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Recent News

             

Lawmakers express concerns over proposed increase in food manufacturing fees - 09/17/20

Legislative panel briefed on general election costs - 09/16/20

Lawmakers discuss COVID-19 transportation guidelines for schools - 09/16/20

Calendar set for General Assembly's 2021 session - 09/10/20

Testimony outlines pandemic concerns in long term care facilities - 08/27/20

Proposal to curtail conversion therapy studied - 08/26/20

Legislative panel briefed on fiscal year outlook - 08/20/2020

Lawmakers hear testimony on reopening school - 08/19/20

Lawmakers receive update on food insecurity, food banks - 08/13/20

Researchers advocate for permanent expansion of telehealth services - 08/12/20

COVID-19's impact on mental health and physical wellbeing a concern for lawmakers - 07/30/20

Legislative panel gets update on ‘direct ship’ law - 07/30/20

Lawmakers study impact of COVID-19 on KY vets - 07/29/20

Lawmakers briefed on elections in COVID-19 era - 07/28/20

Lawmakers discuss curtailing no-knock warrants - 07/28/20

Reports reveal child abuse and foster care needs - 07/23/20

Legislative panel focuses on police body cameras - 07/09/20

New laws go into effect next week - 07/08/20

Lawmakers hold hearing on UI benefit payment delays - 06/26/20

Today’s legislative committee meetings will be livestreamed - 06/25/20

State legislators to hold Thursday meetings via videoconference - 06/24/20

Legislative panel hears police reform proposals - 06/04/20

          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        

 

 

Sept. 17, 2020

 

Lawmakers express concerns over proposed increase in food manufacturing fees

  

Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, expresses concern over proposed permit fee increases for food manufacturers that he believes could hurt small businesses and farmers. A high-res copy of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Lawmakers spoke out against proposed changes to the permit and fee structure for food establishments and food manufacturing businesses during today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture.
 
“I’m extremely concerned about our small farmers,” Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, said.
 
In June, the Kentucky Department for Public Health filed the proposed Kentucky Administrative Regulation changes. The public comment period for the proposal ended Aug. 31.
 
According to Julie Brooks, regulation coordinator for the Department for Public Health, the department received more than 400 comments on the proposed regulation changes with most of the submissions expressing concern over the increase in fee amounts.
 
Originally, the new fee structure was based on risk of the food being produced or stored instead of square footage of the facility. Brooks said after reviewing the submitted comments, a fee structure based on risk and income is in the works.
 
A suggested revision to the original proposal would require food manufacturers whose income is under $100,000 and are at the highest risk level to pay $400 per year. Currently facilities 1,000 square feet and under pay $120 while the larger facilities pay up to $600 per year.
 
The suggested revisions to the original proposal show some food manufactures, depending on income and risk level, could pay hundreds more in fees in 2021 if the changes are approved.
 
“I think it goes against the spirit and the intent of (House Bill) 129 to protect our farmers,” Graviss said. “Some of the fees they’re going to experience, the increase is more than their income for the year.”
 
HB 129, dubbed a “public health transformation” by lawmakers, was an effort to improve Kentucky’s public health system through new funding models and operational changes. The bill passed early on in the 2020 legislative session. The bill had bipartisan support.
 
Brooks said the bill allows for these fee increases. Some lawmakers, such as committee co-chair Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, and Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, questioned whether the Department for Public Health of was taking advantage of the fee increase perimeters set by HB 129.
 
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, called the proposed fee increase “poorly conceived.” Other lawmakers pointed out the proposal comes at a time when many small businesses are facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, called the income tiers “unfair.”
 
“That tier two seems like a wide swath there between $100,000 plus up to $1 million,” Reed said, adding it is not fair for someone making $100,000 to be held to the same standard as someone making $990,000.
 
Brooks said she also had concerns about the structure of tier two and that she would follow up with staff.
 
While the majority of the concerns from lawmakers involved food manufacturers, the proposed regulation changes would make food establishments pay 25 percent more.
 
In closing. Tate shared additional legislation may be required.
 
“It’s very disappointing that this flexibility in my opinion is being taken advantage of,” Tate said. “So what I suggest and I am very willing to do is to make an amendment to this bill… and I hope I have sponsors and co-sponsors in order to eliminate this type of activity in the future.”

 

END

 

 

 

Sept. 16, 2020

 

Legislative panel briefed on general election costs

  

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, asks how the estimated cost to run November’s general election compared with prior presidential elections. A high-res copy of the photo can be found here.

Frankfort – Kentucky’s top election official is estimating $5.42 million in cost overruns associated with running November’s general election.

“I know that is a lot of money, especially right now, but I believe that is a bargain for a successful presidential election held during a pandemic,” Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said while testifying before today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations & Revenue.

Adams said the overruns would have been greater without $4.5 million in federal relief aid leftover from May’s primary.

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, asked how the estimated overruns compare to prior presidential elections. Adams said it historically costs Kentucky $10 million to run an election. He said the extra expenses associated with the upcoming election range from $4 million to cover postage for more absentee ballots to $500,000 in miscellaneous costs, including the purchase of 1.2 million ink pens for one-time voter use.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, asked when results of the general election in Kentucky would be released. Adams forecasted Kentucky would have 75 percent to 80 percent of the votes counted on election night. He added that results would come in quicker than during the primaries because of more in-person voting and additional processes to speed up the counting of absentee votes.

“We are not going to have final results election night,” Adams said. “They are going to be unofficial ... but it will be enough for us to project some outcomes and give some finality to the candidates and voters.”

Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, highlighted a mobile voting precinct in Hopkins County as a creative way clerks are engaging voters. Adams added other clerks plan to offer drive-through voting.

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, asked when voters will be notified where they can vote. Adams said he is still waiting for some of the larger counties to submit plans, but his goal is to have all voter locations finalized by Oct. 1.

McDaniel praised Adams’ efforts in recruiting younger poll workers. He said the average age of poll workers in Kenton County, where he lives, has traditionally been over 75.

“Thank you for acknowledging our success at getting younger poll workers,” Adams said. “I testified to the Interim Joint Committee on State Government last November ... that we had a poll worker crisis in our state. This is not a Kentucky-unique problem or a pandemic-unique problem.”

 

END

 

 

 

 

Sept. 16, 2020

Lawmakers discuss COVID-19 transportation guidelines for schools

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, participates in a socially distanced meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education at the Capitol Annex.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT– Last month, the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard testimony from educators advocating for clearer guidelines and more flexibility and autonomy when it comes to reopening schools.
 
Yesterday, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) shared their COVID-19 transportation guidelines with committee members for schools that grant individual school districts flexibility.
 
“We are encouraging districts to use a good faith effort to use that social distancing where it is feasible and practical to do so,” said Robin Kinney, associate commissioner for KDE.
 
KDE worked with the Kentucky Department for Public Health and utilized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when drafting its guidelines for Kentucky schools, according to Kinney’s presentation.
 
Taking many factors into consideration, such as school district size and finances, social distancing with one child per seat every other seat is ideal, Kinney said. However, for districts where this is a challenge, other mitigating strategies can be used if bus capacity cannot be kept low.
 
Those mitigation strategies include requiring students to wear masks, check their temperatures prior to boarding the bus and using hand sanitizer, according to Kinney’s presentation.
 
Loading buses from back to front if possible as well as cleaning the buses between uses is also recommended. Assigned seating is also recommended in the event a child on a bus tests positive for COVID-19 and contact tracing is needed, Kinney said.
 
“It will really be a district decision,” Kinney said.
 
Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said he appreciated the flexibility the districts have in implementing the transportation guidelines.
 
“I just appreciate the flexibility in this and recognizing every school system is different and we have unique challenges,” Meredith said.
 
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, expressed concerns about how struggling school districts will be able to afford to implement the guidelines.
 
Kinney said Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds the school districts received can be used to offset the cost.

 

 

END

 

 

Sept. 10, 2020

 

Calendar set for General Assembly's 2021 session

 

FRANKFORT – The 2021 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to begin on Jan. 5 and will last 30 legislative days.
 
As usual during an odd-numbered year, the session will have two parts. The first four days of the session – Jan. 5 to Jan. 8 – will focus on organizational work, such as electing legislative leaders, adopting rules of procedure and organizing committees. The introduction and consideration of legislation can also begin during this time.
 
The second part of the session begins on Feb. 2, with final adjournment scheduled for March 30.
 
The veto recess – the period of time when lawmakers commonly return to their home districts while the governor considers the possibility of issuing vetoes – begins on March 17. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on March 30 for the final day of the session.
 
The 2021 session calendar is online at: https://legislature.ky.gov/Documents/21RS_Calendar.pdf.

 

END

 


 

Aug. 27, 2020

Testimony outlines pandemic concerns in long term care facilities

Committee co-chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, asks a question about how long term care facilities in other states are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic during yesterday's Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Emotions ran high during testimony on the COVID-19 death rate in long term care (LTC) facilities during yesterday’s Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services meeting.
 
Betsy Johnson, president and executive director of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities (KAHCF) and Kentucky Center for Assisted Living (KCAL), shared data showing that more than half of Kentucky’s COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in LTC facility residents.
 
“COVID deaths in long term care settings have nothing to do with the quality of the facility,” Johnson said. “Some of the hardest hit facilities here in Kentucky are our best facilities. Facilities I have recommended to my parents. Finally, we still need help. We need a lot of help, mainly funding to retain our workforce, which has been decimated.”
 
More funding is also needed for personal protective equipment and additional COVID-19 testing, Johnson added. According to her presentation, the top three reasons why staff have quit are: fear of contracting COVID-19, childcare needs and fear of exposing high-risk individuals at home.
 
At the beginning of the pandemic, KAHCF and KCAL sent a request to Gov. Andy Beshear for a Medicaid rate add-on of $55 per Medicaid resident per day, according to Johnson. In April, the organizations learned their request was denied but facilities would receive an additional $270 for COVID-19 positive beds only.
 
Johnson said the additional funding decisions made by the state have not been adequate enough to address the issues LTC facilities are facing.
 
After a question from committee co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, about how LTC facilities are addressing an outbreak, Johnson claimed there’s been issues with working with local health departments and the state department for public health.
 
“There’s a lot of ‘you shall do this,’ rather than, you know, understanding that our skilled nursing facilities have been managing infectious disease in their buildings way before COVID,” Johnson said. “They care for these individuals and it’s not a one size fits all kind of solution. So it would be nice to have more of a listen to what we need and you all provide support rather than dictating what should happen inside that building.”
 
Mackenzie Longoria, the director of public policy with the Greater Kentucky & Southern Indiana Alzheimer’s Association, and Johnson also put in a request for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to hire full-time coordinators on dementia and long term face facilities to advise the state in operations and to aid in securing grant funding.
 
“I think we’ve also noticed that there’s been a serious lack of understanding of how skilled nursing facilities operate during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Johnson said.
 
Committee co-chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, stated she was supportive of Longoria and Johnson.
 
“I think that’s a great idea,” Moser said. “And I think this all really highlights the need for that — the inadequacy of the funding or the application of the funding just being inappropriate or not taking the time to listen to those who are in the trenches is what bothers me.”
 
Although there have been some issues addressing the pandemic in LTC facilities, Johnson said expansion of telehealth has been extremely helpful as well as state and federal government waiving some regulatory requirements.

 

END

 

 

 

Aug. 26, 2020

Proposal to curtail conversion therapy studied

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, testifies in support of the proposed Youth Mental Health Act during yesterday’s meeting of the the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A legislative panel heard testimony on proposed legislation to regulate gender identity change efforts, often referred to as conversion therapy.

“We want to acknowledge that there are good and loving people who want this practice to work, who desperately want to believe in this practice,” Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said while presenting the proposed measure before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. “But the facts remain that practices to change sexual orientation ... are dangerous, discredited and sometimes deadly.”

Willner said the proposed bill, titled the Youth Mental Health Act, would prohibit licensed or certified mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts on anyone under the age of 18. It would also apply to people over 18 who are considered “vulnerable” under the law.

A second provision would prohibit tax dollars from being distributed to entities that engage in these efforts with a person of any age.

Willner, a psychologist by trade, acknowledged the bill wouldn’t stop all conversion therapy from happening in Kentucky. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything that we can as policymakers to take common-sense, practical steps to protect as many of our Kentucky youths as we possibly can,” she said.

The proposed bill would not prohibit non-licensed people from engaging in this therapy, partly because of enforcement difficulties, Willner said. The measure also would not prohibit mental health professionals from providing this therapy to adults.

House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, asked whether regulating conversion therapy should be left to professional licensing boards. “I really struggle with the concept that we, in the General Assembly, should be dictating best practices here,” he said.

Willner said the boards have told her it would be helpful to have clarification in statute when it comes to addressing conversion therapy. “They do not write regulations unless there is a statute to provide a framework for it,” she added.

Daniel Mingo was one of three people who testified against the proposed bill. He said he overcame his unwanted, same-gender attractions through the kind of therapy the proposed bill would curtail. Mingo said he went on to found a group in Louisville for people who have the same unwanted attractions.

“For the last 17 years I have ministered to, and lay counseled, same-sex attracted and gender dysphoric Christian individuals in Kentucky who have LGBT feelings that for them also are unwanted,” he said. “My concern for this proposed legislation is that it will hurt people I care about.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asked what language in the proposed bill would prevent parents of religious leaders from having discussions with their children about sexual orientation or identification.

“It does not attempt to regulate conversations between parents and children,” Mingo said in response. “What it does do is prevent parents and children from getting professional therapeutic help.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, addressed concerns that the proposed legislation would infringe on the rights of parents.

“It is interesting to me that we view that parental relationship as absolute – that I am the only one that can determine what is right for my children,” said Adams. “The truth is that if I’m a drug addict I lose that right to make those determinations for my kids. The truth is if I want to mutilate my daughter's genitals that right has been taken away from me. The truth is if I want to marry off my 13-year-old that right has been taken away from me. The truth is if I beat the crap out of my kids those rights are taken away from me.

“There are instances after instances after instances in which the legislature does modify that parental aspect.”

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, asked whether conversion therapy was effective or a misguided principle practiced by well-intentioned people.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, who also testified in support of the legislation, said one fact, in particular, illustrated why conversion therapy was misguided. “People who are subjected to this kind of torture are seven times more likely to commit suicide,” she said.

Mingo disputed Kerr’s assertion. “I think it has been proven effective if you are listening to the people who it has been proven effective for,” he said. “You won’t hear that in the mainstream media. There are thousands upon thousands of people who have walked away successfully from a homosexual lifestyle.”

Nemes said Kerr defended her arguments with statistics while Mingo answered anecdotally.

“One of the things about these bills that has become very clear to me is there are good people on both sides of the issue,” Committee Co-chair Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said of the proposed bill and similar measures from prior sessions. “They are deeply, deeply, deeply personal. That is why I think so many people are conflicted about them.”

END

 

 

 

Aug. 20, 2020

Legislative panel briefed on fiscal year outlook

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, speaks to the impact of COVID-19 on Kentucky’s tourism industry during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations & Revenue. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Less than two months into Kentucky’s fiscal year, the state budget director is already warning lawmakers it will be a struggle to meet revenue projections because of COVID-19.

“We have many signals that fiscal ’21 will be a significant budget challenge,” State Budget Director John Hicks said while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations & Revenue. “It will have lower revenue than in fiscal ’20.”

He said that’s because much of the federal stimulus relief aid that has propped up Kentucky’s economy in recent months has ended. According to the state budget office, the federal government provided $15.4 billion directly to Kentucky businesses and residents through initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Impact Payments. Those were the onetime payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent.

After the presentation, committee Co-chair Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, said he was concerned federal aid to all the states had put the country’s deficit on an unsustainable course. He said its size may jeopardize the financial health of future generations.

“We the people owe that money,” Rudy said. “I think we should be very cautious when continuing to ask for more federal bailout and more federal aid. What is this doing to the American dollar?”

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said Kentucky received more than just the $15.4 billion in relief funds from the federal government. Hicks then explained the state also received $1.6 billion to help pay for services offered by cities, counties, local health departments and state government. Rudy added that neither of those figures included an $865 million federal, no-interest loan Kentucky took out to shore up its unemployment insurance trust fund.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, wanted to know if Kentucky was going to utilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Lost Wages Assistance Program to provide $400 in additional unemployment benefits for individuals. Under that plan, the federal government would pay $300 while states would pay the remaining $100, using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. Hicks said an announcement was expected shortly, and after the meeting, the governor said the state would apply for the program as early as today.

Hicks testified that another challenge was the jobs lost during COVID-19. From March through April, Kentucky shed over 283,000 jobs, according to the budget office. That was 14 percent of the state’s employment.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Spencer, questioned the impact of small business closures on future employment numbers. Hicks said Kentucky had recovered about 125,000 jobs since the gradual reopening of the economy. He added that his office would soon release a quarterly revenue and economic outlook. Part of that report will contain a statewide employment forecast derived from national data.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who is the committee’s other co-chair, asked whether the canceling of in-person schooling would hinder parents’ ability to work. Hicks said he has not seen any national data on the level of unemployment as it was associated with remote learning this past spring.

Hicks said the fourth quarter of last fiscal year already provided some insight into the future of Kentucky's fiscal health. During that quarter, state revenue declined by 4.5 percent, sales and use taxes declined by 5.9 percent, withholdings (excluding unemployment insurance benefits) declined by 5.5 percent and business taxes declined by 16.5 percent.

“Wages and salaries for the fourth quarter ... were down 16 percent,” Hicks said, “which is the largest loss we know of in terms of our economic staff looking backward.”

Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, inquired about COVID-19’s impact on tourism in the state. Hicks said leisure and hospitality had a 15 percent drop in employment during a 12-month period ending in June of this year. He added that $1.16 million from the CARES Act was used to help plug a revenue shortfall at the state parks department.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, then mentioned that pre-pandemic daily attendance at Mammoth Cave National Park was between 4,000 and 5,000 people. He said it is now just 800.

“The rippling effect of that is just phenomenal,” said Meredith, whose district includes the majority of the nearly 53,000-acre park.

END

 

August 19, 2020

Lawmakers hear testimony on reopening school

 

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asks a question about the safety of reopening schools during yesterday's Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT– Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) during the pandemic did not look the same for every student in Kentucky, according to research presented by two upcoming Kentucky high school seniors.
 
This data, along with other testimony, led lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Education to discuss whether individual school districts should decide when to return to school and when to close school due to COVID-19.
 
The high school students, Krupa Hegde and Gabriella Staykova, shared data compiled from a student-to-student survey on how students across the Commonwealth have been handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was led by the Student Voice Team of The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
 
The “Coping with COVID” survey includes 9,500 responses from students across 119 counties. The survey examined each student’s education environment, home environment, physical and mental wellness and future plans.
 
“One of the main themes we found in our home environment was a change in employment …,” Hegde said. “We truly felt that employment is changing for both students and their caretakers during this pandemic with 13.3 percent having to take on more hours at work and nearly 1 out of every 3 students had parents who had lost hours at their work. Sixty percent of students reported feeling more worried about money and 5.6 percent of students were reportedly more worried about food.”
 
Other findings of the study included that a reduction in interactions with teachers made students less motivated and engaged. There was also a 50 percent increase in the number of students who wanted but lacked mental health care access from 9.8 percent to 14.9 percent.
 
In the second half of the meeting, Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, and Jim Flynn, executive director for the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, shared their respective organizations' belief that reopening schools should be left to the individual districts.
 
Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear issued a recommendation that Kentucky schools should not reopen to in-person instruction until Sept. 28.
 
“There is so much diversity across the communities of Kentucky that there really should not be a one size fits all approach to this issue for providing education and reopening school,” Kennedy said, using the example that closing for a flu outbreak or inclement weather is left to individual school districts.
 
Both Kennedy and Flynn believe that the individual school districts can take the guidelines for returning to school set by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while factoring in the needs of the parents, students and teachers to make the decision that is best for them.
 
“At the same time, we recognize that the virus is not completely predictable and there may be times statewide action is needed for the safety and welfare of our students, staff and school families,” Flynn said on behalf of the association he represents.
 
Committee Co-chair Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, noted that although many believe students should return to school, that doesn’t mean no one cares about the health of students and teachers.
 
“I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about local control and how it’s not a one size fits all as you compared your district, Jefferson County, and my district, Whitley County,” she added. “It’s just a totally different scenario and situation regarding this virus across the state.”
 
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, expressed concern about the virus spreading to vulnerable adults.
 
“But when they go home to grandma or grandpa or mom or dad who has diabetes or cancer or whatever … that’s where the rub is,” Marzian said.
 
After listening to some discussion, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, remarked he had yet to hear an argument as to why the decision to reopen schools shouldn’t be made at the local level.
 
“The longer we keep kids out of school, the bigger threat we have to public education because some may never go back,” Meredith said. “They’re going to look for alternatives.”

END

 

 

August 13, 2020

Lawmakers receive update on food insecurity, food banks

 

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, shares statistics she read recently about Kentucky children experiencing food insecurity during today's Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— In recent months, lawmakers have heard testimony from various organizations on the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on child welfare, veterans and more.
 
Lawmakers on the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee heard testimony today on COVID-19’s effect on food insecurity and hunger in Kentucky and how state funding has helped meet the needs of hungry Kentuckians across the state.
 
“As people struggle still not earning as much, still not receiving the benefits they’re used to receiving, … we’re quite concerned about the impact of the pandemic,” said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of Feeding Kentucky.
 
As of July 21, over 270,000 Kentuckians did not have enough to eat, according to Sandberg’s presentation. Sandberg said that number is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next 12 months.
 
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data from the presentation shows nearly one in seven Kentuckians were food insecure before the pandemic. Sandberg said that included 190,600 children and 1 in 6 of older adults.
 
Sandberg said Feeding Kentucky works with seven regional food banks across the Commonwealth that serve all 120 counties that were feeding around 50,000 Kentuckians per week before the pandemic.
 
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Sandberg said about the need for food bank assistance since the pandemic. “We experienced an enormous increase in the need for food assistance particularly in March and April. At the same time, we experienced a decrease in the amount of food available as some of our typical sources ran out as the entire food (supply) chain was stretched.”
 
With social distancing requirements and with many food bank volunteers being older adults who are more vulnerable to contract COVID-19 and experience complications, food banks have had to spend more money to meet the needs of their respective communities.
 
Sandberg said thanks to support from the General Assembly, Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky’s food banks have been able to meet the increased demand for food bank assistance. 
 
With the Farms to Food Banks program, farmers donate produce and other agricultural products that would have otherwise gone to waste to Kentucky’s food banks. While the products are donated, Feeding Kentucky works to offset the cost it takes to harvest, pack and ship the products.
 
Sandberg said in 2019, nearly 3 million pounds of Kentucky grown produce were “rescued” to provide a half a plate of fruits and vegetables for nearly 5 million meals. Since 2011, the program has led to the “rescue” of 21 million pounds of food with $4.2 million paid to farmers.
 
“So the dollars that you all in the General Assembly contribute to this program is making a huge impact on hungry people, on the farmers and the communities where those farmers are located, so we’re very proud of that,” Sandberg said.
 
Kentucky has seen an $8.9 million return in its investment, she added.

END

 

 

 

August 12, 2020

Researchers advocate for permanent expansion of telehealth services

 

 

Committee co-chair Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, leads yesterday's Substance Use Recovery Task Force meeting.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Despite COVID-19, researchers from the University of Kentucky have continued their work on studying opioid use disorder.
 
Those researchers shared an update on their projects and advocated for permanently expanding some telehealth services during a presentation to the Substance Use Recovery Task Force yesterday.
 
According to Sharon Walsh, director for the Center on Drug and Alcohol Research at the University of Kentucky, the expansion of telehealth services across the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 pandemic is having a positive impact on those recovering from opioid use disorder.
 
“What we’re hearing from partners across the state who are providing care is that their no-show rate for appointments has dropped, in some instances, 30 percent,” Walsh said.
 
Gov. Andy Beshear expanded telehealth services in March to allow physicians to examine patients over the phone or via video conference to cut down on in-person interactions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
 
Walsh said prior to this executive order, opioid use disorder treatment was not permitted via telehealth.
 
“One of the things we’re hoping with our state partners is that once COVID is resolved and the demand for telehealth is not so critical as it is right now, that we’re able to keep some of those regulations rolled back as they are right now,” Walsh added.
 
As for the University of Kentucky’s research projects, Walsh and Lisa Cassis, vice president for research for the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, reported that the university’s research projects are going well.
 
Kentucky was one of four states in the country last year to receive National Institutes of Health funding to prevent and treat opioid use disorder in highly affected communities, according to their presentation.
 
The Helping to End Addiction Long-term, or HEAL Initiative kicked off in January and focuses on overdose education, naloxone distribution, delivery of medication for opioid use disorder maintenance treatment, and safer opioid prescribing methods and dispensing.
 
Other University of Kentucky-funded research projects underway include harm reduction initiatives to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, according to the presentation.
 
There are 73 syringe services programs across the Commonwealth providing clean syringes to those with opioid use disorder. Reusing or sharing syringes can cause a variety of health problems, including HIV and Hepatitis C. According to Walsh, these programs also help connect people to treatment services. Research into prevention as treatment for Hepatitis C is also underway as well as programs to aid mothers with opioid use disorder.

 

END

 

 

 

July 30, 2020

COVID-19’s impact on mental health and physical wellbeing a concern for lawmakers

 

 

 

Committee co-chair and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, holds a newspaper article from his district about the impacts of COVID-19 at yesterday's Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services.  A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — The COVID-19 pandemic may be taking a toll on more than just the physical health of thousands of Kentuckians. 

During a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services yesterday, lawmakers expressed concerns about an increase in domestic violence incidents as well as overdose and suicide deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Since Kentucky saw its first case of COVID-19 on March 6, more than 28,700 people have tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus and 724 people have died statewide as of yesterday, according to state data.  

Yesterday, a few lawmakers expressed concerns about how decisions made by Gov. Andy Beshear to slow the spread of the disease, such as closing down restaurants, bars and other non-essential businesses for the month of April and most of May, might be impacting other aspects of physical and mental wellbeing for Kentuckians. 

“I talked to my sheriff in Montgomery County and he tells me that suicide attempts are up over 600 percent,” said committee co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “Domestic violence calls are increased there as well.” 

Alvarado said in one of the counties he represents, fatal overdoses have increased 42 percent. 

 “I think it is important for us to look at some of the tolls, some of the policies that we’re enacting right now,” Alvarado said, adding it is important to look at COVID-19’s impact on the Commonwealth as well as other diseases.

 Capt. Doug Thoroughman, acting state epidemiologist for the Department for Public Health, testified that between April 2019 and March 2020, the amount of fatal overdoses per month has fluctuated. 

“It does look like there is definitely a climb in fatal overdoses happening in the most recent (graph),” Thoroughman said about data not included in his presentation. “That data for 2020 is really provisional because it takes time to get all of that data together.” 

 According to the graph in Thoroughman’s presentation, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center estimates more than 150 fatal overdoses occurred in Kentucky in March 2020. 

Thoroughman said suicide deaths per month from April 2019 through March 2020 also varies per month. 

“The data is provisional because it takes time to do all of that and read and put it together in the database the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center uses, so those (numbers) may climb or will likely climb as more data is put in there,” he added. 

In March 2020, a little more than 50 suicides were reported, according to Thoroughman’s presentation. 

 Sen. David P. Givens, R- Greensburg, asked Thoroughman if COVID-19 will be a major part of our lives a year from now. 

“How do we start to get to a place of balance around things like caution, anxiety, fear and functioning communities?” Givens asked. 

Thoroughman said yes, he does believe COVID-19 will still be a major topic of conversation a year from now, but if a vaccine becomes available, that would drastically change things and ease many concerns.  

Without a vaccine currently available for COVID-19, Thoroughman said people can practice other preventative measures to manage the risk and ease some of their anxieties while keeping day-to-day life as normal as possible.

“If people take the precautions recommended, wear masks out in public places, don’t gather in groups, things like that for a period of time, that’s going to keep that risk lower and that will help us keep businesses open and function fairly normally,” he said. 

END

 

 

 

July 30, 2020

Legislative panel gets update on ‘direct ship’ law

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, speaks about regulations required to implement House Bill 415, which allows brewers, distillers and vintners – in and out of Kentucky – to ship alcohol directly to consumers during today’s Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Don’t “cheers” just yet to a new law that would allow brewers, distillers and vintners to ship alcohol directly to consumers.

It’s going to take time to implement, Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commissioner Allyson Taylor said while testifying before today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the proposed regulations required under HB 415 were submitted on July 14 to the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. He added that he hoped the regulations are implemented in time for the Christmas shopping season.

“As far as how long it takes to implement after that I believe it will depend on the public comments and how many changes we implement,” Taylor said in response. She added that the computer system required for producers to apply for shipping licenses is ready to go.

Dubbed the direct ship bill, House Bill 415 from this past session clears the path for producers of alcohol – in and out of Kentucky – to be licensed with ABC to ship directly to consumers. No more than 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine and 10 cases of malt beverages per month could be shipped to an individual. The packages would have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. And shipping to dry territories, communities where alcohol sales are prohibited by local laws, would still be banned.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said he has heard from retailers, wholesalers and distributors concerned that some language in the proposed regulation may allow out-of-state wholesalers and distributors to sell in Kentucky. Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said she too has heard concern about how out-of-state importers will work into the proposed regulations.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he wanted to make sure ABC follows the legislative intent of HB 514. Taylor responded that ABC had three goals when drafting the proposed regulations. The objectives were to implement the legislative intent, make sure Kentucky producers and suppliers are on the same footing as their out-of-state competitors and to respect the three-tier system.

Thayer then characterized HB 415 one of the most important bills we passed last session.

“As everyone knows, because of COVID-19 our bourbon tourism venues are pretty much flat on their back,” Thayer said. “We all know downtown Louisville is pretty much shut down because of the riots and there is a lot of bourbon tourism down there. 

“Anything we can do to open up another revenue stream for the bourbon industry is incredibly important, but I do support making sure we got this right.”

END

 

 

 

July 29, 2020

Lawmakers study impact of COVID-19 on KY vets

Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Co-chair Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, asks about the number of residents in Kentucky’s four veterans homes since COVID-19 forced the facilities to stop accepting new patients. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – There have been no reported cases of coronavirus among the residents of Kentucky’s four veterans homes, according to testimony given to a state legislative panel today. 

“Since the declaration of the emergency in March, we have had seven staff test positive, two of which, after immediate retesting were found to be negative,” Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Keith Jackson said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. “Out of those employees, five have returned to work, one remains in quarantine until medically cleared and one staff member resigned prior to returning to work.”

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asked about the turn-around time for a test result. Mark Bowman, another department member who testified, said it now takes 24 hours to 48 hours to receive a result. He said early in the pandemic it was taking up to 10 days.

Jackson attributed the department’s success of curtailing the spread of COVID-19 in the veterans homes to continuous testing of all staff and residents in addition to other aggressive measures.

“One of the unfortunate by-products of our strenuous screening and protective measures has been a restriction on visitation,” Jackson said. “However, each facility has found creative ways to help families keep in touch with their loved ones.” Those include using iPads, phones and plexiglass visitation stations.

The department is expanding telemedicine with Veterans Affairs medical centers in Lexington, Louisville and Marion, Ill., to decrease the chances residents might be exposed to COVID-19 during doctor visits. The homes have also stopped accepting new residents. Jackson said that had regrettably caused a 7 percent drop in the residential population across the system.

That prompted committee Co-chair Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, to ask the occupancy of each veterans home. Bowman responded:

         Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard had 98 of 120 beds filled;

         Central Kentucky Veterans Center in Radcliff had 64 of 120 beds filled;

         Western Kentucky Veterans Center in Hanson has 80 of 156 beds filled;

         and Thomas-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore had 145 of 285 beds filled.

 

The department hopes to resume admissions in late August or early September, but Jackson added that would depend on local infection rates.

Jackson said that personal protective equipment remains difficult and expensive to secure for his department, but the veterans homes have sufficient supplies. The department has applied for a more than $1 million federal grant to build four warehouses for future emergency preparedness storage.

The department also received $3 million in April from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Jackson characterized the federal tax dollars as “instrumental” in supporting Kentucky’s four veterans homes.

Jackson said his department began offering free day care for children of the nursing home staff during the disruption of in-person schooling and closure of child care facilities. He added that has helped the department to retain staff, something that has been a challenge in recent years. Department officials have said staffing shortages have contributed to the low occupancy rates at some of the homes.

At least two pieces of legislation have been passed in recent years to address the staffing issues. Bowman said one measure passed this past session, known as Senate Bill 149, will ease staff shortages by allowing the department to hire nurse aides on personal service contracts.

END

 

 

 

July 28, 2020

Lawmakers briefed on elections in COVID-19 era

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, asks Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams about plans for November’s general election during today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams gave a state legislative panel today an idea of how November’s general election might look amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“First, our primary election was a nationally-recognized success,” Adams said while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on State Government. “With all the things Kentucky is at the bottom of in so many areas, today we are No. 1 in something. We had the highest turnout we have seen in many years. Most important, we kept people safe.”

While November’s plan is still being drafted, Adams said he envisions it consisting of a combination of some absentee voting; early, in-person voting; and voting on Election Day. He said he is concerned expanding absentee voting, to the extent it was done for the May primary, could overwhelm county clerks and the U.S. Postal Service. Adams said he is more comfortable with having early, in-person voting to relieve potential crowds at polls on Election Day.

“Early voting worked,” Adams said. “Our county clerks are split on whether we should expand absentee voting in November, but they universally support in-person, early voting to help smooth out the number of voters over a period of weeks, rather than one day. This is a far less expensive and labor-intensive way to conduct an election.”

Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, asked how much it will cost to hold the November election in the safest and most-efficient manner.

Adams said the state spent two-thirds of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money it received for elections on May's primary. He said that left only $2.5 million of CARES Act money for the November general election unless Congress approves additional funds.

“Let’s be clear, this is the most expensive election Kentucky has ever had,” Adams said of the primary.

He said it traditionally costs between $10 million and $11 million to hold general elections in Kentucky. Adams said COVID-19 precautions would increase that cost for the upcoming general election, but he could not name a price until the added precautions had been agreed upon. He then said that mail-in voting is the most expensive voting model.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said counties needed flexibility and gave an example of how Anderson County offered drive-thru voting. Adams agreed and added that Hopkins County had mobile voting trucks.

Adams said the No. 1 complaint he received after the primary was a lack of polling locations on Election Day. He said he was exploring ways to combat that for the November election including creating a formula requiring a minimum number of polling locations based on a county’s population and geography. Adams added that there have to be enough poll workers to operate the polls.

In response to a comment from Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, Adams said he would like to see counties offer Saturday hours for early, in-person voting.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he wasn’t “a fan” of early voting. He said that type of voting does not favor insurgent candidacies, underfunded candidates or less-known candidates.

“Campaigns are meant to peak on Election Day,” he said. “Everyone in this room has run elections, and the information that our campaigns share with voters is meant to peak on Election Day.”

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said the legislature shouldn’t be a bystander in deciding how Kentucky’s elections are conducted. He then requested the governor call a special session of the General Assembly to reform Kentucky’s election laws.

In response to a question from Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, Adams said he would be glad to return to the committee to update them on the November election plans.

“I’m happy to talk with anybody about it, but the longer, more bureaucratic we make the process, the later and later it is going to run,” Adams said of the time it is taking to finalize a November election plan.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asked Adams to appear before the September meeting of the combined House and Senate Appropriations & Revenue (A&R) Committee to testify about the costs of the upcoming election. He added that he wanted to ensure Kentucky has the necessary money to hold the election.

“The fundamental obligation we have as lawmakers is public safety and secondarily is ensuring we have safe, fair and honest elections because that is the underpinning of the entire system,” said McDaniel, the chair of the Senate A&R Committee. “That is the starting point of democracy.”

END

 

 

 

July 28, 2020

Lawmakers discuss curtailing no-knock warrants

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, discusses a proposal to regulate the use of no-knock search warrants during today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – After a statewide outcry over the use of no-knock warrants in Kentucky following the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, says he’s working on a bill to regulate the use of such warrants.

“This would not allow a no-knock warrant to be a standalone use or tool for police officers,” Stivers said during Tuesday's meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government.

A no-knock warrant allows law enforcement officers to enter a property without announcing their presence. Stivers noted these are typically used in situations where it is considered dangerous for law enforcement's presence to be known.

The bill deals with an issue that has gained much attention since Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT from Louisville, was shot and killed during the execution of a no-knock warrant in connection to a narcotics investigation on March 13. When officers entered her home unannounced, her boyfriend shot at officers thinking they were intruders. One officer was injured during the incident, but charges against the boyfriend in relation to the shooting of the officer have been dismissed. No drugs were found in the home.

Taylor’s death has led to statewide and nationwide protests calling for the ban of no-knock warrants and police reform.

Stivers added he’s consulted many different groups, including the Kentucky Association of Police Chiefs and the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association. He said he’s also read many articles and manuals on how to use certain investigative tools to aid him in crafting this bill, which he hopes to have a draft available for review soon.

Stivers noted there are some situations where no-knock warrants are needed, but those situations are rare and officers seeking a no-knock warrant should have to follow a certain list of guidelines in obtaining and executing them.

Stivers said the bill bans the use of standalone no-knock search warrants and law enforcement agencies would have to use it as a secondary tool alongside an arrest warrant or any other type of search warrant.

The bill’s draft also calls for no-knock warrants to be conducted by those who are trained in handling tactical situations, such as a SWAT team, Stivers said.

Stivers added a supervisor would be required to sign-off on its use. The legislation also calls for judges to certify that the application has not been presented to any other judge.

As for liability, Stivers said there should be entity and individual liability if a no-knock warrant is improperly obtained and executed.

“But where it is specific and distinct, that you can show someone was willful, wanton or grossly negligent in obtaining warrants (or) have falsified applications for warrants, then that individual should be specifically held, in this instance, individually liable,” Stivers said.

In discussing civil and criminal penalties, Stivers said that is something that will require further discussion with the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Representatives of the Kentucky Association of Police Chiefs and Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association also shared their thoughts on no-knock warrants during Tuesday’s meeting.

“No-knock search warrants should not be used for purposes to recover property, drugs or anything like that,” said Art Ealum, police chief of the Owensboro Police Department and president of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ealum added no-knock warrants should only be used in extreme circumstances, such as to prevent the loss of human life during a hostage situation.

Ealum said the association would refrain from expressing an opinion on the bill Stivers is working on until they are able to review the piece of legislation.

“We have had the opportunity to work with President Stivers and meet with him, and (we) anxiously await to see the bill,” said Shawn Butler, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. “But I would tell you, in theory, we support everything he has discussed.”

Butler noted that in surveying the association’s members, no-knock warrants are rarely, if ever, used.

Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain, of the Kentucky Sheriffs' Association, said across Kentucky’s 120 sheriff’s departments, many do not use no-knock warrants.

“I did an informal survey in preparation for this testimony today,” Cain said. “I spoke with a number of my peers and with sheriffs across Kentucky and I could not find one that would endorse their use. Not one.”

While Cain cannot think of any exceptions where a no-knock warrant should be used, he believes the exceptions can be clearly laid out in Stivers’ bill.

During his testimony to the committee, Stivers did not say when a draft of the bill would be completed but did note the bill is already nine to 10 pages in length.

The next time the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government will meet will be at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville.

END

 

 

 

July 23, 2020

Reports reveal child abuse and foster care needs

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee Co-chair Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, comments during yesterday’s meeting. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – Lawmakers on the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee asked experts what more could be done to help children in abusive situations during the committee’s meeting yesterday.

Jill Seyfred, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky, and Kelly Crane, the state policy specialist for Prevent Child Abuse America, presented the committee updated statistics on child abuse across the Commonwealth and country.

Kentucky’s data, which was compiled by the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), showed 50,660 reports of child abuse met the criteria for investigation last year. The number of children impacted by those investigations was 76,106.

Seyfred said Kentucky’s number remains high, in part, because of mandatory reporting laws and prevention education put in place over the last several years to combat child abuse. She said areas Kentucky could improve on to reduce child abuse included more money for education, families in need of services and social workers.

According to the data, neglect has been the top form of child maltreatment in Kentucky for the last several years. The data also showed drug abuse in the home and mental health issues were major factors in child abuse cases.

“We know that the No. 1 referral source for abuse and neglect cases comes from teachers,” Seyfred said. “Anytime we can work with teachers and help them understand the issues, understand how to report, help them be more comfortable in that role, I think will be a benefit.”

During a DCBS presentation on foster care within the state, several committee members expressed concern over significantly lower intake numbers for March, April and May of this year compared to last year. The impact of COVID-19 closing down schools across Kentucky in March is to blame for the lower intake numbers for those months, according to DCBS data provided to the committee.

“Every superintendent and every school board chair and every counselor in every school system in the state should all be aware of this,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said. “And they should all be put on notice that this is an issue that needs to be given particular attention as they think about reopening and consider how best to do it. Not just educate students, but make sure they have access to resources to address their health.”

Another concern for the committee was social worker caseloads and how long it can take adoptions to move through the court system.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, asked particularly about the situation in Jefferson County.

Christa Bell, the director for the Division of Protection and Permanency within DCBS, said social worker turnover in Jefferson County had been a struggle.

DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub said there’s been a focus on reducing unmanageable caseloads.

Now, instead of 80 cases per social worker in Jefferson County, it’s down to an average of 37 cases.

“That’s still too high, but that’s almost a 45 percent reduction in the caseload,” Miranda-Straub said.

As for adoptions, committee co-chair Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked why it can take up to three years for adoptions to move through the court system.

Bell said the paperwork and documentation process required of families and the cost of adoptions cause delays.

“We put in place some strategies to try to improve that,” Bell said. “We actually reduced some of the requirements if the child had been in the same placement from the initial get-go. We removed some of those paperwork requirements.”

So far this year, 1,293 adoptions have been finalized compared to 1,257 in all of 2019, according to DCBS data provided to the committee.

“We just want to get those social workers in your hands, so we get that caseload down and get our judges maybe a little bit more on board to handle these cases with a little more speed if possible,” said Buford.

END

 

 

 

July 9, 2020

Legislative panel focuses on police body cameras

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, asked University of Kentucky Police Chief Joe Monroe a question about police body cameras during today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT – A committee of state House and Senate members took testimony today on the pros and cons of legislation mandating police body cameras in Kentucky.

“If we are going to put a mandatory program for body cams in this state, we have to look at the funding,” said University of Kentucky Police Chief Joe Monroe while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. “There would be small agencies in this state who would not be able to afford these types of programs.”

South Carolina and Nevada are the only states currently requiring body cameras for police officers, said Monroe, who is also the first vice president of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. He said at least 24 states have laws governing required policy, storage or specific procedures regarding the public release of body camera footage.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, asked what the annual cost would be to equip an officer with a body camera. Monroe estimated between $1,500 and $1,800 per officer for a “low-cost camera.” He said newer, more advanced body camera technology could run up to $5,000 per officer.

Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain testified it would cost an estimated $50,000 to equip 30 deputies with body cameras in his department. He added the major expense is the hidden reoccurring costs related to storage, maintenance and the additional staff to manage it all. Cain said that was estimated to be $40,000 annually.

Petrie then asked if body cameras were worth the cost to taxpayers. Monroe said he strongly encouraged the use of body cameras. “I believe in them,” he said. “I believe the investment in them is worth it.”

Cain, who also spoke on behalf of the state sheriff’s association, said the vast majority of Kentucky sheriffs would love to have the transparency that body cameras provide. He added that budgetary issues keep many small- and medium-size departments, including his own, from acquiring those cameras.

“If this is something the General Assembly thinks should happen, and I personally agree that it should, I would hope that this body would start by looking at where that money would come from because most of the communities in Kentucky will not be able to afford them,” Cain said.

Kentucky League of Cities CEO J.D. Chaney testified that his organization has historically been against unfunded mandates but that the organization generally supports the use of police body cameras. He added that body cameras could also reduce insurance premiums for municipalities, many of which are insured through the league.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, asked how long camera footage should be saved and whether costs to departments could be reduced if the state provided storage. Monroe said his department kept footage for a minimum of 30 days. He added that cost to local departments would likely be reduced if the state provided data storage.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, asked what departments could do to ensure officers equipped with body cameras used them. Monroe said that is done through policy and training.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said requiring every police officer to wear a body camera isn’t going to be the cure-all when it comes to building trust between police departments and the communities they serve.

“A lot of people think politicians are corrupt, but do we want a camera in the Senate president’s office, or the governor’s office, or my office, to make sure we do everything right every day?” said Schickel, a former law enforcement officer. “Where does this all stop?”

In addition to the costs, Monroe said the negatives associated with body cameras include the fact that the footage does not capture the officer’s mindset based on what he or she perceived was occurring.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, asked about the benefits of body cameras. Monroe said they include better transparency, improved trust, reduced citizen complaints and the phenomenon of the “civilizing effect.” It’s a term referring to individuals engaging in more civil behavior toward each other when they know they are being recorded.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he supports body cameras. The former internal affairs investigator and assistant police chief said Paducah police successfully pioneered the use of body cameras in Kentucky years ago.

“They use the opportunity with the video that is taken from those body cameras to support their officers and to put positive stories out,” Carroll said. “They have been a value to them in that way.”

He asked where the technology of body cameras was heading. Monroe said his department was exploring the possibility of cameras providing live, real-time video to dispatchers.

END

 

 

July 8, 2020

 

New laws go into effect next week

FRANKFORT -- Most new laws approved during this year’s regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly will go into effect on Wednesday, July 15.

That means voters will be asked to show a photo ID at the polls, veterinarians will be allowed to make a report to authorities if they find an animal under their care has been abused, and holders of state-issued ID cards will be added to the list of potential jurors.

While COVID-19 concerns caused lawmakers to gavel into session for only 53 of the 60 days allowed under the Kentucky Constitution, 285 Senate bills and 647 House bills were introduced for a total of 932. Of those, 49 Senate bills and 75 House bills became law for a total of 124. That’s in addition to 462 resolutions that were introduced in both chambers, four of which carry the weight of law. That means 13.3 percent of all bills introduced became law.

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature, which was April 15, unless they have special effective dates, are general appropriation measures, or include emergency clauses that make them effective immediately upon becoming law.

While some major measures have already taken effect -- such as the state budget and COVID-19 relief -- the majority of bills don't go on the books until July 15. They include measures on the following topics

Alcohol: House Bill 415 will allow distillers, wineries and breweries to ship directly to consumers, in and out of Kentucky, once certain regulations are in place. 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 local laws prohibit alcohol sales.

Animal abuse: Senate Bill 21 will allow veterinarians to make a report to authorities if they find that an animal under their care has been abused. 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 order.

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 with November’s general election. 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 allows poll workers to vouch for a voter they know even if that person has no valid ID. People who request mail-in absentee ballots must also provide a copy of a photo ID, or must complete an affirmation that they are qualified to vote. 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.

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.

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.

Mental health: House Bill 153 will establish the Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program. The plan is 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.

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 states that, starting on August 1, student IDs for middle school, high school and college students must list contacts for national crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide prevention.

--END--

 

 

June 26, 2020

 

Lawmakers hold hearing on UI benefit payment delays

 

FRANKFORT – After hundreds of people seeking help in resolving their unemployment insurance claims descended on the Capitol last week, a legislative panel convened today to investigate the backlog.

Calling it “almost criminal” that some Kentuckians have waited since March to have their claims processed, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R- Lebanon, said the executive branch had “created a crisis within a crisis.” He said the governor’s administration appeared to underestimate the need for unemployment insurance when it ordered many businesses to close in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, used the meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development & Workforce Investment to press whether Kentucky’s Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) officials were consulted before the governor ordered many businesses closed.

Education Workforce & Development Cabinet Deputy Secretary Josh Benton testified that he was not consulted before the order that closed the businesses. OUI currently is housed in Benton’s cabinet although there are plans to move it to the Labor Cabinet.

Carroll, a co-chair of the committee, then questioned the wisdom of moving OUI to the other cabinet amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor Cabinet Secretary Larry Roberts testified that the move would put OUI in a cabinet it had traditionally been housed. He said that should bring more expertise to the office during this crisis.

Adam Bowling, R- Middlesboro, lamented that the state was able to marshal all its resources to provide COVID-19 testing in every county but couldn’t use those resources to process the surge of UI claims. He added there have been about 14,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to the hundreds of thousands who are unemployed.

“It doesn’t seem ... that the state has done anything to reach out and better this situation,” Bowling said. “I realize we are overwhelmed. I realized the system is antiquated. I realize changes need to be done moving forward, but we have to work with what we have now. We have to use every resource we can to better this situation.”

Roberts said officials are using what they learned assisting the people who gathered at the Capitol last week to hold in-person events across the state. There will be in-person services offered by OUI in Ashland and Owensboro next week. That service will also be expanded to Somerset, Hopkinsville, Northern Kentucky and Prestonsburg sometime after July 4.

Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, asked what the procedure was for people who live in Kentucky but work in another state. Wheatley’s district borders Ohio. Benton said the “rule of thumb” was to apply for UI benefits in the state where one works.

“I’m with a lot of the other legislators here who have felt a great deal of stress related to this issue,” Wheatley said. “We like to have answers to questions.”

Carroll urged the governor's office to better communicate with legislators.

Education & Workforce Development Cabinet Legislative Affairs Director Heather Dearing testified that OUI couldn’t accept an offer to use legislative staff to process claims because those staff members hadn’t received the federally required background checks. She added, however, that OUI was working closely with the legislators' constituent services office to help resolve claims. Legislative staff also assisted with the Frankfort in-person services.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, asked whether an $865 million no-interest loan Kentucky received to pay for all the UI claims would increase the contribution rate small businesses pay into the state’s UI trust fund. “These businesses have really been hit hard,” Webber added. “A hit with a rate increase I think would be detrimental to a lot of these businesses.”

Benton said what businesses pay into the trust fund would go up unless there was legislative action taken in conjuncture with the executive branch.

Rep. Charles Booker, D-Louisville, asked what legislators could do at this point to move forward and help.

“Do we want to be dependent upon the federal government on how we run the public workforce system?” Benton said in response. “Is there an opportunity to provide stability of funds and other resources to make sure we don’t have the ebbs and flow of seasoned staff and service coverage moving forward?”

Roberts added that the UIO budget went from $41 million in 2010 to $25 million in 2018, causing the loss of 95 employees and the closing of 29 regional offices. “Gov. (Andy) Beshear is very frustrated as you are and as all of our constituents are,” Roberts said. “We have recognized that we cannot do enough with the staff that we have.”

Roberts said Beshear has directed the OUI staff to negotiate with an outside vendor for assistance with claims. “Without that, it would take us several months to get through all these claims,” Roberts said, adding he hopes by Monday the governor will be able to announce the state has hired a company with UI experience in other states to help.

Carroll expressed frustration that a contractor with experience processing claims, and not just answering phones, wasn’t hired months ago and pledged to continue to revisit the problems processing UI claims in future committee meetings.

--END--

 

 

 

June 25, 2020

 

Today’s legislative committee meetings will be livestreamed

FRANKFORT – Today’s state legislative committee meetings will be conducted via videoconference and can be viewed live online. 

Committees scheduled to meet today are:

         12 noon -- Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee

         1 p.m. -- Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Services

         3 p.m. -- Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee

All of the meetings can be viewed live on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmnoJBrwFmd7JK0HA9KcPaw.

 

--END--

 

 

 

 

June 24, 2020

  

State legislators to hold Thursday meetings via videoconference

FRANKFORT -- Legislative committee meetings scheduled for Thursday, June 25 will be conducted via videoconference.

The meetings will be held remotely rather than in-person in response to a Kentucky State Police request to reduce the number of public workers on the State Capitol campus to help ensure public safety on a day when a large public gathering might limit access to the Capitol grounds.

Committees scheduled to meet Thursday include the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee, the Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Service, and the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee. Within one or two business days, video recordings of the meetings will be posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmnoJBrwFmd7JK0HA9KcPaw.

The Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection meeting that was originally scheduled for tomorrow has been rescheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30.

--END-

 

 

 

June 4, 2020

Legislative panel hears police reform proposals

Keturah Herron (left), a policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and Black Lives Matter member, and Louisville Metro Council President David James testify before today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT – Louisville Metro Council President David James asked lawmakers for help in rebuilding the community’s trust after days of protests following the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor.

“To help with the police issue, we have to build back credibility in our police department,” James said while testifying before today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. “There has to be trust between the community and police for policing to ever work and be successful.”

Committee Co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said the testimony of James and Keturah Herron of the American Civil Liberties Union was an opportunity to provide a platform for the pair to speak about the events surrounding Taylor's death.

The 26-year-old EMT was fatally shot by police after officers entered her home in the early morning hours of March 13 on a “no-knock” warrant in connection with a narcotics investigation. An officer was shot by Taylor’s boyfriend who has maintained he thought he was shooting at robbers – and not the police. No drugs were found in the home, and charges in connection to the shooting of the officer have been dismissed.

“We are not going to take questions,” Westerfield said to the committee members, some of whom participated via video chat. “We are not going to comment or make statements. I’ll save that for each of you in your own district in your own way and in your own time. This is a time for us to listen. We need to hear what needs to be said from these two fine professional folks.”

James said he had a unique perspective on rebuilding the community’s trust in law enforcement since he was a police officer before joining metro council.

He said Louisville needs a civilian review board, but that the General Assembly would have to grant it subpoena power for it to be effective.

The second action James suggested was legislation to severely limit “no-knock” warrants across Kentucky. He said metro council is considering a proposed ordinance curtailing the use of such warrants, but it would not apply to the 26 other city police departments that operate within Jefferson County.

“I would ask you all to consider this for our entire state,” James said. “They’re dangerous. They are dangerous for police officers, and they are dangerous for citizens. I believe they should be used in only the most extreme circumstances to protect life.”

Thirdly, James suggested the General Assembly examine the subjects of poverty and housing. “The issues with law enforcement and trust are not simply just about policing,” he said. “They are about all sorts of other things. Policing is just a symptom of that.”

The fourth suggestion James made was for the legislature to join metro council in forming a permanent committee to look at equality and inclusion.

“We think it is very important that we look at all the policies and procedures of the city, of the government, to see what we can do better,” he said. “I would ask that the legislature do the same for the state because I think we need to do better. I think we can do better. And I ask you to help us do better."

Lastly, James said Kentucky’s police officers’ bill of rights needs to be revised by legislators. He said the way it is written limits management’s ability to discipline police officers.

“I don’t think you want bad police officers policing our communities,” James said. “I know I don’t. I want the good ones policing our communities. And I want all of our citizens to be treated equally and fairly under the color of law.”

James ended his testimony by stressing that law enforcement, especially African-American police officers, are under tremendous stress. “They are caught in the middle,” he said, adding that some have had to move their families into hotel rooms because of threats.

James offered to help lawmakers any way he could that would lead to a more equitable Kentucky.

Herron, a policy strategist with ACLU of Kentucky and member of Black Lives Matter, challenged the General Assembly to consider race and gender data when crafting public policy through legislation. She also urged the passage of a restoration of voter rights bill.

“I challenge ... the legislative body to start looking at those things," Herron said. "I am here to have a one-on-one conversation if anyone has further questions. I’m here to be of assistance."

After the testimony, Westerfield said he appreciated the pair’s willingness to work with legislators. “I trust that I and others will take you up on that pretty darn soon,” Westerfield said of the offers.

END

 

 

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--

 


 

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