television (KET) covers all Senate and House proceedings, and many legislative committee meetings. The proceedings are livestreamed on KET’s Legislative Coverage web page at: https://www.ket.org/legislature/. LRC is planning to provide online streaming of legislative standing committee meetings that aren’t covered by KET. (More details to come.)

  • The legislature’s daily schedule is available here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/LegislativeCalendar. Meeting information is also available on a recorded message by calling 1-800-633-9650.

  • To leave feedback on an issue with lawmakers, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. A Spanish-language line is available by calling 1-866-840-6574. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 7-1-1.

  • To directly reach a lawmaker’s office, call 502-564-8100. An operator will transfer the call to the office of the lawmaker you want to reach.

  • Web surfers also can see for themselves the issues before lawmakers by browsing through bill summaries, amendments, and resolutions in the online Legislative Record: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/record.html. The online Record is updated daily to indicate each bill’s status in the legislative process and to show rolls calls of votes in legislative chambers.

  • In addition to general information about the General Assembly, the Kentucky General Assembly website provides information on each of Kentucky’s senators and representatives, including their legislative committee assignments, sponsored legislation, contact information, and Twitter handles: https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.asp

  • Information on the status of a specific bill under consideration can be obtained by calling the Bill Status Line, 1-866-840-2835.

  • Citizens can write to any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker's name on it to: Legislative Offices, 701 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601.

 

--END--

 

 

 

 

March 13, 2020 

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – The COVID-19 virus that is causing disruptions across the state – and in countries throughout the world – prompted a postponement of General Assembly action at the end of this week as Senate and House leaders announced that legislative activity would take a break until March 17.

Bringing people together is in many ways the heart of the legislative process. Citizens from across the state come to the Capitol Campus and crowd into meeting rooms to view proceedings and offer their input. Lawmakers sit nearly elbow-to-elbow in committee rooms and legislative chambers as they deliberate and debate the issues. And, of course, the Capitol must lead the state in most handshakes per square foot. It’s the close-knit nature of the legislative process that helps find solutions to the challenges confronting our state. And yet, it’s that very closeness that could also allow the possible spread of a viral outbreak that has been classified as a pandemic. Legislative leaders say the break in the session, which was called for out of an abundance of caution, will provide a chance to evaluate safety procedures for the remainder of the session.

As of the afternoon of March 13, 11 Kentuckians had tested positive for coronavirus. Health officials say the threat to Kentuckians is currently low and that the rate of exposure can be greatly reduced by taking precautions and avoiding exposure. That’s why events and activities across the country that draw crowds are being temporarily suspended and many schools are taking a break from in-person classes.

One bill that took a step forward in the legislative process this week could help school districts deal with school closings caused by COVID-19 concerns. House Bill 461 would allow schools to use additional nontraditional instructional days, up to a total of 20 such days, when schools are closed due to a health-related state of emergency declared by the governor. Nontraditional instructional days, which are offered by some but not all school districts, give students opportunities to complete assignments and continue learning from home even when schools are closed. The use of nontraditional instructional days also keeps schools from having to schedule make-up days to meet the state’s school year requirements.

The legislation would allow a school district without a nontraditional instructional plan to submit such a plan for the state’s approval for the remainder of this school year. It would also allow the commissioner of education to waive the requirement that a school provide 1,062 instructional hours during the school year if the school can’t complete the hours but has maximized instructional time.

House Bill 461 was approved by the House Education Committee and now awaits consideration from the full House.

In other business this week, lawmakers approved measures on numerous other topics, including:

Abortion. House Bill 67 proposes an amendment to the Kentucky constitution dealing with abortion. The bill proposes that the following words be added to the constitution: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or 8 protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.“ The bill passed the House 71-21 and has been delivered to the Senate. If the bill is approved there, Kentuckians would vote on the constitutional amendment this November.

Human trafficking. House Bill 2 would require a national anti-human trafficking hotline number to be advertised in airports, truck stops, train stations and bus stations. Posters with the hotline number are currently required in rest areas. The bill would also close a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime. Those convicted of human trafficking offenses would face a minimum $10,000 fine to be paid to the state human trafficking victims’ fund, which would be moved to the Office of the Attorney General. House bill 2 was approved by the House on Tuesday on an 87-0 vote and has been delivered to the Senate.

Legal advertisements. Senate Bill 178 would require plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor. It would prohibit use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation and would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” The measure would also protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient. The legislation was approved by the Senate 21-13 on Monday and awaits consideration from the House.

Virginia laws. Senate Bill 106 contains a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal Section 233 of the state constitution, which states that certain laws in effect in Virginia before June 1792 are in effect in Kentucky. Supporters of the measure say that part of the constitution is an antiquated section from the time when Kentucky split from Virginia and became the 15th state. The bill passed the Senate by a 32-2 vote. If approved by the House, Kentucky voters would decide on the proposed constitutional amendment in November.

To share feedback with lawmakers on the issues under consideration, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

 

 

 

March 12, 2020

 

Tim’s Law changes given final passage

Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, presents SB 122 for a vote in the House. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—The House has given final passage to a bill that would improve treatment for seriously mentally ill patients under a 2017 Kentucky law.

Senate Bill 122, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, would allow judges to order assisted outpatient treatment for people who have been involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 24 months. That’s an expansion of the current law – known as Tim’s Law – which only allows judges to order the evidenced-based treatment approach for persons involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 12 months.

Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, presented the legislation for a vote in the House. She said SB 122 will allow Tim’s Law to be more fully implemented in the Commonwealth.

“Kentucky has not been able to implement (Tim’s Law) to the extent to which it was envisioned due to funding and the reason addressed in SB 122 – that the original criteria were too narrowly drawn,” said Frazier.

By extending the time frame for two involuntary commitments under Tim’s Law from 12 months to 24 months, Frazier said SB 122 will allow Kentucky to be “more in keeping with assisted outpatient treatment laws in other states.” 

Voting in support of SB 122 was Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, a clinical psychologist who said only one patient has qualified for assisted outpatient treatment under Tim’s Law since its passage in 2017.

“When this is enacted, that’s going to be expanded,” she said. “What’s happened in other states is that they’ve seen a 70-percent reduction in hospitalizations, 80-percent reduction in incarcerations for people with severe mental illness.”

At least 46 states have assisted outpatient treatment laws for seriously mentally-ill persons similar to Tim’s Law, she said. 

Tim’s Law is named for the late Tim Morton, a Lexington man with schizophrenia whose family was unable to force him into outpatient psychiatric treatment.

SB 122 passed the House by a vote of 93-1. After it is enrolled, the bill will be sent to the governor for his signature. The Senate passed the bill on a 33-1 vote in February.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 12, 2020

 

Kentucky General Assembly postpones session until March 17

FRANKFORT -- Legislative leaders announced today that the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session will be postponed until March 17. The Senate and House will not convene, as previously scheduled, on Friday, March 13 or Monday, March 16.

The decision was made in light of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a statement released by Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker David Osborne, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, and House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins

“The General Assembly continues to support the efforts of Governor Beshear and Kentucky’s public health community to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 virus. After much careful consideration, we have decided to exercise an abundance of caution and postpone legislative business on Friday, March 13 and Monday, March 16. This will not affect the number of legislative days left in this session. However, it will provide an opportunity to evaluate safety procedures as we move through the remainder of session. We anticipate resuming normal legislative business on Tuesday, March 17.”

--END--

 

 

 

March 11, 2020

Assistance dogs bill advances in KY Senate

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, explaining Senate Bill 279, legislation he introduced that would establish requirements for assistance dogs, during today’s meeting of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Someone brought a squirrel into a Kentucky emergency room as an emotional support animal.

It’s these kinds of anecdotes Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said prompted him to file legislation, known as Senate Bill 279, to clarify where and when assistance dogs are allowed on premises.

The importance of such government regulation was recently illustrated by the fact that COVID-19 is a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family of viruses that occasionally jumps from animals to humans, Higdon said while testifying before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.

“We have to be very, very cautious,” said the retired grocer, who recounted constituents’ concerns about the number of dogs they now see in grocery stores and restaurants.

SB 279 would permit an establishment to inquire about the assistance dog and refuse admittance if it jeopardizes the health and safety of others. It would also make the handler liable for damage caused by the animal.

The second section of SB 279 would make it unlawful for a person to misrepresent a dog as an assistance dog by placing a harness, collar, vest or sign on the animal. A violation of this section would be punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. The third section would raise the fine for various actions violating the rights of a person with an assistance dog from $250 to $500.

A final section would tweak the definition of assistance dog by requiring the dog to, among other things, have been trained to work, provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of the person with a disability. Higdon expressed concerns about the legitimacy of assistance dog certifications sold online.

Committee Chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, noted that legitimate assistance dogs have real therapeutic value. He said these types of animals make life better for people with disabilities but he understood abuses occur.

SB 279 advanced out of the committee. It now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

END

 

 

March 11, 2020

 

Proposed amendment on abortion advances to Senate

Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, presents HB 67 for a vote in the state House yesterday. A hi-res photo can be found here.


FRANKFORT—The question of whether Kentucky’s Constitution should be amended to specifically address abortion could be decided by voters this fall under a proposed constitutional amendment that has cleared the state House.

The proposed constitutional amendment in House Bill 67 would ask voters if the Kentucky Constitution should be amended with a new section that would specifically state, “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The proposed amendment would go before Kentucky voters in this November’s general election should HB 67 pass.

HB 67 primary cosponsor Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, said a “right to abortion” isn’t found anywhere in the state or U.S. constitutions. Courts have instead based decades of abortion decisions on the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, Fischer told the House before yesterday’s vote.

State voter approval of the proposed amendment, said Fischer, could offer more legislative options should the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverse its decision in Roe v. Wade.

“Let’s not allow our state courts to invent a new right to an abortion, and to invalidate our state laws protecting unborn children that have already been upheld in federal court,” Fischer said.

The other primary cosponsor of HB 67 is Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge.

Among those House members voting against HB 67 was Rep. Maria Sorolis, D-Louisville, who said that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop abortion.

“It makes it illegal, expensive, and unsafe,” she said.

Kentucky law requiring pregnant women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and for a health professional to display the ultrasound image so that the patient may see it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last December.

HB 67 passed the House 71-21 and now advances to the Senate.

END

 

 

 

 

 

March 10, 2020

Proposed amendment targets 1792 language

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, explains Senate Bill 106, a proposed constitutional amendment he introduced to repeal a section of the Kentucky Constitution, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Hey Virginia! We don’t need your stinking laws.

The Kentucky Senate voted 32-2 today to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal Section 233 of the state constitution, which states that any laws in effect in Virginia before June 1792 are in effect in Kentucky.

Exceptions are to be made if the Virginia laws are specific to that state, not of a “general nature,” are in conflict with Kentucky’s constitution and laws, or have been altered or repealed by the Kentucky General Assembly.

Sponsor Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, explained the section came about when Kentucky broke apart from Virginia to become the 15th state. He said a search of case law found Section 233 was last cited in the early ‘40s.

“It's essentially no longer needed,” said Schroder, a lawyer and son of a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice.

If the proposed constitutional amendment, contained in Senate Bill 106, receives the required two-thirds majority approval in the House of Representatives, it would still need to be ratified by voters.

END

 

March 10, 2020

Senate acts to rein in ads for drug injury lawsuits

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, explains Senate Bill 178, a measure he introduced to regulate mass tort advertising aimed at prescription drugs and medical devices, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices has advanced to the state House of Representatives.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 178, would require advertisers to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor.

Sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said a second provision would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation. A third provision would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” Lastly, SB 178 would protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.

Alvarado said the ads market the service as a legal networks of participating attorneys but are just “aggregators” or “lead generators” who collect callers’ medical information and sell it to lawyers.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said he was personally “repulsed” by some of the ads but he could not vote for SB 178. Wheeler said the Kentucky Bar Association has regulatory authority to “police” lawyer advertising. He added there are penalties in place for lawyers who falsely advertise.

“Some of the attorneys who do this type of work are, in fact, performing a public service,” said Wheeler, a lawyer by trade. “Just because something is FDA approved doesn’t mean that it is safe. At one point in time, the drug fen-phen was approved for use in weight loss. We now know many years later that many people suffered actual injury as a result of the use of this drug.”

Alvarado, a practicing doctor, said the ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk. He explained that the ads do this by emphasizing a drug’s side effects while failing to mention its benefits.

“A recent physician and patient survey that found 58 percent of physicians reported having patients stop taking their medications without consulting their doctor after seeing one of these ads,” he said.

SB 178 passed by a 21-13 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.

END

  

 

March 9, 2020


House Bill 2 advances to state Senate

House Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, presents HB 2 for a vote in the House. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Kentucky would have more tools to prosecute and prevent human trafficking under a bipartisan priority that has won state House approval.

House Bill 2, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, and Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, would give law enforcement more tools to combat human trafficking in the state. Victims of human trafficking who are forced into commercial sexual activity or labor would also be helped by HB 2, which Miles said would more closely align state and federal human trafficking law.

We’re “trying to enable law enforcement to have some opportunities that they have not had in the past” to address human trafficking, Miles told the House yesterday when she presented HB 2 for a floor vote.

HB 2 would close a loophole in the state sex offender registry by adding specific human trafficking offenses to the definition of a sex crime. Those convicted of human trafficking offenses would face a minimum $10,000 fine to be paid to the state human trafficking victims’ fund, which would be moved to the Office of the Attorney General for law enforcement and victim services.

Prevention is also part of the measure. HB 2 would require that uniform signage be printed with the national human trafficking hotline number—currently (888)-373-7888—and posted in public restrooms at airports, truck stops, and other passenger stops statewide. Current law only requires posting of the hotline number at state rest areas, said Miles.

HB 2 advanced to the Senate yesterday on a vote of 87-0.

 

END

 

 

  

 

March 10, 2020

 

KEES access bill clears House hurdle

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, presents HB 368 for a House vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— A statutory obstacle that has stopped otherwise-eligible students from earning or using their Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship awards would be removed under a bill that has passed the state House.

House Bill 368, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, would allow a student with a felony record who is otherwise eligible for a KEES scholarship to earn and use their KEES awards per current law within five years of high school graduation or for eight semesters of postsecondary study.

Tipton said HB 368 would remove barriers to education that have hampered the state’s ability to grow its skilled workforce.

“We all recognize that we have an issue in our state with availability of a qualified workforce,” Tipton told the House. “HB 368 is about removing obstacles from individuals who have made mistakes.”

In response to a question from Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, Tipton clarified that statutory time limits for receiving KEES aid would not be extended to accommodate individuals who spent time in incarceration.

“It would be my understanding, as I read the legislation, that they would still be able to access their KEES award until their eight semesters or five years have passed,” said Tipton.

Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, spoke in favor of HB 368 which he called a “giant step in removing issues relating to ex-felons in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

“Hopefully we can move on some other things that deal with giving people a second chance, and giving people an opportunity to fully participate in our society,” Brown added.

The House passed the measure 90-0 yesterday. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

  

 

March 6, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – A nearly complete view of the issues lawmakers will consider this year has arrived now that the bill-filing deadlines have passed in the Senate and House.

Of course, “nearly” is a key word. There’s always the possibility of twists and turns as lawmakers continue receiving testimony and contemplating changes to bills in the form of amendments. But now that the General Assembly has passed the point where any more bills can be filed, Capitol observers have a fairly comprehensive view of the matters that could be voted on in the remaining days of this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude on April 15.

This year’s complete tally shows that 286 bills were filed for consideration the Senate and 647 bills were introduced in the House.

The bill widely regarded as the most far-reaching of them all – the state budget proposal – took a big step forward this week when it was approved by members of the House 86-10 on Friday.

House members have been working on the budget since receiving the two-year spending proposal from Gov. Andy Beshear in January. Among the difference between the spending plan approved by the House and the original plan submitted by the governor is that the plan no longer relies on additional revenue from the possibility of sports betting or increased business taxes in Kentucky, though it does anticipate revenue from a proposed tax on vaping products and a proposed increase on certain tobacco products.

The $23.4 billion plan approved by the House on Friday would offer teachers, school district employees, and state workers a 1 percent raise in each of the next two years.

It would also increase spending to improve the health and safety of Kentuckians with funding to hire 100 additional state social workers. And it provides $18 million for school facility upgrades and $49 million to hire more school counselors in support of major school safety laws approved last year.

It fully funds the state’s pension obligations and would maintain $392.4 million in the state’s “rainy day” fund. And it would provide more than $63 million over the next two years for a performance-based funding pool for postsecondary schools.

The budget proposal now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Dozens of other bills also advanced during the just-completed ninth week of the 2020 session. Among the measures that moved forward this week are bills on the following topics:

Animal abuse. Senate Bill 21 would allow veterinarians to make a report to authorities if they find that an animal under their care has been abused. The bill was approved by the Senate 35-0 on Thursday and now goes to the House.

Infrastructure protection. House Bill 44 would strengthen security for critical infrastructure across Kentucky by specifying that above-ground natural gas and petroleum pipelines and certain cable television facilities aren’t suitable areas for drone flights. The legislation also defines tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief. The bill was approved by the Senate 31-4 on Thursday and will be sent to the governor’s desk.

Police pursuits. House Bill 298 would require law enforcement agencies across the state to establish policies on vehicle pursuits, including criteria on when to begin and end such chases.  The bill passed the House 34-8 on Wednesday and has been sent to the Senate.

Splash pads. Senate Bill 159 would require the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to set standards for the safe and sanitary operation of splash pads, water-based playgrounds with little or no standing water. The bill passed the Senate 36-0 on Monday and has been referred to a House committee for further consideration.

Youth protection. Senate Bill 182 would make it illegal to post personally identifying information about a minor online with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten the child. The bill was approved by the Senate 30-6 and now awaits consideration from a House committee.

For a complete look at the issues under consideration this year, check out the online Legislative Record: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/record.html. Under the “Miscellaneous” heading, click on “Bill and Amendment Index Heading” to see the list of subjects covered by proposed bills. Once you click on one of the topics that interests you, you’ll see links to each of the bills that falls under that heading.

You can also share feedback with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

March 6, 2020

 

State budget bill advances to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—A $23.4 billion state spending plan that would provide pay raises for state employees and teachers, more than $1 billion to fund teacher pensions, and millions of dollars for school safety has advanced to the Kentucky Senate.

House Bill 352, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, passed the House today on a vote of 86-10. Rudy called the Executive Branch spending plan “a step” in the budget process that would keep the state’s debt ratio at 5.3 percent – the same ratio proposed by Gov. Andy Beshear – while funding government needs statewide.

“It is our job to appropriate the money and be in control of this process. This is not the end of the process, but a step,” Rudy said of the bill. 

Pay raises in the bill for state employees and teachers would amount to 1 percent increases in each of the next two years, with funding also added for additional personnel in the Office of the Attorney General and other constitutional offices. Local prosecutors, social workers, PVAs, and more would also get a salary increase.

Public pensions would receive support, too, with more than $1.1 billion appropriated to the Teachers’ Retirement System to help fully fund the system actuarially-required pension obligations over the biennium. State Police pensions under the Kentucky Retirement Systems would also get some relief from their unfunded liability under the bill.

HB 352 would also beef up spending aimed at improving the health and safety of Kentuckians through a proposed influx of around $33 million to hire additional state social workers and retain the social workers now serving the Commonwealth. And it includes $18.7 million for school facility upgrades and $49 million to hire more school counselors as called for under 2019 SB 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act signed into law last year.

Additionally HB 352 proposes an increase in guaranteed per pupil base funding, or SEEK, for public schools. And it would deliver well over $63 million in the next biennium for the state’s performance-based funding pool to serve clearly-defined needs of Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions, in addition to other spending provisions.

The bill would also cover over $158 million in funds for preschool for low-income and other eligible children, as well as over $97 million for Kentucky’s Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and other funding provisions for learning supports over the biennium.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said although there are a few areas of the bill with which she has concerns, HB 352 also does good things including funding school safety, support for social workers, increasing worker pay, and providing funding for child services. She also said that she appreciates that the bill doesn’t include drastic budget cuts seen in recent years.

“I’ve been here 11 years now, and all we have done practically, to date, is cut (funding),” said Flood. She said HB 352 does include some “wise dollars” that Kentucky needs.

HB 352 passed on a vote of 86-10 and advances to the Senate along with HB 351, which passed on a vote of 57-34. That measure includes technical changes involving the state tax code, and related provisions.

 

END

 

  

 

 

March 5, 2020

 

State budget bill advances to Kentucky House

 

House Appropriations and Revenue Chair Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, explains House Bill 352, the state Executive Branch budget proposal approved by the panel this evening. A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—A $23-plus billion state spending plan that would provide pay raises for state employees and teachers while beefing up funding for public schools and public pensions has passed the House budget committee and is on its way to the floor of the Kentucky House.

House Bill 352 sponsor and House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said the proposed state Executive Branch budget legislation – which would keep the state’s debt ratio at the same percentage proposed by Gov. Andy Beshear while maintaining the state’s budget reserve trust fund at $392.4 million – is “not the end of the process, but a step.”

Pay raises of one percent in each of the next two fiscal years for both state and school employees are found in the bill, as are millions of dollars for additional personnel for the Office of the Attorney General and various other constitutional offices. Pay raises for local prosecutors over the biennium are also proposed, among other provisions.

Public pensions would receive support, too, including teacher pensions for which the bill would provide $1.1 billion to the Teachers’ Retirement System to help fully fund the system actuarially-required pension obligations over the biennium.

HB 352 would also beef up spending aimed at improving the health and safety of Kentuckians through a proposed influx of around $33 million to hire and retain additional state social workers. And it includes $18.7 million for school facility upgrades and $49 million to hire more school counselors as called for under 2019 SB 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act signed into law last year.

Additionally HB 352 proposes an increase in guaranteed per pupil base funding, or SEEK, for public schools. And it would deliver well over $63 million in the next biennium for the state’s performance-based funding pool to serve clearly-defined needs of Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions, in addition to other spending provisions.

HB 352 was approved by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and returned to the full House, along with committee-approved legislation related to the state tax code found in HB 351 and the state Legislative Branch budget found in HB 355. 

The full House is expected to vote on HB 352 tomorrow.

 

END

 

 

 

March 5, 2020

Animal abuse reporting bill passes Senate

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, explains Senate Bill 21, an animal welfare bill he sponsored, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

  

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would untie veterinarians’ hands to report animal abuse has advanced to the House.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 21, would allow veterinarians to report the abuse of animals under their care, said Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, who sponsored the legislation. Veterinarians are currently prohibited by law from reporting abuse of animals under their care unless they have the permission of the owner or are under a court order.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, added that Kentucky was the only state with a law restricting a veterinarian's ability to report animal abuse.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she supported SB 21 after it was amended in committee to, among other things, remove a clause that would have granted veterinarians immunity from liability arising from making a report. She said a veterinarian shouldn’t be protected by such a blanket clause if they knowingly make a false report.

SB 21 passed by a 35-0 vote.

END

 

March 5, 2020

Senate bill reorganizing education board moves

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, presents Senate Bill 10, a measure he introduced addressing how Kentucky Board of Education members are selected during today’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

  

FRANKFORT – Legislation to overhaul the Kentucky Board of Education advanced out of the state Senate Education Committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 10, would undo a recent executive order that reorganized that board. It would also prohibit future governors from reconstituting the board through executive orders.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said SB 10 wasn’t about politics.

“It is best the policy and institutional integrity stay consistent,” said Stivers, who introduced the bill. “That is what this legislature has done for the 20-plus years I have been here and ... since the advent of KERA.”

KERA is the acronym for the Kentucky Education Reform Act passed in 1990, which sought to insulate the state's education system from partisan politics.

Another provision of SB 10 would require board appointments to reflect equal gender representation and proportionally reflect the state’s political affiliation and minority racial composition. The current law prohibits a governor from considering the party affiliation of appointees.

Board members would still have to be at least 30 years old, have at least an associate’s degree and lived at least three years in Kentucky. Also, certain ethics requirements would still have to be met to avoid any conflicts of interests.

Democratic Caucus Chair Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, said he couldn’t support SB 10.

“I believe the guidelines and qualifications of board members are set so that the governor can choose the very best,” he said. “I think that is highlighted by some of his appointments.” Turner then lists the qualifications of many of the current board members.

Stivers emphasized that if SB 10 becomes law, current board members could still be considered for the new board. The new board's composition, however, would have to meet the new gender, racial and political equity requirements.

The board’s primary mission would remain the same. That is to develop and adopt the regulations that govern Kentucky's 172 public school districts and the actions of the Kentucky Department of Education. Board members also serve as the board for the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville and Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville.

SB 10 now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.

END

 

March 4, 2020

Bill to rein in surprise medical billing advances

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, explains Senate Bill 150, legislation he introduced to offer consumers some protection from surprise medical bills, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

  

FRANKFORT – Legislation to offer patients some protection from surprise medical bills passed the state Senate today.

“There are many factors that contribute to surprise billing,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “Some will place the blame on insurance companies. Some will place the blame on providers. It all depends on whom you ask. But while we are trying to figure out who to blame, patients are stuck in the middle of the problem – often with large medical bills.”

The measure Alvarado sponsored, known as Senate Bill 150, seeks to stop the practice by requiring insurers to cover surprise billing, sometimes called balanced billing. It happens when a patient receives medical care – often unwittingly – outside of their insurer's network. Subsequently, the doctor or hospital bills the patient for the amount insurance didn't cover.

Alvarado characterized SB 150 as a consumer protection bill. He said surprise billing was a dubious exercise of cost shifting from insurers to patients.

A second provision of SB 150 would require the state insurance commissioner to establish a database of billed health care service charges. A final provision would provide a dispute resolution program for medical insurers and providers to work out their differences over these out-of-network charges.

Sen. Rick Girdler, R-Somerset, stood to speak against the bill. He cited a fiscal impact statement prepared for the bill that estimated SB 150 would increase individual premiums for health benefit plans by up to $9 per month.

“The people that are going to suffer ... is the consumer,” he said.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, stood to explain his “yes” vote on SB 150. He noted the self-funded Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan already covers surprise billing for its nearly 265,000 members.

“If we are going to enjoy that benefit, the citizens of Kentucky should share the same,” he said.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, stood to explain his “no” vote on SB 150. He said what was desperately needed was broader reforms to empower health care consumers through such measures as transparent pricing of procedures and drugs.

“Today I filed Senate Bill 265 that I believe offers a better solution in the context mentioned,” he said.

Alvarado said SB 150 wasn’t a hastily drafted bill but the results of three years of investigation.

“I wish to remind the members of the Senate that a successful bill for surprise billing should only make one group happy – and that is the patients we are trying to protect,” he said. “If other stakeholders are a bit uncomfortable, then we have a good compromise on this issue.”

SB 150 passed by a 30-3 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END

 

March 4, 2020

 

Broadband deployment bill passes KY House

Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, presents HB 362 for a vote in the House.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would create a framework for future funding of broadband deployment grants in the Commonwealth has advanced to the Senate.

House Bill 362 primary cosponsor Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, said the broadband deployment program set out under the bill would allow government agencies or private entities to apply for state grants for broadband infrastructure projects in defined unserved and underserved areas of the state.  The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority would administer the program, which would require grant applicants to pay 50 percent of the project cost.

HB 362 does not include an appropriation for the grant program, said Pratt. It would instead put a structure in place for the program to be funded in the future.

Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, is also a primary cosponsor of the bill.

“While future appropriations are essential to the fund, the program stakeholders agree that a framework for the grant fund must be established first,” Pratt said, adding HB 362 would help to remedy the “significant cost” of expanding broadband to less densely populated areas.

“Absent some combination of federal and state support, many high-cost broadband deployment areas in the Commonwealth will remain underserved or unserved. HB 362 is one way we can work to close the digital divide,” Pratt told the House.

At least 31 states including Indiana and Tennessee now offer some kind of incentives for broadband deployment based on recent news reports, Pratt added.

One lawmaker opposing the bill was Rep. Maria Sorolis, D-Louisville. While Sorolis said she supports the goal of the bill, she was doubtful the goal can be reached under the legislation.

“I’d just like to see (the bill) put together in a fashion … that the goals could be accomplished, it wouldn’t be cherry-picked by big corporations, and that perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to fund and fuel some home-grown business in those areas of our state that are deserving and in need,” Sorolis said. 

Pratt said HB 362 will help meet that need by putting the grant framework in place.

“Broadband providers are aggressively pursuing federal and state grants and loans throughout the country as they seek public-private partnerships to advance broadband deployment,” he said.

HB 362 passed the House 82-11.

END

 

 

March 4, 2020

 

HB 2 advances to floor of KY House

House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, presents HB 2 for a vote before the committee.  A hi-res photo can be found here.


FRANKFORT— A bipartisan bill that has been called a “comprehensive approach” to human trafficking prosecution and prevention has advanced to the floor of the Kentucky House.

House Bill 2 primary cosponsor and House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, told the House Judiciary Committee that the legislation would ramp up efforts to combat human trafficking in the Commonwealth. House Judiciary Chairman Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, is also a primary cosponsor of HB 2.

“Human trafficking is something that is becoming more prevalent in our society and we’re starting to see it crop up in different areas,” Miles said, adding that growth in human trafficking has led to new approaches to combat the crime at the federal level, and through proposals like HB 2.

Besides adding specific human trafficking offenses to what qualifies as a sex crime under Kentucky law, HB 2 would increase awareness and prevention of human trafficking by requiring that the national human trafficking hotline number –  currently (888)-373-7888 – be posted in public restrooms in airports, train stations, bus stations, and truck stops statewide.

Current law only requires posting of the hotline number at Kentucky rest areas, said Miles.

Signage required under HB 2 would be “pretty well everywhere that we have planes, trains, and automobiles,” Miles said. “It’s purposeful in that, so in the event that there is possibly a victim out there, the main numbers they really need to remember are the 3737.”

Speaking alongside Miles in support of the bill was Heather Wagers from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office who said that HB 2 is a “comprehensive approach” to deterring human trafficking and protecting vulnerable Kentuckians.

“This bill specifically aligns definitions with federal law, and it closes a loophole in the (state) sex offender registry,” Wagers told the panel.

HB 2 now returns to the full House for further consideration.

END

           

 

 

 

 

March 4, 2020

Bill tackling addiction in the workplace advances

Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, presents Senate Bill 173, legislation he introduced designed to give people in addiction recovery gainful employment, during today’s meeting of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to give Kentuckians in addiction recovery a pathway to maintain or return to employment narrowly advanced out of a Senate Committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 173, would task the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Office of Drug Control Policy with developing educational resources for businesses who voluntarily implement employer-facilitated treatment programs for employees who fail drug screenings.

Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced SB 173 to give people a second chance. It’s part of an overall shift among policymakers to address long-term recovery after Kentucky’s opioid epidemic ravaged communities across the commonwealth.

“This particular bill here ... will be a great stepping stone to allowing individuals to beat drug addiction,” Castlen said while presenting the bill before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. “Employees in recovery experience fewer relapses, lower turnover rates and miss work less.”

Castlen said substance use disorders continue to weigh down labor force participation rates in Kentucky. He cited difficulties in finding qualified employees for his steel business, particularly with the unemployment rate hovering at historic lows. Iris Wilbur Glick of Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce, echoed Castlen’s remarks when she testified in support of the legislation.

”SB 173 is an important first step in changing the culture and stigma in Kentucky by empowering employers with the tools to create a customized program that gives assurance and accountability when faced with addiction,” said Glick, adding that research on the most effective recovery strategies routinely illustrate a close connection between employment and recovery. “A job brings with it not only a source of income and health benefits but also a sense of purpose and dignity.”

Glick said SB 173 is similar to legislation that passed in Indiana two years ago.

Rob Mattingly of the Kentucky Justice Association testified that his group was supportive of the bill’s concept but was concerned about provisions in SB 173 that released employers of certain liabilities when employing people with substance use disorders.

Glick said the chamber’s stance was SB 173 would create a higher bar for liability claims but not shield employers from all legal actions.

“This bill, by no stretch of the imagination, provides blanket immunity,” Glick said. “At the end of the day, particularly under Kentucky’s current liability climate, if a person wants to file a suit against an employer, there is still an ability to do so.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said SB 173 may not be perfect, but he supported it because of the costs of illegal drug use to society. He said SB 173 was an example of the “global approach” to substance use disorders that Kentucky policymakers need to embrace.

SB 173 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

END


 

 

March 3, 2020

Voter ID bill passes House, returns to Senate

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, presents SB 2 for a vote on the House floor.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A proposed voter ID requirement for Kentucky voters is on its way back to the Senate after being amended and passed today in the state House.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would require voters to present a government photo ID in order to vote, or present another approved form of identification and affirm under penalty of law that they had an impediment from accessing a government photo ID.

Voters without an approved form of identification at the polls, but otherwise eligible to vote, would be permitted to cast a “provisional ballot” for federal candidates in federal elections as long as the voter meets the provisional voting requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

House changes to the bill would allow qualified voters without a government photo ID to cast their ballot at the polls both if the voter is recognized by an election officer and the officer attests under law to knowing the voter.  Also, county board of elections would be allowed to rule on questions regarding proof of identification.

SB 2’s provisions would take effect in time for this year’s general election should the bill become law.

Opposing the bill was Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, who told her colleagues that around 25 percent of African-Americans don’t have photo identification. SB 2 would make voting difficult for those individuals, she said.

“Disenfranchisement and voter suppression may not matter to you, but it certainly does to me,” Scott told the House. 

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, who brought SB 2 to a vote on the House floor, said the bill is meant to preserve the integrity of Kentucky elections.

“The one thing I’ve heard loud and clear from my constituents (is) they want to make sure that when they cast their vote their vote is going to count, and is not going to be overturned by somebody trying to abuse the system because of a lack of identification at the poll,” said Tipton.

The House passed SB 2 by a vote of 62-35. The bill now returns to the Senate, where it passed by a vote of 29-9 in late January.

END

 

 

 

 

 

March 3, 2020

 

Real ID rollout bill advances to full House

FRANKFORT—A bill that supporters say is the final step needed for statewide implementation of the federal Real ID requirement has passed a House committee.

“This is a federal mandate,” House Bill 453 primary cosponsor Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, told the House Transportation Committee before its approval of the bill. “It’s not Transportation (Cabinet), it’s not us in the legislature. I just want everyone to know that.”

Santoro said HB 453—of which House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, is also a primary cosponsor—will “clearly reflect” in statute that regional Real ID offices are under the oversight of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Additionally, the bill would transition all driver’s licensing, permits, and personal ID card responsibilities from Kentucky’s circuit court clerk offices to the Cabinet by June 30, 2022.

“We have to change it and now’s the time. It going to gradually happen in this biennium – it’s not going to be tomorrow,” Santoro said.

Kentucky Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said in his testimony before the committee on HB 453 that the Real ID issue has moved his Cabinet toward a common goal.

“Bottom line, our goal is to deliver for Kentuckians who want a Real ID before the Oct. 1 enforcement deadline,” said Gray.

HB 453 builds on a 2017 state law that created a new state “voluntary travel ID” and other procedures to bring Kentucky into compliance with strict federal identification standards under the 2005 Real ID Act. A Kentucky voluntary travel ID or other federally-accepted form of identification will be needed to board commercial flights and enter certain federal facilities as of Oct. 1, 2020.

Two pilot locations for issuance of the new voluntary travel ID opened in central Kentucky in 2019, followed by the rollout of regional Real ID offices in recent months. The Cabinet expects Kentucky to have 18-24 regional offices statewide at full implementation.

“That doesn’t exclude more (offices) if funds are available,” said Kentucky Real ID project manager Sarah Jackson, who testified before the committee alongside Santoro and Gray.

HB 453 now returns to the full House for consideration.

END

 

March 3, 2020

Senate passes bill tackling gender gap in coding

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown explains Senate Bill 193, examining the gender gap in coding, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

  

FRANKFORT – It does not compute. Women represented 40 percent of the computer science workforce back in 1995. Today, it is less than 25 percent.

That’s why Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown said he wanted to be a primary sponsor of Senate Bill 193. He added that the goal of the measure would be to increase participation in computer science courses by underrepresented groups. Those include females, minorities, students with disabilities, English-language learners and students whose families are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

“As a father of a daughter who wants to become an airline pilot ... I’m very sympathetic to this cause,” Thayer said, adding that only 5 percent of the country’s pilots are women.

Thayer said the issue first came to his attention when he was invited to speak a few weeks ago at the Girls Who Code rally in the Capitol rotunda. He said the national nonprofit organization is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.

The other primary sponsor, Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, said SB 193 would require the state education department to annually report on public school students participating in computer science courses and other computer science educational opportunities.

The report shall also include the number of computer science courses or programs offered in each school, the nature of the computer science courses or programs, the number of advanced placement computer science classes offered and the number of computer science instructors at each school.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, stood in support of the bill and urged legislators to follow up the report with any needed bills to address the gap.

“I think the goals are laudable,” he said. “We ought to be doing this.” 

SB 193 passed by a 37-1 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END

 

March 3, 2020

Bill targets legal ads aimed at prescription drugs

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, explains Senate Bill 178, a measure he introduced to regulate mass tort advertising aimed at prescription drugs and medical devices, during today’s meeting of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

  

FRANKFORT – Legislation to regulate plaintiff lawyer advertisements that target consumers of prescription drugs and medical devices advanced out of a state Senate committee today.

“I’m sure all of you have seen legal advertisements on television about prescription drugs,” Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said about the legislation, known as Senate Bill 178. “They look like an important health alert about the risks associated with a medication often using a logo of a national health organization like the Food and Drug Administration meant to imply authenticity. They might show an ambulance in the background, use a dramatic or scary voice.”

The ads compromise the doctor-patient relationship and potentially put consumers’ health at risk, Alvarado said while testifying before the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee. He explained that the ads do this by emphasizing a drug’s side effects while failing to mention its benefits. Common prescriptions that are targeted by these ads include blood thinners and drugs to treat diabetes, heartburn, cardiovascular events and certain cancers.

SB 178 would require advertisers to warn viewers that it is dangerous to stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting a doctor. A second provision would prohibit the use of a government agency logo in a manner that suggests an affiliation. A third provision would prohibit ads that solicit legal business from being labeled a “medical alert” or “health alert.” Lastly, SB 178 would protect personal health information from being sold for soliciting legal services without the written authorization of the patient.

Alvarado called SB 178 a “patient protection bill.” He stressed that it would not ban legal ads or restrict someone’s right to seek legal services in response to their medical care.

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, asked how enforceable the proposed law would be since some of Kentucky’s larger metropolitan areas, such as Northern Kentucky, are served by out-of-state television stations. Cory Meadows of the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) testified that was a concern but noted Tennessee has a similar statute and West Virginia was considering one.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, asked why a violation of SB 178 would be punishable by a misdemeanor and not just a civil penalty. Meadows said KMA wanted to make it a felony. He said some type of criminal penalty was needed to “put teeth” in the measure.

Jay Vaughn of the Kentucky Justice Association testified that the group liked the proposed warning not to stop taking a drug without consulting a physician. He said the group thought the other provisions of SB 178 went too far.

SB 178 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

END

 

March 2, 2020

 

National Guard life insurance bill advances to Senate

Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, presents HB 315 for a vote in the House. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A bill designed to make information about a state-sponsored group term life insurance option more readily available to Kentucky National Guard members has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 315 would require the Kentucky Adjutant General — who is the commander of soldiers and airmen in the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard, and the Governor’s chief military advisor — to oversee efforts to make the National Guard Association of Kentucky group-term life insurance program available to all Kentucky National Guard members.  

The insurance program currently allows service members to purchase up to $50,000 in coverage for around $3.50 in premiums per every $10,000 in coverage, but the association’s ability to provide information about the program to members of the Kentucky Guard is restricted, according to HB 315 sponsor Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg.

“This limits the capability of the association to provide this benefit opportunity to those who most warrant and deserve it,” Tate told the House.

HB 315 would help more service members learn about the benefit through involvement of the Adjutant General, who would provide opportunities for Kentucky National Guard members to enroll in and upgrade life insurance, receive program briefings during trainings and drills, among other provisions.

HB 315 passed the House by a vote of 93-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2, 2020

 

Secretariat resolution advances to Senate

Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, presents a resolution honoring Triple Crown Winner Secretariat. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A resolution to celebrate the 50th birthday of the world’s most celebrated racehorse of all time was advanced today in the Kentucky House.

House Concurrent Resolution 41 sponsor Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, said the legislation celebrates the March 30, 1970 birthday of 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat, who spent the majority of his life as a sire at Claiborne Farm in Paris. It also recognizes a special anniversary celebration of Secretariat’s life set for Bourbon County next month.

“Big Red Gala: A celebration of Secretariat's 50th Birthday” is scheduled for the week of April 14 as the state’s official celebration of Secretariat’s birthday. The event will feature Claiborne Farm tours, memorabilia displays, a vendor fair, concerts, 10k race, drive-in showing of the film “Secretariat,” equine parade and more, said Koch.

“We’re having a big celebration … We’re expecting over 15,000 people to come to this,” he said.

Secretariat, who was nicknamed Big Red, sired over 580 offspring at Claiborne Farm, where he was flown after record wins in each race of the Triple Crown. He died in 1989 and is buried at the farm.

Secretariat’s record times in the three Triple Crown races, including the Kentucky Derby, remain unbeaten.

HCR 41 passed the House 93-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

March 2, 2020

Bill would make it a crime to ‘dox’ minors

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, explains Senate Bill 182, a measure he introduced to criminalize "doxing," during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to criminalize a type of online harassment passed the state Senate today by a 30-6 vote.

Senate Bill 182 would make it a crime for a person to use online communications to intentionally disseminate identifying information of a minor with the intent to intimidate abuse, threaten, harass or frighten the minor. The information would include the child’s name, Social Security number, birthday, address, email, telephone number, checking account number, health information, employer or school.

Such actions would be a misdemeanor but could be enhanced to a felony if physical harm, monetary loss or death resulted in the online communications.

This type of cyber behavior is generally referred to as doxing, slang for “dropping documents.” It is defined as the act of publicly identifying or publishing private information about someone, especially as a form of punishment or revenge.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said it was time Kentucky criminalize this type of online harassment towards minors after a Northern Kentucky high school student was doxed following the posting of a video of him with a Native American protester in Washington D.C.

“You can disagree with someone,” he said. “You can call that person whatever you want. You can put your own opinion, but you don’t have the right to use online platforms to attempt to harass someone with a real fear of bodily injury because you are giving out their home address, where they go to school and inciting people to go do damage to them, their family and their property.”

McDaniel described SB 182 as a simple, common-sense step to address a growing problem in the era of social media.

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said he couldn’t vote for SB 182 because it was too broadly written and would have unintended consequences.

He said he feared a child could be charged with violating the proposed law by posting a picture of a classmate wearing a school T-shirt. McGarvey said he T-shirt would be the equivalent of posting where the child went to school.

“While that might not be the intent of this bill, that is how the bill reads,” he said. “When we are talking about this type of serious matter and offense, we need to be precise with the language. This bill goes too far.”

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said he did not share the same concerns about SB 182.

“It is not just enough to identify a person and school,” he said, adding one would have to use threatening and abusive language. “In addition to that, the minor has to have a reasonable fear of physical injury.”

Schroder sponsored similar legislation during the 2019 regular session. That measure, known as SB 240, passed the Senate by a 26-10 vote but didn’t get a committee hearing in the House of Representatives.

This year’s SB 182 now goes to the House for its consideration.

END

 

Feb. 28, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – More top issues of the General Assembly’s 2020 session came into better focus this past week as legislative action hit high gear.

In the Senate, members gave approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that could give the General Assembly authority to establish standards on restoring voting rights for certain felons, not including those who committed treason, election bribery, a sex offense, a violent crime, or an offense against a child.

Kentucky law currently prohibits felons from voting unless they have their rights restored by the governor.

Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order in December to restore voting rights to about 140,000 felons. Supporters of Senate Bill 62 say the legislation would build on this by giving Kentucky an enduring approach to restoring voting rights that isn’t susceptible to different approaches future governors might have on the issue.

The bill passed the Senate 29-7 on Thursday and now goes to the House for consideration. If approved there, Kentucky voters would have the final say on the proposed constitutional amendment in November.

Measures advancing in the House this past week include a bill that would establish a tax on vaping products. It would also increase the excise tax rate per unit and weight on snuff and chewing tobacco.  Pipe tobacco and cigars would also see a wholesale tax increase from 15 to 25 percent, although cigarettes would not see a change. Supporters say the legislation, House Bill 32, would help decrease vaping among youth while generating needed revenue for the state.

The bill was approved by the House 75-17 on Wednesday and delivered to the Senate.

Other bills that took steps forward in the legislation process over the past week include measures on the following topics:

Adoption leave. House Bill 390 would require employers to offer the same leave policies to adoptive parents as they offer to birth parents. The legislation was approved by the House 81-0 on Friday and now goes to the Senate.

Eating disorders. Senate Bill 82 seeks to offer better treatment options to those with eating disorders by establishing the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The council would oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education and prevention programs. It would also identify strategies for improving access to adequate diagnosis and treatment services and made recommendations on legislative and regulatory changes. The bill was approved by the House Health and Family Services Committee on Thursday and awaits action from the full House.

High school vocational education. Senate Bill 156 would require the state to develop plans to transition state-operated secondary vocational educational centers to local school districts by mid-2024. The bill was approved by the Senate 30-7 on Tuesday and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Infrastructure protection. House Bill 44 seeks to strengthen the security of critical infrastructure across Kentucky. The legislation would specify that above-ground natural gas and petroleum pipelines and cable television headend are among the infrastructure assets aren’t suitable areas for drone flights. The legislation also defines tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief. The bill was approved by the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Wednesday and awaits consideration from the full Senate.

Local taxes. House Bill 475 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove restrictions on ways the General Assembly can allow local governments to levy certain taxes. The bill was approved Thursday by the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. If approved by the full House and Senate, the measure would be decided by voters in a statewide ballot this fall.

Mental illness. Senate Bill 154 would add a diagnosis of serious mental illness to the disabilities which prevent the death penalty for persons convicted of capital offenses. The diagnoses of the serious mental illness would need to come before the capital offense occurs, not after. The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and now goes to the full Senate.

Newborn screenings. Senate Bill 60 would require that newborns be screened for spinal muscular atrophy. Early diagnosis of this genetic disease helps babies receive treatment when it’s most effective. The bill passed the House Health and Family Services Committee on Thursday and awaits a vote from the full House.

Pardons. Senate Bill 58 would prohibit a governor from pardoning or commuting sentences 30 days or less before a gubernatorial election. If a governor is re-elected, pardon powers would be restored on inauguration day. The bill, which was approved by the Senate 33-4 on Wednesday, now goes to the House for further consideration. Since Senate Bill 58 seeks to amend the state constitution, it would need to be approved by Kentucky voters this fall to go into effect.

Veterans. House Bill 24 would support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation would appropriate $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility. That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start building the proposed $30 million facility. The bill was approved by the Senate 36-0 on Wednesday and now goes to the governor’s desk.

Youth protection. Senate Bill 182 would make it illegal to post personally identifying information about a minor online with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten. The bill received approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and awaits a vote from the full Senate.

To offer your legislators feedback on the issues under consideration, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

 

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Feb. 27, 2020

 

EMS funding bill advances to Senate

Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, presents HB 8 for a vote on the House floor A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow Kentucky’s struggling emergency medical services statewide to benefit from enhanced federal Medicaid payments for ground ambulance runs has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 8 primary cosponsor Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, said the legislation is the result of over three years of work with the Kentucky Ambulance Providers Association and Kentucky Medicaid office. The bill—of which Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, is also a primary cosponsor—would enable EMS services to assess a fee that would be used to enhance Medicaid payments for ambulance runs.

“By assessing those EMS services and by working cooperatively with the state Medicaid office, Kentucky like many other states can take full advantage of the federal government’s enhanced Medicaid payment program and realize thousands of additional dollars through their EMS service so that we can continue to deliver emergency medical care to the sick and injured throughout the Commonwealth,” said Rothenburger.

The legislation is expected to result in thousands, “if not millions,” of additional dollars for Kentucky based on experiences in states like Tennessee, which Rothenburger said has had similar legislation in place for about four years.

Tennessee “has realized millions of dollars” under its legislative model, said Rothenburger.

HB 8 passed the House 91-0 and now goes to the Senate.

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Feb. 27, 2020

Voting rights restoration bill heads to House

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, explains Senate Bill 62, a proposed constitutional amendment he introduced to restore voting rights to felons, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A proposed constitutional amendment that could give some felons a clearer path to regaining voting rights passed the Senate today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 62, would grant the General Assembly the authority to establish standards for giving persons convicted of certain felonies the right to vote. It would exclude people convicted of treason, bribery in an election, a violent offense, a sex offense or an offense against a child.

Currently, Kentucky law bans felons from voting for life – unless they get a special reprieve from the governor – even after they finish serving out their prison sentences, parole or probation. Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said Kentucky is one of only two states, along with Iowa, with a strictly enforced lifetime ban.

Higdon, who sponsored SB 62, said similar bills have been filed every regular session since 2008. Four years ago, the Senate voted 36-0 to pass out a constitutional amendment similar to the current SB 62, but the 2016 measure didn’t get a vote in the House of Representatives.

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said he couldn’t support SB 62. One of his concerns was that the bill could inadvertently undo a recent initiative to restore the voting rights of non-violent felons who had completed their sentences.

McGarvey was referring to an executive order signed by the governor in December that restored voting rights to about 140,000 Kentuckians. Higdon said that wasn’t the intent of SB 62. He said he was more concerned a future governor could rescind the executive order.

Higdon added that about 170,000 Kentuckians are still without the right to vote because of a prior felony conviction – even with the executive order in place.

SB 62 passed by a 29-7 vote.

Should the amendment proposed by SB 62 be approved by a three-fifths majority in the House and ratified by a majority of voters in November, it would be up to the General Assembly to create a statutory framework for the restoration of voting rights.

END

 

Feb. 27, 2020

‘Boots to Business’ could expand under bill

Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, explains Senate Bill 37, a measure he introduced concerning veteran-operated nonprofits, at today's meeting of the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would allow veteran-owned nonprofits to waive some startup fees cleared a Senate committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 37, would amend the existing Boots to Business program to include veteran-owned nonprofits. Through the program, new businesses that are majority-owned by a military veteran or an active-service member are eligible for fee waivers for the initial business filing, as well as the annual report filings over the next four years of business.

“I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that Kentucky is a very military-friendly state,” Senate Democratic Whip Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown said while testifying before the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. “Living in Hardin County, I see that every day.”

Part of the Fort Knox military installation is in Hardin County.

Parrett, who introduced SB 37, said there are several nonprofits established by veterans just in Hardin County. One is a homeless shelter for veterans.

“We still have a lot of homeless veterans,” Parrett said. The Department of Veterans Affairs website states there are 512 homeless veterans currently in Kentucky, despite a five-year initiative to end homelessness among the group.

A similar measure passed the Senate last year but did not become law.

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Feb. 27, 2020

 

Proposed constitutional amendment regarding local governments advances to House

 

 

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, presents HB 475 for approval of the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT -- A proposed constitutional amendment that would remove restrictions on ways the General Assembly can allow local governments to levy certain taxes was approved by a legislative committee today. If approved by the full House and Senate, the measure would be decided by voters in a statewide ballot this fall.

House Bill 475 primary cosponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, said the bill proposes changes to Section 181 of the state Constitution that would clear the way for a new framework for local government taxation. The proposal, which also has the primary sponsorship of House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, advanced from the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee today with bipartisan approval.

The state Constitution currently restricts local governments’ ability to levy certain taxes and fees which, Meredith said, making cities, counties and certain other local government entities largely dependent on payroll taxes, property tax, and “local income” taxes, such as the gross receipts tax.  The proposed amendment would ease those restrictions and create more flexibility, he said.

“Knowing that we find ourselves being one of the five most dependent states in the nation on productivity-based taxes—those local income taxes—we knew that to have a serious conversation about changing the tax code we had to allow additional forms of flexibility in revenue, and revenue collection,” said Meredith.

Should the amendment proposed by HB 475 be approved by the General Assembly and ratified by a majority of voters statewide, it would be up to the General Assembly to create a statutory framework for the creation of new local revenue. Local governments would then pass ordinances “within the boundaries of that framework,” said Meredith.

 Kentucky League of Cities Executive Director J.D. Chaney spoke in support of the proposed amendment which he said addresses local government tax modernization in a meaningful way.

“This is moving this discussion further along than I think really we ever have,” said Chaney.

Speaking against the amendment was Kentucky Retail Federation Chairman and Willis Music CEO Kevin Cranley, who said the proposed change could put the full tax burden on consumers. “They don’t deserve this,” he told the committee.

But Meredith said the proposed change would instead get rid of an “impediment” that has prohibited the state from having a broader discussion about local taxation for 25 years.

“What we’re seeking today is to get rid of the impediment,” he said.

HB 475 now goes to the full House for consideration.

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Feb. 26, 2020

Bill to restrict governors' pardon power advances

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, explains Senate Bill 58, a proposed constitutional amendment he introduced to restrict a governor’s power to pardon, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – “Well, it figures. They always get away with it.”

Those are the words of a child rape victim after hearing Kentucky's prior governor pardoned her rapist. The molester had served less than 18 months of a 23-year sentence.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, read the girl's statement while explaining the need for a constitutional amendment to curtail a governor's ability to issue pardons on the way out of office.

The proposed constitutional amendment, known as Senate Bill 58, would prohibit a governor from pardoning or commuting sentences beginning a month before a gubernatorial election and ending with the governor’s inauguration. McDaniel stressed that a governor would otherwise be free to issue pardons and commutations.

“There will be no more hiding in the darkness during the last minutes of an administration,” McDaniel said. “There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scale of justice without recourse for the voters of the commonwealth.”

He said the sections of the Kentucky Constitution granting a governor the power to pardon date back to 1891 when it wasn’t unheard to duel – the kind involving guns.

“Things in our society have changed dramatically since that time,” McDaniel said. “Many, many things have changed since, including the sophistication and evenness of our judicial system. The power to pardon allows one person to override the judgment of a police officer, county prosecutor, grand jury, jury and in many cases appellate courts ... and impose his or her unilateral opinion upon the scales of justice.”

He said the scariest thing is what pardons could be issued in the future.

“We vest in one person, who stands to account to no one, the authority to free anyone to include every person on death row,” McDaniel said. “I can tell you today that based on feedback that I have received from every corner of this state, the people of the commonwealth find the judicial process ... to be superior to the pardoning powers of one individual.”

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, voted for SB 58 despite a failed attempt to amend the bill. McGarvey said the amendment would have ensured a governor maintained the ability to stop an execution in the eleventh hour. He added that political corruption could be removed from the pardon process through statutes and without amending the state constitution.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said he thought SB 58 was a good remedy after studying what other states had done to address the issue.

“This wasn’t just one individual,” Schroder said about the prior governor’s pardons. “We’ve seen this before. It could happen again. We have seen cases in other states where it has happened.”

SB 58 passed by a 33-4 vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. If it also clears that chamber, it would be placed on the November ballot for voters to decide.

END

 

 

Feb. 26, 2020

 

Vaping tax bill advances to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would raise $49.9 million in new revenue over the next two fiscal years through a new wholesale tax on vaping products and increased taxes on some other tobacco products has cleared the Kentucky House.

House Bill 32 sponsor Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, said a portion of the funding would come from adding vaping products to the list of tobacco products subject to a state tobacco excise tax of 25 percent of the wholesale price under the bill. Most remaining revenue would come from doubling the excise tax rate per unit and weight on snuff and chewing tobacco.

Traditional cigarettes would not be subject to a tax increase under the bill.

The legislation came to a vote in the House several weeks after the federal government raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes and vaping products to 21.

Miller said during his testimony on the bill earlier this month that he expects HB 32 to reduce use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices—most of which have been shown to carry nicotine-among youth.

“The products that children are abusing are truly a crisis,” Miller told the House before today’s vote on HB 32. He recalled watching a local news story that revealed the use of vaping products among high school youth in Bullitt County is up between 200-300 percent. Among those interviewed for the story, said Miller, was a school resource officer who had lost his father to lung cancer.

“(The SRO is) quoted as saying, ‘Vapes were a way to get off cigarettes, but I tell you, they’re worse than cigarettes,’” Miller said, adding “the most effective way to attack underage use is through raising the price.”

An amendment to the bill sponsored by Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, and approved by the House both clarifies the definition of tobacco products and restores language clarifying that the Kentucky General Assembly recognizes increasing taxes on tobacco products should reduce consumption of such products.

HB 32 passed the House 75-17. It now advances to the Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

 

 

Feb. 26, 2020

Critical infrastructure security bill advances

Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., R-Providence, presents House Bill 44, a measure he introduced to strengthen state laws against tampering with key infrastructure assets, during today's meeting of the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to strengthen the security of critical infrastructure across Kentucky was passed out of a Senate committee today.

The measure, known as House Bill 44, would build upon 2018 legislation designed to protect Kentucky’s “key infrastructure assets,” defined by the federal government as physical and cyber systems that are so vital that their incapacity or destruction would have a debilitating impact on residents’ physical and economic security.

A major provision of the 2018 legislation banned people from flying drones around chemical plants. HB 44 would follow 10 other states in expanding that protection to additional infrastructure assets. A second provision would define tampering with the assets as felony criminal mischief. And a third provision would create a liability clause for anyone who paid someone to tamper with those assets.

“Honestly, that is a very dangerous prospect,” Rusty Cress of the Kentucky Chemical Industry Council said of the prospects of people tampering with pipelines. “There are big concerns with that.” He made the statement while testifying before the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee in support of HB 44.

Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., R-Providence, who introduced HB 44, said the version before the Senate was amended to address concerns expressed about the original bill.

“The original bill that started in the House had some opposition,” said Gooch, who chairs the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee. “We definitely tried to ... work through those. I think we have.”

Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council testified that concerns HB 44 would criminalize legitimate protests of proposed pipelines had been alleviated by the changes referenced by Gooch

The chair of the meeting, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, recounted someone tampering with an oil tank on his relatives' land when he was just 12.

“I wish something like this would have been in place then to slap stiffer penalties on somebody that thought that was funny,” Smith said, “because I want to ensure you, all these years later, I still remember the smell of it ... the environmental damage.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said he supported HB 44 despite some reservations.

“As the only commercial drone pilot in the legislature ... this is obviously on my radar,” he said. He then elaborated on concerns that a recreational drone pilot could inadvertently violate provisions of HB 44 if they didn’t know what a “cable television headend” is, or that it is considered a key infrastructure asset.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, asked whether HB 44 would restrict the movement of owners of property crossed by pipelines.

“I want to make sure the landowner has adequate protection as they should in the utilization of their property,” she said.

FitzGerald said HB 44 would not restrict property owners’ rights. He added that provisions of HB 44 would only apply to aboveground pipelines because of concerns that the paths of underground pipelines are not necessarily obvious to the casual observer.

FitzGerald stressed that HB 44 had nothing to do with a pipeline project that has become “somewhat controversial” with Bernheim Forest supporters. “This (HB 44) was never about that because it only deals with aboveground pipelines,” he said.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said he wanted to clarify that HB 44 would not enhance penalties. He said it would only clarify existing criminal mischief statutes.

END

 

 

 Feb. 25, 2020

Senate again moves to enshrine victims’ rights

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, explains Senate Bill 15, a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining certain rights for crime victims, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Senate approved a bill today that would enshrine in the Kentucky Constitution certain rights for crime victims.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 15, would include the right to be notified of all criminal court proceedings involving the accused, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of the release or escape of the accused and the right to full restitution to be paid by the convicted.

SB 15 is tied to a national movement to pass statutes that have been collectively known as “Marsy’s law.” It’s in honor of Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-old California college student who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. Such laws have been enacted in at least 10 states, including neighboring Illinois and Ohio.

“The prosecutorial and judicial discretion that exists today will exist with Marsy’s law in effect," said sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. “But those victims will have a voice that is protected in our constitution. And they deserve that – all the tens of thousands of them that Kentucky sees every year.”

He said those same victims are too often re-traumatized by the very system that is supposed to find a “just” outcome to the criminal experience they have endured.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said Westerfield, did a good job of articulating the pain of crime victims.

“As a retired law enforcement officer ... I know that is a very real pain,” Schickel said. “I’ve seen it many times. But the simple matter of fact is this constitutional amendment recommended to voters is a grave error.”

He said there is no consensus among the legal community on SB 15, there are already laws protecting crime victims and the constitution should not be altered from its original purpose – protecting citizens from the overreach of government.

Another former law enforcement officer, Sen. Danny Carroll, stood in support of SB 15. He said the bill is needed because we live in a time where the state is expunging criminal records, restoring felons’ voting rights and decriminalizing crimes.

“I think we owe it to the victims to at least give them the satisfaction of being involved in the case,” said Carroll, R-Paducah, adding that those victims deserve the same rights afforded the accused.

A similar proposed constitutional amendment passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was subsequently approved by voters, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid due to unconstitutional ballot language.

Westerfield said the only thing significantly different this session is that SB 15 would also ensure victims have the right to be heard and notified in the consideration of any pardon, commutation of sentence or granting of a reprieve. He said that provision was added after concerns were raised after the former governor granted hundreds of pardons in the final hours of his administration.

SB 15 was approved 31-6 with one “pass” vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. If it also clears that chamber, it would be placed on the November ballot.

END

 

 

Feb. 25, 2020

 

Pension beneficiary changes OK’d by House

Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, presents HB 104 for a House vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—Current Kentucky law that prohibits retired state employees from changing pension beneficiaries after they retire would see some changes of its own under a bill passed today by the state House.

House Bill 104 sponsor Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, said his bill would allow future retirees in the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) to change their beneficiary and retirement allowance payment option after a “qualifying event.” The events would be limited to marriage, remarriage, the birth or adoption of a child, or death of their designated beneficiary, and the change would have to be made within 120 days after the event occurs.

KRS retirees “make a one-time, lifetime choice if you are a KRS member,” said Wheatley. “This bill will help equalize between KRS and TRS the ability to name new beneficiaries upon these qualifying events.”

And future retirees of the state Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS)—which already gives its members the limited ability to change beneficiaries in cases of marriage, remarriage, or death of a beneficiary—would be given the added option to change their beneficiary and payment option after the birth or adoption or a child, per the bill.

None of the changes proposed by HB 104 would increase pension benefits according to actuarial statements from the retirement systems, said Wheatley.

An amendment to the bill sponsored by House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, and approved by the House would benefit current retirees affected by a qualifying event by allowing them to change their beneficiary on or before Jan. 1, 2021.

McCoy said the change allows a “one-time qualifying event” to those who need to make a change.

HB 104 passed the chamber by a vote of 88-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb. 24, 2020

 

Election changes get approval of state House

Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents HB 388 for a floor vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would change Kentucky mail-in absentee ballot procedures and clarify that more than one voting precinct may vote at a single location has passed the state House.

House Bill 388 sponsor and House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, said the bill is the result of months of work with the Kentucky County Clerks Association and others.

“We’d been working on it all summer, both parties. All the (county) clerks are for this,” said Bratcher.

The change in mail-in absentee ballot rules would prohibit those ballots from being mailed to a voter’s residence unless the voter is required to work outside of the county throughout the in-person absentee voting process or for other eligible reasons, such as having a disability or being away on military service.

Bratcher said the bill would also require that mail-in absentee ballots be verified the day before an election. He emphasized that the ballots would not be counted the day prior, only verified.

“They will count them on election day,” he said.

Using a single voting location for more than one precinct is already part of election procedures in some larger counties, said Bratcher. One voting machine could be used by different precincts, per the bill, if the machine is capable of tabulating separate ballots.  

“This happens many times in the larger counties, and some of the other districts would like to do that,” said Bratcher.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, asked if precincts at the same voting location would be able to share election officers under the bill. Bratcher said yes, with State Board of Election approval.

“If two precincts are at the same location and there’s a shortage of election officers – with the State Board of Elections’ blessing, an election officer can work at both precincts,” said Bratcher.

HB 388 would allow registered Independents to serve as election officers, and adjust terms for members on county board of elections, among other provisions.

HB 388 passed the House 84-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

 


 

 

 Feb. 24, 2020

Bill aims to increase participation in jury system

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, presents Senate Bill 132, a measure he introduced to expand Kentucky’s pool of potential jurors, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would add people with state-issued personal identification cards to a pool of potential jurors passed the Senate today by a 35-0-vote.

“It will allow for a wider representation of our communities in our jury pool," said sponsor Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, who introduced the legislation, known as Senate Bill 132.

He said the idea of expanding the pool of potential jurors has been studied for years, but the time was right to act. That’s because another piece of legislation (Senate Bill 2) advancing through the General Assembly this session would provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.

The administrative arm of the Kentucky Court of Justice compiles a county-by-county master list of prospective jurors for the entire state. Currently, it draws from people with driver’s licenses, tax rolls from individual returns and voter registration lists.

By law, a person summoned to jury service is required to be available for 30 court days. However, once a jury begins hearing a case, the jury will remain seated for the duration of that case. State law requires the summons to be issued at least 30 days before jurors are to report for service.

The list of potential jurors was last expanded by the General Assembly in 2002. SB 132 now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END



 

 

 

February 21, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – Although the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session reached its halfway point this week, much more than half of the workload of this session likely lies ahead.

After seven weeks of legislative activity, hundreds of bills have moved closer to becoming law, although fewer than ten have reached the governor’s desk to be signed. That’s typical at this point in a session. It’s likely that the pace will progressively increase in the days ahead and that the number of bills sent to the governor’s desk could exceed 100 by the time the legislative veto recess begins in early April.

One of the lengthiest legislative debates so far this year was held on Thursday as members of the House considered – and ultimately approved – a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky. Under an amendment added to the bill, qualifying conditions for the use of medical marijuana would include chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and nausea or vomiting.

If House Bill 136 becomes law, the measure would establish policies for the cultivation, processing, sale, distribution and use of medical marijuana. Patients who qualify to receive a registry card to obtain medical marijuana would not be able to use the medicine in a form that could be smoked. They wouldn’t be allowed to grow marijuana at home either. Local governments would be able to prevent dispensaries from locating in their areas, if they choose.

The bill was approved by the House on a 65-30 vote on Thursday. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

In other business this week, lawmakers cast votes on numerous other measures, including bills on the following topics:

Diabetes. House Bill 12 would limit patient costs for a 30-day supply of insulin to $100. The legislation was approved by the House 92-0 on Wednesday and now goes to the Senate.

Marsy’s Law. A measure to add a crime victims’ “bill of rights” to the state constitution was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 15—widely known as Marsy’s Law— would specify in the state constitution that crime victims have the certain rights, including the right to be notified about court proceedings, the right to reasonable protection from the accused, and the right to be heard in hearings. If approved by the full Senate and the House, the measure would be decided on by Kentucky voters this fall.

Lawmakers considered Marsy’s Law legislation two years ago and approved the measure, which sent it before the states’ voters in the form of a proposed amendment to the state constitution. Though a majority of Kentucky voters cast votes in favor of Marsy’s Law, the Supreme Court invalidated the measure with a ruling that said the voting ballots should have provided the entire text of the proposed amendment rather than a summary of it.

Public Assistance Reform. House Bill 1 seeks to reform the way public assistance is provided in Kentucky, with an eye toward preventing fraud while offering assistance to people seeking to move beyond public assistance and into the workforce.

Key provisions of HB 1 would require most cash assistance beneficiaries to use a single electronic benefit transfer card for all program with penalties for misusing the card. Other provisions would provide “transitional” benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and allow implementation of a Medicaid work requirement should state matching funds required to cover Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population reach a certain level. Additionally, those with earnings between 138-200 percent of the federal poverty level who no longer qualify for Medicaid because of increased income, but who otherwise qualify for Medicaid, could participate in a state health insurance option. The program would provide the optional insurance to a qualified individual for 12 months or longer.

House Bill 1 was approved by the House 58-32 on Friday and now goes to the Senate.

Transportation secretary. Senate Bill 4 would no longer make the selection of the state transportation secretary solely a decision of the governor. Instead, the bill would create a Kentucky Transportation Board to be responsible for submitting a list of transportation secretary candidates from which the governor would make a selection. The governor’s choice would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The bill passed the Senate 25-8 on Wednesday and now goes to the House for consideration.

Citizens are encouraged to share their feedback with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

 

 

Feb. 21, 2020

 

Public assistance reform in HB 1 advances to Senate

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, presents HB 1 for a floor vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A House initiative to reform how Kentucky provides low-income cash assistance, food assistance, and certain Medicaid benefits to its citizens passed the chamber today by a vote of 58-32. 

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, said House Bill 1, as amended on the House floor today, would remove barriers to public assistance by those who need it most while holding those who may abuse the system accountable. Meade and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, are primary cosponsors of the measure.

“I would say that if we save one life from drug addiction, or we make sure one child does not go hungry because their parents are trafficking (their benefits) card, then it’s well worth the cost that we’ve spent,” Meade told his colleagues in the House. 

Key reforms that the state would be required to implement under House Bill 1 would: require most cash assistance beneficiaries to use one single electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card for all programs with penalties for selling or otherwise misusing the card; provide “transitional” benefits through SNAP—the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps, and; allow implementation of a Medicaid work requirement should state matching funds required to cover Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population reach a certain level.

Those with earnings between 138-200 percent of the federal poverty level who no longer qualify for Medicaid because of increased income, but who otherwise qualify for Medicaid, could participate in a state health insurance option under HB 1. The program would provide the optional insurance to a qualified individual for 12 months or longer.

Some lawmakers opposing the legislation said it could potentially cost the state more that it would save.  House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said fraud and “perceived fraud” among public cash assistance beneficiaries in Kentucky is estimated to cost taxpayers less than $400,000 a year at most. The impact of HB 1 would cost more than 50 times that amount, she estimated.

“We’ll spend $20 million to ferret this out,” she said. “And why? … The reasons are that we want to encourage people to work. Well, statistics show us that 62 percent of people who are on Medicaid are working compared to the general public’s percentage which is 58 percent.”

Meade said most of the money to pay for the initiative would be federal, not state. He also countered some legislators’ comments that HB 1 would hurt low-income families and individuals by saying the legislation would “drastically” increase benefits while helping individuals become more self-sufficient.

“Only those who lose these benefits can do so in two ways—they are either fraudulently misusing the card, the benefits that they’ve been given, or they are a completely able-bodied adult with no dependents and simply choose not to participate in a community engagement program,” said Meade.

HB 1 would also require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to report to the state Public Assistance Oversight and Advisory Committee regarding possible changes to childcare assistance programs, and propose a legislative work group to review and report to the General Assembly on state substance abuse recovery efforts.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

Feb. 20, 2020

 

Medical marijuana bill advances in KY General Assembly

 

HB 136 primary cosponsor Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, presents the medical marijuana legislation for a floor vote. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— For the first time in Kentucky history, a bill to legalize medical marijuana came to a vote on the floor of the Kentucky House. Apparently the first time was a charm.

Members of the House voted 65-30 to approve the legalization of medical marijuana under House Bill 136, along with eight floor amendments to the bill. The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

“HB 136 when it is passed, which I hope that it is, will be the tightest medical marijuana bill in the country,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, who shares primary sponsorship of the measure with Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg.

Nemes said that he and Sims have spent years meeting with stakeholders to ensure that the legislation addresses their concerns.

“We’ve met with stakeholders from law enforcement, constituents, regular folks … patients, physicians, chiropractors. I mean, you name it, we’ve been there,” he said.

The bill as passed by the House would extensively clarify state policies for cultivation, processing, sale, distribution, and use of medical marijuana. Licensing of cannabis dispensaries is covered, as is maintenance of a cardholder registry for cannabis users.

Smoking of medical marijuana would be prohibited under HB 136.  The bill instead would allow the drug to be dispensed as “edibles” such as gummies, oils, or similar products.  Customers would be limited to a month’s supply at one time. 

Keeping with the sponsors’ commitment to make HB 136 a public health bill and not a revenue maker, Nemes said excise taxes and all other revenue created by the bill would go to regulation of the program and nothing else. Additionally, local governments would have the last say in whether medical marijuana businesses operate within their jurisdiction.

Among those House members voting against the proposal was former Kentucky State Trooper and current pastor Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies. He cited the fact that marijuana remains a federally controlled substance that isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as a reason for his vote.

“Marijuana, no matter how we look at it, is against federal law” and joins heroin, LSD, and ectasy as a Schedule I narcotic, said Fugate. It is also a “gateway drug,” he said, referring to drugs that are believed by some to lead to abuse of more dangerous drugs later on.

Voting is support of the bill was Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt. The licensed pharmacist said he supports the bill on behalf of individuals like his adult brother diagnosed years ago with cerebral palsy.

Goforth said he sees his brother suffer on a regular basis from “adverse side effects” caused by FDA-approved anticonvulsants and other drugs.

“If I can give him a little bit of relief from the FDA-approved medication that has caused those adverse side effects for him, to control those conditions, I’m going to do it. I have to do it,” he said.

 

END

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 20, 2020

 

Public assistance reform in HB 1 advances to full chamber

FRANKFORT—A top priority of House majority leaders —to reform how the state provides public assistance to its citizens – passed out of committee today and now advances to the full chamber.

House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, was approved by the House Health and Family Services Committee. It now returns to the full House for further consideration.

“We have talked for years about how to make our public assistance systems work better. Most of the time those have been discussed, quite frankly, in a very punitive manner,” said Osborne. “This has been a legitimate and heartfelt attempt, particularly by Speaker Meade, on bringing a compassionate (aspect) to this.”

Key provisions of HB 1, among others, involve changes to cash assistance programs and eligibility for expanded Medicaid. Each cash assistance beneficiary would be placed on a single electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, with exceptions made for foster care, kinship care and similar program payments. Another provision in the bill could require expanded Medicaid beneficiaries who have been part of the state’s expanded Medicaid population for at least one year to work at least 80 hours a month in order to continue to qualify for Medicaid benefits.

The work requirement for expanded Medicaid—part of a “community engagement program” that would implemented by the state under HB 1—would kick in should the percentage of the state general fund Medicaid budget needed to provide the state match for Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid population reach 50 percent.  

Those with earnings between 138-200 percent of the federal poverty level who no longer qualify for Medicaid because of increased income, but who otherwise qualify for Medicaid, could participate in a state health insurance option under HB 1. The program would provide the optional insurance to a qualified individual for 12 months or possibly longer.

Among those voting against the bill in committee was Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, who said many Kentuckians could be “banned from benefits for life” under HB 1.

“I’ve got serious problems with this, and my vote is no,” said Brown.

Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said he thinks some of his colleagues on the committee may disagree on whether or not public assistance is misused or abused by some people.

“I believe that it is, and I think that’s what we’re trying to get at here. That’s why I’ll vote yes, because we’re stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” said Elliott.

HB 1 includes several recommendations from the 2019 Public Assistance Reform Task Force, which met several months before issuing the recommendations late last year.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 Feb. 20, 2020

Transportation secretary hiring reform advances

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, stands in support of Senate Bill 4, a measure that would change the way Kentucky selects its transportation secretary, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would pave the way to changes in how Kentucky hires transportation secretaries passed out of the state Senate today.

“We need a transportation policymaking process that is transparent and accountable,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the measure, known as Senate Bill 4. “This bill incorporates ideas from Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and other states.”

He said at the core of SB 4 would be the establishment of the Kentucky Transportation Board. The board would be responsible for submitting a list of transportation secretary candidates from which the governor would have to choose. The governor’s choice would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Higdon said the approach would be similar to how the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board has selected the state economic development secretary since the General Assembly passed legislation to reform that cabinet in 1992.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, stood in support of SB 4. “I believe this bill does the best we possibly can to take the politics out of roads and the funding of them,” he said while referencing previous testimony concerning how governors have handed out road projects as political favors.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, also stood in support of SB 4. He said governors have “politicized and weaponized” transportation projects for decades.

“Every administration I ever served under used this cabinet to do things that were totally outside of process and policy and purely political,” he said. Stivers added that Kentucky is one of only nine states where the governor can currently appoint the leader of the transportation department with no legislative involvement.

Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood in opposition of SB 4. He said the economic development board wasn’t a good comparison because the sitting governor is the chair and a voting member of the board.

“This isn’t a road map to transparency and accountability,” McGarvey said of SB 4. “It is a road map to confusion with side trips to delay and conflict. We know why we are doing it. We are here in the early days of a new administration as the General Assembly attempts to take power from this governor.”

SB 4 states one of the transportation board’s first responsibilities will be to begin the process for the selection of a cabinet secretary. The current transportation secretary could be considered for the job but wouldn’t be guaranteed a re-appointment. 

Higdon said the board would also have several duties as related to the development of the state’s six-year road plan. SB 4 would codify a process already in place to use traffic data and other objective measurements to prioritize road projects being considered for funding in the state highway plan. Higdon emphasized that the bill would not change legislators’ role in the final selection of road projects and the appropriation of funds.

The board would consist of nine voting members appointed by the governor from nominations submitted from the state’s League of Cities, Association of Counties and Chamber of Commerce. To ensure each organization is represented equally on the board, the governor would have to appoint three nominees from each of the organizations.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, voted against SB 4 but did successfully introduce an amendment, known as Senate Floor Amendment 2, that would require board membership to reflect gender and racial diversity.

SB 4 passed by a 25-8 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

END



 

  

Feb. 19, 2020

Insulin cost-saving bill advances to Senate

FRANKFORT—The more than 500,000 Kentuckians who have been diagnosed with diabetes could save on costly insulin prescriptions under a bill that today passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 12 would cap patient cost for a 30-day supply of insulin in Kentucky at $100 per prescription, said HB 12 primary co-sponsor and licensed pharmacist Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell.  A diabetic himself, Bentley said typical costs for a month’s supply of the drug can run $1200 or more per patient.

“I use insulin. A box of Lantus is over $300 dollars,” said Bentley. “So if you use four boxes a month, that’s $1200.”

It’s that kind of expense, Bentley said, that has led some diabetics to begin rationing the life-saving drug.

“We hope that (HB 12) helps,” said Bentley. “Especially personal to me are the people I live with in Eastern Kentucky where we have a high rate of diabetes.”

An amendment to the bill filed by HB 12 primary co-sponsor and licensed pharmacist Rep. Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green, gives patients further assurance by prohibiting insurers from increasing the patient cost of insulin prescriptions that fall below $100. The amendment was adopted in the House by voice vote.

Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, voted in support of the bill. The mother of a Type 1 diabetic, Minter said those affected by diabetes are a “growing family.”

Minter said she ultimately supports insulin-for-all but that there is a need for HB 12 now.

“This is an excellent start, and it’s an excellent example of what this chamber can do when we are at our very best,” she said.

HB 12 passed the House 92-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

Feb. 19, 2020

‘Jill’s Law’ gets House committee approval

House Bill 298 sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, testifies on the police-pursuit measure with Western Hills High School student Addison McCoun. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT—“Police pursuit” policies would be required at law enforcement agencies statewide under a bill on its way to the Kentucky House.

House Bill 298 sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, told the House Judiciary Committee that his bill is intended to prevent innocent bystanders from being killed during police chases. He dedicated the bill to 18-year-old Jill Tyler Hurst, a Lawrenceburg teen who died last fall days after she was thrown from a vehicle that was hit by a car being pursued by police in Anderson County.

Tipton said there were six other fatalities in the state caused by pursuit-related crashes around the same time as the wreck that led to Hurst’s death.

Under HB 298—which would be titled “Jill’s Law” should it become law—every law enforcement agency in Kentucky would be required to have a police pursuit policy that would be reviewed annually. And no law enforcement officer could be involved in a police pursuit without specific training, which would be completed as part of their required in-service training.

Criminal suspects charged with misdemeanor second-degree fleeing and evading as a result of being involved in police pursuits would could lose their driver’s licenses for 30 days to as long as one year, per the measure.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, asked Tipton how many agencies in Kentucky are without police pursuit policies now. He said there are no exact numbers – yet.

“If this law is enacted, we will know, because they will be required to submit a copy,” said Tipton. “…There may be many that do not.”

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, asked Tipton to consider amending the bill to require proposed mandated training for officers every other year to accommodate the “number of law enforcement personnel we have around the state.” Tipton said he is open to that discussion.

Speaking alongside Tipton in support of HB 298 was Hurst’s friend Addison McCoun, a student at Western Hills High School in Frankfort. McCoun told the committee that the legislation is important to spare other lives.

“If this high-speed chase didn’t occur, Jill would be here with me today,” she said. “It shouldn’t have happened, and it should never happen again.”

HB 298 now goes to the full House for consideration.

END



 

Feb. 14, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – Highlights of the legislative week typically occur in the historic Senate and House chambers, but this past week the Capitol Rotunda was the scene of an unforgettable moment for many in the statehouse.

Those attending the annual Black History Celebration, hosted by the Black Legislative Caucus, recognized a military hero who achieved great success but was not promoted to the position many believed he deserved due the racial prejudice he encountered throughout a military career that spanned more than three decades. During the Tuesday celebration, Gov. Andy Beshear announced to applause that Charles Young, who was born in 1864 to enslaved parents in Mays Lick, Kentucky, and went on to become the first African American Colonel in the U.S. Army, was being posthumously promoted to a Brigadier General in Kentucky.

Young’s commitment to service didn’t waver despite the prejudice he faced throughout his career, according to his friend, historian and NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois. "Steadily, unswervingly he did his duty,” Dubois wrote in a memorial after Young’s death in 1922. “And Duty to him, as to few modern men, was spelled in capitals. It was his lodestar, his soul; and neither force nor reason swerved him from it.”

Throughout the rest of the week, legislative activity was in high gear at the Capitol. Numerous bills took steps forward in the legislation process, including measures on the following topics:

Diabetes. House Bill 12 would limit patient costs for a 30-day supply of insulin to $100. The legislation was approved by the House Health and Family Services Committee and is awaiting a House vote.

Eating disorders. Senate Bill 82 seeks to offer better treatment options to those with eating disorders by establishing the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The council would oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education and prevention programs. It would also identify strategies for improving access to adequate diagnosis and treatment services and made recommendations on legislative and regulatory changes. The bill passed the Senate 34-0 on Monday and has been delivered to the House.

Expungement. House Bill 327 would require the automatic expungement of records in acquittals or cases in which criminal charges were dismissed. The bill passed the House 91-0 on Monday and has been delivered to the Senate.

High school vocational education. Senate Bill 156 would require the state to develop plans to transition state-oprtated secondary vocational educational centers to local school districts by mid-2024. The bill was approved on Thursday by the Senate Education Committee and now awaits action from the full Senate.

Medical marijuana. House Bill 136 would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky. The bill would establish policies for the cultivation, processing, sale, distribution and use of medical marijuana. Users would be required to have a prescription and would not be able to use medical marijuana in a form that could be smoked. Counties would be able to opt out of the state-regulated-program. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration of the full House.

Transportation secretary. Senate Bill 4 would no longer make the selection of the state transportation secretary a decision solely for the governor. Instead, the bill would create a Kentucky Transportation Board to be responsible for submitting a list of transportation secretary candidates from which the governor would make a selection. The governor’s choice would have to be confirmed by the Senate. The bill passed the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday and awaits action by the full Senate.

Vaping. House Bill 32 would place a 25 percent excise tax on vaping products. The bill was approved by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Tuesday and now awaits consideration by all House members.

There are convenient ways for citizens to stay in touch with the work of the General Assembly. The General Assembly’s website (legislature.ky.gov) provides information on each senator and representative, including their phone numbers, addresses and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

To share a message with any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

 

END



 

Feb. 13, 2020

 

Insulin cost-saving bill heads to KY House

House Bill 12 sponsor Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, presents the measure for a vote today in committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—Patient cost for a month’s supply of insulin in Kentucky would be capped at $100 under a bill approved today by a House committee.

House Bill 12, sponsored by Reps. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, and Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green, would require health insurance plans to cap the patient cost for a 30-day supply of a prescription insulin drug to $100 “regardless of the amount or type of insulin needed to fill the covered person’s prescription,” per the bill. The legislation, approved today by the House Health and Family Services Committee, would take effect next year.

Bentley said the bill would help nearly half a million diabetics in Kentucky afford the life-saving drug which he said can cost $1200 a month or more per patient. 

“It’s a $6 billion industry,” said Bentley, a licensed pharmacist. “It’s really interesting that this hormone produced by the body has been so difficult to get because of the high price now.”

Speaking in support of HB 12 alongside Bentley was AARP Kentucky State President Charlotte Whittaker who commented on the high cost of diabetes in Kentucky. Whittaker said the effect of the disease is most evident in East Kentucky where the death rate from diabetes is 32 percent higher than the national rate.

“Prescription drugs don’t work if you can’t afford them,” she told the committee.

HB 12 now goes to the full House for consideration.  

 

END



 

 

Feb. 13, 2020

 

Foster child student bill advances to Senate


FRANKFORT—Legislation that would make it easier for foster children to change schools after a change in home placement has been approved by the state House.

 

House Bill 312, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, R-Stanford, will “ensure that we are immediately meeting the needs of these children who are already in a traumatic situation.”

 

Meade said key provisions in the bill will expedite the transfer of the child’s confidential records between school districts, improve state collaboration with local school districts with regard to the child’s needs, require closed foster homes to be placed on a state registry, and clarify rules for foster home placement.

 

“The KDE (the Kentucky Department of Education) will tell you there is no need for (HB 312),” said Meade. “I’ve got countless emails from teachers across the state as well as administrators across the state who say this is a major problem in their districts.”

 

HB 312 complements Meade’s “foster child bill of rights” legislation in 2019 HB 158 which became law last year. That legislation provides children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky with 15 statutory rights including the right of a foster child to have their individual educational needs met.

 

Former school principal Rep. Kim Banta, R-Fort Mitchell, said she would have “loved to have had a bill like this” during her decade as a school administrator.

 

“We floundered so many times at the expense of children being transferred without all the proper information, and I am just thrilled to be voting ‘yes’ on this today,” said Banta.

 

Also supporting HB 312 is retired educator and House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who said “being an educator getting this information (between schools) has been very difficult.”

 

HB 312 passed the House by a 91-0 vote. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 12, 2020

 

Medicinal marijuana bills clears House hurdle

FRANKFORT—A Kentucky House committee voted today to add Kentucky to the list of at least 33 other states with a government-regulated medicinal marijuana program.

The program would be established under House Bill 136, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, and Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg, approved today by the House Judiciary Committee. The bill sets out policies for cultivation, processing, sale, distribution and use of medicinal marijuana, should HB 136 become law.

The bill would prohibit smoking of medicinal marijuana and possession or use of medical marijuana in specific public buildings. Users of the substance would have to be registered and possess a medical cannabis card. Cannabis businesses would have to be licensed.

Local governments and their citizens would have the authority to decide whether or not medical marijuana businesses can operate locally.

Although HB 136 would create revenue for law enforcement and other approved uses through excise taxes and other sources, Nemes said its primary purpose is to help the sick.

He asked members of the committee hypothetically if they would try to access medicinal marijuana if it could help someone they love.

“I would break the law in a second, and I would submit that every single person up there would do the same,” said Nemes. “I think you’re voting for whether or not people who are in that hypothetical situation would continue to be criminals or not.”

Eric Crawford, who testified alongside Nemes and Sims, told the committee that passage of HB 136 would keep him from being “viewed as a criminal in a state that I love.” The Mason County man said he uses marijuana—not opioids—to relieve pain and muscle spasms caused by debilitating injuries that he sustained in a 1994 accident.

“This isn’t about nothing else but sick people,” said Crawford.

House Health and Family Services Chair Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, voted against the bill, saying she has “serious concerns” with the legislation.

“I want to make sure that seriously ill patients get the appropriate treatment and care that they need and deserve,” said Moser. “I’m going to vote ‘no’ today because I think we need more research.”

House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, voted in favor of the measure, saying 90 percent of Kentuckians want access to medicinal marijuana.

“It’s time that we listen to them,” said Hatton.

HB 136 now returns to the full House for further action.

END

                                   



Feb. 12, 2020

 

House supports UofL purchase of KentuckyOne assets

 

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, presents House Bill 99 for a vote on the House floor.    A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted today to approve over $6.13 million in next biennium to facilitate the purchase of Louisville’s Jewish Hospital and other assets by the University of Louisville.

 

The funds would be appropriated by House Bill 99 to pay debt service on $35 million in bonds authorized for a state KEDFA (Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority) loan. The state loan funds—to be distributed by April 1 of this year—would facilitate UofL’s purchase of KentuckyOne Health’s Louisville-area facilities.

 

HB 99 is sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and House Minority Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively.

 

Osborne said losing Jewish Hospital would put the UofL School of Medicine’s research status in jeopardy. A significant amount of the UofL medical center’s federal research grant funding is attributed to Jewish Hospital, he said.

 

“For those of us who represent areas in Southwest Jefferson County, this is a huge deal for us,” Jenkins added.

 

The KEDFA loan—named “the Direct Health Care Services and Research Facilities Operations Loan” in the bill—would be paid over 20 years, said Osborne. Loan forgiveness for up to half of the loan amount would be possible per certain requirements.

 

HB 99 passed the House by a vote of 86-7. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 



 

 

 

 Feb. 12, 2020

Bill addresses transportation secretary hiring

Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, explains his support of Senate Bill 4, a measure that would change the way Kentucky selects its transportation secretary, during today's meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to reroute the governor’s sole power to pick Kentucky’s transportation secretary advanced out of a state Senate committee today.

“One of the purposes behind this is, as much as possible, to take the politics out of road building,” Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, said while explaining his support of the measure, known as Senate Bill 4. He added there are many examples of governors from both parties holding sway over road projects to advance personal political agendas.

SB 4, as amended in committee, would do this by establishing the Kentucky Transportation Board. The board would be responsible for submitting a list of transportation secretary candidates from which the governor would have to choose. The governor’s choice would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Kentucky is one of only nine states where the governor can currently appoint the leader of the transportation department with no legislative involvement, said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, a primary sponsor of SB 4. In most states, the leader has to be approved by the legislature.

The board would also have several duties as related to the development of the state’s six-year road plan, Higdon said. SB 4 would codify a process already in place to use traffic data and other objective measurements to prioritize road projects being considered for funding in the state highway plan. Higdon emphasized that the bill would not change legislators’ role in the final selection of road projects and the appropriation of funds.

The board would consist of nine voting members appointed by the governor from nominations submitted from the state’s League of Cities, Association of Counties and Chamber of Commerce. To ensure each organization is represented equally on the board, the governor would have to appoint three nominees from each of the organizations.

Board members would have to adhere to the executive branch’s code of ethics and have no financial interest in any contract awarded by the Transportation Cabinet up to two years after they leave the board.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, explained his “no” vote in committee. He said SB 4 appeared, on the surface, to be “politically motivated,” but he would continue to study the measure.

“This is a radical departure from what I would think would be the proper way to approach this,” Neal said. “It seems to me like it is putting the fox in the henhouse.”

Harris pointed out that the bill was prefiled on Election Day – before the outcome of the governor’s race was known.

“From the outside looking in, it could seem I filed a political bill, but it is not,” Higdon said. “It is a bill to improve the process, to make the process transparent, to give people input into this process. My motives are genuine.”

Higdon said the approach to pick a transportation secretary would be similar to how the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board has selected the state Economic Development Secretary for nearly three decades.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said the provision of SB 4 concerning the selection of transportation secretary was not unprecedented. He said the General Assembly passed a similar law in 1927 during the administration of Gov. Flem D. Sampson.

SB 4 now goes to the full Senate for its consideration.

END



 

 

 

 

 Feb. 11, 2020

Dual credit bill moves to House

Senate Republican Whip Mike Wilson of Bowling Green explains Senate Bill 101, a measure he introduced concerning the transferability of dual credit hours, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to ensure dual credit hours earned in high school would be transferable to Kentucky’s colleges and universities passed the Senate today by a 38-0 vote.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 101, would require postsecondary institutions to accept dual credits from high schools. In dual credit, a student is enrolled in a course that allows the pupil to earn high school credit and college credit simultaneously.

Senate Republican Whip Mike Wilson of Bowling Green said SB 101 was the result of the Kentucky Career and Technical Education (CTE) Task Force that met during the interim. The task force examined Kentucky’s various CTE programs across the state.

Wilson, who sponsored SB 101, said the task force identified a growing number of students taking dual-credit classes in high school that didn’t transfer to postsecondary institutions.

“I don’t know about you, but as a parent that would make me truly angry,” Wilson said of postsecondary institutions not honoring dual credit.

Several years ago, the General Assembly passed similar legislation dealing with two-year colleges and four-year universities. That legislation aligned courses with the colleges so the credits earned for those course hours could be transferred to universities.

Wilson said the goal of SB 101 and the prior legislation is to make college more affordable by giving kids a head start. The idea is that it’s more cost-effective for students to earn the credits in high school than at a university.

SB 101 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END



 

 

 

Feb. 11, 2020

 

KY 911 service fee bill advances to Senate

House Bill 208 sponsor Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, speaks on 911 service fee legislation found the bill.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would restore over $1 million a year in funding to 911 service centers across the state has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 208, sponsored by Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, is expected to safeguard 911 service-center funding by requiring wireless providers of Lifeline federal-assistance telephone service to make monthly 911 service fee payments to the state.  Some Lifeline providers had stopped paying the fees to the state in recent years, said Rothenburger. 

“Last year we had one Lifeline provider that quit paying” and lobbied the federal government to preempt any state attempt to access those fees, he said.  “So I’ve come back to you today so we can close that loophole (to) make them pay as well as everyone else.”

Rothenburger said making sure the state continues to receive the 911 service fees will help with current implementation of so-called Next Generation 911 service – an advanced model for wireless emergency communications across the nation.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington. He pointed out that the 70-cent monthly 911 service fee required under current state law is also required on Lifeline cell phones provided by the federal government at no cost to eligible low-income users. 

“I just think it would be fair, at 70 cents, that everybody should pay that. And we’re taking that obligation off people for getting phones that the American taxpayer is paying for already,” Lee said.

Speaking in support of the bill was Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, a retired Kentucky State Trooper who said he once worked as an emergency radio dispatcher before becoming a state police officer.

“Long before a trooper is dispatched, or an ambulance is dispatched, or anyone else is dispatched, there is a call center that takes these calls. A lot of times the unsung heroes of law enforcement and EMS services are the dispatchers (that) take calls all hours of the day. So I’m for this,” said Fugate.

 HB 208 passed by a vote of 93-1. It now goes to the Senate.

END

 



 

Feb. 11, 2020

 

 Excise tax proposal for vaping devices heads to House

 

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, comments on his excise tax proposal for vaping products sold in Kentucky.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—Weeks after the federal government raised the minimum age to buy cigarettes and vaping products to 21, the Kentucky House budget committee has voted to place a 25-percent excise tax on vaping products in the state.

 

The wholesale-level tax proposed in House Bill 32 would be slightly less than the state’s excise tax on traditional cigarettes—now 27.5 percent of the wholesale price—but is expected to reduce use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices among youth, bill sponsor Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, told the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee before it approved the measure today.

 

Most e-cigarette and vaping devices have been shown to carry nicotine, an addictive drug also found in traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

 

“The effect of the bill is to put a new wholesale tax on vapes,” said Miller. He emphasized it would not raise taxes on traditional cigarettes, and is not intended to drive vape shops out of business. The bill instead, he said, complements HB 69—another bill Miller has filed this session to establish definitions for certain vapor product cartridges in state law while requiring sellers of those cartridges to register with the state.

 

Miller said HB 32 will help to take vaping business out of grocery and convenience-type stores and move it to registered vape shops.

 

“It is not my intent to drive away innovation or small business. These people are opening vape shops—they’ve got a lot at risk,” he added.

 

Research shows vaping products have grown more popular in recent years among children as young as 11 years old but are the only tobacco products sold in Kentucky that are not subject to an excise tax, said Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President and former Congressman Ben Chandler, who testified on the bill before the committee.

 

“We know that raising the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective measures for reducing tobacco use,” Chandler added.  “The higher the tax, the larger the tobacco use reduction.”

 

HB 32 now returns to the full House for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 Feb. 10, 2020

Bill targets access to care for eating disorders

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, explains Senate Bill 82, a measure that would establish the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – After a Kentucky mother traveled to the Capitol twice in recent months to testify about the heart-wrenching decision to send her daughter out of state for treatment of anorexia nervosa, legislation addressing access to that specialized care advanced out of the state Senate today.

“The issue of eating disorders has largely been ignored in Kentucky,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, who sponsored the measure, known as Senate Bill 82. “It is a mental health diagnosis that essentially means an individual has little or no options for care in the state. It is time for this issue to be addressed by the members of the General Assembly.”

Adams said 900,000 Kentuckians, including nearly 30,000 children, have been diagnosed with an eating disorder. She added there are no acute care programs, residential or partial hospitalization programs for eating disorders in Kentucky.

SB 82 would establish the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The group would oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education, prevention and research programs. The council would also be responsible for making recommendations regarding legislative and regulatory changes to improve access to care for eating disorders.

The second section of SB 82 would establish a trust to support the council. It would be funded by public and private sector grants or contributions. SB 82 passed by a 34-0 vote.

In other activity from the floor, Senate Bill 122 also cleared the chamber. It’s a modification to Tim’s Law of 2017. Tim’s Law allowed judges to order assisted outpatient treatment for people who have been involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 12 months. SB 122 would extend the period to 24 months.

“The goal is to stop that revolving door of these individuals in and out of the state psychiatric hospital, in and out of the responsibility of peace officers for their transportation, in and out of mental inquest court, and in and out of jail when they break the law as a result of their untreated serious mental illness,” said Adams, who also sponsored SB 122. The bill passed by a 33-1 vote. 

SB 82 and SB 122 will now go to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

END



 

 

February 7, 2020

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- Proposals concerning the wellbeing of children are often high-priority items in the General Assembly. Hundreds of measures aimed at improving the lives of young Kentuckians have come before lawmakers in recent years, including last year’s sweeping school safety legislation designed to make sure children are safe while learning.

This year alone, more than 50 bills – roughly 11 percent of all bills under consideration – have been introduced in the General Assembly to deal with matters concerning children. Several of those measures took steps forward this week.

Senate Bill 45 would support good nutrition and the healthy development of children by requiring the child care centers to follow food and nutrition standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These standards emphasize a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and limits on sugar. The legislation would also require child care centers to follow standards developed by the state on physical activity, sugary drinks, and screen time limits for children. The bill passed the Senate 34-0 on Monday and has been delivered to the House.

Senate Bill 42 would require school identification badges issued to students to include contact information for crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide prevention. The measure would apply to public middle schools and high schools, as well as public or private postsecondary institutions. The bill passed the Senate 35-1 on Thursday and now goes to the House for consideration.

Legislation to prevent Kentucky school employees from paddling students or using other forms of corporal punishment was approved by House members on Friday. Lawmakers who spoke on House Bill 22 said corporal punishment lowers students’ trust in adults and sends the wrong message that physical aggression is a way to deal with problems. Other forms of discipline are more effective, they said. The bill passed the House 65-15 on Friday and now goes to the Senate.

Legislation that adds to last year’s school safety measure was also approved by the House on Friday. Senate Bill 8 would require school resource officers to be armed. It would also allow a school superintendent to appoint someone other than a district level school administrator to serve as a district’s school safety coordinator. The bill specifies the goal of having at least one school counselor or school-based mental health services provider for every 250 students. The bill passed the House on a 78-8 vote. Since the bill has already been passed by the Senate, it will soon be delivered to the governor’s office.

Some of the state’s youngest citizens could benefit from the advancement of Senate Bill 60, which would require that newborns be screened for spinal muscular atrophy. Early diagnosis of this genetic disease helps babies receive treatment when it’s most effective. The bill passed the Senate 34-0 and now awaits the House’s consideration.

In other business this week, bills on the following issues took steps forward:

Animal abuse. Senate Bill 21 would allow veterinarians to make a report to authorities if they find that an animal under their care has been abused. The bill was approved on Tuesday by the Senate Agriculture Committee and now goes to the full Senate.

Daylight saving time. House Concurrent Resolution 53 would allow Kentucky to permanently adopt daylight saving time, if Congress ever allows states to make such a move. The measure passed the House 92-2 and now goes to the Senate.

Expungement. House Bill 327 would require the automatic expungement of records in acquittals or cases in which criminal charges were dismissed. The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and awaits consideration by the full House.

Sanctuary cities. Senate Bill 1 would call upon law enforcement officials and public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. It would also prohibit sanctuary policies in Kentucky or attempts to block officials from cooperating with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The measure passed the Senate 28-10 and has been sent to the House.

School principals. Senate Bill 7 would give superintendents final say over the hiring of school principals, in consultation with school-based decision making councils. The bill would also change the membership of the school-based councils by adding a parent member. The bill was approved by the Senate 20-15 on Thursday and has been sent to the House.

 

END

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 7, 2020

 

House votes to end corporal punishment in schools

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would put an end to corporal punishment in public schools under a bill that has advanced to the state Senate.

House Bill 22 sponsor Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said his legislation would prohibit any school district employee or non-faculty coach from using corporal punishment – including but not limited to striking, spanking, paddling, or shaking – to discipline public school students.

Riley, who is a retired state educator, said experience has taught him that corporal punishment “is not an effective form of discipline. The purpose of discipline in schools and other places is to change behavior in a positive way, and research shows (corporal punishment) does not do that.”

Three students who came up with the idea to end corporal punishment in Kentucky schools four years ago as seventh graders in Kentucky Youth Assembly and later spoke against the practice before the General Assembly were present for the bill’s passage.  Those students—identified as Alex Young, Elizabeth George, and Charlie Gardner—were introduced to the full House by Rep. Lisa Willner.

“They have researched this, they have presented this bill now—and testified in committee—for four separate years … from seventh grade through 10th grade,” said Willner, D-Louisville, voting in support of HB 22. “I hope the members of this body will join me in voting ‘yes’ on this very important piece of legislation.”

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said elementary-age students and students with disabilities are more likely to be subjected to corporal punishment than others. He also voted for HB 22, and asked his colleagues to do the same.

“The use of corporal punishment in our schools is antithetical to this body’s values and our efforts to create safe, trauma-informed schools that value positive relationships among our children and adults,” said Nemes.

House Education Committee Chair Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, also voted for the measure. The former special education teacher said schools have less traumatic forms of discipline at their disposal when needed. 

“There is still discipline within the school system. We’re just eliminating this one,” said Huff.

HB 22 passed the House by a vote of 65-17.

END

 



 

 

 

Feb. 7, 2020

School safety bill headed to governor

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, proposes amendments to the school safety provisions in SB 8.  A hi-res photo can be found  here.

 

FRANKFORT—Armed school resource officers would be required on public school campuses statewide under a Senate bill that received final passage today in the Kentucky House.

Senate Bill 8, which passed the Senate 34-1 last week, received final passage on a 78-8 House vote. It now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Supporters of the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, expect the bill to improve school safety by requiring at least one trained, sworn law enforcement officer at each public school campus in the state. Currently just over half of Kentucky’s counties have SROs, according to the Kentucky Center for School Safety.

School districts and other state agencies could work with local and state law enforcement agencies to hire and assign the SROs as “funds and qualified personnel become available,” according to the bill.

SB 8 also includes a mental health component that sets a goal of requiring each public school district or public charter school to have at least one school counselor or school-based mental health provider for every 250 students beginning July 1, 2021, dependent on available funds and personnel.

The bill was presented for a vote in the House by Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, who told his colleagues that the purpose of SB 8 “is to increase safety within our schools.”

House Minority Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, was among those voting against the bill. She questioned the need for the legislation and its cost to school districts.

“Districts that want to do this can do this” already, Jenkins said, adding she knows of school districts with large at-risk student populations where SROs have made a difference in student lives. Jenkins’ primary opposition to the bill, she said, is to what she called “unfunded mandates” in SB 8.

Massey said funding for SROs in his district is covered through local partnerships. Federal, or other government funding, is also a potential revenue source, he said.

“So there is a multitude of avenues (available),” said Massey.

END

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 6, 2020

 

Black History Celebration at Capitol to honor contributions to U.S. military

Leader of National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations to give keynote address

FRANKFORT -- Contributions of African Americans to the U.S. military and the defense of our nation will be saluted during the 2020 Black History Celebration at the State Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The event will include a special award presentation by Gov. Andy Beshear.

“We’re eager to share stories of heroism and show appreciation for African Americans who served our nation throughout its history,” said Rep. Reginald Meeks, Chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, which is hosting the event. “Their inspiring stories are a reminder that we owe much to those who placed service to others ahead of their own self-interest.”

The celebration begins at 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda and is open to the public.

Charles Blatcher III will give the keynote address. Blatcher, Chairman of the National Coalition of Black Veteran Organizations, is a U.S. Navy veteran who has served as a consultant and advisor to the Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior, and the White House Conference on Families. He has received numerous honors including a Congressional Black Caucus Award and the George Washington Medal of Excellence from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

Remarks will also be offered by members of the Kentucky General Assembly, including legislative leaders.

Sen. Gerald Neal, a member of the Black Legislative Caucus, said the event will pay tribute to national heroes.

“African Americans have played pivotal roles in our nation’s military history all the way back to the American Revolution” said Sen. Gerald Neal, a member of the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus. “African Americans served at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. They fought in the Civil War, they battled Hitler’s army, and they served bravely in conflicts throughout our nation’s history. We want to salute their service and share stories of their service and sacrifice.”

Music will be provided by the Kentucky State University Concert Choir Ensemble.

The event will include an award presentation by the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus.

Immediately after the celebration, a reception will be held on the Capitol’s 2nd floor mezzanine.

 

END



 

 

 Feb. 6, 2020

School principal hiring bill moves to House

 

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, explains Senate Bill 7, a measure he introduced addressing the hiring process of public school principals, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would place the power of hiring school principals into the hands of their superintendents passed the state Senate today by a 20-15 vote. 

The measure, known as Senate Bill 7, would remove that responsibility from school-based decision making councils. Under SB 7, superintendents would have to only consult with the councils. 

“We all know ... the principal is the single biggest factor ... on whether a school is successful or not,” said sponsor Sen. John Schickel, R-Union. “But under our current system, the people we hold accountable – superintendents, the school board members we elect to represent us – do not have the power to hire principals.” 

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, stood to explain he was voting “no” but appreciated a provision of SB 7 that would change the membership of councils by adding a parent. That would equalize the number of parents and teachers on councils. 

Thomas said the Kentucky Education Reform Act moved the hiring responsibility to the councils because “so many school districts were ripe with nepotism and abuse.” 

Schickel has been advocating for the change for five years. He said the uniquely Kentucky way of hiring principals comes as a shock to people not familiar with our public school systems.

SB 7 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END



 

 

 

Feb. 6, 2020

 

Pension and pay measures advance in House


FRANKFORT—A House committee today advanced bills that would close the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, change how pension liability costs paid by public employers are calculated, and amend statutory language on any future state employee annual cost-of-living raises.

One of the bills getting the go-ahead was House Bill 270, a proposal to close the Legislators’ Retirement Plan (LRP) –which serves current and former elected members of the Kentucky General Assembly—to any new members as of July 1, 2020. Legislators elected after that date would have to participate in the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS) non-hazardous plan per the bill, HB 270 sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville told the House State Government Committee.

An exception would be made for legislators who are also public school teachers. Those lawmakers could remain in the state Teachers’ Retirement System, per the bill.  

Other changes under HB 270 would require LRP members who entered that plan as of Jan. 1, 2014 be moved to the KERS non-hazardous plan. Legislators who entered the plan in 1982, but prior to Jan. 1, 2014, would have their benefits calculated at a lower rate after July 1 of this year per the bill, among other provisions.

Tipton said HB 270 would also impact legislators who retire from the General Assembly then begin work in another branch of state government. Retirement credit earned in their new position as of July 1, 2020 would not be able to be used to calculate benefits under the LRP, he said.

Also, changes effective as of July 1 per the bill would not be part of an “inviolable contract,” statutory language that prevents any reduction or weakening of earned pension benefits.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, spoke in favor of HB 270 which she said reflects “the proper tension point” facing Kentucky’s public pension systems.

“We have to move in a way right now that says, ‘We’re joining everybody else…because it’s time,’ said Flood. “We have a responsibility to make sure everybody is viable.”

Also approved was House Bill 143, sponsored by Tipton, which would eliminate a longstanding, yet recently underutilized, provision in state law that provides for an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 5 percent to state employees. The COLA would instead be tied to the requisite consumer price index, resulting in a 2.25 percent annual increment in the next budget cycle according to the bill’s fiscal note—although the bill would not budget for any future annual state employee COLA. 

Wording in current law has allowed the 5 percent state employee COLAs to be passed over for many years. Tipton said that full 5 percent COLAs under state law were last funded in 2001.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said it has been “frustrating” to not be able to pay COLAs to employees in lean budget years. He is hopeful, he said, that can be changed.

“Let’s not only put it in law, but try like heck to make it a reality for our public employees that work so hard for our people,” said Nemes.

The last retirement measure approved by the committee was HB 171, sponsored by Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, which would base KERS non-hazardous employers’ actuarial liability to the retirement system on a set dollar amount instead of a percentage of payroll beginning next fiscal year.

The change, said DuPlessis, would ensure that small agencies especially are only required to pay what they owe to the system and “no more, no less.”

The bill received the support of House State Government Committee Chair Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, who said HB 171 would provide more stability in the long term.

“It helps particularly rape crisis centers, and others … smaller entities that will benefit almost immediately from your bill,” Miller said, adding that the bill will ultimately go before the House budget committee for additional review.

The three bills now go to the full House for further consideration.

END

 

 



 

 

 

Feb. 6, 2020

Bill aims to address youth suicide and violence

 

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, explains Senate Bill 42, legislation she introduced to address youth suicide and interpersonal violence, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would put crisis hotline numbers on student IDs advanced out of the state Senate today. 

The measure, known as Senate Bill 42, would require student IDs for middle school, high school and college students to list contacts for national crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide. The requirement would go into effect on Aug. 1 and apply to public middle and high schools, as well as public and private postsecondary schools that issue student IDs. 

“Senate Bill 42 is a simple little bill that may save lives,” said sponsor Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville. “By having these crisis prevention numbers ... on the back of their IDs, we will be letting them know that they are not alone. Help is readily available.”

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown stood to speak in favor of the bill. He said teen suicides have become an epidemic across the nation.

“I don’t know what the answer is from a government point of view,” he said. “But I do believe (Harper Angel) has today come up with a very simple solution that I think can help save lives by providing a place for troubled youths to go, seek help, to know there is someplace they can reach out to anonymously to help them through their problems.”

Thayer reflected on the suicide of his nephew’s father. 

“That has tinged my family’s life ever since,” he said. “I know what it is like to be touched by this horrible epidemic, and I’m so grateful to (Harper Angel) for her forethought in bringing this bill together before us today.” 

During a prior committee hearing on SB 42, supporters of the bill expressed alarm in the record-breaking number of youth suicides last year in the state's two largest cities -- Lexington and Louisville. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Kentucky and the second leading cause of death for residents ages 15 to 34, according to language in the bill. 

Interpersonal violence statistics listed in the text of SB 42 include these additional stark figures: Thirty-nine percent of Kentucky women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Child abuse and neglect are more prevalent in Kentucky than any other state in the nation, with 22 victims per 1,000 children compared to the national average of nine victims per 1,000 children.

SB 42 passed by a 35-1 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END



 

 Feb. 5, 2020

 

Expungement bill passes House Judiciary Committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would require automatic expungement of acquittals and dismissals of criminal charges under Kentucky law has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 327 would require automatic expungement in eligible cases per court orders entered after the legislation takes effect, should it become law. Those eligible for expungement under the bill would be able to request that the acquittal or dismissal remain on their record, while individuals with past acquittals and dismissals would be allowed to petition the court for expungement at no cost to them.

Expungement of felony charges that do not result in an indictment after one year of being held over to a grand jury would be allowed at a court’s discretion.

HB 327 sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, told the committee that his bill “corrects something that I certainly did not know was going on and I’ll bet you that most of your constituents don’t know,” referring to the absence of automatic expungement for acquittals and dismissals under current state law.

Among those testifying alongside Bratcher was Charles Aull of Greater Louisville Inc., the Louisville Metro area’s Chamber of Commerce. Aull said HB 327—which, he stated, also has the support of the Kentucky Chamber among other organizations—would remove barriers “to work and to increasing labor force participation.”

When asked by Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, what filing fee would be required for those who must still petition for expungement, Aull said there is none. That response was followed by a comment from House Judiciary Chair Jason Petrie, R-Elkton.

“If the Commonwealth has brought all its resources to bear against an individual, and fell short of a conviction, then why should that (person) … do much of anything to correct the Commonwealth’s shortfall,” Petrie said.

HB 327 passed the committee by a vote of 22-0-0. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

END

 




 

Feb. 5, 2020

 

Resolution to make DST permanent moves to Senate

FRANKFORT—States that want to spring forward and never turn their clocks back just got some help from the Kentucky House.

By a vote of 92-2, the state House today passed a resolution urging Congress to allow Kentucky and other states to permanently adopt daylight saving time, or DST. House Concurrent Resolution 53, which also requires the state Senate’s approval for final passage, now goes to that chamber for consideration.

Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville—who along with Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, is a primary sponsor of HCR 53—said “significant interest” in the legislation has been shown by constituents “who want more daylight hours in the evening and, most importantly, not have to change clocks throughout the year.”

But whether or not a change is made is ultimately up to the federal government which sets the dates for daylight saving time—also referred to as “daylight savings time” and “daylight time.” Those changes must be approved by Congress, which is where HCR 53 sponsors hope the legislation will shed some light.

“With this resolution we are asking them to either go all year or allow the states to make the decision permanently, (hashtag) free the daylight,” said Reed.

Some other states have already approved legislation to make DST permanent, with Florida, Washington, and Tennessee among them, he added. Until a change is made by Congress, however, the laws have no effect.

One lawmaker voting in support of the resolution was Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, who said Kentuckians have become “accustomed to such long afternoons.”

“Hopefully it will be something the federal government will decide is good for all of us, and will allow us to do it,” Stone told his colleagues.

Daylight savings time in Kentucky this year will begin on Sunday, March 8 and end on Sunday, Nov. 1.

--END--

 



 

 

 

Feb. 5, 2020

Bill outlines principles of picking principals

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would give superintendents the final say over the hiring of school principals advanced out of a state Senate committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 7, would remove the responsibility from school-based decision making councils, known as SBDMs in education parlance. Under SB 7, superintendents would have to only consult with the councils.

Another provision of SB 7 would change the membership of councils by adding a parent. Eric Kennedy of the Kentucky School Boards Association said this would equalize the number of parents and teachers on councils.

“It gives the accountability of our school systems back to really where it should be and that is with parents and the community,” sponsor Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said while testifying before the State & Local Government Committee. “It does this by allowing superintendents who are hired by school boards who are elected by the people a chance to select their principals. We all know the principal is the biggest indicator of how a school is going to do.”

He said the uniquely Kentucky way of hiring principals comes as a shock to people not familiar with our public school systems.

Schickel added that he has been advocating for the change for five years. Kennedy said legislation passed last year already allows the superintendent of the Jefferson County School District, the largest in the state, to hire principals.

Lucy Waterbury, a parent of a public school student, spoke in opposition to the bill. She said the councils were one of the major provisions of the Kentucky Education Reform Act from the early ‘90s.

“If we want to pretend like SBDMs came out of a vacuum, we would be lying and living revisionist history,” she said. “Parent power, teacher power, local stakeholder power was needed in Kentucky then. It is needed now.”

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said changes made to SB 7 through the form of a committee substitute placated his prior concerns. He added that the current practice of having SBDMs select principals muddles accountability in the chain of command of school districts.

“I appreciate the sponsors working on this and narrowing the scope and the focus,” McDaniel said. “Accountability is a good thing.”

END



 

 

 

 

Feb. 5, 2020

Eating disorder treatment bill moves in Senate

 

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, explains Senate Bill 82, a measure establishing the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council, during today's meeting of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation addressing the lack of treatment options in Kentucky for eating disorders advanced out of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 82, would establish the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council to oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education and prevention programs across the commonwealth. The council would be funded by grants from federal agencies and private foundations.

While testifying in support of SB 82, mental health advocate Sheila Schuster referenced prior testimony from a college student who struggled to find medical treatment that would accept her insurance. She said that is why it was important SB 82 specify that the Kentucky Department of Insurance be represented on the council.

“Insurance payment is so, so difficult to get for all of this and it is very, very expensive treatment if you are talking about partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient,” Schuster said. 

She said she was also pleased the council would include representatives from post-secondary institutions.

“So many of these individuals are actually college age,” Schuster said. “It is not just females. It is also males. It often goes unreported because there is stigma around it.”

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said she has been approached by a number of people who suffer from eating disorders in silence since introducing the legislation.

“It has been so encouraging because I have had people in this very building come to me privately and say, ‘I’ve struggled with this, and I’m so glad to see someone pay attention to it.’” she said.

Committee Chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he too was moved by the college student’s testimony about having to travel out of state to receive proper care. Alvarado, a pediatrician by training, said it was hard to find appropriate care in Kentucky to treat the underlying mental illness associated with so many eating disorders.

“We lack resources in this state. Almost 30,000 people struggle with this at least every year,” Alvarado said, reiterating that people do suffer in silence.

SB 82 not goes to the full Senate for its consideration.

END



 

 

 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Bill banning sanctuary policies heads to House

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, stands to explain Senate Bill 1, titled the Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020, during today's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – The Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020 passed the state Senate today by a 28-10 vote.

The legislation would prohibit law enforcement officials and other public officials from enforcing any sanctuary policy, a term applied to jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The measure is designated Senate Bill 1, an assignment reserved each year for bills deemed a priority of the Senate majority’s leadership.

“This bill ensures cooperation between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of immigration law,” said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, a sponsor of SB 1. “It ensures this by keeping political ideology out of law enforcement.” 

SB 1 would also require law enforcement and other public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. Carroll said an amended version of the bill expanded exemptions from local school districts to rape crisis centers, domestic violence centers and other groups that provide social services.

“We must protect our people,” said Carroll, in referencing ‘Dreamland,’ a book that chronicled how the prescription opiate epidemic intersected with the heroin scourge in America. “We all know the issues we have had with criminal gangs coming to our state.”

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, was one of several who stood to oppose SB 1. 

“I take issue with this bill for a number of reasons,” he said. “One, there is no sanctuary city ... in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Neal said supporters of the bill were unable to cite one instance where local law enforcement refused to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“What all this adds up to is there is no problem here,” he said. “I can’t figure out why we are here on this matter in this way.”

Carroll called SB 1 a preemptive measure. 

“If our state starts implementing sanctuary policies, and we are declared a sanctuary state by the federal government, we stand to lose millions of dollars of aid from the federal government – dollars that are used to provide services to the very people the opponents of this bill say they are trying to protect,” he said. 

Carroll added that SB 1 wasn’t a statement on immigration policy.

“This bill is about law enforcement and law enforcement having the tools to do their job,” he said.

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

END


 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Insurance fraud measure moves to Senate

FRANKFORT—A bill that would tighten state laws regarding insurance fraud and motor vehicle antitheft discounts received state House approval today.

Insurance fraud provisions in House Bill 313 would extend civil immunity to companies that report information on suspected criminal activity to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, while antitheft provisions would ensure that motor vehicle insurers give an “appropriate discount” to policyholders.

HB 313 sponsor Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, said the insurance fraud provision is needed to ensure that Kentucky insurance companies can report suspected fraud outside of Kentucky’s borders. Current law provides civil immunity only to companies who report in-state to the Kentucky Department of Insurance, he said.

“Because the incidences of insurance fraud transcends state borders, it’s important that insurers and the (NICB) are free to share this information … throughout the country,” said Fischer.

The antitheft provision, he said, is required to bring statutory language regarding auto alarm security systems “up to modern standards.”

“Since the current law was passed in 1986, the auto industry has developed security technology that far surpasses the primitive alarm systems that were available in 1986,” said Fischer. Provisions in HB 313, he said, will amend the 1986 provisions and enact new language that requires insurance companies to base antitheft discounts on “sound actuarial data for automobiles that contain the upgraded technology.”

Implementation of the antitheft provisions would be delayed under January 1, 2021 to give motor vehicle companies time to comply with the changes, said Fischer.

HB 313 passed the House 93-0. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 


 

 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Donations-for-fines bill gets House approval

 Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, presents HB 269 regarding donations in lieu of civil parking fines for a floor vote.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—A bill that would allow local governments to elect to receive donated goods in lieu of civil parking fines passed the state House today 90-4.

House Bill 269 sponsor Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, said the bill would allow cities statewide to accept donations of specified goods in lieu of full or partial payment of civil fines for parking violations. Cities would need to pass an ordinance to opt in to the donation program, she said.

“Other jurisdictions that have passed this type of legislation … they call it ‘Food for Fines’ or ‘Donations for Citations’ – they can donate food, school supplies, hats, scarves and gloves,  and donate them to qualifying nonprofits,” said Cantrell.

Under HB 269, a civil parking fine would be considered “paid in full” and a receipt given once a donation is accepted. That receipt could not be used as a tax deduction.

Cantrell said cities would forego some revenue through such a program, but their choice to participate would be entirely optional.

“The local government first has to adopt an ordinance before any part of this bill goes into effect,” she said. “(They) have the freedom to opt into this program or not.”

HB 269 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Bill addressing animal abuse reporting advances

 

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, explains an amended version of Senate Bill 21, a measure concerning veterinarians reporting animal abuse, during today's meeting of the Senate Agriculture Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would untie veterinarians’ hands to report animal abuse passed out of the state Senate Agriculture Committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 21, would allow veterinarians to report the abuse of animals under their care, said Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, who sponsored the legislation. 

Veterinarians are currently prohibited by law from reporting abuse of animals under their care unless they have the permission of the animal’s owner or are under a court. 

“In fact, Kentucky is the only state where the veterinarian cannot report,” said Dr. Jim Weber, the legislative chair of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association (KVMA). “In every other state in the country, a veterinarian either ‘may’ or ‘shall’ report.”

Weber said the KVMA supports language in SB 21, which would allow veterinarians to use their best judgment when reporting suspected animal abuse. He said it is his preference to educate an animal owner on proper care rather than report something to police.

A second provision of SB 21 would grant veterinarians immunity in court for reporting any alleged abuse.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she couldn’t support legislation that contained an immunity clause for veterinarians. She said a veterinarian who falsely reported animal abuse shouldn’t be protected by such a blanket provision.

Weber said the immunity clause gave SB 21 teeth because it would remove a veterinarian’s fear of being sued for reporting suspected animal abuse.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said veterinarians are often small business owners.

“It seems to me there is a good balance in this bill,” he said. “Veterinarians are not going to abuse it because they don’t want their business to be harmed, but on the flip side there is the immunity from prosecution for doing the right thing.” 

Weber also told committee members to think of SB 21 as more than an animal welfare bill. He said the measure was also a public health bill.

Weber then referenced federal government research on co-occurring animal abuse and interpersonal violence, including domestic, child and elder abuses. Weber added that such findings have led to calls for greater coordination between human and animal welfare organizations to identify abusers and get help to the victims – whether human or animal.

SB 21 now goes to the Senate for the full body’s consideration. 

END


 

 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Kentucky hemp bill receives final passage

 Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, presents HB 236 regarding hemp for a vote in the House chamber.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 


FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 85-4 yesterday to give final passage to a bill that would create new paths for Kentucky hemp while keeping the state’s hemp program in line with federal law.

House Bill 236 would allow the state to expand the number of qualified laboratories authorized to test the state’s hemp crop for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis. THC testing of the state’s hemp crop is now handled by the University of Kentucky, which HB 236 sponsor Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, said has experienced a recent testing backlog.

Both state and federal law limit the amount of THC in Kentucky’s hemp crop to 0.3 percent.

Koch said a Senate amendment to the bill approved by the House before final passage clarifies that language in HB 236 regarding transport of hemp refers to hemp extract, not hemp raw material.

“Farmers were concerned that the (former) language … in there with hemp ‘material” would affect the transport of harvest from the fields,” said Koch. “This language is, of course, intended to address the transport of extract, not raw materials.”

House Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, told the House last month that there is some discussion at the federal level about raising the legal THC limit of hemp from 0.3 percent to 1 percent. But, he clarified, that is a “federal issue.”

“I would support our federal delegation if they decide to go down that road, and I would encourage my colleagues to reach out to their congressmen and their U.S. senators to encourage them to change the definition of hemp from 0.3 to 1.0 (percent),” Heath said

HB 236 as amended passed the Senate 37-0 on Jan. 30. The measure now goes to the governor for his signature.

 

END

 



 

 

 

 

Feb. 4, 2020

Two bills addressing children’s health advance

 

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, explains Senate Bill 60, a measure relating to newborn screening for spinal muscular atrophy, known as SMA, during yesterday's Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Adolescents in childcare centers would be curtailed from plopping down in front of TVs while washing down junk food with sugary drinks under legislation that has passed the state Senate by a 34-0 vote.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 45, would require licensed childcare centers to meet the most recent version of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition standards for child and adult care centers. A second nutrition provision would set standards for sugary drinks.

“SB 45 ... simply addresses childcare standards for all licensed childcare centers within the commonwealth,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said while explaining SB 45 yesterday on the Senate floor. “These are standards that are followed by the vast majority of facilities, but this will bring all facilities under the umbrella.”

SB 45 would also require childcare centers to meet certain physical activity, sugary drink and screen time standards. That term is used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching television.

In other activity from the Senate floor, a spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) screening bill also cleared the chamber to a 34-0 vote. 

That measure, known as Senate Bill 60, would require the screening for newborns, said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the legislation. 

He explained the Food and Drug Administration recently approved gene therapy for children under 2 who have infantile-onset SMA. The therapy has improved muscle movement, function and survival of children who receive an early diagnosis, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“This bill was brought to my attention by a family of a young man ... in my district who was born with this disease several years ago,” Higdon said.

SB 45 and SB 6 now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

END  


 

 

Jan. 31, 2020

 

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- The biggest issue of the General Assembly’s 2020 session came to the forefront this week as lawmakers received a state budget proposal from Gov. Andy Beshear.

Now that the proposal is in legislators’ hands, members of budget subcommittees are digging into the two-year spending plan to fully understand how it would impact state finances, programs, and services. They’ll soon start considering the changes they want to make to ensure that the final document they approve is one that a majority of lawmakers agrees best meets the needs of the state. Lawmakers intend to pass a final version of the budget by April 1, a timeline that would ensure they have an opportunity to override any vetoes issued by the governor.

The governor’s spending plan, which was unveiled in a speech Tuesday during a joint session of the General Assembly, was presented as an “Education First” budget that would increase education funding by over $400 million over the next two fiscal years. Included in the plan is a $2,000 pay raise for teachers spread out over two years, a 1 percent increase in the per pupil funding formula for schools and $11 million each year for new textbooks.

Other highlights include funding for an additional 350 state social workers, $5 million each year for preschool programs in disadvantaged areas, and $1 million each year, which would leverage additional federal funds, to enroll more children in the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP.)

The proposal also calls for generating an additional $147.7 million in new revenue, which would be based on taxes and fees on sports betting, a cigarette tax increase, a tax on vaping products, and an increase in the minimum for the limited liability entity tax.

Lawmakers’ reaction to the spending plan varies depending on who you ask. They did not receive the customary briefing on the budget proposal before the governor unveiled the plan, so some expressed reluctance to immediately draw conclusions until they could study it in-depth.

Supporters of the proposal highlighted its potential impact on education, such as the proposed teachers’ raises or a proposed 1 percent increase in postsecondary funding after years of cuts. Those with concerns with the plan pointed to its reliance on proposed tax increases that have not yet mustered the support to be passed into law. Some also noted that the governor’s plan doesn’t provide for additional school resource officers and school counselors that were envisioned when lawmakers approved a sweeping school safety bill last year, although the governor’s plan does include $18.2 million for school security upgrades.

While the arrival of the governor’s budget plan was the big news this past week, a number of other noteworthy issues also took steps forward:

  • Immigration law. Senate Bill 1 would call upon law enforcement officials and public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. It would also prohibit sanctuary policies in Kentucky or attempts to block officials from cooperating with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and now awaits a vote of the full Senate.

  • Legislative pensions. Senate Bill 6 would rein in legislative pension “spiking” by preventing a pension from dramatically increasing when a lawmaker take a job elsewhere in state government. The measure would prohibit state lawmakers from using salary credited in another state retirement system to determine final compensation in the legislators’ plan. That bill passed the Senate 35-0, with two “pass” votes, and has been delivered to the House for consideration.

  • Mental health. House Bill 213 would allow homeless teens from ages 16 to 18 to receive outpatient mental health care without parental consent. The measure passed the House 95-0 on Tuesday and now awaits Senate consideration.

  • School safety. Senate Bill 8 adds to a major school safety measure approved by lawmakers last year. In addition to requiring that school resource officers be armed, the bill would specify which schools are required to have the officers, who produces an active shooter training video and when classroom doors can be left unlocked. The bill passed the Senate 35-1 on Monday and now awaits consideration by the House Education Committee.

  • Veterans. House Bill 24 would support plans to build a veterans nursing home in Bowling Green. The legislation would appropriate $2.5 million needed to complete design and preconstruction work for the 90-bed facility. That must be completed before federal funding is allocated to start building the proposed $30 million facility. The bill was approved by the House 95-0 on Monday and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Kentuckians are encouraged to share their thoughts with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 


 

 

 

Jan. 31, 2020

First bill of session achieves final passage

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, stands to explain House Bill 186, legislation to clarify the relationship between direct sales businesses and those who contract with them to sell products, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.


FRANKFORT – Legislation delving into whether direct marketers are defined as independent contractors passed the state Senate today. That makes it the first bill of the 2019 Regular Session to be sent to the governor's desk for his signature.

The measure, known as House Bill 186, would eliminate some potentially expensive requirements for Kentuckians that operate direct sales businesses like those that offer home décor, health and beauty products, and clothing, said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, who stood to explain SB 186.

These types of companies have never been required to carry workers’ compensation insurance on those who contract with them to sell products. However, Carroll said there is a great deal of concern that the way workers’ compensation laws are currently being interpreted by courts, these direct sellers may be considered employees rather than independent contractors. 

He added that 39 other states have passed similar laws to clarify the status of direct sellers.

Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood to explain his “no” vote.

“I believe the bill is a false promise to small business owners,” he said. “Our court system defines what constitutes an employee versus what constitutes an independent contractor.

“It doesn’t matter what we put in statute. That is not going to change. It is a judicial determination. I don’t think we should give businesses this false hope they are hiring anyone as an independent contractor.” 

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, stood to explain he was voting “yes” despite having some of the same concerns as McGarvey. 

“There is a bigger problem that we have here in the state," West said. "The judiciary ignores statute... That is something we need to look at.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, stood to explain his “yes” vote. He said similar measures have passed out of the Senate several times in recent years but have never become law.

“Small businesses have really wanted this bill for many, many years,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate on a 25-7 vote.

END


 

 

Jan. 31, 2020

KY hemp bill heads back to House

 

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, explains House Bill 236, a measure relating to hemp regulations, during yesterday’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation designed to help Kentucky’s fledgling hemp industry has passed the state Senate by a 37-0 vote.

Known as House Bill 236, the measure would conform Kentucky’s hemp laws to federal guidelines that changed after the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. That bill removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, which allowed farmers across the nation to grow hemp legally.

“Make no mistake, this industry is a new industry,” said Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, who stood to explain HB 236 on the Senate floor yesterday. “It is in its infancy and it does have problems. Those are growing pains. We all recognize that.”

Hornback said hemp isn’t something farmers are going to “get rich quick” by growing, but he thinks it will ultimately become a sustainable crop for Kentucky's agriculture industry. Hornback said Kentucky farmers grew more hemp than they could sell last year. He said the same happened with milk, corn, soybeans, chicken and swine.

“We are the best at running ourselves out of business,” said Hornback, who is also a farmer.

Other provisions of HB 236 would expand the number of laboratories authorized to test the state’s hemp crop for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis. THC testing of the state’s hemp crop is now handled by the University of Kentucky, which has experienced a testing backlog over the past year. 

Hornback said HB 236 would also clarify that companies could transport hemp extract with higher concentrations of THC between processing facilities.

END


 

 

Jan. 30, 2020

 

Medical marijuana resolution passes to Senate

 

Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, presents HCR 5 for a vote before the full House.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—A resolution asking federal regulators to speed up their research on medical marijuana received bipartisan support today in the Kentucky House.

House Concurrent Resolution 5 sponsor Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, said his resolution would serve as an official request from the Kentucky General Assembly for more federal research into the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana. Some federal study is already underway, he said.

“There has been a study OK’d (at the federal level) at Yale University in the med school. It is a Phase I study – the marijuana will be produced in the United States,” said Bentley. “I think that is a big step forward, because in our resolution here we ask those institutions to do this. We haven’t been doing this in vain.”

HCR 5 differs from similar resolutions filed by Bentley in past sessions that would have made legalization of medical marijuana in Kentucky dependent on more federal study. Bentley said HCR 5 isn’t tied to any current medical marijuana proposals in the General Assembly including HB 136, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, and Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg.

Nemes voted in support of the resolution and what he said he sees as its call for safety and efficacy while adding that HCR 5 “in no way—in my view—is a delay on the necessity that we pass medical marijuana this session.”

Thirty three states have legalized medical marijuana. The substance remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law, however.

HCR 5 passed the House 89-2 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END


 

 

 

Jan. 30, 2020

Bill banning sanctuary policies advances

 

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, (left) and Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, explain an amended version of Senate Bill 1, titled the Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020, during today's meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – An amended version of the Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020 advanced out of a state Senate committee today.

The legislation would prohibit law enforcement officials and other public officials from enforcing any sanctuary policy, a term applied to jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The measure is designated Senate Bill 1, an assignment reserved each year for bills deemed a priority of the Senate majority’s leadership 

“The question is, ‘Are we going to enforce the laws of this country and our commonwealth or are we going to ignore them?’” said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, while presenting SB 1 to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We owe it to our people to ensure the safety of our people. We must enforce federal law. We must have cooperation between state, federal and local officials. That is what this bill is about.”

He called SB 1 a preemptive measure.

“We don’t have cities that have been declared sanctuary cities by the federal government but ... we are heading that way,” said Carroll, a former police officer. “This bill sends a mandate that we are going to follow the law; we are going to cooperate with federal officials.”

SB 1 would also require law enforcement and other public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. Carroll said the amended version of the bill expanded exemptions from local school districts to rape crisis centers, domestic violence centers and other groups that provide social services.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said he liked the exemptions.

“I want to commend the drafters for the fine work they have put into this bill,” he said. “I like the fact that there is an exemption put in here ... to show the humane component.

“We need to get the bad actors out, but we need to show compassion and protect the victims. I think the way this bill is narrowly drafted does that in a really outstanding way.”

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, who cast a “pass” vote on SB 1, questioned the effectiveness of a provision that would prohibit racial profiling. She expressed concerns SB 1 would stir more fear among immigrants.

“I’ve got some problems with this bill,” Webb said. “I hope we can get a remedy. If we want to address sanctuary cities, that is one thing, but this bill goes far beyond that.”

In response to concerns about certain provisions of SB 1, Carroll said the measure just reaffirms what’s already the law of the land.

“It is not the intent ... to prevent any person here illegally from requesting or getting the help they need,” Carroll said in reference to concerns SB 1 would discourage undocumented migrants from, among other things, reporting crimes perpetrated against them. He added that another provision would carve out protections for undocumented migrants who are victims or witnesses to crimes.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said he strongly supported SB 1 as a former law enforcement official.

“This does not change the way we are doing business in Kentucky today,” he said. “If this bill passes ... there isn’t going to be a run on going out and arresting someone in this state who is here illegally.”

Blanton said SB 1 simply states that sanctuary policies cannot be implemented in the future.

“Rest assured, this is a bill about law enforcement and protecting the cooperation between federal, state and local officials,” he said. “If we set the precedence not to allow that, what is next? Do we tell our law enforcement they can’t participate with the DEA or the FBI or the U.S. marshals’ service? Where does it end?”

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, also spoke in support of SB 1.

“If we are going to start not cooperating with federal law in this issue then where does it end?” he said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, concurred with West. 

“I think it is a slippery slope,” Westerfield said of not complying with federal immigration laws. “I’m not saying it is not complex. It is, but I think it sets a dangerous precedent.”

SB 1 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

END


 

 

 

Jan. 29, 2020

Anti-pension spiking measure moves to Senate

 

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, presents anti-pension-spiking legislation found in HB 207 for a vote.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would change a state anti-pension-spiking provision that some say disproportionately affects lower-income public employees has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 207 sponsor Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, told the House today that his bill would prevent small increases in compensation—usually earned by lower-income workers—from triggering a reduction in Kentucky Retirement System pension benefits. Compensation would have to increase by a minimum of 10 percent plus an additional $1000 over the previous fiscal year for the trigger to take affect under the bill.

Current law sets the trigger threshold at 10 percent, with anything over that putting the anti-spiking provision into play. As little as $1 over that 10 percent has triggered the anti-spiking provision in some cases, KRS officials have said.

“This provision … makes sure that if you’re, for example, a cafeteria worker in a school system and you have very low income, you can get over that 10-percent trigger,” said Miller. “We’re setting a level below which we’re not going to invoke the spiking provision.”

Around 250 KRS members – mostly classified school district employees—were affected by the provision last year, KRS officials told the House State Government Committee last week.

Other proposed changes in HB 207 would impact requirements governing KRS board election ballots and change how increases in County Employees Retirement System’ pension and health insurance contribution rates are calculated, among other provisions.

The bill passed the House 91-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.


END

 

 


 

 

Jan. 29, 2020

Bill addressing lawmakers’ pensions advances

 

Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer presenting Senate Bill 6, an act relating to legislative pensions, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to rein in legislative pension enhancements, sometimes called “spiking,” passed the state Senate today. 

The measure, known as Senate Bill 6, would prohibit state lawmakers who contributed to the Legislators' Retirement Plan from June 20, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2013, from using salary credited in another state retirement system to determine final compensation in the legislators’ plan. The effective date for SB 6 would be July 1 of this year

“It does not apply retroactively to legislators, just prospectively, and will end this practice once and for all,” said Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who sponsored SB 6. He added that SB 6 would not apply to any legislator who took office since Jan. 1, 2014, because they participate in a hybrid cash balance plan that was approved by the General Assembly in 2013.

Thayer said the Senate has passed numerous pieces of legislation since 2010 aimed at ending legislative pension spiking.

Thirty-five senators cast votes in favor of the measure and two senators cast “pass” votes. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END


 

Jan. 29, 2020

Bill updates childcare center standards

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, presents Senate Bill 45, legislation he introduced concerning operational standards for childcare centers, during today’s Senate Health & Welfare Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation to set standards for food nutrition, physical activity and screen time at childcare centers across Kentucky advanced out of a Senate committee today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 45, would require these licensed centers to meet the most recent version of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition standards for child and adult care centers.

“I want to stress that the standards do not apply to food that is brought from home,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said while presenting the bill to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, “and it does not require any center that is not already operating a food program to start a program. I think that is very important.”

The physical activity provision would require the centers to meet YMCA healthy eating and physical activity standards for early childhood programs. The YMCA standards also address screen time, a term used for activities done in front of a screen, such as watching television.

A final provision would set standards for sugary drinks.

Carroll, who sponsored the legislation, said he leads an organization that, among other things, operates an early childhood education center.

“This bill is very simple,” Carroll said. “It is another step in the process to put all licensed centers under one umbrella to improve quality.”

SB 45 now goes to the Senate floor for further consideration. If it would become law, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would have 90 days to promulgate regulations with the consultation of various childhood advisory councils in Kentucky.

 END


 

Jan. 28, 2020

Bill tackles blood-test refusals in DUI cases

 

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, stands to explain Senate Bill 74, an act relating to blood alcohol concentration tests in driving under the influence investigations, during today’s Senate proceedings. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Refusing to take a blood alcohol concentration test for suspicion of drunken driving could become more difficult under legislation approved by the state Senate today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 74, would allow police to seek a search warrant for blood alcohol concentration tests in all driving under the influence (DUI) investigations. Under current law, police can only seek a search warrant for the tests in DUI investigations that involve serious injury or death.

Sponsor Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said no other similar exemption to seeking a search warrant exists in Kentucky’s criminal code.

Kentucky motorists can have their licenses taken for refusing to take the tests under that current law, but according to testimony given during a committee hearing on SB 74, the penalties have been somewhat blunted by the use of ignition interlocks. Those are Breathalyzer-type devices connected to the ignition systems of vehicles. That’s because motorists charged with DUI can sometimes get back behind the wheel by agreeing to install the devices.

SB 74 passed by a 31-4 vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END


 

 

 

Jan. 28, 2020

 

Youth mental health bill clears House hurdle

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would allow older homeless teenagers to receive outpatient mental health care without parental consent has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 213, sponsored by House Minority Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, would allow homeless youth ages 16 to 18 who are defined as “unaccompanied youth” under federal law to receive outpatient mental health counseling from a qualified provider at the child’s request.

Jenkins said the bill is expected to help approximately 3,000 young people in Kentucky—many who are identified as ‘unaccompanied youth’ with the help of their local school district—get the care they need.

“If someone is presented in the school system as being ‘unaccompanied,’ the school district does everything they can do to locate parents and guardians for those children,” said Jenkins. “So these are children that have been scrutinized by the school districts in which they reside.”

Similar legislation was considered by the 2019 General Assembly as part of a larger bill which Jenkins and Meade sponsored last year, she said. Meade spoke in favor of HB 213 on the floor today.

This bill “is looking at a group of children who have been locked out of getting that mental health (care) that they need,” said Meade. “They don’t have that adult accompaniment in their life, so they cannot get that permission to go and get this care. So what we’re doing is trying to help that group of children.”

HB 213 passed the House by a vote of 95-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 


 

 

 

Jan. 28, 2020

 

School bus safety bill rolls on to full House

Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, testifies on his school bus safety proposal found in HB 34.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that proposes using school bus cameras to improve bus safety while potentially generating needed revenue for local school districts and the state is on its way to the Kentucky House.

House Bill 34 sponsor Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, told the House Transportation Committee that his proposal—which would be optional for school districts—would generate funds through fines levied against drivers recorded illegally passing stopped buses by cameras affixed to school bus stop arms. Offenders would face civil fines of $300 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense, with criminal penalties also possible.

A 2018 pupil transportation survey indicated that citations could be levied against over 2660 drivers each day of the school instructional year depending on how many school districts use the cameras, said Goforth.

“That’s 484,000 times a child’s life is put in danger. So we have a serious problem, and we need to start catching these offenders,” he told the committee.

School districts could work with a third-party vendor for installation and maintenance of the cameras at no cost to the districts, he said. The vendor would also be responsible for collection of fines, with the vendor’s compensation based on citations issued.

School districts would receive 80 percent of generated revenue, or as much as $116 million under the proposal, said Goforth. Remaining funds—as much as $29 million—would be split between the state Transportation Cabinet and the Kentucky Department of Education, he said.

Rep. Terri Branham Clark, D-Catlettsburg, asked if law enforcement would have a hand in reviewing violations before fines are issued. In the case of civil penalties, Goforth said the vendor would work independently.

“We’re making a civil option so a third-party vendor can issue those citations,” he said.

Some Kentucky school districts are using stop-arm cameras on their buses to record illegal passers now, he said, although they don’t have the option of using a third-party vendor or having the cameras installed and maintained, all at zero cost, said Goforth.

“So it’s a very important bill,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

HB 34 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

END

 


 

 

Jan. 28, 2020

 

KY House passes bill to hurry construction of vets’ nursing home

House Bill 24 sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, speaks on how the measure would help expedite construction of the planned Bowling Green Veterans Center. A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—A bill that would speed up plans to bring a fifth veterans’ nursing facility to Kentucky moved closer to becoming law after its passage in the state House on Monday.

House Bill 24 sponsor Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, said his bill would appropriate $2.5 million in state moneys needed to complete design and preconstruction work that will expedite construction of the 90-bed facility by as much as six years. The facility will be located in Bowling Green on several acres of donated land.

One hundred percent of the design and preconstruction work must be completed before federal funding will be allocated for the $30 million facility, said Meredith, adding that the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs currently lacks funding needed for the groundwork.

“KDVA did not have enough dollars in their budget to be able to cover the preconstruction costs and design work due to the fact that there is a lot of maintenance on the older facilities that just must be done right now,” he said. HB 24 includes an emergency clause that, should the bill become law, will free up the $2.5 million immediately and make the state “eligible for our federal funds whenever we receive (a federal funding) letter.”

Federal funding is expected to cover $19.5 million of construction of the nursing facility, with the remainder funded with $10.5 million in state bond funds approved in 2017.

Speaking in support of the bill was Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, who said the facility is needed due to a sizeable number of veterans in the Bowling Green area.

“When you look at the veteran population in our part of Kentucky … when you look at those veterans and the fact that they are aging just as we are, one day at a time, we really need this nursing home facility in Bowling Green right now,” said Stone.

HB 24 passed the state House 90-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

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Jan. 27, 2020

Senate passes new school safety bill

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, stands to explain Senate Bill 8, a measure dubbed the “School Safety and Resiliency Act II,” during today's proceedings from the Senate floor. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A measure that would add to major school safety legislation that passed into law last year advanced to the state House of Representatives today.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 8, would require school resource officers (SROs) to be armed with a gun.

“If we are protected by those who are sworn law enforcement officers with a firearm, would we not want the same for our children in Kentucky public schools?” sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said in reference to the state police who provide security for the General Assembly. “It is easy for us here to get caught up in discussions that center around guns ... but to not allow a sworn law enforcement officer the ability to carry a gun is limiting. They need to be equipped to be able to do their job.” 

The bill adds to the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act, catalyzed by the Marshall County High School shooting. Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, who district includes the high school, stood to express his appreciation for SB 8.

“We owe it to our children to give our SROs every tool they need to do their job,” said Carroll, a retired police officer.

Additional safety measures would clarify the definition of a SRO to allow a school superintendent to specify any individual to serve as a district’s school safety coordinator, which school facilities are required to have SROs, who produces an active shooter training video and when classroom doors can be left unlocked. 

Wise said SB 8 balances provisions that would harden schools – a reference to investments in physical safety measures such as reinforced doors and the armed SROs – with provisions that address the mental health of students. The mental health provisions of the bill specify that the goal is to have at least one school counselor per public school and to have at least one school counselor, or school-based mental health services provider, for every 250 students.

Wise added that SB 8 doesn’t address funding.

“We are still going to have to address that this session,” he said. “There are a lot of goals here. I call upon this body and the body down the hall that we will continue to make this a priority as we go forward this legislative session.”

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who also sponsored the bill, stood to explain why he supported the firearm provision of the bill.

“I think knowledge and wisdom tell me don’t take a knife to a gunfight,” he said.

SB 8 passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote.

END


 

Jan. 24, 2020

 

 

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- As sure as gavel strikes mark the start of a Kentucky General Assembly session, packed hallways in the Capitol Annex are a sign that a session has gone into high gear as people from across Kentucky converge to make their voices heard.

That was clearly the case this past week as thousands of Kentuckians came to the Capitol Campus to weigh in on issues ranging from voter identification to school safety. With a total of 60 working days in this year’s session, a lot of activity is being packed into a short amount of time as lawmakers study and cast votes on hundreds of issues. Things will get even busier next week when Gov. Andy Beshear presents his state budget proposal and lawmakers begin the work of crafting the spending plan into one they think best serves the state.

Measures that took steps forward in the legislative process this past week include the following:

“Born alive” act. Senate Bill 9 would require that no infant born alive – including one that survives a failed abortion attempt – be denied appropriate medical care. Violation of the proposed law could result in the revocation of a medical provider’s license and felony charges. The bill was approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee on Thursday and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Mental health. House Bill 153 would allow the state to establish a mental health first aid training program. The program would be aimed at training professionals and members of the public to identify and assist people with mental health or substance abuse problems. The program would also promote access to certified trainers certified in mental health first aid training. The measure passed the House 93-o on Thursday and has been sent to the Senate.

Pets. House Bill 27 would designate cats and dogs from Kentucky’s animal shelters or rescue organizations as the official pets of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The measure was approved by the House on a 90-2 vote on Wednesday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

School safety. Senate Bill 8 would add to a major school safety measure passed into law last year. This year’s bill would clarify the definition of a school resource officer to allow a school superintendent to specify any individual to serve as a district’s school safety coordinator, clarify which school facilities are required to have school resource officers and to require that the officers be armed. The legislation also specifies a goal of having at least one school counselor per public school and at least one school counselor, or school-based mental health services provider, for every 250 students. The bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Sex offenders. House Bill 204 would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet from a publicly leased playground. They also wouldn’t be allowed to enter the playgrounds without written permission from the person or body responsible for the playgrounds. Sex offenders must already follow these standards for publicly owned playgrounds. The legislation passed the House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee on Wednesday and now awaits action from the full House.

Voter identification. Senate Bill 2 would impose stricter voter identification requirements by calling on Kentuckians to show photo identification before casting votes. Voters without a photo ID could still cast a ballot after showing a non-photo ID card, such as a social security card or a credit card, and affirming, under penalty of perjury, that they are eligible to vote. A voter with no ID whatsoever would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that would be counted after the voter goes to the county clerk’s office soon after the election and shows an appropriate ID or fills out an affidavit explaining the reason for not having an ID. Senate Bill 2 would also make photo ID cards available to people without driver’s licenses free of charge. The bill passed the Senate 29-9 on Thursday and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Youth smoking and vaping. Senate Bill 56 would specify in state law that anyone under 21 years old is not allowed to possess tobacco products and vaping products. This would place state law in line with recently approved federal law regarding youth smoking and vaping. Under Senate Bill 56, officers could confiscate such products from people not old enough to use them and retailers could be fined for selling the products to youth. The legislation passed the Senate on Thursday on a 28-10 vote and has been delivered to the House.

People are encouraged to share their thoughts with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

--END--

 


 

 

 Jan. 23, 2020

Bill raising age to buy tobacco passes Senate

 

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, explains Senate Bill 56, a measure to raise the tobacco age, during today's proceedings from the Senate floor. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – The state Senate voted 28-10 today to raise the age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to 21 from 18. 

The amended measure, known as Senate Bill 56, would bring Kentucky’s statute in line with new federal law raising the age to 21.

“The bottom line is this bill will reduce youth access to tobacco products, slash the number of kids who start using tobacco before age 18, decrease youth tobacco addiction and lead to lower tobacco use rates overall as these teens grow and mature into adulthood,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, a medical doctor and sponsor of the bill. “It is common-sense law that is relatively easy to implement.”

The bill would remove status offenses for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco products, often called PUP laws. SB 56 would still allow tobacco products to be confiscated but shift penalties to retailers who fail to follow the increased age restriction.

Alvarado added that putting children into the juvenile justice system could be counter-productive to their physical and mental health. 

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville spoke in favor of SB 56

“This has really been a bipartisan, broad-based effort to protect our kids,” she said. “We were so close to having nicotine be eliminated from one of the problems we had to add for our youth across the state. Unfortunately, with the introduction of vaping ... we now have an entire population that is addicted to nicotine once again.”

SB 56 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

END


 

Jan. 23, 2020

A voter photo ID bill heads to House

 

 

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, explains Senate Bill 2, a photo voter ID measure, during today's proceedings from the Senate floor. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would impose stricter voter identification requirements in Kentucky passed the state Senate today by a 29-9 vote.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 2, would require a voter to present photographic identification at the poll. Kentucky already has a law that requires identification to vote, but it does not require photo IDs.

“When the law requires a photo ID be shown ... confidence is raised in the election process,” said Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, who sponsored the bill along with Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown. “This is very important these days when doubt is easily raised, when social media spreads rumors. Anything this body can do to increase the public’s confidence in the election process is well worth the time and money invested.”

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, spoke in opposition of SB 2. 

“It would seem to me that we would want to create a system that expands the voting process and doesn’t become more cumbersome,” he said. “We already know there are a significant number of people who don’t vote now. We want to encourage people to vote, not to discourage them to vote.”

Thayer spoke in favor of the bill.

“I want to debunk this red herring that a voter ID is going to suppress the vote,” he said. “There was a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research that between 2008 and 2016 voter ID laws ‘had no negative effect on registration or turnout overall or for any specific group defined by race, gender, age or party affiliation.’”

If a voter does not have a photo ID, Thayer said the voter would be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote. Other acceptable IDs would include Social Security cards and credit cards.

A voter who comes to the polls with no ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot, a process involving filling out a separate envelope before casting a separate ballot. The ballot would not count unless the voter visited the county clerk’s office by the Friday after Election Day. That’s when the voter would have to fill out a separate affidavit explaining the reason for not having an ID.

Another provision of SB 2 would provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID.

SB 2 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration. If the bill would become law, photo IDs would not be required for the May primary election but would be required for the November general election.

END


Jan. 23, 2020

 

Mental health first-aid training bill advances to Senate

 

House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, presents House Bill 153  for a vote in the chamber.  A hi-res photo can be found here .

 


FRANKFORT—Kentucky would develop a statewide Mental Health First Aid Training Program or similar program under legislation that advanced to the Senate today after passing the House 93-0.

House Bill 153 sponsor and House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said the bill would allow Kentuckians to “diffuse a crisis early” by offering them evidence-based mental health training to use when they encounter someone in crisis.

“The Mental Health First Aid Act will put this evidence-based training program in the hands of educators, law enforcement, first responders, military personnel, our faith leaders—really anyone who interacts with the general public and anyone at risk,” said Moser.

Mental health first aid training programs are already in pockets of the state, she said. HB 153 would take the training statewide as Kentucky battles what Moser called “significant mental health issues” including substance use disorder and suicide.

Speaking in support of HB 153 was bill cosponsor Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville. The Jefferson County educator said her experience with a similar program through Jefferson County Public Schools made a lasting impression on her.

“It was a very powerful thing for me to do,” she told her colleagues in the House. “It gave me a lot of thoughts to bring back into the classroom because I know there are so many children with mental health issues we deal with.”

Training costs associated with the statewide program would be covered by grants paid for with public and private appropriations drawn from a training fund administered by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  Moser said all moneys in the fund would be reserved for the program.

 “Any money in this trust fund would be used specifically for this training program or suicide prevention programs,” she told the House.

END

 


 

Jan. 23, 2020

School safety bill passes out of Senate panel

 

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, introduces Senate Bill 8, a school safety bill, during today's meeting of the Senate Education Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – On the second anniversary of the Marshall County High School shooting that catalyzed the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act, a Senate committee heard legislation to add to the measure.

“It’s my pleasure to introduce Senate Bill 8 which many people are calling the School Safety and Resiliency Act II,” Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said while testifying before today’s meeting of the Senate Education Committee. “I also want to thank all of those right now that are working across this commonwealth to help ensure safety within our public school walls.”

He said SB 8 addresses changes sought by educators, safety officers and mental health experts. A discussion of those changes dominated the committee’s meeting last week.

Wise, who sponsored SB 8 along with Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said the bill would clarify the definition of a school resource officer (SRO) to allow a school superintendent to specify any individual to serve as a district’s school safety coordinator, clarify which school facilities are required to have SROs and to require that SROs be armed with a gun.

Additional safety provisions of SB 8 address who produces an active shooter training video, when classroom doors can be left unlocked and what constitutes terroristic threatening.

Mental health provisions of SB 8 specify that the goal is to have at least one school counselor per public school and to have at least one school counselor, or school-based mental health services provider, for every 250 students.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, asked if Kentucky has the employee base to fill all of the mental health and safety positions needed to comply with the 2019 act and this year’s follow-up legislation.

Linda Tyree, past president of the Kentucky School Counselor Association, testified Kentucky could meet the demand for counselors. She added there were seven colleges across the state that prepare school counselors.

Lori Vogel of the Kentucky Association for School Social Work, who also testified, said there are enough social workers in Kentucky, but they would have to get a special certification to be in schools.

Wise added that it would require a long-term commitment by the General Assembly to provide funding for the additional mental health personnel in addition to security officers.

“This is going to have to be something we prioritized in future budgets too,” he said.

SB 8 passed out of the committee and now goes to the full Senate for consideration. 

END

 

Jan. 23, 2020

Pension spiking, other issues tackled by retirement clean-up bill

FRANKFORT—A bill that would change an anti-pension spiking provision that has impacted mostly classified school employees in Kentucky has passed House committee.

House Bill 207, sponsored by House State Government Committee Chair Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, would prevent a reduction in an employee’ retirement allowance through the Kentucky Retirement Systems unless the employee’s compensation credited to KRS over the previous year has increased by a minimum of 10 percent plus $1000. Current law sets the threshold at 10 percent, which has allowed any additional pay over that percentage – as little as $1, in cases—to trigger anti-pension spiking law.

KRS Executive Director of Benefits Erin Surratt said around 250 KRS members, mostly classified school district employees, were affected by the provision last year.

“Picking up a field trip or two during the year might lead to a spike,” she told the committee.

“What we have found is between $1 and $1,000,” can trigger the provision, KRS Executive Director David Eager added.

Other so-called “housekeeping” changes proposed in HB 207 as approved by the committee would change requirements regarding KRS board election ballots and change how increases in County Employees Retirement System’ pension and health insurance contribution rates are calculated, among other provisions.

HB 207 has no actuarial impact on the state, according to a letter from KRS cited by Miller. “There might be some savings on the administrative side, but, by and large, no actuarial impact,” he said.

HB 207 now goes to the full House for consideration.


END


 

 

 

 

Jan. 23, 2020

Senate panel hears ‘born-alive’ legislation

FRANKFORT – Legislation titled the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act passed a Senate committee today. 

The measure, known as Senate Bill 9, would require that a child born alive – under any circumstance – be given the appropriate medical care to preserve the infant’s life, said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, who sponsored the bill along with Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown. Any violation of the proposed law could result in the medical provider’s license being revoked and felony charges. 

“I believe Kentucky ought to have a law that protects children born alive,” Westerfield said while testifying before the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Protection Committee. “Like many of you all, I was called here to serve in the Senate because I wanted to stand for the unborn.”

SB 9 would also formalize that any born-alive infant shall be treated as a legal person in state statutes. Another provision would ban scientific research on born-alive infants.

“A baby’s heart can be seen as soon as 22 days after conception,” Westerfield said. “Each life is human DNA that has never before existed and will never exist again.” He added that an abortion happens in the United States about once every 30 seconds, and roughly one out of four women have had an abortion.

SB 9 contains an emergency clause, meaning it would become effective immediately upon successfully making it through the legislative process rather than 90 days after adjournment. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

END


 

Jan. 22, 2020

 KY takes step to ban female genital mutilation

Frankfort – The state Senate unanimously approved legislation today that would ban female genital mutilation. 

“This is a very difficult subject to discuss,” said Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, who sponsored the measure, known as Senate Bill 72, along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. “Female genital mutilation is one of the most egregious forms of child abuse. It is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination against women."

The World Health Organization states that female genital mutilation, often referred to as FGM, includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is mostly carried out on young girls. 

Adams said Kentucky is among 15 states where it is still legal. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018.

SB 72 would make performing FGMs on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the licenses from medical providers convicted of the practice.

Another provision would classify FGM in state statutes as a form of child abuse and require mandatory reporting of it. The proposed changes in the law would also allow survivors of FGM to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators up to 10 years after turning 18.

An educational component of SB 72 would provide outreach to communities and professionals likely to encounter FGM cases and mandate training for law enforcement. While presenting the bill, Adams cited a study that found 1,845 girls or women are at risk or have undergone FGM – just in Kentucky.

SB 72 now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

END

 

 

Jan. 22, 2020

 

Foster care system tweaks pass Kentucky House

 

 

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, speaks on his foster care legislation found in HB 167.  A hi-res photo can be found here .

FRANKFORT—A bill that would provide more confidentiality to foster parents involved in specific parental rights’ cases has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 167, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, would allow foster parents to use initials, instead of their names, when participating in involuntary termination of parental rights’ cases, while also allowing—instead of requiring—the foster parent to be a party to such cases. Foster parents are currently required to participate in such actions under 2019 HB 446, which became law last year.

Meade said the need for improved confidentiality of foster parents’ identifying information in such actions became evident last year after some concerns were raised about how that information is handled.

“You can imagine that created some angst for foster parents and, in very rare situations, could potentially put them in a dangerous situation,” said Meade. “So…we decided that we’re going to make it very clear what our intent was last year.”

An amendment to the bill filed by Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and adopted by the House would give some leeway to how foster parents may be served legal notice in such actions. Meade thanked Hoover for his work on HB 167, and for his support for improving Kentucky’s foster care system dating back to then-Speaker Hoover’s creation of a House Adoption Work Group in 2017.

The work of that group led to the passage of major changes in the state’s adoption and foster care system with the passage 2018 HB 1, followed by passage of HB 446 and other measures in 2019.

“The only way we were able to start down this path was because (Hoover) issued that order to start the work group on adoption and foster care,” said Meade.

HB 167 passed the House by a vote of 92-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 


 

Jan. 22, 2020

 

Secretary of State Michael Adams (left) and Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, answer questions concerning Senate Bill 2, known as the “voter ID law" during today's meeting of the Senate State & Local Government Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

Voter ID bill receives favorable hearing

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would impose stricter voter identification requirements advanced in the Kentucky General Assembly today after the Senate State & Local Government Committee passed an amended version of the measure.

Known as Senate Bill 2, the legislation would require a voter to present photographic identification at the poll. Under the amended bill, an expired photo ID would be accepted.

Kentucky already has a law that requires identification to vote, but it does not require photo IDs. Also, a voter currently does not have to show any ID if the poll worker already knows them and can attest to the person’s identity. 

“With thousands of voters on the roll who are deceased or have moved to other locations, (SB 2) simply highlights the importance of making sure voters truly are who they say they are,” said Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, who sponsored the bill along with Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer of Georgetown. “There needs to be reasonable requirements that they properly identify themselves at the polls. That is what (SB 2) is designed to do.” 

If a voter does not have a photo ID, they would be able to show another form of ID and affirm, under the penalty of perjury, that they are qualified to vote, Mills said. Other acceptable IDs would include Social Security cards and credit cards. 

A voter without a photo ID would also be required to sign a statement identifying a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID. Those impediments would include not being able to afford the documents necessary to obtain an ID.

A voter who comes to the polls with no ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot, a process involving filling out a separate envelope before casting a separate ballot. The ballot would not count unless the voter visited the county clerk’s office by the Friday after Election Day. That’s when the voter would have to fill out a separate affidavit explaining the reason for not having an ID.

Another provision of SB 2 would provide a free state-issued ID card for individuals who are at least 18 and do not have a valid driver’s license. It currently costs $30 for that ID

“Providing a free photo ID to indigents will benefit them far beyond just facilitating their right to vote,” Mills said. “Possessing a photo ID is an indispensable part of functioning in modern society.”

SB 2 would also change the deadline the Secretary of State shall certify the total number of votes in a given election from noon on Friday following an election to noon on Monday following the election.

Corey Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky testified before the committee in opposition to SB 2

“There is no evidence at all that in-person voting fraud is a problem in Kentucky,” he said, “as demonstrated by not a single credible instance of voter fraud in the close election last fall – or in any election in Kentucky this century. In-person voter fraud is simply incredibly rare.”

Secretary of State Michael Adams, who testified in support of SB 2, said the photo ID idea goes back to a 2004 commission on federal election reform co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter.

“There is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting, but both occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election,” Adams said while quoting the commission report. “Photo identification cards currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings and cash a check. Voting is equally important.” 

SB 2 now goes to the full Senate for consideration in the coming days. If the bill would become law, photo IDs would not be required for the May primary election but would be required for the November general election.

END


 

Jan. 22, 2020

 

Bill to tighten sex offender limits clears House panel

House Bill 204 sponsor Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, presents the bill to the committee for a vote..  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would add publicly-leased playgrounds to the list of locations off limits to registered sex offenders has passed a House committee.

 

House Bill 204 sponsor Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, said the legislation is specifically written to ban future registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of such playgrounds and from entering those playgrounds without advance written permission.

 

The prohibitions would not apply retroactively, but would instead apply only to sex offender registrants added to the state’s sex offender registry after HB 204 takes effect, should it become law.

 

“So we’re not going to be in a scenario here where we’re forcing folks to leave, or to move, or anything of that nature. We just want to make sure that we provide these protections moving forward,” Maddox told the House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee before it voted today to approve the bill. “It’s basically just ‘or leased’ is the only change to this statute.”

 

Current Kentucky law prohibits registered sex offenders from entering the grounds or living within 1,000 feet of schools, licensed day care facilities, or publicly-owned playgrounds.

 

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, voted against the bill in committee. Willner, who is a clinical psychologist, said sex offender residential restriction policies have not been shown to be effective.

 

“I think that this addition actually moves us in the wrong direction for spreading accurate information about sexual abuse,” said Willner.

 

In her explanation of the bill before the committee, Maddox said she hopes that HB 204 “will be among one of the more straightforward bills that you will scrutinize this session.”

 

HB 204 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

 

END

 

 

Jan. 22, 2020

 

              Kentucky hemp bill passes House, 70-17

 

Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, presents HB 236 regarding hemp for a vote in the House chamber.  A hi-res photo can be found  here.


FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 70-17 yesterday to expand options for hemp testing while continuing to meet federal requirements for the state’s hemp program.

House Bill 236 sponsor Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, said the bill would allow the state to expand the number of qualified laboratories authorized to test the state’s hemp crop for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis. THC testing of the state’s hemp crop is now handled by the University of Kentucky, which Koch said experienced a testing backlog over the past year.

“We’re trying to speed up that process. We’re trying to allow options,” he told the House.

Kentucky law limits the THC content of its hemp crop to 0.3 percent—the same limit imposed by the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill which also removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances.

“As far as moving that (percentage), there’s going to have to be a lot of federal regulation by the USDA…before we are actually able to do that in Kentucky,” Koch said about the state’s THC limit. He was responding to concerns with the limit voiced by Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington.

There is some discussion at the federal level about raising the legal THC limit of hemp from 0.3 percent to 1 percent, according to Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. “However,” he said, “that is a federal issue.”

“I would support our federal delegation if they decide to go down that road, and I would encourage my colleagues to reach out to their congressmen and their U.S. senators to encourage them to change the definition of hemp from 0.3 to 1.0 (percent),” Heath told the House.

HB 236 would also clarify that the 0.3 percent limit on THC content applies to all hemp transported into or out of Kentucky. Licensed hemp processors could, however, legally transport “material” with a higher THC content within the state under the bill, as long as that material is taken directly from one licensed processing location to another.

HB 236 now goes to the Senate.

END

 

 

Jan. 17, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- There’s always a guessing game among Capitol observers in the early days of a General Assembly session over which issues will be designated as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1 – honorifics reserved for matters considered to be among top priorities by legislative leaders.

Part of that answer was unveiled last week when legislation on immigration was filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 1. The rest of the answer revealed itself this week as House leaders announced that public assistance reform will be the focus of House Bill 1.

Senate Bill 1, which is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would call upon law enforcement officials and public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Senate Bill 1 would also prohibit sanctuary policies in Kentucky, such as a measure to block officials from cooperating with federal efforts to enforce immigration laws.

Some fine-tuning on the measure is still occurring to make sure the intent of the bill is clear, one of its sponsors said this week. The bill already states that school districts would be exempt from provisions in the legislation. Others who would also be exempt under changes that will be proposed to the legislation include domestic violence centers, child advocacy centers, rape crisis centers, public defenders, and health departments.

While House Bill 1 has not yet officially been filed for consideration in the House, legislative leaders say the bill is coming soon and will be aimed at helping people moving from public assistance into the workforce.

During a Jan. 13 appearance on Kentucky Educational Television, House Speaker David Osborne said House Bill 1 is “pro-worker” legislation.  The measure’s supporters say it would help move people into the workforce by making sure those transitioning off of public assistance don’t face “benefit cliffs,” situations in which a small increase in earned income could trigger a significant drop in child care assistance or some other form of assistance that sets back a struggling family’s attempt to achieve financial stability.

In another highlight of last week’s legislative action, the Senate and House met in a joint session on Jan. 14 to listen to Gov. Andy Beshear’s first State of the Commonwealth Address. The governor urged policymakers to look beyond partisanship and national divisions to focus on matters that most directly affect Kentuckians.

After the speech, legislative leaders praised the cooperative tone. They also noted that some of the most difficult work of governing lies ahead. The governor will offer his budget proposal in a couple weeks at a time when revenue increases are outpaced by cost increases in areas like education, criminal justice, public pensions, and Medicaid. Once the governor delivers his two-year spending proposal, it will be up to lawmakers to craft a budget that they feel best suits the needs of the state.

Already, more than 350 bills have been filed in the House and Senate on issues including human trafficking, hemp, gun rights, vaping, voting rights and sports betting. Citizens can share their input with lawmakers on the issues under consideration by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 Jan. 16, 2020

 

Public health ‘transformation’ bill clears committee

Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, testifies before the House Health and Family Services Committee with public health officials and House Health and Family Services Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, center, on Moser’s “public health transformation” proposal found in House Bill 129.   A hi-res photo can be found here .

FRANKFORT— A bill aimed at improving Kentucky’s public health system by putting it through a legislative “transformation” was approved today by the House Health and Family Services Committee.

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, chair of the committee and sponsor of House Bill 129, said the so-called “public health transformation” bill’s proposed funding model and operational changes are needed to ensure that mandated and other core public health services are delivered in the face of a nearly $39 million deficit facing public health in Kentucky. Moser said the deficit is largely due to mounting public health pension obligations and health care changes.

“The health care system has undergone changes over the years that have impacted (public health)” without giving health departments the ability to accommodate those changes, said Moser.  “Legislative changes are needed to align the statutes with the public health transformation, and allow for system changes,” she said.

The bill proposes funding criteria for state-mandated services, such as injury and disease prevention, with continued support for other core services including the state’s HANDS home-visiting program for new parents, WIC supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, and certain substance abuse treatment needs. Other needs would be determined locally by the departments.

Around 18 local health departments in 41 counties face financial insolvency within the year without “significant fiscal and operational changes” to the public health system proposed in HB 129, Moser told the committee. The Kentucky Health Department Association has said that, while some county health departments could receive less funding under the bill, most departments would receive more funding.

Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, worked on the bill with Moser and many other state and local officials over the past year. He praised the process used to gain input for the legislation, and asked the committee to support the bill.

“It really was a model for stakeholder involvement and bipartisan support, and I’m very grateful for being able to be involved, and would urge the committee to please unanimously approve this bill,” said Graviss. 

HB 129 now goes back to the House for its consideration.

END

 


 

 

Jan. 16, 2020

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, speaks on Senate Bill 3, a proposed constitutional amendment relating to the election of state officers, during today's proceedings from the Senate floor. A hi-res photo can be found here.

State Senate passes first bills of Regular Session

FRANKFORT – Legislation to move the governor’s race to presidential election years passed out of the state Senate today, making it the first measure to clear the chamber this session.

Known as Senate Bill 3, the legislation is a proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution. In addition to the governor and the lieutenant governor, who run on the same ticket, the races for state treasurer, auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner would move to presidential election years.

“Everything old is new again,” said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsored SB 3 along with Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. “This bill is very much that case.”

McDaniel then explained that he had sponsored similar legislation during the seven prior Regular Sessions of the General Assembly.

“The glory of getting to present it for the eighth year in a row is that I don’t have to write my speech again,” he said, adding that he persists because the measure would save about $15 million in taxpayer money by consolidating the dates elections are held.

As it stands now, Kentucky has three statewide elections each four-year cycle. Two of those elections follow the national cycle of federal races, which happen to fall on even-numbered years. Tucked between those are the races for the statewide constitutional offices.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, explained her vote against SB 5.

“The issues that affect Kentucky need to take the forefront in any debate ... and not be drowned out by millions of dollars of advertisements from national campaigns,” she said. “I feel like our system now protects Kentucky’s interests in that regard.”

SB 3 passed by a 31-3 vote, surpassing the threshold of 23 votes required for proposed constitutional amendments to clear the Senate. It now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

If SB 3 passes the General Assembly this session, the proposed change to the constitution would appear on the November ballot. And if the voters approved the change, it wouldn’t go into effect until 2028. That way it would not lengthen the term of anyone currently in office, McDaniel said.

In other news, the Senate also passed a measure to discourage tenants from damaging rental properties after they are evicted.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 11, would clarify current criminal mischief statutes by creating a category in Kentucky’s criminal code exclusively for damaging rental properties. Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who sponsored SB 11, said it would not increase the penalty but would clarify that intentionally damaging rental properties is a crime in addition to a civil matter.

SB 11 passed by a 29-5 vote. It now too goes to the House for its consideration.

END

 

 

Jan. 15, 2020

 

Sports wagering bill clears House committee

House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, presents House Bill 137 regarding sports wagering. The measure is sponsored by Koenig and Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT—A bill to legalize sports wagering and regulate online poker and fantasy sports operations in Kentucky is on its way to the House after receiving committee approval today.

House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Chair and House Bill 137 sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the legislation—approved by Koenig’s committee this morning—is expected to help Kentucky recoup tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue it loses annually to legalized sports betting in surrounding states like Indiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

“I talked to an Ohio state senator over the weekend, and he believes they will be moving forward with passing (sports betting) probably this year,” said Koenig. “Obviously a lot of folks who see the revenue potential see the opportunity to allow folks to do something legally that they are currently doing illegally.”

Kentucky is expected to draw at least $22.5 million in new tax revenue annually under HB 137 should it become law, according to economist John Farris with Commonwealth Economics who testified alongside Koenig and fellow HB 137 sponsor Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville. Farris said an estimated $1.6 to $2 billion is illegally wagered on sports in Kentucky each year, equating to $140 million in illegal profit that is not currently taxed.

“Without sports wagering legislation, Kentucky will continue to lose this potential tax revenue generation to illegal operators,” Farris said.

Gentry called HB 137 “commonsense legislation,” adding that the bill “is not going to solve our challenges, we know that, but it is a good first step. It’s a first step to retain revenue.”

Koenig said the bill does include some changes from 2019 HB 175, similar legislation sponsored and successfully passed out of House committee by Koenig and Gentry last year. Unlike the 2019 proposal, HB 137 would allow wagering on in-state sports teams, among other changes.

Legislation similar to HB 137 has also been filed in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 24 filed by Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, is now awaiting action in the Senate Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee.

 

END

 


 

 

Jan. 15, 2020

 

 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, explaining Senate Bill 72, legislation she introduced to ban female genital mutilation during today’s meeting of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

Bill banning female genital mutilation advances

FRANKFORT – Jennifer was just 5 when her parents told her she was taking an airplane for a “special trip." It turned out it was to a group of strangers who restrained, gagged and cut her – without the use of anesthesia.

Now an adult, Jennifer used only her first name while testifying about surviving female genital mutilation, often referred to as FGM. She appeared before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee in support of Senate Bill 72, a measure that would ban the practice in Kentucky.

“I’m here today, not just to tell my story, but for the many others who have not found their voices,” Jennifer said. “We need to send a strong message that we do not support this practice.”

Kentucky is among 15 states where it is still legal, according to information provided to the committee. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018.

FGM is any procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or another injury to the female organs for nonmedical purposes, said Amanda Parker of the AHA Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to the elimination of the procedure. She said it is typically performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14 – often with a razor blade or pair of scissors.

“This is a form of child abuse that is used to control the sexuality of women and girls,” said Parker, who also testified in support of SB 72. “It predates all major religions and is not mandated by any major religion. It is something that has been co-opted by patriarchal societies and religious sects.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said 1,845 girls or women are at risk or have undergone FGM – just in Kentucky, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes evidence-based health and welfare policies.

“As you know, I’m very passionate about child abuse, and this is probably the most egregious form of child abuse against ... young girls that I have recognized,” said Adams, who sponsored the legislation along with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who also chaired today’s committee meeting.

SB 72 would make performing FGMs on minors a felony, ban trafficking girls across state lines for FGMs and strip the licenses from medical providers convicted of the practice. Another provision would classify FGM in state statutes as a form of child abuse and require mandatory reporting of it. An educational component of SB 7 would provide outreach to communities and professionals likely to encounter FGM cases and mandate training for law enforcement.

The proposed changes in the law would also allow survivors of FGM to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators up to 10 years after turning 18.

Jennifer said she went public as a survivor, in part, to help prevent the act from happening to other girls. This was her third time testifying before a legislative committee in recent months.

“When you consider this bill, I urge you to think about any other little girl in your life you love and care about,” she said. “If someone were to come into her life that believed in this practice and wanted to cut her, would you be able to stand by and not do everything in your power to stop it?”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said he wished more people dared to speak out when they encounter societal wrongs.

“I want to commend you for your testimony,” he said in voting for the measure. “I’m not sure any of us appreciate the courage it takes to get up before a committee like this and talk about something so personal.”

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, also voted for SB 72.

“The time has come for Kentucky to stand up ... and say no to this,” he said.

SB 72 received committee approval and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

Jan. 14, 2020

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asking a question about Senate Bill 11, a measure relating to criminal damage to rental property during today’s meeting of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee. A hi-res photo can be found here.

Bill to curb damaging rental properties heard

FRANKFORT – A measure to discourage tenants from damaging rental properties after they are evicted advanced out of a Senate committee today – the first bill to do so in the Senate this session.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 11, would clarify current criminal mischief statutes by creating a category in Kentucky’s criminal code exclusively for damaging rental properties. It wouldn’t increase the penalty, said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who introduced the bill.

After Meg Savage of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence spoke out against SB 11, the measure was amended by the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee to give prosecutors greater discretion when deciding what criminal charge to bring against people caught damaging rental units. Savage said she was concerned abusive partners may blame their victims for damaged apartments – even with the amendment.

Jesse Brewer, a property manager from Northern Kentucky who testified in support of SB 11, said the bill would help property managers more easily identify people with a history of trashing rental units when vetting prospective tenants through criminal background checks.

“I have dealt with the issue of damaged properties numerous times,” said Brewer, who is also a Boone County commissioner. “Additionally, I have worked with multiple clients who have endured a wide variety of intentional damage to their property – things such as tearing all the cabinets off the walls, plugging the drains, leaving the water running, smearing human feces on ceilings, concrete in the drains and so on.”

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asked Brewer whether SB 11 would prompt more prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against people who damage rental properties.

“I’m hoping this will be another tool in the prosecutor’s tool belt,” said Brewer, adding the proposed change hopefully clarifies that intentionally damaging a rental unit is a criminal act and not just a civil matter. “It gives prosecutors something in the statute concerning rental properties they can sink their teeth into.”

END

 

 

Jan. 14, 2020

 

 Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, asks questions about the rollout of Kentucky’s Real ID offices during today's House Transportation Committee meeting. A hi-res photo can be found here.

House Transportation hears of Real ID rollout

FRANKFORT – The rollout of Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards resumes this week with regional offices opening in Bowling Green, Paducah and Somerset, state officials told the House Transportation Committee today.

Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray, who is a former two-term mayor of Lexington, told the committee that the Bowling Green office officially opened yesterday. The other two offices are scheduled to officially open at the end of the week, he said.

The offices are among 12 initial regional offices planned statewide, with a central office opened in Frankfort last fall. More offices – as many as 30, said Gray—may be added in time, although the deadline for compliance with the federal Real ID requirement no later than October 2020 makes immediate action necessary, Gray said.

The locations of the initial 12 offices announced by the Cabinet last fall include Bowling Green, Paducah and Somerset as well as Manchester, Jackson, Prestonsburg, Morehead, Florence, Elizabethtown, Madisonville, Louisville, and Lexington.

“We need to move very swiftly in implementation in the short run to get us up by the deadline,” said Gray.

The federal 2005 Real ID Act requires states to issue more secure driver’s license and ID cards to individuals who want to board commercial aircraft and enter certain federal facilities after October 2020. The regional offices will issue “voluntary travel IDs” to qualified individuals who wish to fly domestically without a passport or other accepted ID after the October deadline.

Kentuckians can continue to use their valid current driver’s license and ID cards to board domestic flights through October.

Rep. Kathy Hinkle, D-Louisa, asked Gray if there is a date set for the rollout of regional offices in Eastern Kentucky.  Gray replied the Cabinet is “not quite there yet” but will update Hinkle as more dates become available.

Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, whose district includes Fort Campbell, said the nearest regional office to his district will be in Madisonville—about an hour or so from the Army base. Thomas asked if there is a possibility that a Real ID office could be located closer to Christian County. Gray said future offices will depend on some “monitoring” this year.

“The plan is ultimately to go up to 28 or 30. There’s a lot of change going on here with technology,” though, said Gray. Changes at the federal level could allow the state to introduce new apps or other technology to streamline implementation, Gray said, but he doesn’t want the state to act “prematurely.”

“We need to be thoughtful and careful about how much investment we make, for example, in bricks and mortar, so we don’t overinvest prematurely,” Gray said. “There are a lot of moving parts but we’re getting our arms around it.”

The committee also voted today to approve House Resolution 11, sponsored by Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown. Now on its way to the House chamber for approval, the resolution would urge Congress to require auto manufacturers to install child safety features that sound an alert if a child is left in the back seat of a vehicle.

Over the past 30 years, DuPlessis said, more than 900 children in the U.S. have died after being left in hot cars, largely by accident.

“Why not have the pennies it costs to have a seat sensor in the back seat to let the driver know … there’s still someone in the back seat of the car,” he added.

 

END

 

Jan. 10, 2020

 

This Week at the State Capitol

 

FRANKFORT — With gavel strikes at opposite ends of the State Capitol, members of the Senate and House officially started the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2020 session on Jan. 7.

Though there are new issues and challenges at the start of each legislative session, familiar procedures are often the focus in the earliest days. New members are welcomed, the membership of each chamber is affirmed and rules are adopted that will govern activity in the Senate and House for the rest of the session.

Through it all, there’s typically a good deal of optimism and hope at the start of the session. At the same time, big questions hang in the air. Lawmakers face the enormous task of crafting the state’s next two-year budget at a time when expenses are growing faster than revenue. Tough choices are ahead as they decide which matters should be given priority.

The state’s new governor is also sure to advocate for the issues he wants lawmakers to prioritize. With Gov. Andy Beshear saying he wants $2,000 pay raises for Kentucky’s public school teachers, Capitol observers are eager to see how a budget proposal that he will submit this month will handle teacher pay and other issues. Once lawmakers receive the governor’s spending plan, it will be up to them to make whatever changes they determine are necessary to produce a budget that best serves the state.

Though the budget will be a big issue this year, many other matters will also receive attention. By the end of the first week of activity in the Senate and House more than 300 bills had been filed on issues including immigration, gun rights, vaping, gubernatorial pardons, voting rights, and scores of other topics. Legislation introduced this week has been referred to the committees that will study the issues in depth in the days to come to determine which bills should be forwarded for consideration by a chamber’s entire membership.

Next week, the Senate and House will meet in a joint session to listen the governor’s first State of the Commonwealth Address. The speech will be broadcast to a statewide audience on Kentucky Educational Television at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Two weeks later, the governor is scheduled to return for another joint session of the Senate and House to offer his Budget Address.

The 2020 legislative session is scheduled to last 60 working days, with an adjournment date of April 15, the latest possible day lawmakers are allowed to meet in a regular session, according to the state constitution.

Citizens are encouraged to follow the issues lawmakers will consider in the weeks ahead and offer feedback. There are many ways to stay in touch with legislative activity. The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.legislature.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 800-372-7181.

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

 

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