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Recent News 

Public pensions will benefit from FY 2019 state surplus, panel told - 08/21/19

Public pension relief passed in special session - 07/24/19

Legislators hear how state landed airfreight hub - 07/20/19

Anti-doxing proposal gets another look - 07/12/19

Higher contribution rates loom for KRS, lawmakers told - 07/10/19

Kentucky beef cattle priorities shared with state lawmakers - 07/03/19

New state laws take effect June 27 - 06/18/19

Child support guidelines under Judiciary panel’s review - 06/07/19

State property tax calendar a challenge, officials say - 06/07/19

Postsecondary funding model eyed by budget committee - 06/04/19

Lawmakers name Jay D. Hartz as next LRC Director - 05/15/19

 Lawmakers receive youth vaping update - 05/01//19

New KRS actuarial assumptions shared with pension board - 04/23/19

Kentucky General Assembly adjourns 2019 session - 03/28/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/15/19

'Fetal heartbeat bill’ receives final passage - 03/15/19

Campus free speech bill heading to governor - 03/15/19

Expungement bill receives final passage - 03/15/19

Work Ready Scholarship bill wins final passage - 03/15/19

Bill to prevent vaping in schools approved by Senate panel - 03/14/19

Tax reform bill heading to governor’s desk - 03/14/19

Pension relief bill for higher ed and others moves - 03/13/19

Midwife bill advances through House - 03/13/19

Election contest bill advances to Senate - 03/13/19

Vaping bill passes House, moves to Senate - 03/12/19

Senate panel advances a child bicycle helmet bill - 03/11/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/08/19

Senate takes aim at ‘doxing’ of minors with bill - 03/07/19

Medical marijuana bill advances to full House - 03/07/19

Foster child bill of rights bill receives final passage - 03/06/19

Foster child bill receives Senate approval - 03/06/19

Bill to address 'vaping' in school moves to House - 03/05/19

E-scooter bill moves to governor’s desk - 03/05/19

Voter bill advances in House - 03/05/19

House advances bill to recognize ‘Honor and Remember’ flag - 03/05/19

Senate amends taxation bill, returns it to House - 03/04/19

Lawmakers adjust General Assembly’s 2019 Session Calendar - 03/04/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 03/01/19

Bill addresses assisted-living community exploitation - 03/01/19

Permitless carry bill advances - 03/01/19

Top priority: School safety bill gets final passage - 03/01/19

Early literacy and math bill advances to Senate - 03/1/19

School safety bill moves toward final passage - 02/27/19

Regional university retirement bill moves to Senate - 02/27/19

Expungement bill clears Senate, heads to House - 02/27/2019

Bill to curb youth e-cigarette use advances - 02/27/19

Kinship care bill moves to Senate - 02/26/19

Right of unborn legislation advances to Senate - 02/26/19

School resource officer bill moves to House 02/26/19

Working student loan debtors bill advances - 02/26/19

Teacher liability insurance funding bill advances - 02/26/19

Senate finance reporting measure going to governor - 02/25/19

Executive branch ethics bill moves to Senate - 02/25/19

House receives bill that would expand use of KEES money - 02/25/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/22/19

Bill addressing pregnancy discrimination advances - 02/22/19

Insurance surcharge bill advances to Senate -02/22/19

Bill to expand powers of conservation officers clears House - 02/21/19

House approves proposed tax changes and parks funding - 02/21/19

Senate advances midwifery regulatory bill - 02/21/19

Expungement bill advances in Senate - 02/21/19

Bill seeks online tracking of rape testing kit  - 02/21/19

Foster child ‘bill of rights’ moves to Senate - 02/20/19

KY House passes “A Day of Prayer” measure - 02/20/19

Bill strengthening state DUI laws heads to House - 02/20/19

Bill protecting kids’ interests in court advances - 02/20/19

Sports wagering bill advances to House - 02/20/19

Senate approves voter registration roster bill - 2/20/19

Golden Alert bill advances to full House  02/20/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/15/19

Abortion measure advances to Senate - 02/15/19

Net metering bill clears House, returns to Senate - 02/15/19

Direct wine shipments could flow to commonwealth - 02/15/19

Kentucky General Assembly to convene in historic Old State Capitol - 02/15/19

Public works contract bill advances to Senate - 02/14/19

Abortion-related measure advances to House - 02/14/19

Senate approves concealed carry legislation - 02/14/19

Foster care "bill of rights" measure advances - 02/14/19

Concealed carry legislation advances in Senate - 02/14/19

Net metering bill advances to House - 02/14/19

House panel approves “Human Life Protection Act” - 02/13/19

Senate shines light on non-fatal strangulations - 02/13/19

Lawmakers consider Alzheimer’s task force  - 02/13/19

Hemp legislation passes House Agriculture panel - 02/13/19

E-scooter bill rolls out of House committee - 02/12/19

Legislature could uncork direct wine shipments - 02/12/19

Candidacy bill sails through House Elections committee - 02/11/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 02/08/19

School safety measure gains Senate approval - 02/08/19

Senate approves siblings’ rights bill - 02/07/19

Medical marijuana research resolution clears first hurdle - 02/17/19

Strangulation bill advances in Senate - 02/07/19

House panel clears bill to outlaw vaping, tobacco use at schools - 02/07/19

Organ donor registration expansion bill advances - 02/06/19

Public works contract bill advances to full House - 02/06/19

Senate panel advances siblings’ rights bill - 02/06/19

Citizens invited to share comments with Public Pensions Working Group - 01/11/19

Legislative leaders create Public Pensions Working Group - 01/11/19

This Week at the State Capitol - 01/11/19

Campaign finance reporting bill moves to House - 01/11/19

Proposed election date change heads to House - 01/10/19

Senate panel considers pair of election measures - 01/09/19

 

 

August 21, 2019

Public pensions will benefit from FY 2019 state surplus, panel told

 

Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue Co-Chair Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, comments on testimony by state budget officials.   (Click here  for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT—Kentucky’s $130.1 million General Fund surplus from last fiscal year will go toward the state’s ailing public pension systems, state budget officials told lawmakers yesterday.

Deputy State Budget Director Kevin Cardwell told the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue that $70 million of the surplus has been appropriated to bolster the medical insurance fund under the Teachers’ Retirement System in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The remaining $60.1 million, he said, has been appropriated in FY 2020 to help pay down the unfunded liability of the Kentucky Employees Retirement System nonhazardous pension fund—currently the state’s most underfunded public pension plan.

The appropriations were made by the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly with the passage of 2018 House Bill 200, which contains the 2018-2020 state Executive Branch budget bill.

The $130.1 million comes from $194.5 million in General Fund revenues received in excess of estimated revenues for FY 2019, according to Cardwell, who said the surplus and revenue excess “are never the same.” Other dedicated revenues and/or necessary expenses were taken from the revenue excess before a surplus was declared.

Governor’s Office of Economic Analysis Deputy Executive Director Greg Harkenrider told the committee that a more robust-than-expected economy, tax changes, and a “very strong fourth quarter of FY 19” all receive some credit for the $194.5 million in excess revenue. He also credited a revenue excess of $119.8 million in FY 2018 for helping reach that over $194 million mark.

“A good part of it is the $119.8 million in FY 18,” said Harkenrider. ”That lowered the growth needed to hit the FY 2019 estimate.”

Preliminary planning for FY 2020 and the next four fiscal years shows what Harkenrider called “kind of tepid growth” in the state’s General Fund. The independent Consensus Forecasting Group, or CFG—which issues official revenue estimates to help the state finish the biennial budget process—is anticipating much less robust future General Fund growth than the 5.1 percent growth realized in FY 2019, said Harkenrider.

Although the CFG’s official revenue estimates will come in December, Harkenrider said the group’s planning estimates from Aug. 9 show growth of only 1.5 percent for FY 2020 and 2.2 percent for FY 2021, with relatively flat growth through FY 2024.

That’s in comparison to what State Budget Director John E. Chilton calls an economy that has “been doing pretty well” the past two years.

“This information that we’ve got from the Consensus Forecasting Group indicates that the growth is going to moderate over the next few years,” said Chilton, added that the CFG’s view is “consistent” with what other states are expected to face.

“The growth will be somewhere around the 2 percent that we’ve discussed,” he told lawmakers.

Also discussed were certain revenue sources and other funds, including the state Road Fund for transportation needs and the state Budget Reserve Trust Fund or “rainy day fund,” which shores up the state budget. Cardwell told lawmakers that the rainy day fund balance was $129.1 million at the end of FY 2019, and could be as large as $306 million this fiscal year depending on certain factors.   

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, asked Chilton how projected growth in Kentucky’s rainy day fund for FY 2020 compares with other states. The State Budget Director said Kentucky’s budget reserves are not expected to meet the level that most states try to reach or to maintain.

“The target for many is 5.5 percent (of a state’s General Fund). That would be around $750 million in Kentucky,” said Chilton. “Some are higher, actually, and I think that the states around us are probably a little bit better off that we are in that regard.”

 

END

 

July 24, 2019

Public pension relief passed in special session

FRANKFORT—Five options for over 100 quasi-governmental agencies in Kentucky to get a handle on their rising pension costs have been passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in a five-day special session.

The options found in House Bill 1 would allow the state’s approximately 118 quasi-governmental agencies—including local health departments, regional state-supported universities and community colleges, domestic violence shelters and others –to keep their employees in the Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems (KERS) nonhazardous plan at increased costs, or move all or a portion of their employees to an alternative retirement program. Agencies that leave KERS would have to pay their unfunded liabilities, which are earned but yet-unfunded benefits, in either a lump sum or in installments over 30 years.

The bill was approved on a 27-11 vote in the Senate today after passing the House by a vote of 52-46 on Monday. It is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin in the State Capitol Rotunda at 2 p.m. this afternoon.

HB 1 sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said during Monday’s House floor debate on HB 1 that Kentucky’s quasi-governmental agencies provide essential services that are at financial risk without passage of the legislation. He said the KERS nonhazardous plan currently has only 12.9 percent of the funds it needs to pay future benefits.

 “And, while legally these quasi entities have a legal obligation to pay … we understand the difficulties they have and the problems that might arise without passage of legislation that might provide them some relief,” Tipton told the House.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who is chair of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee, also spoke in support of the bill.

“House Bill 1 addresses the issues confronting some of the agencies that provide critical services on behalf of the commonwealth in every community in our state, be it regional universities, public health departments, rape crisis centers, mental health agencies. They all provide services that are the foundation or safety net for so many in our society.”

“If we want to continue to have a great university system, if we want to continue to have social service safety nets ... these are the actions we must take at this particular time in history,” McDaniel said.

The cost of implementing HB 1 is projected to potentially be $58.5 million in fiscal year 2021 and $110.5 million in fiscal year 2022, according to a fiscal note attached to HB 1. Included in the cost is the rate freeze, the employer cost to leave the KERS plan, and continued state General Fund appropriations of around $50.2 million per year.

HB 1 would work by extending the one-year freeze on employer retirement contribution rates for quasi-governmental agencies in the KERS non-hazardous plan into fiscal year 2019-2020 while giving agencies the choice to remain in the KERS plan or to voluntarily leave the plan as of that date. Agencies would have between April 1, 2020 and May 1, 2020 to file a resolution stating their intention to stop participating in plan.

Agencies that choose to leave the KERS nonhazardous plan would be required to set up a new defined-contribution, 401(k)-type retirement plan for their employees and pay their unfunded liabilities to KERS. Agencies that remain in KERS would have to pay the full actuarial cost of that decision as determined by system actuaries in accordance with HB 1. Agencies could also allow current defined-benefit employees hired before 2014 to remain in KERS by paying the full actuarial cost.

Employees now in the KERS nonhazardous defined-benefit plan who are moved to a new plan would retain their earned benefits, but would not be eligible for a defined-benefit plan under HB 1.

Tipton credited a 2015 law allowing certain quasi-governmental employers in KERS and CERS to be voluntarily or involuntarily removed from the state pension system as the basis for HB 1. That legislation, 2015 HB 62 sponsored by then-State Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, requires employers to pay their unfunded liabilities to the system by lump sum or installment.

Unlike the 2015 law, HB 1 would not impact CERS and includes some other differences.

House State Government Committee Chair Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, told the House before it voted on the bill that HB 1 “gives options to avoid layoffs, to avoid bankruptcies.” He challenged an assertion made by some opponents to HB 1 that the bill violates what is known as the “inviolable contract”— language in state law that many say guarantees public pension benefits earned.

Miller said officials with the Kentucky Retirement Systems did not see HB 62 as a violation of the inviolable contract at the time of that bill’s passage in 2015.

“What’s the difference between 2015 and now? Ask yourselves that,” Miller told the House. “We have to take action… It’s time to take action to solve things.”    

House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who voted against HB 1, said 2015 HB 62 was a response to a federal bankruptcy ruling in the case of Seven Counties Services, a Louisville-based community mental health center that was allowed to withdraw from the state pension system after the agency filed bankruptcy.

Floor amendments proposed to the bill in both the House and Senate were defeated before the final votes on the bill were taken in both chambers.

Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, who filed HB 2 as an alternative bill this special session, said his bill—defeated by a vote of the House State Government Committee last Saturday—was more actuarially sound. He also challenged a nonseverability clause in HB 1 requiring that the legislation be voided if any of provision in the bill is found unconstitutional or unenforceable. He called the clause “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Also proposed but voted down in committee was HB 3, sponsored by Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg. Hatton’s proposal had the singular goal of enacting a retroactive one-year freeze on employer contribution rates for quasi-governmental agencies and regional state universities and colleges to serve as what she called “insurance” in case other legislation considered this special session hits a roadblock.

Both Graviss and Hatton were among those in the House voting against HB 1. Among those voting against the bill in the Senate was Minority Floor Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville.

“We didn’t want to come in here and just gavel out. In fact, we wanted to come in here and take the time to pass a bill that wouldn’t generate the type of debate we saw today and instead have more unanimous, broad support because we do care about our workers. We do care about our institutions. We care about their jobs and the stability of the entire system,” McGarvey said on the Senate floor.

The week’s special session was not unexpected. The governor indicated that he would call a special session on quasi-governmental pension reform when he vetoed 2019 HB 358, legislation passed in the final hours of the 2019 Regular Session to address the quasi-governmental pension crunch.

HB 1 includes an emergency clause, requiring that it take effect immediately after it is signed into law by the governor.

 

--END--

 

 

July 20, 2019

 

Legislators hear how state landed airfreight hub

HEBRON – Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport officials briefed a group of state legislators yesterday on road improvements needed to support a $1.5 billion freight hub Amazon is building at the airfield.

“While the predominance of package movement will be plane to plane, there is also a need to expand road infrastructure,” airport CEO Candace McGraw said during the meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation.

In response to a question from committee co-chair Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, McGraw named a series of roads surrounding the airport that need improving. She added that the 3 million-square-foot package sorting facility is projected to create 2,000 new jobs.

McGraw said Amazon officials told her they selected the airport for the e-commerce giant's first air hub because it had a great airfield infrastructure that was well maintained, highway infrastructure leading to it, a trained aviation workforce and officials who moved at the speed of business.

“I say that to emphasize that investing in infrastructure now ... has a huge impact in the future,” McGraw said. “If we didn’t have those things, we would not have been able to close this deal.”

This is not the first package hub at the airport. McGraw said the airport is also a global super hub for DHL.

"We are their primary location in the Americas," she said, adding that DHL employs 4,200 people and operates 96 daily flights at the airport. It the international shipping conglomerate’s second-largest hub, eclipsed only by the company’s operations in Leipzig, Germany.

Until construction is completed on the Amazon’s hub, the e-commerce company is working out of DHL’s hub. DHL sorts its packages at night while Amazon sorts its packages during the day. The first phase of the Amazon facility is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2021. Construction will continue through 2030 before the entire 450-acre Amazon hub will be fully operational.

A second smaller cargo facility is being built to handle FedEx packages. That shipping company has two aircraft based out of the Northern Kentucky airport.

All the package-handling growth has made the Northern Kentucky airport the eighth-largest cargo facility in North America and fastest-growing in the United States. McGraw said the airport was “on the cusp” of becoming the seventh largest. The airport handled more than 1.2 million tons of cargo last year.

McGraw said this has spurred the aircraft maintenance and engineering company FEAM Aero to build a $19 million, 103,000-square-foot maintenance hangar at the airport. When completed, that facility will employ 100 workers with annual salaries starting at about $65,000.

“We do not operate on local tax dollars,” McGraw said. “We are actually a tax generator for the commonwealth.”

She said the airport gets its income from, among other things, airplane-landing fees, parking revenue and developing and leasing industrial buildings on its campus.

The airport supported more than $21 million in income tax revenues for Kentucky and more than $4 million for Ohio, according to a 2016 study by The Economic Centers at the University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. Of the 14,000 people employed on the airport’s campus, McGraw said 52 percent are Kentucky residents, 38 percent are Ohio residents and 10 percent are Indiana residents.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, asked whether security protocols for working on the airport campus hampered hiring. McGraw said it was challenging to find employees who could pass the required 10-year background check. She said prior drug convictions eliminate a large number of otherwise qualified candidates.

McGraw said the airport was working with Kentucky schools to develop supply chain management curriculums to foster interest in the field and ease the labor shortage in the future.

 

--END--

 

July 12, 2019

 

Anti-doxing proposal gets another look

 

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, comments on an anti-doxing proposal presented by Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.   (Click here  for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT—The father of a Covington Catholic High School student who was identified and threatened online after an tense encounter with protesters in Washington D.C. early this year is encouraging state lawmakers to take another look at legislation that would criminalize such threats.

Ted Sandmann asked members of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary to support a proposal by Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, that would prohibit anyone from using the Internet to release personal identifying information of a minor with intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten the child – a practice known as “doxing.”

“I believe legislation to criminalize the worst tendencies of the mob is vital to restoring public discourse,” Sandmann said.

Sandmann’s son, Nicholas Sandmann, was the subject of repeated online harassment and threats after an online video surfaced of the teen standing face-to-face with a Native American man named Nathan Phillips at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18. The encounter occurred as Phillips, who had reportedly participated in the Indigenous Peoples March that day, walked among Nicholas and his Covington Catholic classmates while the teens gathered at the Memorial to catch their buses after attending the annual March for Life rally.

In the online video, Nicholas was wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap that his father said he had purchased that day. Phillips was beating a drum. The two stood face to face for several minutes, Sandmann said. 

Numerous subsequent online attacks against Nicholas following release of the video have led to the filing of defamation lawsuits against The Washington Post and other media companies by the family, Sandmann told the committee. Schroder’s proposal, he said, will “create legislation to protect minors from these types of attacks.”

Schroder attempted to pass the anti-doxing proposal during the 2019 Regular Session. The proposal, contained in Senate Bill 240, passed the Senate 26-10 but stalled in the House near session’s end. That proposal would have made doxing of minors a misdemeanor, although increased penalties would be allowed in cases involving physical injury, death, or financial loss.

“This is the interim process, so we are certainly open to suggestions, changes, open to hearing concerns, and hopefully talking those out,” Schroder told the committee.

Schroder said the purpose of the bill is for serious threats. He said three basic elements would have to be evident for prosecution under the proposal: the release of personal identifying information, intent to cause some degree of harm, and “reasonable fear” of injury.

“Those are the kind of things we’re getting at and again, there has to be a reasonable – if you are putting yourself in their shoes – there has to be that element that it’s a realistic, reasonable fear,” said Schroder.

House Minority Whip Rep. Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, who asked if the proposal would apply to bullying among students, said the intent of the legislation needs to be clarified.

“I’m not against this at all, but I think we need to be very careful that we don’t open up something that we don’t want to open up.  But I do support the idea of this legislation,” she said.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, expressed support for the proposal. Wheeler said he is sympathetic to what Nicholas Sandmann has experienced since the January incident.

“Although freedom of expression and the freedom of the press are something we hold dear, there also needs to be some responsibility,” said Wheeler. “I think this bill seems to do that type of thing. I think it is well-drafted and honed for its purpose.” Wheeler added that he would like to see similar protections for adults.

“I think at some point expanding it is appropriate, because this happens to adults just as it happens to juveniles,” said Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Co-Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville.

“This won’t be last time we discuss this bill,” Westerfield said.

--END--

 

 

 

July 10, 2019

Higher contribution rates loom for KRS, lawmakers told

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, commenting on actuarial assumptions shared by the Kentucky Retirement Systems. McDaniel is the committee chair.   (Click here  for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT— Employers in the Kentucky Retirement Systems are projected to contribute between 2.8 percent to 13 percent more of covered payroll for retirement under new actuarial assumptions shared with state lawmakers yesterday.

The increases—driven mostly by a two-year bump in life expectancy among KRS retirees and less turnover among some KRS plan members – would to lead to millions of dollars in additional retirement contributions for the KRS plans, KRS Executive Director David Eager told members on the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.

Employer contributions to the County Employees Retirement System (CERS) Non-Hazardous plan are projected to rise by a total of $86 million under the new assumptions, with employer contributions to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System Non-Hazardous plan and CERS Hazardous plan on track for total increases of $59 million each, Eager told lawmakers.

An expected rise in retiree life expectancy alone is “going to be a higher cost” for several years to come, Eager told lawmakers. He said the KRS mortality assumption changed, in part, because KRS members tend to live longer than the average retiree nationally.

“So, we’re saying rather than someone living 21 years after retirement, they’re going to live 23. That’s a big funding cost to cover that extra two years,” said Eager.

As for turnover, Eager said some systems have had higher turnover and others – specifically the State Police Retirement System and CERS Hazardous – have had “significantly” lower turnover.

“We’re going to be having to pay more money out for benefits because people are staying longer (in those systems),” he said.

Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, commented on the mortality assumptions. She questioned the fiscal toll that a two-year increase in assumed life expectancy would have on local health departments and others.

“Isn’t it irresponsible to do that at the same time as we also make a huge jump in assumption rates?” Hatton said, adding that the changes could overwhelm local agencies. Eager said the adjustment is necessary.

“I’m very empathetic,” he said. “But the solution … is not to cut pensions from what they should be.”

Also questioning the increase in assumed life expectancy among KRS members was Appropriations and Revenue Committee Co-Chair Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. McDaniel said GRS Retirement Consulting, the firm that recommended the actuarial assumptions adopted recently by the KRS Board, itself said that assumptions underlying an increase in life expectancy “reflect some degree of subjectivity.”

“It’s my opinion that we are beginning to hit a tipping point with the ability of the Commonwealth’s budget to continue to contribute when, each year, we’re given new sets of assumptions,” said McDaniel.

Life expectancy at age 65 is trending upward, commented Eager. The job of fiduciaries for KRS, he said, is to make the “best estimate of what needs to be funded in the future” with the help of the actuary.

“If the actuary says that the funding should be prescribed at this level, that’s what we need to ask for,” Eager said.

Some positive news, Eager said, is that KRS can lower its contribution rate to 3.05 percent (the current rates for members in the KRS Tier 3 cash balance plan) if employers continue to pay their full actuarially required contribution, or ARC, to the system. Reaching that low rate could happen as soon as 2043, he said.

“We think that’s wonderful,” Eager said. “Was Tier 3 a good idea? Will it have a positive impact? Yes, it will have a positive impact.”

The actuarial assumptions adopted by the KRS Board were the result of a GRS study completed in June 2018, according to KRS.

 

--END--

 

July 3, 2019

Kentucky beef cattle priorities shared with state lawmakers

FRANKFORT—Kentucky, by most accounts, is the king of beef cattle production east of the Mississippi River.

The Commonwealth has around a million head of beef cows, making it the largest beef cow producer in the eastern U.S. and the eighth-largest beef cow producer in the country, according to Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Dave Maples. What it doesn’t have, he says, are large feedlots necessary to fatten, or finish, beef cattle for market.

That requires many farmers in Kentucky and the region to send their cattle over 1,000 miles to Kansas or other states for finishing and processing, Maples told the state legislative Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee today.

Maples called the situation “a barrier to Kentucky producers.”

“Why can’t we do it here? I have been told we cannot do it in Kentucky,” he said. Too much mud and a lack of grain are at least two reasons Maples said he’s been given as to why feedlots and processing won’t work in the state, although he said large poultry houses and hog barns have been successful. 

Transporting cattle thousands of miles out of state for finishing and processing also affects consumers – many of whom are now interested in tracing the origin of their food, said Maples.

“So what can we do? We’ve mapped out where the packing plants are. You look in our area; we don’t have processing,” he said. One solution may be to build a regional beef processing plant, Maples told the committee. So far, he said, Tennessee and Ohio have both shown interest in the idea.

The association’s governing board has approved a long-range plan that sets out what Maples said are four core strategies to improve opportunities for Kentucky’s beef industry.

“So we’re in a place where we can be a leader,” he said.

Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, asked Maples what the Kentucky General Assembly can do to help Kentucky cattle farmers remove transportation barriers to markets. Maples said Kentucky’s interstate roadways and railroads are working well, but that lawmakers might want to look at creating “farm-to-market roads” to beef up access between rural areas and market locations.

Representatives from the Kentucky Beef Network, or KBN--a division of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association-- also spoke about their programs, many which have benefited from the state’s share of millions of dollars in funds received from a master tobacco settlement with large tobacco companies in the late 1990s. The purpose of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee is to oversee those funds.

KBN Chairman Cary King told the committee that he is excited for Kentucky beef cattle producers as the demand for Kentucky beef by major retailers, specifically Kroger, is growing here at home.

“I think we’re at the point now with the grain that we have, we’ve got the byproduct from the bourbon industry, that we can build some of these barns (here) and finish cattle inside,” said King.

“I think we can keep those cattle here, learn how to feed them here economically, and then go through Kroger and sell them to the population that’s so close to us. I think we’re right at the point of making a big difference,’ he said.

 

--END--

 

 

June 18, 2019

 

New state laws take effect June 27

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2019 session will go into effect on Thursday, June 27.

That means law-abiding adults will be able to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, employers will be required to make certain reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and electric scooters will be regulated by state law.

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature unless they have special effective dates, are general appropriation measures, or include emergency clauses that make them effective immediately upon becoming law. Final adjournment of the 2019 session was on March 28, making June 27 the effective date for most bills.

During this year’s 30-day session, 786 bills and 502 resolutions were introduced, including 263 Senate bills and 523 House bills. In all, 68 Senate bills and 130 House bills became law. The governor also received six joint and concurrent resolutions. Some of the laws taking effect on June 27 include measures on the following topics:

Caller ID. House Bill 84 will prohibit telephone solicitations that misrepresent the name or telephone number in caller identification services, increase fines for second offenses and allow for civil lawsuits against violators.

Concealed carry. Senate Bill 150 will allow concealed firearms to be carried without a concealed carry permit. The measure will allow Kentuckians age 21 and older who are legally eligible to possess a firearm to carry a concealed weapon without a license in the same location as people with valid state-issued licenses. Permitless carry will not be allowed where prohibited by federal law or otherwise prohibited.

Felony expungement. Senate Bill 57 will expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records. It will do this by expanding discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies with some exceptions for crimes such as stealing in office, abusing children and sexual abuse. It includes a five-year waiting period to apply for expungement, a $250 application fee and provisions for prosecutors to object and judges to reject the applications.

Free speech. House Bill 254, dubbed the campus free speech bill, will require the state’s public universities to affirm they favor a free marketplace of ideas where speech is not suppressed because it’s deemed “offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional or radical.” SB 254 will also expand areas commonly known as “free speech zones” on many campuses to any accessible, open, outdoor venue.

Government contracts. House Bill 135 will prohibit public agencies from requiring that their contractors on public works projects have agreements with labor organizations.

Kinship care. House Bill 2, dubbed the kinship care bill, will create a caregiver assistance program for relatives and “fictive kin” – usually close family friends – of abused, neglected or dependent children. The measure will do this by offering different options to the caregivers based on the level of care they provide. HB 2 is designed to address growth in the out-of-home placement of Kentucky children amid the state’s current opioid crisis.

Lobbying. Senate Bill 6 will require disclosure of executive agency lobbyist compensation. The measure will also prohibit compensation contingent on awarding of a government contract. It will provide oversight, in part, by requiring executive branch lobbyists to register and list their clients. That’s already required of legislative lobbyists.

Midwives. Senate Bill 84 will recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives in Kentucky. The measure would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.

Pregnancy. Senate Bill 18, the Kentucky Pregnant Workers Act, clarifies employers’ responsibilities when it comes to making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. It will make it unlawful for an employer to fail to accommodate a pregnant employee and will require employers to provide notice to employees regarding these rights.

Scooters. House Bill 258 will set operating standards for electric scooters and will allow the machines to legally operate much like bicycles on public streets. It also limits e-scooter speeds to no more than 20 mph.

Sex crimes. Senate Bill 67 will create the offense of sexual crimes against an animal.

Strangulation. Senate Bill 70 will make non-fatal strangulation its own felony crime under Kentucky's criminal code.

Student loan debt. House Bill 118, the Keep Americans Working Act of 2019, will prohibit someone from having an occupational license suspended or revoked because of delinquency on a student loan or work-conditional scholarship. The measure is meant to help keep people with student loan debt out of poverty and in the workforce.

Tobacco. House Bill 11 would ban the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping devices on public school campuses, in school vehicles and at school activities beginning with the 2020-21 school year. School districts would have up to three years to opt out of the ban should they choose. The individual districts not opting out will also be able to set the penalties for violating the ban.

--END--

 

 

June 7, 2019

 

Child support guidelines under Judiciary panel’s review

 

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, speaks on issues affecting child support and guardians ad litem.   (Click  here  for a high-res photo).

 

FRANKFORT—Judges have to suspend “disbelief” when awarding child support based on the 32-year-old income data behind Kentucky’s child support guidelines, a family court judge told state lawmakers today.

The 1987 data – provided by the United States Department of Agriculture to help Kentucky and other states enact federally-required child support guidelines—gauged what it took to raise children at different income levels over three decades ago in an “intact” family, or a nuclear family in which both parents live in the home, Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda Masterton told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. Many families today are single-parent families.

“Of course, (a nuclear family) is not what we’re dealing with anyway, so there’s a certain suspension of disbelief that you have to have with the guidelines to begin with,” she said.

There have been numerous attempts to adjust the child support guidelines amounts and update other provisions over the past several years, with federal funding on the line under the 1988 Family Support Act, a 31-year old federal law that Masterton said requires states to pass guidelines that are presumed to award “correct” child support amounts. States that failed to follow the law, she said, could potentially lose money.

“For 2017, if we had been called to task on this, we would have had a minimum of $9 million at stake,” she said. “If they really didn’t like what we were doing, $180 million we could lose -- a big number.”

Lawmakers most recently attempted to pass revised guidelines in 2018 and 2019. Certain changes were became law, but proposed adjustments to the child support guideline amounts in the 2019 legislation were removed because of legislative concerns that Masterton said she understood.

She did urge lawmakers to act soon to adjust the guidelines so that judges are acting consistently and not deviating from the guidelines that are in place.

Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary Co-Chair Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said the urgency to pass new guidelines has been building. He said he wants the child support calculation method and other issues affecting the guidelines addressed as soon as the 2020 regular legislative session.

“It’s got to be corrected, so I will echo, it must be dealt with,” said Petrie. “I want this dealt with.”

New draft guidelines to consider should be available as early as this fall, according to Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Department for Income Support Commissioner W. Bryan Hubbard, who told the committee that his department is working with the Center for Policy Research to update the guidelines.

Among other requirements, Hubbard said the Center will present up to three onsite presentations on guideline recommendations and supportive data. “This includes availability to answer technical and substantive questions for legislative hearings,” he said.

The recommended guidelines should be ready by this Sept., said Hubbard, with a final report from the Child Support Guidelines Commission ready by the end of October.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, asked that the committee hold more discussion on the issue.

“There are a lot of moving parts in child support, there is a lot going on,” she said. “There are contracts being consolidated, budgets being cut. And I want to know more about those.” Petrie said more meetings are to come, both on child support and the issue of guardians ad litem which was discussed earlier in the meeting.

“These two topics are things that need to be moved along,” he said, adding he’d like for other members of the committee to help “take the lead” in fostering additional discussion. “If you’d make the contact that’d be great.”

 

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June 7, 2019

 

State property tax calendar a challenge, officials say

Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, asks local officials about challenges presented by Kentucky’s property tax calendar.    (Click  here   for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT—State law sets an end-of-year deadline for Kentucky property owners to pay their tax bills without penalty. But local governments say they must meet several deadlines before the first tax bill is ever mailed.

Changes to any of those deadlines, found on what is called the Kentucky “property tax calendar,” can disrupt the tax assessment and collection process, officials told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government yesterday. One of those officials was Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) President and Caldwell County Magistrate Elbert Bennett, who told lawmakers that many local government duties related to property taxation overlap to meet the calendar’s statutory deadlines.

“Any single change in the property tax calendar has a ripple effect,” he said.

Agreeing with that assessment was Mack Bushart, a former Marshall County property valuation administrator (PVA) and current executive director of the Kentucky PVA Association. PVAs are responsible for assessing real estate and personal property in the county and preparing the property tax rolls, with an annual assessment date of Jan. 1. The current tax calendar, he said, can make that work more challenging.

It has “more moving pieces than a Swiss watch. And if they don’t really gee and haw just right, again, it’s got real consequences at the end of the year,” Bushart added.

PVA assessments are ultimately open to an appeals process and ultimately sent to the state, which calculates and certifies the property tax rates by June 30.  Once the numbers are certified, the calendar gives most counties 45 days to set the property tax rates that will be on tax bills delivered to sheriffs by each Sept. 15 for mailing. 

Forty five days may seem like enough time for a fiscal court to set the tax rate, LaRue County Judge/Executive Tommy Turner told the committee, but “sometimes it’s pushing it,” he said.

Something as simple as a short delay in getting property tax rates advertised in the local newspaper can cause problems, said Turner. If a county wants more property tax revenue than it received in the previous year up to a certain amount, the proposal must be advertised in the paper or by mail. Further complications can arise if a county wants to raise revenues more than four percent over revenues from the previous year, said Turner, because that higher rate is—by law—subject to a possible recall election.

“That’s when it becomes really, really cumbersome and can cause issues,” Turner said, telling lawmakers the appeals period for a recall election could add another 45 or so days to the schedule.  Some argue that’s good reason for counties to not raise revenue above four percent, Turner said. He challenged that thinking.  

“You could have people say, ‘Well, you’re going to have to live within your means. You can’t consider something higher than a four percent.’ Well, that’s fine as long as I can send Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield a letter and say ‘look, you can’t raise your rates more than this amount,’” because the county’s bills still have to be paid, Turner said.

Legislation that affects the calendar for a few local government and quasi-government entities was passed last session under House Bill 49, sponsored by Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington. Signed into law earlier this year, HB 49 extends the deadline to petition for a recall election on property taxes levied in Lexington and Louisville to 50 days after a levy is passed. 

The deadline to petition for a recall under the new law will remain 45 days in other Kentucky cities, counties and local taxing districts.

Department of Revenue Division of Local Support Assistant Director Melissa Klink, who also appeared before the panel, was asked by Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, if her Department could expedite state certification of county data without changing the actual calendar.

Klink said that would be “very difficult.”

“The Jan. 1 (assessment) date is by statute, so to change that would require obviously a legislation change,” she said.

Also affected by the property tax issue are Kentucky’s public school districts which rely on property tax as a primary source of state funding under the SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) formula. Kentucky School Boards Association Director of Governmental Relations Eric Kennedy said full assessed value across the state is needed “for the overall funding to be fair.”

Property tax, Kennedy added, is the only tax required under Kentucky’s constitution.

Meredith told all local government officials and their representatives in attendance that he encourages them to come together on the issue and find a solution that lawmakers could entertain in legislative session.

“I think the problem has been well presented,” he said. “I think the details of how that all works together have been well presented and I appreciate that,” said Meredith. “But I would encourage and empower you all to try to help us come up with a solution that we can bring forward to address the issue in the coming year.”

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June 4, 2019

 

Postsecondary funding model eyed by budget committee

 

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, questions U of L President Neeli Bendapudi on Kentucky's postsecondary education goals at today's meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.   (Click here  for a high-res photo).

 

FRANKFORT—A performance-based higher education funding model passed into law two years ago is working for Kentucky’s two research universities, state lawmakers were told today.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi told the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue that they favor the formula, which allocates a portion of state funding based on a university’s performance on 11 key metrics. UK recently outperformed the average in 10 of those metrics while U of L outperformed the average in four of the metrics, according to the universities’ leaders.

The performance-based funding model was created in 2017 with the passage of Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg. It is gradually replacing what Givens called the “shares allocation” model that based funding on each postsecondary institution’s share of the state’s postsecondary budget.

The model is being phased in at the state’s universities and community colleges over a three-year period beginning with fiscal year 2018-2019, according to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE).

Givens, who serves on the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue, thanked Capilouto, Bendapudi and fellow lawmakers for their support of the performance formula, now in its second year.  The goal, ultimately, is to push the state’s postsecondary institutions closer to the national average in degree attainment, he said.

“If we can get to that place – almost at the national average for postsecondary degree attainment – we can change the economy in Kentucky in great, vast ways, so thank you,” Givens told his colleagues on the committee.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, questioned Capilouto on whether he thinks UK and U of L as the state's research universities should be categorized differently under the new funding model. Some argue they should, Tipton said.

“Some people seem to think it would be better if our research universities were in a separate category from our regional universities in how performance-based (funding) works. I’d like to hear your comments on that,” he said.

Capilouto said his support for the model is based on the “commonality” of undergraduate education.

“There is a commonality in this performance-funding approach, and it is the one thing that every university does,” said Capilouto.  “I think it is an advantageous approach.”

Bendapudi agreed with Capilouto. Additionally, she asked lawmakers to consider increasing funding under the formula in the 2020 state budget session.

“I do request more allocation, if possible,” she told the committee. “Incentive funding works well when it’s new dollars. Otherwise, if it’s moving dollars, then obviously we get into you’re growing at the expense of something else.”

Testimony on research at the two universities was also shared with the committee. Research funding increased 26 percent in fiscal year 2019 alone at UK, one of four universities nationally to receive an $87 million grant to help reduce opioid deaths.

Dr. Sharon Walsh, the head of the UK grant project called the HEALing Communities Study, said the project goal is to reduce opioid deaths in 16 Kentucky counties by 40 percent in three years, with the project beginning this fall.

U of L is also making strides in its research, said Bendapudi. Research expenditures at that institution totaled over $176 million in 2018, she told lawmakers.

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May 15, 2019

 

Lawmakers name Jay D. Hartz as next LRC Director 

FRANKFORT -- Legislative leaders today named Jay D. Hartz as the next Director of the Legislative Research Commission.

Hartz, the Deputy Chief of Staff in the Senate President’s Office, is a familiar figure to many in the State Capitol, where he’s known for his extensive knowledge on legislative operations and policymaking. He’s also known for his good humor and the colorful bowties he frequently favors.

When Hartz assumes the duties of LRC Director on June 1, he will bring nearly 25 years of experience in policy development, legislative procedure, and people management to the position.

As LRC Director, Hartz will be responsible for the performance of nonpartisan staff employed by the General Assembly and for ensuring that high quality, professional services are provided to the legislature.

“I’m humbled by the responsibilities I will assume as Director of the Legislative Research Commission, and I look forward to building on the strengths inherent in LRC’s nonpartisan staff structure,” Hartz said.

House Speaker David Osborne said Hartz’s background and experience give him a unique skill set to successfully lead a legislative staff.

“Throughout his career, Jay Hartz has shown great integrity and earned the respect of legislators in both chambers and both parties, as well as staff members throughout the agency,” Osborne said. “He is a consummate professional and possesses both the understanding of the legislative process and the institutional knowledge of the Kentucky General Assembly that we were looking for in a new LRC Director.”

Prior to serving in his current position of Deputy Chief of Staff, Hartz served as the Director of Legislative Operations in the Senate President’s Office and served two terms as the Chief Clerk of the Senate, the Chief Administrative Officer for the chamber. 

Hartz is Chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s STARS Committee, a member of the Council for State Government’s Suggested State Legislation Committee and serves on the Board of Directors at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.

A graduate of the Honors Program at Ashland University where he was an Ashbrook Scholar and earned the James Madison Award, Hartz went on to receive a master’s at Villanova University where he held an Earhart Fellowship.

Hartz resides in Simpsonville with his wife (Kim) and son (Alex), as well as Morgan horses and more spoiled cats than he cares to admit.

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May 1, 2019

 

Lawmakers receive youth vaping update

 

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, asks officials with the Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program for more data on vaping among Kentucky’s youth.  (Click here  for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT—Seventy five Kentucky school districts ban tobacco use but far fewer ban vaping, which delivers nicotine and other substances through an electronic vaporizer. That could change under a new state law set to take effect next month.

Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program manager Kerri Verden told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee that 2019 House Bill 11 could have an impact on 22 tobacco-free districts that don’t include vaping in their tobacco-free policies, plus others.

The law, set to take effect on June 27, will ban the use of tobacco and vaping devices on public school campuses statewide beginning next fall in school districts that don’t opt out of the ban.

“Districts may have been waiting to see what would happen with that legislation before they chose to act or not,” said Verden.

Verden said the use of e-cigarette and vaping devices in Kentucky high schools skyrocketed 200 percent between 2016 and 2018. Pod-based vaping devices that are commonly used today are “very, very addictive,” she said, with some tests indicating one pod contains the amount of nicotine found in two packs of traditional cigarettes.

“This product is so addictive and prevalent, we’re at the point where when we go to the schools we’re not talking about prevention as much as we are cessation, even at the middle school age,” she said.

While the most recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data from 2017 indicates that cigarette smoking among Kentucky high school students is at the “lowest it’s ever been,” said Verden—with around 1 in 7 Kentucky youth today smoking cigarettes—increased vaping likely means smoking rates are also on the rise, she said.

“We suspect the (smoking) rate has increased substantially, largely due to the introduction of very popular pod-based electronic cigarette systems,” which came on the market in 2015, she said. Verden told lawmakers that the use of vaping devices was declared an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General late last year.

She then played a video of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams speaking about the harm that nicotine and other compounds in e-cigarettes and vaping can do to the adolescent brain. In his comments, Adams said that one-third of youth who have used e-cigarettes and vaping devices have used them to vaporize and inhale marijuana. That led to comments from lawmakers on the committee, including Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

Webb asked Verden if THC—a hallucinogenic compound found in marijuana—has been found in e-cigarettes and vaping devices used by youth. Verden said it has, adding that she will relay that study data to the committee. Webb said that information would be of interest to her.

“That’d be the most disturbing to me as a policy maker,” said Webb. “I’d like to focus a little more on the illegal substances at this point, and I’d like to see the data on that. I think that is our immediate issue from a potential health side.”

Verden said youth can be “really creative” in using vaping devices with marijuana, and other drugs. “You don’t know what substances are in there, and it’s not even just marijuana – you can put any illicit substance in there, really, in any form.”

Also expressing concern with the use of vaping devices for use with illicit substances was Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Co-Chair Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke. He asked Verden for data on what types of illicit drugs are being found in vaping devices and how access to those drugs is obtained.

“It really frightens me knowing that we have a younger generation that looks at these electronic devices as something … cool to have in your possession. Something like this could devastate a child,” Dossett said.

 

END

 

 

 

April 23, 2019

 

New KRS actuarial assumptions shared with pension board

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, speaks on new actuarial assumptions adopted recently by the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board during Monday's Public Pension Oversight Board meeting (Click here for a high-res photo).

FRANKFORT—Retirees in the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ pension plans are expected to live longer which, along with less turnover among some active employees, will ultimately impact system costs, a state oversight committee heard yesterday.

The new assumptions are part of the 2013-2018 KRS actuarial “experience study” shared with the Public Pension Oversight Board by Kentucky Retirement Systems Executive Director David Eager and Danny White, a consultant with the actuarial firm GRS which conducted the study. The study is required every five years by statute, with data from the recent study used to determine KRS contributions over the next three years.

White said longer life expectancy among retirees age 65 and older is a national trend due to various factors, including pharmacy benefits and other care.

“Once you get to retirement, that’s when your life expectancy is expected to improve” according to the latest assumption, said White.

Public Pension Oversight Board co-chair Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asked White to explain what occurred in the past five years that led GRS to reach a new assumption for retiree life expectancy. White said the assumption is driven by both data and trends. The prior assumption, made around 2013, factored in a margin of growth for life expectancy based on different variables, White explained.

Higdon said he thinks some past assumptions about KRS may have helped to escalate the systems’ unfunded liability, which now totals at least $13.5 billion for the Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous plan alone.

“Those assumptions – payroll assumptions, return on investment assumptions—a lot of those assumptions were, I guess, artificially low in my opinion,” said Higdon.

White said that would require some review, saying “you have to look at all the facts and circumstances at the time to say, whether or not, is that appropriate.”

Increased life expectancy won’t singularly impact cost to the retirement systems, White told the board. That cost, he said, is based on investment, employee turnover, and mortality, among other factors.

The new assumption for turnover – which occurs when an employee no longer contributes to KRS, or becomes an “inactive” member of KRS – of hazardous-duty employees in the County Employees Retirement System (CERS), specifically, shared by White indicates that turnover depends most often on an employee’s years of service and age.

“You can have high turnover early in the position but essentially, as they get five or six years in, more than likely they’re going to stay. They’re not going to leave the system,” said White.

That said, a decrease in turnover does necessarily translate to retirement from KRS. A significant number of CERS hazardous active employees “will not make it to retirement,” White said, although the new assumption expects less turnover in that system than in prior years, he said. 

“That’s a cost increase,” said White. “It’s more expensive to provide retirement benefits than, let’s say, a termination benefit.”

Another recommendation made by GRS assumes a higher rate of salary change for some KRS members, along with an increased rate of disability for KERS and CERS members. 

The current KRS experience study can be found here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/CommitteeDocuments/287/11932/4%2022%202019%202019%20KRS%20ExpStudy.pdf. The previous KRS experience study from 2008-2013, and a 2014 presentation of the study, can be found on the KRS website at: https://kyret.ky.gov/About/Board-of-Trustees/Pages/Experience-Studies.aspx

 

END

 

March 28, 2019

 

Kentucky General Assembly adjourns 2019 session

School safety bill among the high-profile measures approved

 

 Majority Floor Leader John Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, (from left) acknowledging Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, Rep. George Brown Jr, D-Lexington, and Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, after the passage of Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act, on Feb. 27 in the House. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – The final week of the 153rd regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly saw the ceremonial signing of a sweeping measure to enhance school safety that is widely considered many lawmakers’ highest-priority bill of the year.

The School Safety and Resiliency Act, or Senate Bill 1, was among more than 200 bills that had passed by the time the 30-workingday session ended this evening.

SB 1 was the product of a specially formed committee that traveled the state last year to discuss school safety and collect feedback. The measure will create a state security marshal to conduct onsite visits to ensure schools were compliant with all provisions of the omnibus bill. The goal of SB 1 is to improve student safety by boosting safety and prevention training, promoting the assignment of a school resource officer to every school, increasing awareness of suicide prevention efforts, encouraging collaboration with law enforcement and hiring more counselors in school districts. Legislative leaders said funding the provisions of the bill are expected to be a priority when lawmakers put together the state’s two-year budget next year.

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

A partial list of bills that the General Assembly approved this session includes measures on the following topics:

Abortion. House Bill 5 will make it a felony to perform an abortion due to a decision based on the unborn child’s gender, race, color, national origin or disability. Senate Bill 9, known as the fetal heartbeat bill, will prohibit abortion in Kentucky once a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child. (A federal judge in Louisville has issued temporary restraining orders blocking enforcement of SB 9 and HB 5 after lawsuits were filed challenging the measures.) Senate Bill 50 will require health providers to report prescriptions written for RU-486 or any drug intended to end pregnancy to the state. House Bill 148 will outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases should the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling be reversed

Budget. House Bill 268 authorizes $25 million in bonds for economic development and $50 million in bonds for state parks to be spent on emergency repairs on everything from leaky roofs to backed-up sewers. It would also provide $290,000 for Kentucky State University to match federal money available to land-grant universities.

Concealed carry. Senate Bill 150 will make Kentucky the 16th state to allow concealed firearms to be carried without a concealed carry permit. The measure will allow Kentuckians age 21 and older who are legally eligible to possess a firearm to carry a concealed weapon without a license in the same location as people with valid state-issued licenses. Permitless carry will not be allowed where prohibited by federal law or otherwise prohibited.

Drunken driving. Senate Bill 85 will expand the use of ignition interlock devices (IID), Breathalyzer-type devices connected to the ignition systems of vehicles of people convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). The measure will do this by allowing and incentivizing IIDs for all people charged with a DUI and shift administration of the program from the courts to the Transportation Cabinet. SB 85 will also move Kentucky toward a more compliance-based model, in which offenders would have to complete a 120-day period of sober driving before exiting the court-mandated program.

Elections. House Bill 114 will require candidates for state offices and most local offices to officially declare their candidacies via “statement-of-candidacy” forms no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline is April 1. Amendments to the measure will also remove the Secretary of State as a voting member of the State Board of Elections and will make it a misdemeanor if an election official willfully misuses the state’s voter registration roster. Senate Bill 4 will require mandatory electronic filing of all candidates’ campaign finance reports by the May 2020 primaries.

Felony expungement. Senate Bill 57 will expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records. It will do this by expanding discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies with some exceptions for crimes such as stealing in office, abusing children and sex abuse. It includes a five-year waiting period to apply for expungement, a $250 application fee and provisions for prosecutors to object and judges to reject the applications.

Foster children. House Bill 158, dubbed the “foster child bill of rights,” grants 16 rights for children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky, including rights to “adequate food, clothing and shelter,” “a safe, secure, and stable family,” and “freedom from physical, sexual, or emotional injury or exploitation.” The legislation will also reduce the time for a parent or guardian to consent to voluntarily placing a child for adoption from 20 days to 72 hours. Senate Bill 31 will ensure children in out-of-home care have visitation rights with their siblings. The measure will do this by requiring the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, in the case of siblings removed from their home and not jointly placed, to provide for frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction between the siblings.

Free speech. House Bill 254, dubbed the campus free speech bill, will require the state’s public universities to affirm they favor a free marketplace of ideas where speech is not suppressed because it’s deemed “offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional or radical.” SB 254 will also expand areas commonly known as “free speech zones” on many campuses to any accessible, open, outdoor venue.

Government contracts. House Bill 135 will prohibit public agencies from requiring that their contractors on public works projects have agreements with labor organizations.

Hemp. House Bill 197 will expand the legal definition of hemp to include the seeds of industrial hemp, derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids and isomers, among other components. That is the same definition found in the new U.S. Farm Bill, signed into law late last year, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Kinship care. House Bill 2, dubbed the kinship care bill, will create a caregiver assistance program for relatives and “fictive kin” – usually close family friends – of abused, neglected or dependent children. The measure will do this by offering different options to the caregivers based on the level of care they provide. HB 2 is designed to address a growth in out-of-home placement of Kentucky children amid the state’s current opioid crisis.

Lobbying. Senate Bill 6 will require disclosure of executive agency lobbyist compensation. The measure will also prohibit compensation contingent on awarding of a government contract. It will provide oversight, in part, by requiring executive branch lobbyists to register and list their clients. That’s already required of legislative lobbyists.

Midwives. Senate Bill 84 will recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives in Kentucky. The measure would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.

Pensions. House Bill 358 will give regional state universities, community colleges and “quasi-governmental” agencies like health departments and mental health boards a chance to leave the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS) as of June 30, 2020, by paying their unfunded liability to the system in a lump sum or installments. Postsecondary institutions and quasi agencies that decide to stay in KERS will have to pay the full retirement contribution rate to the system starting in July 2020.

Solar energy. Senate Bill 100, dubbed the net metering bill, will change how much owners of solar power systems are reimbursed for electricity they add to the power grid. Under the bill, the Public Service Commission will set the compensation rate. The measure will grandfather in those participating in the current net metering structure for 25 years. In addition, those who install solar panels within the next year will be covered by the grandfather clause.

Strangulation. Senate Bill 70 will make non-fatal strangulation its own felony crime under Kentucky's criminal code.

Student loan debt. House Bill 118, named the Keep Americans Working Act of 2019, will prohibit someone from having an occupational license suspended or revoked because of delinquency on a student loan or work-conditional scholarship. The measure is meant to help keep people with student loan debt out of poverty and in the workforce.

Taxes. House Bill 354 will provide tax relief to banks and nonprofits in addition to strengthening Kentucky’s ability to collect sales tax on online purchases. The measure will transition the taxation of Kentucky-chartered banks from a franchise tax to state corporate income tax in an attempt to curb the takeover of community banks by banks from states with lower tax rates. Another section of HB 354 will provide relief to nonprofits by exempting those groups from collecting and remitting sales tax on admissions to charity events in addition to making it clear in statute that sales from one-time fundraising events are not subject to the sales tax. Thirdly, HB 354 will increase tax revenue by requiring online marketplace providers to collect and remit sales tax for sales made using their platform.

Tobacco. HB 11 would ban the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping devices on public school campuses, in school vehicles and at school activities beginning with the 2020-21 school year. School districts would have up to three years to opt out of the ban should they choose. The individual districts not opting out will also be able to set the penalties for violating the ban.

END

 

M arch 15, 2019

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- Taxes, felony expungement, and election laws were among the high-profile issues under the spotlight this week as the General Assembly’s 2019 session neared its final day.

This week was the busiest of the year at the State Capitol as lawmakers worked into the evening to put the final touches on bills that they wanted to get across the finish line by the end of the night on March 14, their final working day before the start of a veto recess. The recess runs to March 28, when lawmakers will return to the Capitol for the session’s final day.

Bills that took steps closer to becoming law between March 12 and March 14 include measures on the following topics:

Felony expungement. Legislation to expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records was delivered to the governor’s office after a 36-1 final vote in the Senate. Senate Bill 57 would expand discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies, except those that involve a breach of public trust, sex offenses, crimes against children and violent crimes that may cause serious bodily injury or even death. The bill also outlines how the state would handle expungement requests for crimes committed before 1975 when Kentucky changed its penal code.

Abortion. Senate Bill 9, known as the “fetal heartbeat bill,” is ready to be delivered to the governor following a 71-19 House vote. The legislation would prohibit abortion once an unborn child’s heartbeat is detectable.

Another measure, known as the “Human Life Protection Act” was delivered to the governor’s office following its 32-5 approval in the Senate. House Bill 148 would outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases if the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade is reversed. The bill would allow exceptions to save the life of a mother.

Student vaping. A Senate panel gave its approval to a bill that would ban the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes by students, school personnel, and visitors at Kentucky’s schools. The legislation, House Bill 11, would give local boards of education three years to opt out of the ban if they choose. The measure now goes to the full Senate to see if that chamber wants to consider the legislation on March 28, the final day of the legislative session.

Taxes.  House Bill 354 would change a number of tax laws and includes measures to provide relief to Kentucky banks and nonprofit organizations. The measure started off as a proposal to clarify that nonprofits and charitable organizations do not owe taxes on charitable admissions sales. Along the way, it was amended to include banking tax reforms meant to help the state’s smaller community banks by removing the banks’ franchise tax and instead require payment of the state corporate income tax. The legislation would also exempt income earned by National Guard members while in training, lower the property tax on heavy equipment rental, allow taxation of remote sales by online retailers, and exclude poultry from a sales tax on veterinary services. The measure has been delivered to the governor’s office following the Senate’s and House’s agreement to a final version of the legislation proposed by a free conference committee.

Crime. A bill has been delivered to the governor that would increase penalties against strangulation by making it a felony. Senate Bill 70 received final approval in the Senate on a 35-1 vote. If the measure becomes law, Kentucky would join 47 other states with such laws.

Midwives. Legislation is on the way to the governor after the Senate accepted amendments to a proposal to create recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives. Senate Bill 84 would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.

Elections. House Bill 114, approved by the House on a 56-39 vote, would require candidates for state offices and most local offices to officially declare their candidacies via “statement-of-candidacy” forms no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline is April 1. With amendments that were added to the bill, the measure would also remove the Secretary of State as a voting member of the State Board of Elections and would make it a misdemeanor if an election official willfully misuses the state’s voter registration roster. Since the bill contains an emergency clause, it would take effect immediately upon being signed into law.

Citizens can share feedback with state lawmakers on the issues confronting Kentucky by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181

 

END

 

March 15, 2019

 

‘Fetal heartbeat bill’ receives final passage

FRANKFORT— A measure known as the “fetal heartbeat bill” that would prohibit abortion in Kentucky if a heartbeat is detected in an unborn child is on its way to becoming law.

Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro, would require abortion providers to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected before an abortion procedure and would prohibit the procedure if a heartbeat is found. Exceptions for medical emergencies could be made per the bill.

The bill is expected to be sent to the governor soon, having received final passage in the House yesterday by a vote of 71-19. An emergency clause in the bill would require it to take effect immediately should it become law.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, sponsored SB 9 on the House floor. Before moving for the bill’s passage, Fugate shared a personal story about his second child who died in the womb.

He said he remembers “after an examination by the doctor, him telling us that there was no heartbeat. And I remember the heartbreak that we went through on that second child.”

Now the father of two children, Fugate said he often thinks of their first steps and first words. “As I thought about this bill the last few weeks, really in all actuality, the very first time my kids spoke to me were at the doctor’s office when I heard the heartbeat.”

Voting against the bill was Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, who said similar bills have been found unconstitutional in the state of Iowa and other jurisdictions. 

“I voted no today because no court has ever found this type of legislation to be constitutional. And I am here today as a legislator who stood right here a few months ago and rose my right hand to uphold the constitution,” Cantrell said.

SB 9 passed the Senate by a 31-6 vote on Feb. 14. That vote followed Castlen’s request for his fellow Senators in the chamber to place two fingers on their wrists.

“What do you feel?” he said. “You feel your pulse. That’s a sign your heart is beating. It is undeniable that a heartbeat stirs life.”

END

 

March 15, 2019

 

Campus free speech bill heading to governor

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, presents House Bill 254, a measure he sponsored concerning campus free speech bill. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – Legislation, dubbed the campus free speech bill, received final passage by a 30-7 vote yesterday in the Kentucky Senate.

The measure, known as House Bill 254, would require the state’s public universities to affirm they favor a free marketplace of ideas where speech is not suppressed because it’s deemed “offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional or radical.” It would also expand areas commonly known as “free speech zones” on many campuses to any accessible, open, outdoor venue.

“I think everyone in this body would agree that universities are meant to be the place of discussion and debate,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, who carried the bill in the Senate. “Yet, unfortunately, many of our universities have policies in place to prohibit the marketplace of ideas.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, and Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg.

Schroder said HB 254 was similar to last year’s Senate Bill 237, which passed the Senate but did not become law.

“I believe free speech, openness and transparency are things we desperately need in this government,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. “Having been on two college campuses of public universities, I can say that I’ve experienced firsthand the need for free speech.”

However, McGarvey said he couldn’t support HB 254 out of concern it would actually curtail free speech. He said it would do that by limiting those who could counter protest.

Schroder cited a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education report that found seven out of Kentucky’s eight public universities currently have at least one policy in place that is unconstitutional when it comes to the First Amendment. For example, at least one university requires students to remain in a “free-speech zone” while they share their views on religion and politics, he said.

END

March 15, 2019

 

Expungement bill receives final passage

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, presents Senate Bill 57, a measure he sponsored relating to expungements. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – Legislation to expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records received final passage by a 36-1 vote yesterday in the state Senate.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 57, would expand discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies, except those that involve a breach of public trust, sex offenses, crimes against children and violent crimes that may cause serious bodily injury or even death. Another provision of SB 57 outlines how the state would handle expungement requests for crimes committed before 1975 when Kentucky changed its penal code.

Final passage came after the Senate concurred with amendments the House made to SB 57. Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said those changes included reducing the waiting period to apply for expungement to five years. The original version of the bill contained a 10-year waiting period. Under the new language, any expungement would not become official until the applicant paid the processing fee, but that fee was cut in half to $250.

Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said SB 57 would provide a second chance for people in society by removing barriers for re-entry into the workforce

“I think this is a common sense, positive step forward,” he said. “I want to commend (Higdon) for his hard work and foresight.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, explained his “yes” vote.

“This has been a movement from (Higdon) for as long as I’ve known him,” Thayer said. “He is a strong believer in second chances and I know it’s a big part of his Catholic faith because I share that faith with him. But I also believe it is a tribute to his patriotism and what it means to be an American and give people a second chance so they can go back to work, provide for their families and have dignity.”

SB 57 now goes to the governor.

END

 

March 15, 2019  

Work Ready Scholarship bill wins final passage

 

FRANKFORT—A bill that would make the state’s Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program part of state law received final passage yesterday in the Kentucky House by a vote of 85-0.

Senate Bill 98, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, would codify the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program that has provided assistance for work certifications, associate’s degree work and, more recently, high school students taking coursework designed to benefit the state’s top workforce sectors.

The scholarship program is currently administered by executive order of the governor.

SB 98 floor sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said the expansion of the scholarship program to high school students allows them to take two courses each year of high school with state assistance.

A carryover in funding for the program from the previous budget cycle will cover program costs, Tipton told the House.

“We are not allocating any new money with the passing of this legislation. The funds are already there,” he said.

SB 98 now goes to the governor for his signature.

 

END

March 14, 2019

 

Bill to prevent vaping in schools approved by Senate panel

FRANKFORT -- A proposal to prohibit the use of tobacco and vaping products on school grounds was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee today.

House Bill 11 would ban the use of tobacco and e-cigarrette products by students, school personnel, and visitors in schools and school vehicles. School boards would be required to adopt policies on the ban by the 2020-2021 school year. Under an amendment made to the bill when it passed the House earlier this week, a local  board of education could opt schools out of the ban if they took steps to do so within three years, if the bill becomes law.

“The law will create a healthier environment in Kentucky for students,” said Rep. Kim Moser, R-Independence. “It creates an environment where tobacco use is not the norm.”

Moser said that the bill will address the increasing use of vaping products by students.

“In the last year we have had about a 78 percent increase in high schooler use of vaping products and a 48 percent (increase) in middle schoolers,” said Moser.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville requested information about the enforcement of the ban.  “Who are we actually talking about there, the school employees who would enforce the policies?” he asked.

“The schools boards will make that determination. They really can implement this through messaging and signage,” said Moser.

Bonnie Hackbarth, vice president for external affairs for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said “an educational approach is very effective” when implementing policies banning tobacco use at school.

“What we’ve found as we’ve spoken to school districts across the state is that it really has become self-enforcing,” Hackbarth said. “Forty-two percent of school districts now have … tobacco-free schools policies. When they put signs up for football games, a lot of times it’s self-enforcing.”

House Bill 11 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “…With the epidemic we have with vaping in our schools, a whole new generation of addicts are unfortunately coming out of our schools. … It’s time to start taking some action.”

END

 

 

March 14, 2019

 

Tax reform bill heading to governor’s desk

 

FRANKFORT— Kentucky’s small banks, nonprofits and some other entities would get tax relief under a House bill that is now on its way to the governor for his signature.

Agreement on House Bill 354—which passed by a final vote of 87-8 last night in the Kentucky House—was reached by members of the House and Senate in recent days. The legislation as amended passed the Senate by a vote of 34-3 earlier in the day.

Major provisions of the bill would eliminate the sales tax on nonprofit admission sales and allow taxation of remote sales by online retailers per last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.

But it was a repeal of the state’s bank franchise tax that generated much of the floor debate on the bill, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Chairman Steven Rudy, R-Paducah. That provision would require all banks in the state to instead pay corporate income tax beginning in 2021.

Rudy said Kentucky’s small community banks have suffered under the state’s bank franchise tax, which was passed years before the federal Dodd-Frank Act requiring banks to increase their capital. Because the franchise tax is based on a bank’s capital, supporters of HB 354 say small banks have been left financially-strapped.

Rudy said out-of-state banks have taken advantage of that by buying out small banks and shipping their capital out of Kentucky.

Under the changes in HB 354, he said, “hopefully the exodus of banks in this state will stop and we will revitalize our financial institutions.”

“Our tax climate and our industry is constantly changing and it will constantly evolve and we will constantly have to be revisiting the tax code in the years to come,” he added.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said HB 354 was part of an ongoing process to modernize Kentucky tax code.

“Taxes will always be something that none of us like, but services will always be something that all of us demand,” said McDaniel, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee. “We strive to create a tax code that is fair, that is equitable, that is good for our citizens, and that attracts and retains high-quality employers who provide good jobs and pay people well to help them to succeed to the maximum of their God-given potential.”

Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, voted for the bill but said he hopes the General Assembly will act on legislation that increases revenue for education and other state needs in future sessions.

“We cannot continue to compete with the other states…if our education system is breaking down because we’re not adequately funding our education system,” said Graham.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, informed all members that there is a need to act on the bank franchise tax repeal in the current session. He said 37 Kentucky-based banks have left the state in the past five years because “they are being taxed $56 million more than any other corporate interest in the state of Kentucky.

“And if takes leadership to stand up for those people who make those jobs, then I’m here to do it, and I would hope that every single person in here would,” Osborne told the House.

HB 354 would also include a lower property tax rate for heavy equipment rentals, exclude fees paid to enter fishing tournaments from the state tax definition of admissions, address extended warranties involving small rural telecommunication companies, and exclude poultry from the sales tax on veterinary services. Additionally, it would add a tax exemption for National Guard training income, among other tax changes.

Earlier in the day the House approved pension income tax changes in House Bill 58 by a vote of 94-0. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, would retroactively increase the amount of pension income excluded from state taxation from $31,110 to $41,110 to address tax changes made in 2018. HB 58 would require the state to automatically issue refunds for state income tax collected on pensions above the threshold of $31,110 beginning with the 2018 tax year.

HB 58 now goes to the Senate for consideration. An emergency clause in the bill would require the tax change in HB 58 to take effect immediately should it become law.

 

END

March 13, 2019

Pension relief bill for higher ed and others moves


FRANKFORT – Kentucky’s regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies could get relief from skyrocketing pension costs under legislation that passed the state Senate today by a 25-12 vote.  

“It would be an understatement to say that our (Kentucky Employees Retirement System) non-hazardous pension system is in a time of crisis,” said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. “It would further be an understatement to say that the effects of the resulting contribution rates are dramatically impacting the ability of both our universities and our social services to deliver the services that our citizens so desperately demand,” said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill.

The measure, known as House Bill 358, would make changes to the retirement plans for regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies in order to give them a financially viable mechanism to continue to operate while still paying for as much of the unfunded liability inside the pension as possible for their employees.

“There is no solution to (underfunded pensions) that doesn’t cost the general fund a significant amount of money,” said McDaniel, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee. “But at the same time, there is no solution to this that doesn’t demand that we find a way to help these social services stay in business and help our universities reduce their burden so they can more affordably deliver a high-quality education to the young people of the commonwealth.”

The first section of the bill addresses the universities, McDaniel said. It would allow, but not require, the state’s regional universities to stop participating in the KERS by July of next year. University employees hired before 2014 could stay in KERS or join a defined contribution plan. All employees hired after 2014 would be required to join the defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) retirement plan.

The second section of the bill addresses the quasi-governmental agencies who participate in KERS. These agencies could also stop participating but their employees’ pensions would be frozen. They could start participating in a defined contribution plan that would also be offered to all new hires.

For groups who stopped participating in KERS, HB 358 contained formulas, in the form of loans through the retirement system, for the universities and quasi-governmental agencies to pay for their share of the unfunded liability.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said he was voting for the bill because it would freeze the KERS employer contribution rates for the universities and quasi-governmental agencies for one more year. Those institutions have complained the pension costs were threatening their fiscal health.

“It gives those folks one further year of a reprieve on their rate before they have to start deciding what staff to cut or what services to cut,” he said. “I want to thank (McDaniel) and members of his committee for working on the bill. It is not an easy problem to solve – clearly.”

HB 358 now goes back to the House for its consideration of amendments made in the Senate.

END

 

 

March 13, 2019

 

Midwife bill advances through House

 Rep. Russell Webber discusses Senate Bill 84, which was approved by the House on a 96-1 vote. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT — Kentucky stopped issuing permits to home-birth midwives back in 1975. Now a bill that would create a new regulatory path for these practitioners is a step closer to becoming law.

Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville and Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, was amended and passed by the House on a vote of 96-1 today.  Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, said SB 84 would require the creation of a regulatory framework for certified professional midwives, or CPMs, while requiring collaboration between CPMs and other health providers.

The result, Webber said, would be a “full course” of prenatal and postpartum care for the more than 700 women who already choose home birth in Kentucky each year.

“This is not a bill about whether or not to allow home births. Those are going to happen. This is a bill about making sure families who choose home birth have access to safe and competent care providers,” Webber told the House.

SB 84 as amended by the House would require the advisory council created by the bill to issue its recommendations for regulatory guidelines for CPMs to the state Board of Nursing within a year after the law takes effect, should SB 84 become law. Those guidelines would cover—among other provisions—allowed use of medications, ordering of medical tests, and policies for transfer to hospitals when necessary.

“So CPMs play an important role in childbirth in this state,” said Webber. “They can signal yellow flags before they become red flags in the health of a mother or a baby.

The bill, as amended by the House, would also clarify that physicians or other licensed health care providers would not be liable in legal actions taken against a CPM.

Webber said SB 84 would make Kentucky the 34th state to legally recognize licensed CPMs. 

Buford explained the importance of the legislation when he moved for the initial passage of SB 84 in the Senate on Feb. 21. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 32-4 that day.

“This is a personal choice made by these families for various reasons,” Buford said. “We must ensure the families who choose this option have access to quality care through … the licensing of midwives.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, who is a registered nurse, said she supports the bill. She said perhaps a future General Assembly can consider adding CPMs as health care providers for insurance and Medicaid billing purposes.

SB 84 now returns to the Senate for consideration of the bill in its amended form.

 

END

 

 

March 13, 2019

Election contest bill advances to Senate

 

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, speaks on House Bill 522 relating to elections.   (Click here   for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—A bill that would give the General Assembly future guidance in contested state legislative, statewide and congressional elections has cleared the Kentucky House. 

House Bill 522, sponsored by House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, would require an automatic vote recount when a candidate for the General Assembly, Congress or statewide constitutional office—including the office of Governor—loses by 0.5 percent or less of the vote. 

The recount would be held no later than the second Tuesday following the election if the State Board of Elections determines, based on the certified vote, that a recount is needed. The cost of the recount would be paid by the state from the General Fund surplus account or state’s budget reserve trust fund, with any additional recount paid for by the petitioner. 

“In essence, what House Bill 522 will do is it will trigger an automatic recount for any election, for General Assembly as well as statewide offices and, in some rare occasions, for congressional offices if the vote is decided by less than one half of one percent of the total vote,” Osborne told his House colleagues yesterday. “It also will provide for a process by which (in such circumstances) a candidate can request and can petition a court, as other races do, for that recount.”

An election could still be contested, said Osborne, “if there are other issues that are involved in the election contest such as residency, such as ballot access, eligibility—those things would still be subject to an election contest which, again, by the constitution would be handled by (the Kentucky House of Representatives).”

The bill was filed in response to a state House election contest that challenged the result of the 2018 general election for Kentucky’s 13th House District. Rep. Jim Glenn, D-Owensboro, narrowly won the election according to initial results, which were subsequently contested by his opponent, former State Rep. D.J. Johnson, R-Owensboro. A recount indicated the election ended in a tie.

Johnson withdrew the contest in early February, and Glenn—who was seated as the State Representative for the 13th District on the first day of the session—retained the seat. 

“Hopefully this will give us guidance and give us some automatic response in case of very, very close elections,” Osborne said of HB 522.

Adkins was randomly selected, along with eight other House members, to serve on the House election contest board tasked with handling the contested 13th House election earlier this session. That experience, he told his colleagues, left him and other lawmakers looking for a “bipartisan way” to improve the statutory process for contested elections.

“We thought it was better to clarify and tighten up the statute to where it did give the exact direction, recourse, avenue that needed to be taken – to never put us, hopefully, in the position that we were in when we first came into session,” said Adkins. 

HB 522 passed the House by a vote of 94-0 yesterday. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

 

END

 

March 12, 2019

Vaping bill passes House, moves to Senate

 

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, speaks on House Bill 11 relating to student health. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—The use of tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping devices would be banned at public schools—unless school districts opt out of the ban—under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House.

School districts would have up to three years after the bill takes effect, should it become law, to opt out of the ban under House Bill 11, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill. The bill cleared the House today on an 85-11 vote.

For school districts that don’t opt out of the legislation, HB 11 would specifically prohibit students from using e-cigarettes, vaping products or any tobacco product on public school campuses, in school vehicles, or at school activities starting with the 2020-21 school year. School employees, volunteers or visitors would also be prohibited from using those products on school property, or on school trips while in the presence of students.

HB 11’s purpose “is to eliminate tobacco use during school hours and at after-school events in order to create an environment where tobacco use is not the norm. This would include the use of e-cigarettes and vaping,” said Moser.

Those who violate restrictions on the use of tobacco, e-cigarette or vaping products on school grounds as proposed by HB 11 would face up to $5 in fines—the same amount of fines allowable by current law for those who smoke tobacco illegally on school property.

HB 11 will not prohibit possession of tobacco, e-cigarette or vaping products on school property, according to Moser.

Moser told her colleagues that the U.S. Surgeon General and National Institute on Drug Abuse “has called the use of electronic cigarettes ‘the biggest health crisis in the nation affecting youth.’” One in five U.S. high school students and one in 20 U.S. middle schoolers are using e-cigarettes according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

Supporting the bill was Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson. Howard said his home region of Eastern Kentucky has a high rate of tobacco use, heart-related disease and opioid abuse.

“All of us know that tobacco use and alcohol are gateway drugs,” Howard said. “Anything we can do to address that will help us.”

HB 11 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

END

March 11, 2019

Senate panel advances a child bicycle helmet bill

 

Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, speaks on House Bill 280, a measure she sponsors to require children under 12 to wear helmets when riding bikes. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – On April 20, 2010, TJ Floyd was riding his bicycle when he crashed into the back of his older brother’s bike, flipped over his handlebars and hit his head on the concrete.

He wasn’t wearing a helmet and suffered an acute subdural hematoma.

“Frankly, they brought the chaplain in because he was in the stages of dying,” said his mother, Heather Floyd, while testifying in support of a proposed bicycle helmet law before today’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

The legislation, known as House Bill 280, would require the use of bicycle helmets for operators and passengers under the age of 12. Violators, their parents or guardians would be given a courtesy warning, under language in the bill.

Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, said she introduced the legislation because, “I saw a traumatic brain injury take one of the strongest people I know ... and render him helpless, so we want to ensure we are protecting the brains of our children.”

Huff said it was also the right thing to do economically because just one brain injury can cost $5 million to $7 million over one’s lifetime.

Sitting alongside Heather Floyd and Huff was TJ, who is now 16.

"His independent future was taken from him, and he's probably never going to live on his own again,” Heather Floyd said. “No matter how good he's doing there are just certain limitations and certain things that you can't overcome because you can't fix it.

“My blessing in this is he's happy and he laughs."

She added that HB 280 would be a teaching tool to prevent another Kentucky kid from experiencing this kind of traumatic brain injury.

HB 280 advanced out of committee and now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

END

 

March 8, 2019

 

This Week at the State Capitol

March 4-7, 2019

FRANKFORT – While issues of the day command much of the focus during sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, lawmakers also find opportunities to plan ahead for issues expected to arise in the coming years.

That was the case this week as lawmakers furthered preparations for Kentucky’s participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. A resolution that passed the House chamber urges local communities across Kentucky to establish Complete Count Committees to localize Census efforts with the goal of ensuring maximum response for the federal government’s population count.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the nation’s population be conducted every ten years. Getting a good response to Census counts are important to states because more than 130 federal programs use Census data to distribute funds. Research shows that more than $15 billion in annual federal spending for Kentucky is guided by Census data.

Census results can help determine which schools receive funds for improvements, where new roads are built, and how people are represented in government. Strong participation in the census among a state’s citizens can help ensure that a state receives a fair share of federal funds.

House Concurrent Resolution 137 urges local communities to establish Complete Count Committees and to engage in publicity, outreach, and educational efforts to help overcome cultural, economic, technological, and linguistic barriers to participation in the Census. The resolution was approved by the House and will next go to the Senate for consideration.

With only a handful of days left in this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to end on March 28, the pace of activity around the Capitol continues to increase. Measures that took steps forward March 4-7 include bills on the following issues:

Foster children. A “foster child bill of rights” is on the way to the governor’s office after being approved by both the House and Senate. House Bill 158 outlines 16 rights for children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky, including rights to “adequate food, clothing and shelter,” “a safe, secure, and stable family,” and “freedom from physical, sexual, or emotional injury or exploitation.” The legislation also would reduce the time for a parent or guardian to consent to voluntarily placing a child for adoption from 20 days to 72 hours.

Medical marijuana. Legislation that would legalize medical marijuana was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full House. House Bill 136 would allow Kentuckians to be prescribed medical marijuana that is licensed to be grown, processed and dispensed in the state. Only patients with specific conditions outlined could be prescribed medical marijuana, and then only by their regular physician. Thirty three other states have already legalized medical marijuana.

Student vaping. Legislation designed to curb e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” in public schools passed the Senate by a 33-3 vote. Senate Bill 218 would establish an anonymous reporting system for students to report vaping, require that parents be notified if their child was caught vaping and direct students to free vaping cessation programs. It would also encourage school boards to provide awareness programs to teachers and students on the dangers of vaping. The U.S. Surgeon General warns that nicotine exposure during adolescence could harm brain development and affect learning, memory and attention. Senate Bill 218 passed the Senate and now goes to the House.

Online harassment. Legislation that would criminalize a type of online harassment passed the Senate 26-10 and was sent to the House.  Senate Bill 240, dubbed the “anti-doxing measure,” would make it a crime for a person to use online communications to release identifying information of a minor with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten. The information would include first and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses, school locations, email addresses or telephone numbers. Such actions would be a misdemeanor but could be enhanced to a felony if physical harm, monetary loss or death resulted in the online communications.

Military and veterans. Kentucky would designate a special flag to honor fallen U.S. military service members and veterans under a bill that was approved by the House on a 99-0 vote and sent to the Senate. House Bill 406 would name the “Honor and Remember” flag as an official state emblem honoring U.S. service men and women who died in the line of duty or as a result of serving. At least a dozen states have passed similar legislation.

Citizens who want to offer feedback on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181

END

 

March 7, 2019

Senate takes aim at ‘doxing’ of minors with bill

 

 

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, explains Senate Bill 240, dubbed the “anti-doxing bill,” today on the Senate floor. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – Legislation to criminalize a type of online harassment passed the state Senate today by a 26-10 vote.

Senate Bill 240, dubbed the “anti-doxing measure,” would make it a crime for a person to use online communications to release identifying information of a minor with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten. The information would include first and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses, school locations, email addresses or telephone numbers.

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

“We obviously can’t undo the harm that was done to Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann and his family, but hopefully with the passage of Senate Bill 240, we can discourage this event from happening to others,” said sponsor Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder. He was referencing the online harassment of Sandman that followed the posting of a video of him with a Native American protester in Washington D.C.

Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he couldn’t support SB 240 out of concern it would add unconstitutional restrictions on free speech and would be too broadly applied 

“Doxing is a problem,” Morgan said. “Cyberbullying is a major problem, but here we are responding with legislation that casts way too wide of a net that will ensnare people ... even minors.”

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said he supported SB 240, in part, because no one offered alternative legislation to address the problem.

“We cannot sit back and continue to ignore the threats of a modern world,” he said, “and the ability from someone completely around the globe, across the nation or maybe just down the street to encourage another human being to harm our children.”

Despite some reservations, Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said she supported SB 240. She said it would help protect children who are pursuing a cultural activity such as hunting, fishing or showing farm animals from online harassment from radical animal rights activists.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said SB 240 could set an example that doxing of youth will not be tolerated, no matter who is doing it.

“Perhaps the bill goes too far, but I’m sick and tired of the trash that comes from some students at these schools that identify children out there that causes them to be bullied in the days of their remaining school life,” he said. “Yeah, maybe it is too much, but I’m willing to go that far. Let’s stop it. We can stop it here.”

SB 240 now goes to the House for its consideration.

-- END --

 

March 7, 2019  

 

Medical marijuana bill advances to full House

 

 

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, (at left) and Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg, stop to talk after testifying on House Bill 136, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky.(Click here  for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—A bill that would legalize medical marijuana under Kentucky law is on its way to the full House for a vote after clearing the House Judiciary Committee last night.

House Bill 136, sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright and Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, would allow Kentuckians to be prescribed medical, or medicinal, marijuana that is licensed to be grown, processed and dispensed in the state. Only patients with specific conditions outlined in the bill could be prescribed medical marijuana, and then only by their regular physician. 

Conditions that could be treated by medical marijuana under HB 136 include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease, to name a few.

Thirty three other states including Ohio have already legalized medical marijuana, said St. Onge. She called HB 136 the “tightest” medical marijuana legislation in the country.

The bill would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked, would not allow marijuana plants to be grown in patients’ homes, and would limit the THC (the main hallucinogenic compound in marijuana) content of processed medical marijuana to 70 percent. Excise tax revenue generated by the bill would be put in a trust fund to help cover medical marijuana prescription costs for indigent Kentuckians.

St. Onge said HB 136 isn’t about revenue--it is about compassion for nearly 60,000 Kentuckians living with chronic pain and other health issues.

“We feel that we are not serving the Commonwealth and her citizens well by ignoring this large population of people who cannot find any comfort,” said St. Onge.

Nemes pointed out safety provisions in the bill designed to protect patients who could be prescribed medical marijuana should the bill become law.

“We hear a lot today about how marijuana is so much more potent than it used to be, and that’s true,” said Nemes. “Well, the good thing about this bill is, the people who need marijuana to help themselves, that product they’ll be buying at the dispensary will have been tested to make sure that it’s safe.”

Questions about how an employer could respond to an employee’s medical marijuana use should HB 136 become law were answered by St. Onge, who said employers would not be precluded from having a zero-tolerance drug policy in their workplace.

“The company can say we have a zero-tolerance program in effect, and you are put on notice of that,” she told the committee, adding that the bill is strictly for medical marijuana and not recreational marijuana.

Speaking against the bill was Louisville-area pain specialist Dr. James Patrick Murphy, MD. He said more study is needed on medical marijuana before it is prescribed to patients.

“We’re just not ready yet for it to be a medicine to be prescribed. It’s simply not a medicine to prescribe,” he told the committee. St. Onge disagreed.

“There are mistakes that are made with the FDA. They are not God, they are not foolproof,” she said. “They are important, we want them to study but in the meantime these … people who are using (medical marijuana) and garnering some measure of their life back, some amount of relief, these people need to be listened to also.”

Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she supports the legislation. Hatton said opioid deaths have decreased by as much as 25 percent in state that have legalized medical marijuana. 

“It could be such an important tool to help those who are suffering,” said Hatton. “It’s not physically addictive, it’s been around for 5000 years, it’s legal in 33 states, still I’m aware of no deaths that have been reported. In Kentucky, we have four deaths per day from opioid overdose.”

The bill ultimately passed the committee with overwhelming support. Sixteen committee members voted in favor of passing the bill out of committee. Only one member opposed the bill, and one member --House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton -- passed on the vote.

Petrie said he has “lingering questions” about how the legislation would be impacted by federal and financial rules. But, Petrie said, he appreciates the work that the sponsors have done on the bill.

“I still have concerns and I think those concerns need to be addressed. But I’m not moving the target on you,” he said. “I think the bill is much better.”

 

END

 

 

March 6, 2019  

Foster child bill of rights bill receives final passage

 

FRANKFORT—Kentucky’s foster child bill of rights’ bill will soon be delivered to the governor after receiving final passage by a vote of 94-1 today in the Kentucky House.

The list of 16 statutory rights for children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky is a key component of House Bill 158, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, who told his House colleagues last month that the list complements a foster parent bill of rights already in statute.

Included on HB 158’s list of rights for foster children are the rights to “adequate food, clothing and shelter,” “a safe, secure, and stable family,” and “freedom from physical, sexual, or emotional injury or exploitation,” among several others. 

HB 158 would also require background checks on child residential home staff as required under a 2018 federal law, and clarify rules for searches of the state’s “putative father” registry—a state registry created by the 2018 General Assembly for men who want parental rights to a child they claim to have fathered.

Additionally, HB 158 would reduce the time for a mother, father or other legally consenting individual to voluntarily place a child for adoption. Meade said a person’s voluntary consent to place a child for adoption is final after 20 days under current state law. HB 158 would reduce that period to 72 hours.

The 72-hour period is standard in several states, said Meade.

“I talked to someone the other day who’s adopting a child out of state, and they asked the attorney of the child-placing agency ‘Why do you not come to Kentucky to adopt children?’ And he said ‘Because your revocation period is far too long and parents do not want to adopt from there,’” Meade told the House. “That is why many of our parents are adopting from out of state.”

“We’re coming in line to help get some of our children adopted,” he added.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, who voted in favor of the bill, spoke on the revocation period change.

“Certainly you want mothers to make a sound decision when they make a decision,” said Stone. “Hopefully this will help them do that quickly.

The Senate approved HB 158 on a 36-0 vote earlier in the day today.

 

END

 

March 6, 2019  

Foster child bill receives Senate approval

 

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, presents an amendment concerning House Bill 158, dubbed the foster child “bill of rights.” (Click here here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – The foster child “bill of rights” moved a step closer to becoming law today after being amended and passed by the Kentucky Senate.

The Senate voted 36-0 to pass the measure, known as House Bill 158, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, and approved by a 99-0 vote in the House on Feb. 20.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, who presented HB 158 for a vote in the Senate, said it would create a statutory “bill of rights” for Kentucky children in foster care and other out-of-home care placements. He added that HB 158 would also bring Kentucky in compliance with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018. That act seeks to curtail the use of group care for children and instead places a new emphasis on family foster homes.

Westerfield said a Senate amendment addressed timeframes concerning consent to a child’s adoption and searches of Kentucky’s “putative father” registry – a state registry created under House Bill 1 of 2018 for men who want parental rights to a child they claim to have fathered.

A third change would remove child-placement agencies, or private agencies, from a background check provision. Westerfield said there were concerns it would cause a backlog of requests for fingerprint checks.

HB 158 now returns to the House to see if its members agree with the Senate changes to the measure

-- END --

 

 

March 5, 2019

Bill to address “vaping” in school moves to House

 

 

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, presents Senate Bill 218, an act relating to the prevention of smoking and vaping by students. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – A bill designed to curb e-cigarette use, or “vaping,” in public schools passed the state Senate today by a 33-3 vote.

Senate Bill 218, dubbed the “vaping bill,” would establish an anonymous reporting system for students to report vaping, require that parents be notified if their child was caught vaping and direct students to free vaping cessation programs. Another provision would encourage school boards to provide awareness programs to teachers and students on the dangers of vaping

Sponsor Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said the bill was a collaboration between him and a group of Johnson County Middle School students. Eight students from the school testified on behalf of SB 218 last month before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

“I think it speaks volumes that these young people in eastern Kentucky really want to be involved in shaping what’s going on in their school,” Smith said. “For any of you following the national news, this has become a big issue of late.”

The Food and Drug Administration has been advocating for a plan that would sharply restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Federal regulators want to curb a surge in underage vaping, which they claim will lead to a whole new generation addicted to nicotine.

“First, I want to compliment the students from Johnson County Middle School,” said Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, who chaired the committee which took the students testimony. “They did a phenomenal job with their presentation. They were articulate. They had done their homework. They did great research.”

Meredith said he enthusiastically supported SB 218 but was concerned it didn’t go far enough. He advocated for raising the age someone can purchase tobacco or vaping products to 21.

In addition to curbing vaping in schools, Meredith said it would protect tobacco farmers. He said it would do this by helping persuade the FDA that national regulations, which could be more economically damaging to farmers, were not needed.

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, stood in support of SB 218 and to address issues raised by Meredith.

“These issues swirling around here today are not going to go away,” Thayer said. “We need to consider making sure we are doing everything we can to provide the information so people like me, who are 51 years old, don’t end up with both parents dead too early in life because of the effects of this carcinogenic product or products.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, also voted for SB 218 and spoke on tobacco use in Kentucky. He said Kentucky’s youth smoking rate is the worst in the country and higher than the national adult smoking rate.

“We wonder how we got to this situation where vaping has become such a huge epidemic in our schools,” said Alvarado, who is also a medical doctor. “I think a lot of our kids thought it was harmless at first. It was supposed to be a smoking cessation product. That is how it was initially developed.”

SB 218 now goes to the House for its consideration.

-- END --

 

March 5, 2019

E-scooter bill moves to governor’s desk

FRANKFORT—Electric scooters like those now available for rent in Louisville would be regulated by Kentucky law under a bill that will soon be delivered to the governor for his signature.

House Bill 258, sponsored by Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, would both define and set operating standards for “electric low-speed scooters”—or e-scooters—like the Bird-brand  scooters that have been available for rent via a phone app in Louisville since last year. Similar rentals are available in more than 100 cities worldwide.

The House voted 95-1 today to approve HB 258 after agreeing to what Upchurch called “changes that are technical in nature” made by the Senate. Those changes would allow two- or three-wheel and seated scooters while refining the definition of “motor scooter” at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s request, Upchurch said.

HB 258 would allow e-scooters to legally operate much like bicycles on public streets and bicycle paths while limiting speeds to 20 mph and set a minimum e-scooter rider age of 16.

Proponents of the bill who spoke on HB 258 before the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 12 said the measure would not prevent local governments from further regulating e-scooters.

HB 258 passed the Senate 36-0 last week.

 

END

 

 

March 5, 2019

 

Voter bill advances in House

                               

 

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, speaks on voter legislation in House Bill 325.   (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—Kentucky voters who switch their party affiliation in the months immediately before a primary election could not vote in that election under a bill that has cleared the Kentucky House.

House Bill 325, sponsored by Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, would prohibit those who switch parties on or after Dec. 31 immediately preceding a primary election from voting in the upcoming primary. New voters who register to vote after Dec. 31 must stay registered with the same party until the following primary in order to vote in that election.

Miller said HB 325 prevents what he called “late party switchers.”

“If a registered voter who is on the rolls (in late December) later decides to change their registration thinking they can vote in the primary, they de-register, re-register and it’s currently considered a new voter,” said Miller. “And they can vote in a different primary than (the one) in which they were registered on Dec. 31. This bill prevents that.”

HB 325 would also allow county clerks to send a mail-in absentee ballot application to an eligible voter by e-mail. Current law gives eligible voters seven days before an election to get their mail-in absentee ballot applications to their county clerk, and that language would be retained in HB 325.

“It does not change existing law in terms of seven-day lead time,” said Miller.

Miller said HB 325 incorporates elements of two bills—HB 273 and HB 274—that were passed by the 2018 General Assembly but vetoed by the governor after the 2018 Regular Session had concluded. Because the session had ended, lawmakers could not vote to override the vetoes.

Speaking in support of HB 325 was House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort. He said the changes in the bill were part of committee discussions with Kentucky’s county clerks.

“I appreciate you working (on this) because I think we need to open the process or at least try to expand the process to guarantee that every individual who wants to vote is able to vote,” said Graham.

HB 325 passed the House by a vote of 92-4. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 

March 5, 2019

House advances bill to recognize ‘Honor and Remember’ flag

 

 

Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, calls for a vote on House Bill 406.   (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would designate a special flag to honor fallen U.S. military service members and veterans under a bill that has advanced in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Should House Bill 406 become law, it would name the “Honor and Remember” flag as the state’s official emblem in honor and remembrance of U.S. service men and women who died “in the line of duty”—including those killed while serving or as a result of serving, which the Honor and Remember flag official web site says includes death as a result of PTSD, exposure to Agent Orange, and other causes.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, and Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, passed the House 99-0 yesterday and is now before the Senate.

‘In honor of all of those men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our nation, for our state, and in honor of those who are still sacrificing their lives on the basis of approximately 22 and more a day, I move for passage,” of HB 406, Massey told his House colleagues.

At least a dozen states have passed legislation similar to HB 406 to date.

Several House members who stood and spoke in favor of HB 406 said they were supporting the bill in honor of a fallen U.S. military service member. One of those legislators was Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, who told the House that she was casting her vote in in honor of Army Spec. Eric Bivins of Muhlenberg County.

Bivins took his own life in 2017 after struggling with PTSD triggered by his experiences during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Prunty.

“I promised to bring this forward … and I gladly cosponsor HB 406,” Prunty told her colleagues.

The movement to create the Honor and Remember flag was initiated by George Lutz after his son, Army Pfc. George A. Lutz II of Virginia, was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. The Honor and Remember web site calls the flag a “universally recognized symbol” of remembrance.

END

 

 

March 4, 2019

Senate amends taxation bill, returns it to House

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would address issues that surfaced after last year’s tax overhaul passed the Senate today by a 33-0 vote.

House Bill 354, as amended by the Senate, “addresses taxation issues that have been confounding nonprofits around the commonwealth, frankly, for many many decades,” said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill. “For the first time, we make clear in statute that sales from onetime fundraising events are not subject to the sales tax of the commonwealth.”

The Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee chairman said the measure would also exempt taxation on the sales of tickets to charity events hosted by nonprofits.

Other provisions of HB 354 would clarify there be no tax on veterinary services for poultry, require online retailers to collect sales taxes for third-party sellers using the platforms and would allow gambling losses to be deducted from winnings on state income tax returns.

HB 354 also included language that would exempt the smallest of businesses, such as a teenager who cuts his neighbor’s grass, from being required to collect sales taxes on their services.

While HB 354 will now be returned to the House for a concurrence vote, Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said HB 354 would likely end up in a conference committee. That’s a joint committee of Senators and Representatives directed to reach agreement on legislation on which the two houses are unable to agree.

 

 END

 

  March 4, 2019

 

Lawmakers revise General Assembly’s 2019 Session Calendar

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly will begin its veto recess on March 15, one day later than originally scheduled, under changes Senate and House leaders have made to the 2019 Regular Session Calendar.

The 2019 session is now scheduled for final adjournment on March 28, one day earlier than previously scheduled.

The revised 2019 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at: https://legislature.ky.gov/Documents/19RS_Calendar.pdf.

 

 END

 

 

March 1, 2019

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Feb. 25-March 1

 

FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2019 session passed a major milestone this week as bills passed by both the Senate and House began arriving on the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

The first bill of the year delivered to Gov. Matt Bevin’s office was Senate Bill 4, a measure that would require candidates for public office in Kentucky to electronically file their campaign finance reports starting in 2020. Current law requires only candidates for statewide office to electronically file campaign finance reports. Candidates who raise less than $3,000 during a reporting period would be exempt from the e-filing requirement.

By week’s end, several more bills were delivered to the governor, including a comprehensive school safety bill that is widely considered to be many lawmakers’ highest-priority bill of the year.

The school safety bill, Senate Bill 1, is the product of a specially-formed committee that travelled the state last year to discuss school safety and collect feedback. The measure calls for improving student safety on a variety of fronts by establishing a state school safety marshal, conducting risk assessments, boosting safety and prevention training, requiring superintendents to appoint a school safety coordinator, promoting the assignment of a school resource officer to each school, increasing awareness of suicide prevention efforts, encouraging collaboration with law enforcement, and, as funds become available, hiring more counselors in school districts.

The proposal also calls upon the state to make an anonymous reporting tool available to each school district.

Other measures that advanced between Feb. 25 and March 1 included bills on the following topics:

Felony expungement. Senate Bill 57, which was approved by the Senate on a 35-2 vote, would increase the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records. The measure would expand discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies, except those that involve a breach of public trust, sex offenses, crimes against children and violent crimes that may cause serious bodily injury or death. The bill has been delivered to the House for consideration.

Youth vaping. Senate Bill 218, which received a Senate committee’s approval and now awaits the full chamber’s consideration, is intended to curb the alarming number of children and teens susceptible to nicotine addiction through the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping products like Juuls. The legislation would establish an anonymous hotline for students to report vaping, require that parents be notified if a child was caught vaping and encourage youth who vape to enroll in local health department smoking and vaping cessation programs. It would also encourage school districts to establish awareness campaigns about health concerns surrounding vaping. The U.S. Surgeon General warns that nicotine exposure during adolescence could harm brain development and affect learning, memory and attention.

Abortion. Performing an abortion due to a decision based on the unborn child’s gender, race, color, national origin or disability would be a felony offense under a bill that passed the Kentucky House. House Bill 5 passed the House on a vote of 67-25. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Concealed carry. Kentucky would become the 16th state to allow concealed firearms to be carried with without a concealed carry permit under a bill that received House approval on a 60-37 vote. Senate Bill 150 would allow Kentuckians age 21 and older who are legally eligible possess a firearm for permitless carry anywhere that those with a concealed carry license are allowed to possess a firearm. Permitless carry would not be allowed where prohibited by federal law or otherwise prohibited. The bill, which was approved by the Senate last month, next goes to the governor’s desk.

Student loan debt. The Keep Americans Working Act of 2019 was approved by the Senate this week, which means the bill now has both chambers’ approval and is ready to be delivered to the governor’s desk. House Bill 118 would prohibit someone from having an occupational license suspended or revoked because of delinquency on a student loan or work-conditional scholarship. The bill would also encourage a person who is in default or delinquent in the payment of a student loan to contact the appropriate student loan servicer to establish a voluntary pay agreement. The measure is meant to help keep people with student loan debt out of poverty and in the workforce.

Citizens who want to offer feedback on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

END

 

 

March 1, 2019

 

Bill addresses assisted-living community exploitation

 

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, presents Senate Bill 128, an act he sponsored related to assisted-living communities. (Click  here  for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – Senate Sen. Danny Carroll recounted a call he received last year from a person concerned their relative was being financially exploited while residing in an assisted-living community. The Paducah Republican then received a second call about the safety of other residents of that community and other affiliated facilities.

The former police officer said his inquiry uncovered that the assisted-living community was manipulating the state’s oversight system to delay sanction hearings against it indefinitely.

“There was no accountability whatsoever for this particular organization,” Carroll said from the Senate floor today.

To prevent similar abuses from occurring in the future, Carroll said he introduced Senate Bill 128. The measure would prohibit people convicted of felonies related to theft, drug abuse, elder abuse, sex abuse, child abuse and other crimes from owning, managing or operating an assisted-living community.

Another provision would stop the perpetual delays in sanction hearings that nearly render the state’s oversight authority useless. The final part of the bill would allow state inspectors to get a court order to close any facility that flagrantly flaunts the state oversight laws.

“This bill is something that will help protect our seniors,” Carroll said.

Stressing that he didn’t think the organization’s behavior was common across the state, Carroll said, “This was the extreme exception rather than the rule.”

The Senate passed SB 128 by a 36-0 vote. The measure now goes to the House for its consideration.

END

 

 

March 1, 2019

Permitless carry bill advances

 

 

Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, presents Senate Bill 150 relating to the carrying of concealed weapons. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would become the 16th state to allow permitless concealed carry of firearms under a bill that moved a step closer to becoming law today.

Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, advanced today on a 60-37 vote in the House. Should it become law, SB 150 would allow Kentuckians age 21 and older who are legally eligible possess a firearm for permitless carry anywhere that those with a concealed carry license are allowed to possess a firearm. Permitless carry would not be allowed where prohibited by federal law or otherwise prohibited.

Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, presented SB 150 for a House vote.  She told her House colleagues that SB 150 would create “parity” between open carry and concealed carry for those who are legally eligible to carry a firearm

“All persons who wish to carry firearms should be knowledgeable of responsible handling practices and the legal guidelines within KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes),” Maddox said. “But it is not the role of state government to require training or collect recurrent fees in order for a law abiding citizen to exercise his or her Second Amendment right.”

While SB 150 would allow Kentuckians to carry concealed firearms without a license, it would not abolish concealed carry licensing in Kentucky for those who wish to pursue it, Maddox said.

Among those voting against the bill was House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, who said the bill removes the training requirement for carrying a concealed firearm by removing the licensing requirement. Currently, persons applying for a concealed carry license in Kentucky must successfully complete a firearms safety or training course.

“We’re taking out a very, very important part in my opinion, not only for gun owners but the public and our law enforcement officers who have dangerous jobs every day, who have expressed concern with this bill,” said Adkins.

Among the supporters of SB 150 was Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville. A retired Kentucky State Police Major, Blanton challenged some lawmakers’ assertions that permitless carry endangers the lives of law enforcement.

SB 150 now returns to the Senate, where it passed that chamber by a vote of 29-8 on Feb. 14.

 

END

 

 

March 1, 2019

Top priority: School safety bill gets final passage

 

 

The photo shows Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, speaks in support of Senate Bill 1, an act relating to school safety. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, stands in the background. (Click here here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – A sweeping measure to enhance school safety across Kentucky is on its way to the governor after receiving final passage on a 37-0 vote in the state Senate yesterday.

“This is a good example of how we can come together,” Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, said of Senate Bill 1, named the School Safety and Resiliency Act. “Occasionally, we will have disputes and philosophical differences ... but this is a prime example of how people can come together on an issue.”

The House amended and passed SB 1 on a vote of 96-3 yesterday.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, who sponsored SB 1, said the amended legislation would allow a newly created state security marshal to conduct onsite visits to ensure schools were compliant with all provisions of the omnibus bill. The changes would also give school districts additional time for implementing those provisions.

Wise said SB 1 would also require consultation and coordination with fire, police and emergency medical services when schools formulate safety plans. At the suggestion of Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, the amended bill would require schools to seek the input of students when these plans are created.

In addition, the amended bill would more clearly define the role of school resource officers (SROs) with written agreements between schools and the law enforcement agencies of which the SROs are affiliated. In response to another concern about the original version of the bill, those SROs would receive bias-awareness training.

Minority Caucus Chair Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, spoke in support of SB 1. He was a member of the legislative School Safety Working Group that met throughout the state to develop a consensus on the type of school safety legislation to advance during this session.

“I want to thank the working group for coming to Prestonsburg in Floyd County,” Turner said. “This allowed people in eastern Kentucky to participate and give their views.”

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, said he was proud to be a cosponsor of SB 1, a No. 1 priority of the General Assembly. Similar legislation was introduced in the lower chamber as House Bill 1.

“This is a great example of us working together,” Embry said. “What can be more important than the safety of our school children, our greatest asset, and the future of this commonwealth?”

He said everyone’s involvement in the working group was deeply appreciated.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he wanted to relay his constituents’ deep-felt thanks for SB 1. His western Kentucky district includes Marshall County High School, the site of a shooting last year that left two students dead.

“We are very grateful,” he said.

Wise said SB 1 was “a step in the right direction” but money would have to be appropriated for SB 1 during next year's regular session of the General Assembly. That's when legislators are constitutionally tasked with passing a biennium budget for the state.

Stivers said officials would spend the upcoming interim assessing what it will cost to pay to implement all the provisions of SB 1. He said some school districts would need more financial help than others.

“There is a commitment, once the analysis and assessment is done, to fund what is needed to protect our schools, our teachers and our children,” he said.

-- END--

 

 

Feb. 28, 2019    

Early literacy and math bill advances to Senate chamber

 

 

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, discusses House Bill 272. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT— Elementary education courses at Kentucky colleges and universities would require more specific training in teaching early literacy and math skills beginning next year under a bill passed today in the Kentucky House.

“I think we all recognize that one of the challenges that students face is, when they’re not reading at grade level by the time they attend fourth grade, they’re going to have more difficulties going forward,” said House Bill 272 sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville.

Tipton said he is hopeful HB 272 will be “a first step in a much broader discussion on this subject.”

Under HB 272, Kentucky colleges and universities would teach their elementary education students specific components of early reading and math instruction beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. Reading components would include instruction on phonics, vocabulary and other areas. For math, instruction on concepts, procedural skills and application would be required.

Tests used to gauge both the knowledge and skill of math and reading teachers would be developed by the state Education Professional Standards Board by 2021 under the bill. All new teachers seeking early childhood or elementary education certification beginning with the 2022-2023 school year would have to pass those tests, per the bill.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green. She said the bill is on the “right track,” but she feel the bill needs more input from stakeholders.

“I firmly believe we have to involve the stakeholders in the conversation – the people who will develop the curriculum, the people who will deliver the curriculum, and it is a troubling issue for me that so many times we are not involving the stakeholders,” said Minter.

Tipton said Kentucky is one of only three states in the Southeast U.S. that do not require teacher  training on special components of early reading and math instruction as outlined in the bill.

“We have a responsibility as legislators to set the policy for what’s best for everybody in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and especially our students,” said Tipton.

HB 272 passed the House by a vote of 86-12. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

Feb. 27, 2019

School safety bill moves toward final passage

 

House Majority Floor Leader John Carney, R-Campbellsville, explains Senate Bill 1 . (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT—School safety improvements in Senate Bill 1—the top legislative priority of 2019 Kentucky General Assembly leaders—moved a step closer to becoming law today after being amended and passed by the Kentucky House.

The House voted 96-3 to pass the School Safety and Resiliency Act, or SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, and approved by a 35-0 vote in the Senate on Feb. 8. Similar legislation was introduced this session as House Bill 1, filed by House Majority Floor Leader John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, and Rep. Chris Freeland, R-Benton.

Carney, who presented SB 1 for a vote in the House, said educators, law enforcement, students, parents and others had input into the legislation.

“It’s been a very comprehensive process, and it will be a continuing process for years to come,” said Carney. “But I think this is a great step forward for the Commonwealth of Kentucky if we’re able to move this piece of legislation forward.”

The legislation—the result of months of work by a legislative School Safety Working Group formed after the 2018 shooting deaths of two students at Marshall County High School—would boost school safety by improving the type of personnel, systems and structures and student culture in Kentucky’s schools. Included among the improvements would be creation of the position of state school safety marshal, whose role would be similar to that of a state fire marshal.

Expansion of the use of school resource officers, or SROs, would also be part of the bill, as would enhanced mental health services and a statewide school safety tip line, among other provisions.

Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, voted in support of the bill. A professor at Hazard Community and Technical College, Howard said he was at work one day in 2013 when three people were fatally shot outside his office window. He said better mental health resources are needed to deal with violent school incidents.

“We must have access to mental health care if we expect to deal with violence in schools,” said Howard.  

Also speaking in support of the legislation was House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect. Osborne said the working group created last year “put together something that we can be proud of. And they deserve the appreciation of this body, and they deserve the appreciation of the entire Commonwealth.”

SB 1 does not include funding for its provisions. The funding is expected to be approved during the General Assembly’s 2020 budget session next winter, according to Wise, who told the Senate that SB 1 is not intended to burden financially-strapped schools.

SB 1 now returns to the Senate to see if its members agree with the House changes to the measure.

END

 

Feb. 27, 2019

Regional university retirement bill moves to Senate

 

FRANKFORT—Kentucky’s regional state universities saw their employer contribution rate to the Kentucky Employees Retirement System skyrocket in 2018.

Actuarial changes in late 2017 increased the total contribution rate for pension and retiree health insurance for nonhazardous employees at regional postsecondary institutions from 49.47 percent to over 80 percent, said Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville. Knowing the cost was a hardship on the universities, Tipton said the 2018 General Assembly froze the contribution rate through fiscal year 2019 while recognizing more action would be needed.

“In that legislation was a charge that we come up with some suggestions, some ideas on how we can move forward out of this situation,” said Tipton. “Well, our comprehensive universities took this to heart and … I’m here today on behalf of our comprehensive universities.”

The House responded today by voting 76-21 to pass House Bill 358. Sponsored by Tipton, the bill would allow, not require, any of the state’s regional postsecondary institutions—EKU, KSU, Morehead State, Murray State, NKU, WKU and KCTCS—as well as the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation to stop participating in KERS by June 30, 2020.

Institutions that choose to leave KERS under HB 358 would have to pay the full actuarial cost of their liability to KERS in a lump sum or over 25 years, per the bill.  They would also be required to provide other retirement options for their employees including a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k).

New hires of an institution that has left KERS would not be allowed to participate in that system.

Tipton said the estimated fiscal impact of freezing the KERS employer contribution rates for the institutions last year was around $132 million. HB 358 would freeze those rates for one more fiscal year, at an estimated fiscal impact of $121 million, he said.

That does not mean, however, that KERS would lose money under HB 358, he said.

“Our universities have shared with me (that) they understand that they have an obligation to pay the liability to their system on behalf of their employees,” Tipton told the House. “Going forward they want to have certainty on what that obligation will be, and they feel like this legislation … will provide them the opportunity to do that.”

House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, R-Frankfort, said he feels more actuarial information is needed before the legislation is passed. He voted against the bill.

“HB 358 is a major piece of legislation,” said Graham. “And at this time, there are no definitive facts or figures that help us make an informed decision on passage of this bill.

“We are rushing to pass legislation without important facts and figures on the cost of this transition.”

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, asked the House to pass the bill, telling his colleagues that any necessary tweaks to HB 358 could be made in agreement with the Senate in coming days. He said HB 358 will improve the affordability of a college education in Kentucky.

“This bill is progress. I urge you to vote yes,” he said.

 HB 358 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

END

 

Feb. 27, 2019

Expungement bill clears Senate, heads to House

 

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, presents Senate Bill 57, a measure he sponsored relating to expungements. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT — Legislation to expand the number of Kentuckians eligible to have low-level felonies expunged from their criminal records passed the Senate today by a 35-2 vote 

The measure, known as Senate Bill 57, would expand discretionary expungement to all Class D felonies, except those that involve a breach of public trust, sex offenses, crimes against children and violent crimes that may cause serious bodily injury or even death. Another provision of SB 57 outlines how the state would handle expungement requests for crimes committed before 1975 when Kentucky changed its penal code.

“This is not a soft on crime bill,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the measure. “This is a jobs bill.”

He said 35,000 people in Kentucky have pleaded guilty to a Class D felony in exchange for not going to trial and being sentenced to up to five years in prison in just the last few years.

“It seemed like a pretty good deal (for these people) until you discover a Class D felony is a life sentence,” Higdon said. “It is a little cloud that follows you around for the rest of your life.”

Higdon explained that SB 57 would build on 2016’s House Bill 40. That measure made people convicted of about 60 low-level, Class D felonies eligible for expungement. Since the passage of HB 40, 3,000 expungements have been granted and 300 denied.

Higdon said one of the biggest complaints about HB 40 was it required a $500 application fee for people seeking expungements. He said SB 57 would keep a fee in place but establish a payment program to make it more affordable to low-income citizens.

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood in support of SB 57 but said he would like future legislation granting judges the authority to set the application fee.

“I would like the judges to have that just to make sure there are no economic hurdles to one getting justice,” he said.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, explained his “yes” vote despite his skepticism of prior expungement legislation. He thanked Higdon for compromising by adding language to SB 57 that would require people to wait 10 years after their conviction before they are eligible for the expungement program. Carroll also praised a provision that would allow prosecutors to object to specific expungement requests.

SB 57 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 27, 2019

Bill to curb youth e-cigarette use advances

 

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, (at left) sits with eight Johnson County Middle School students testifying on Senate Bill 218, an act relating to the prevention of smoking and vaping by students. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT — One middle schooler described a new and growing locker room ritual before games. Another told of classmates who went to the restroom every two hours just to get their “fix.” And a third said she had already been bullied for speaking out against it

What the eight Johnson County Middle School students were talking about was the popularity of e-cigarette use, or "vaping," among teens and adolescents. The students testified alongside Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, before today’s meeting of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in support of legislation designed to curb youth vaping.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 218, would establish an anonymous hotline for students to report vaping, require that parents be notified if their child was caught vaping and encourage youth vapors to enroll in local health department smoking and vaping cessation programs. It would also encourage school districts to establish awareness campaigns about health concerns surrounding vaping.

Student Emily Farler testified that her 13- and 14-year-old friends have an unhealthy addiction that makes them “edgy and cool” among their peers.

“Look at me,” she said. “Imagine a whole generation of us, but addicted to nicotine. That is what is happening all across Kentucky right now.”

The students cited a Surgeon General’s report from December that found youth use of e-cigarettes has risen dramatically since the product first appeared on the market around 2007. Last year, more than 3.6 million children were using e-cigarettes. Though e-cigarettes often are viewed as safer than cigarettes, the Surgeon General warned that nicotine exposure during adolescence could harm brain development and affect learning, memory and attention.

Smith testified that SB 218 was a collaborative effort between him and the students. Smith said while e-cigarettes come in a variety of devices, a particularly popular one marketed by Juul is designed to look like a USB flash drive. He said it even charges when plugged into a laptop.

One student said their peers who sell the devices are called “plugs,” in reference to how many plug into USB ports. Another student said the devices are concealed in hidden, watertight compartments inside water bottles.

“The problem with Juuls is one that needs immediate attention,” Farler said. “We must change the culture in schools to show that vaping ... isn’t acceptable. You cannot ignore the fact that 25 to 30 percent of our student body is using electronic cigarettes, and it now goes down all the way to grade five.

“Today’s kid who Juuls isn’t the same kid who smoked cigarettes 30 years ago. It is the straight-A student and the school athlete.”

When one student said SB 218 was just a start in addressing the issue, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said he agreed. He suggested that SB 218 be amended on the Senate floor to raise the age someone can buy vaping products to 21. It is currently 18 in Kentucky.

Meredith had introduced another bill that would have done that, but the Senate Agriculture Committee voted earlier this week against advancing the measure. Smith said he was amenable to a floor amendment to do just that.

Former schoolteacher Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, said vaping was “the most horrific thing” she had ever witnessed happening to Kentucky’s youth.

“I appreciate your courage for coming because this is not an easy thing for you to do,” she said. “You are providing a great service to your communities and to the commonwealth. What you are doing here is one of the most important issues that we will take up this session.”

Meredith said the students provided compelling testimony that would make a difference.

“You have done something very special today,” he said. “It is not often you ... you get to change the world for the better so feel good about what you have done. Congratulations.”

-- END --

 



 

 

Feb. 26, 2019

Kinship care bill moves to Senate

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would be required to beef up assistance for relatives or family friends of children placed in their care by the state under a bill that has cleared the Kentucky House.

House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, would create a caregiver assistance program for relatives and “fictive kin”—usually close family friends—of abused, neglected, or dependent children. The program would offer different options to the caregivers based on the level of care they provide.

Different kinds of support, including financial support, could be made available to caregivers based on that level of care, according the bill.
Fugate said HB 2 addresses a growth in out-of-home placement of Kentucky children amid the state’s current opioid crisis and other circumstances. Grandparents and others, he said, often take the responsibility of raising these children.

“(The bill) would allow the fictive kin or relative caregivers to select the best option for the services that the kids would need,” he told the House.

HB 2 was amended by the House to require better state tracking of the number of relative and fictive kin caregivers in Kentucky and the number of children in their care. Meade said current data does not fully reflect the number of caregivers or children now served.

He said the amendment will help lawmakers and other state officials “make the absolute best decisions as we continue to develop a kinship care program going forward.”

House Minority Whip Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said HB 2 would do more to help relatives and friends “who want to help us with the over 10,000 children in state custody.”

HB 2 passed the House on a vote of 97-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration

--END--

 

 

 

 

Feb. 26, 2019

Right of unborn legislation advances to Senate

 Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, presents House Bill 5 relating to the human rights of unborn children. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)


 

FRANKFORT—Performing an abortion based on the unborn child’s gender, race, color, national origin or disability would be a felony offense under a bill that has passed the Kentucky House.

House Bill 5 sponsor Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, said the legislation would prohibit the abortion of an unborn child based on characteristics that are protected by law after a child is born. 

“HB 5 would extend those exact same rights to the unborn from the moment of conception,” said Prunty, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg.

Prunty said anyone who performs or induces an abortion knowing that the mother wants the abortion based, at least in part, on the sex, race, color, national origin or disability of her unborn child would face a felony charge carrying up to five years in prison and revocation of their license to practice in Kentucky. Exceptions would only be made in a medical emergency involving the mother.

“Personally I wouldn’t have the (emergency) clause, but I feel like it’s necessary in case (the pregnant woman’s) life is in danger,” Prunty said when asked by Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington – who voted against the bill—about the exception for a medical emergency.

“I know women who have sacrificed their own life for the life of their baby,” said Prunty, “but that’s in there for that purpose.”

Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, also voted against HB 5.

“This is wildly amazing to think that we could actually know the color, or race, or national origin of the unborn child when a woman could be pregnant by someone who is not of the same national origin, or race, or color,” said Scott.

When asked by Scott how an abortion provider would know if a mother wants to abort her baby based, all or part, on the traits mentioned in the bill, Prunty said the mother would share that information.

Ending the life of an unborn child based on gender, race, color, national origin or a known or potential disability is “reminiscent of the evil social philosophy (called) eugenics,” said Prunty.

Eugenics is sometimes called “selective breeding.”

“HB 5 recognizes and affirms that all human life has intrinsic value,” she said.

HB 5 contains an emergency clause which would require the legislation to be enforced immediately should it become law.

HB 5 passed the House on a vote of 67-25. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

 

 

Feb. 26, 2019

School resource officer bill moves to House

 

 Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, speaks in support of Senate Bill 162, an act relating to school safety. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, stands in the background. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation designed to increase the pool of qualified applicants to be school resource officers passed the state Senate today with no dissent.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 162, would create the Kentucky State Police school resource officer designation (SRO). It would do this, in part, by specifying the requirements of employment of a state police SRO. Sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said another provision of SB 162 would exempt a school district from paying retirement fund contributions on a retired state police SRO employed as a school security officer.

“I think it is imperative as we move forward with school safety that we make sure that we have enough officers to fill the positions of school resource officers in our various school districts across the state,” said Carroll in reference to another school safety measure advancing this session. “This will simply create a larger pool of officers ... that school districts can hire from to work in their schools.”

The other school safety measure is Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate earlier this month by a 35-0 vote and is now under consideration in the House. Known as the School Safety and Resiliency Act, SB 1 would create a state school safety marshal, similar to the state fire marshal. SB 1 would also establish a framework for schools to expand the use of school resource officers.

SB 1 was the product of testimony, research and study over eight months by the nonpartisan School Safety Working Group. Legislators formed the group in response to the western Kentucky shooting at Marshall County High School last winter in Benton. The community is located in Carroll’s district.

SB 1’s sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, praised Carroll’s SB 162.

“This is a complement to Senate Bill 1,” said Wise, who is also chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “This will ... help our school resource officers and school districts across the commonwealth.”

He added that there would be a third school safety measure to include funding for some of SB 1’s provisions during next year’s regular session. That’s when the General Assembly is tasked with passing the state’s next biennium budget.

SB 162 passed the Senate by a 36-0 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

-- END --




 

Feb. 26, 2019

 

Working student loan debtors bill advances

 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, explains House Bill 118. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – The Keep Americans Working Act of 2019 advanced out of a Senate committee today.

The act, known as House Bill 118, would prohibit someone from having their occupational license suspended or revoked because they are delinquent on a student loan or work-conditional scholarship. It would also encourage a person who is in default or delinquent in the payment of a student loan to contact the appropriate student loan servicer to establish a voluntary pay agreement.

Sponsor Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, told the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) is actually required to report if the student is in default to the licensing authority under existing statute. He said that could result in the licensing authority revoking that individuals’ license.

He cited some recent reports on student loan debt. The latest student loan debt statistics for 2019 state there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt across the nation. Borrowers in the Class of 2017, on average, owe $28,650, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, asked whether HB 118 would allow someone to get out of their student loan obligation.

Erin Klarer of KHEAA testified that would not be the case. She explained that KHEAA would retain other means to collect on delinquent loans including seizing tax returns and lottery winnings as well as garnishing wages. She added that there are a number of different repayment plans for borrows so they never reach default.

Thayer said he supported HB 118 before reading this sentence taken from the bill language:

“The purpose of ... this act is to ensure that hard-working Americans keep their occupational licenses while struggling to pay off student loan debt, keeping them out of welfare, out of poverty, and in the workforce.”

HB 118 was placed on the Senate consent calendar, a list of bills having had one or two readings, and on which members in attendance are presumed to vote yes unless they indicate a negative vote prior to the call of the roll.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 26, 2019

Teacher liability insurance funding bill advances

 

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, presents House Bill 508. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT—Kentucky public school teachers would have employment liability coverage offered by the state under a bill that passed the House budget committee today.

The Educators Employment Liability Insurance Program that would be created by House Bill 508 would provide up to $2 million in liability coverage for each certified public school employee in the state as of this July, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade told the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. Meade, R-Stanford, is jointly sponsoring the bill with House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect.

“We have traveled the state the past year speaking to various groups. As we spoke to educators across the state, the two things that kept coming up the most were out-of-pocket expenses for classroom materials and out-of-pocket expenses for liability insurance,” Meade told the committee. “The one that came out (to be) the easiest to do this session was the liability insurance part.”

HB 508 would appropriate $7 million in funding from the state Budget Reserve Trust Fund for the program over the next fiscal year, per the bill. Future funding could come from the state General Fund, gifts and grants from public and private sources, and federal funds.

“That is simply what it does – it provides liability insurance for all educators across the state,” said Meade.

Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, asked why the legislation is being introduced this session instead of during the 2020 Regular Session when the General Assembly will consider the next two-year state budget.

The answer, according to Meade, is to “give those teachers some peace of mind.”

While there are other sources of liability insurance for teachers—including the Kentucky Education Association, homeowner insurance policies, among other sources, said Meade— the state fund will, he said, fix a gap in coverage.

“It’s kind of like anything else,” the Speaker Pro Tem said. “None of us likes to pay for insurance, but we’re glad we have it. It’s just to give (teachers) peace of mind.”

HB 508 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

END

 

Feb. 25, 2019

Senate finance reporting measure going to governor

   Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents Senate Bill 4, a bill relating to campaign finance reports, on the  floor of the Kentucky House. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT— Legislation that would require all candidates for public office in Kentucky to electronically file their campaign finance reports starting in 2020 has passed the Kentucky General Assembly.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, received final passage in the House today by a vote of 68-26. The bill passed the Senate earlier this session on a 34-2 vote.

Current law only requires that candidates for statewide office electronically file – or e-file—their campaign finance reports, according to Senate testimony last month. Those include candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, state auditor, attorney general, secretary of state and agriculture commissioner.

Candidates whose campaigns raise less than $3,000 during a reporting period would be exempt from the new e-filing requirement under SB 4.

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, voted against the measure. Marzian said SB 4 would remove language in current law that gives candidates up to five days to file reports with the Registry of Election Finance after the filing deadline.

“I think that is a concern,” said Marzian. “A lot of us use that five-day grace period to make sure that we get our financial statements in, especially if it’s 15-day, 30-day, 60-day (reporting),”

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, who presented the bill to the House for a vote, said the change is intended “to give a more accurate reading of the disclosures of the financial reports.”

SB 4 will soon go to the governor for his signature or to otherwise become law.

END

 



 

Feb. 25, 2019

Executive branch ethics bill moves to Senate

  Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 81 relating to the Executive Branch ethics code on the House floor. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT— A bill that would put the Kentucky Board of Elections and certain Executive Branch contract employees under the governance of the state Executive Branch ethics code has received House approval.

House Bill 81 sponsor Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, said the Board of Elections is the only full-time, salaried Executive Branch board or commission in Kentucky that does not fall under the Executive Branch ethics code statute. The remaining four full-time salaried state boards or commissions— the state Parole Board, Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, Worker’s Compensation Board, and the Kentucky Claims Commission—are covered, he said.

“It is apparently a relic of past times that the state Board of Elections, perhaps the most important board on this list that has full-time employees, is not covered,” Miller told his colleagues on the House floor. “This bill rectifies that.”

HB 81 would also put full-time, non-seasonal Executive Branch contract employees and management under the code, said Miller.

“Of all the good government bills we have a chance to pass today, I think –in terms of the integrity of our elections—this is one of the most important,” he added.

Similar legislation was sponsored by Miller and passed by the House as HB 300 last year.

HB 81 passed the House by a vote of 89-5. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

END


 

Feb. 25, 2019

House receives bill that would expand use of KEES money

FRANKFORT—Kentucky students could use their KEES merit scholarships for qualified workforce training programs under a bill that today cleared the House Education Committee. 

House Bill 61, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would add these training programs—which the bill states would have to be “in one of Kentucky’s top five high-demand work sectors—to the list of eligible uses for KEES, or Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, awards earned by Kentucky high school graduates.

Students enrolled in a qualified workforce training program that allows them to earn postsecondary credit hours at a participating schools would be eligible for reimbursement of training costs based on their KEES award beginning with the 2019 school year, per the bill.

“We just want to allow this for any student regardless of whether they feel ready for a four-year degree or if they simply would prefer to go into a trade program,” said Moser.

Similar legislation was considered by the 2018 Kentucky General Assembly in both the House and the Senate. 

KEES money is now awarded to recent Kentucky high school graduates and other eligible students enrolled in college or university or a registered apprenticeship program, according to Kentucky law.

Students earn KEES money for each year of high school in which they maintain a GPA of at least 2.5, per state law. Additional KEES awards are earned based on ACT/SAT and other test scores. 

HB 61 now moves to the full House for its consideration.

--END-


 

 Feb. 22, 2019

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT – Peek into one of the journals that have rested for more than a century on the shelves of the State Capitol’s law library and you’ll see the issues that captured lawmakers’ attention on March 15, 1908 -- the day the Kentucky General Assembly completed its last legislative session in the Old State Capitol.

Matters under discussion included improving coal mine safety, allowing vacation time for prison guards, keeping kids in school, and restoring a Henry Clay monument.

Some of those issues were still around when lawmakers next convened two years later. But their meeting location was brand new. The Old Capitol was left behind as lawmakers began the 1910 session in a magnificent new Capitol building that remains the center of state government to this day.

Still, the Old Capitol has its historic charm. That’s why every decade or so, state lawmakers decide to return to the Old Capitol for a day to celebrate Kentucky history in an architectural treasure that still looks much like it did during the 1800s. That happened again this month as the General Assembly held Feb. 21 proceedings in the Old Capitol’s storied Senate and House chambers.

Coming one day after Presidents Day, the Old Capitol activities gave lawmakers a chance to be addressed by an Abe Lincoln impersonator who joked that he was surprised to be invited to the proceedings since Kentucky heavily voted against him in the 1860 presidential race. “Well, ladies and gentleman, all is forgiven,” he said, “We come together now as one nation, united, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

While most of the Old Capitol activities were ceremonial in nature, lawmakers moved a number of possible new laws further along in the legislative process during the rest of the week. Bills that advanced between Feb. 19 and Feb.  22 include measures on a range of topics:

Foster children. Children in foster care and other out-of-home care placements would have their own statutory “bill of rights” under a bill that cleared the Kentucky House 99-0. The rights include adequate food, clothing, and shelter, as well as a safe, secure and stable family. The bill has been delivered to the Senate.

Felony expungement. Legislation to extend Kentucky’s expungement program to additional people convicted of low-level felonies advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 57 would allow discretionary expungement of additional Class D felonies not involving sex abuse, breach of public office or crimes against children. The bill now goes to the Senate chamber.

Crime victims. Senate Bill 97, which passed the Senate 35-0, would make it possible for sexual assault victims to go online to check the progress of forensic testing in their cases. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Sports wagering. The House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee approved a bill that would legalize and regulate sports wagering, fantasy sports contests and online poker. Bill 175 would allow licensed wagering on sanctioned professional and college sporting events at Kentucky horse tracks, Kentucky Speedway, or through an app downloaded at one of those locations. Online poker would be regulated by the Kentucky Lottery under the bill. Sports wagering alone would generate an estimated $20 million in annual tax revenue for the state. House Bill 175 now goes to the House chamber.

Golden alerts. A House committee approved legislation to change how the state issues Golden Alert notifications when an impaired person is missing. It would be up to the Kentucky State Police to initiate a Golden Alert under House Bill 150 if the agency decides an alert is necessary for the safety of someone with a physical, mental or cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The State Police would work with both state and local agencies to issue an alert using existing resources such as electronic highway signs, the Amber Alert broadcast emergency response system, and electronic media. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Citizens who want to weigh in on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

 

Feb. 22, 2019

Bill addressing pregnancy discrimination advances

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, asks that her page, Rosa Parks Elementary fifth-grader Saanvi Bobde, stand at her side today on the Senate floor as she explains Senate Bill 18, a measure addressing pregnancy-related discrimination. Kerr says she sponsored SB 18, in part, to help future women of Kentucky, like Saanvi. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)  

 

FRANKFORT – Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr made sure her page, Rosa Parks Elementary fifth-grader Saanvi Bobde, stood at her side on the state Senate floor today when she explained Senate Bill 18, a measure addressing pregnancy-related discrimination.

Kerr, R-Lexington, said she introduced SB 18 to help future women of Kentucky – like Saanvi.

“Kentucky ranks 48th in the country for female labor participation,” Kerr said. “To build a stronger economy, we need to make it easier for pregnant women to hold jobs.”

The bill would clarify employers’ responsibilities when it comes to making reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Another provision states SB 18 would apply only to businesses of 15 employees or more.

Calling it a “pro-business piece of legislation,” Kerr cited prior committee testimony by Greater Louisville, Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce. She said the group made SB 18 one of its top legislative priorities for the session.

“Providing clarity on this issue is badly needed in Kentucky,” Kerr said. “As things stand right now, the employer and employees are forced to navigate a complex web of federal law and case law which leads to confusion and frustration. It discourages workforce participation among our women.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said he supported the bill, in part, because of his strong belief in protecting the unborn.

“If any woman ... is considering an abortion because of the hardship of the workplace, we have to address that – we truly do,” he said.

An amendment to SB 18 changed a list of pregnancy-related accommodations to optional from prescriptive. It also removed a 10-day notice period for employers to alert pregnant employees of their rights.

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, voted for SB 18 despite expressing concern the amendment water-downed the legislation.

“However, the bill still does offer protections,” he said of the accommodations the bill would require for pregnant employees. “Some protection is better than what we currently have.”

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said he couldn’t support SB 18 out of concerns the measure might have unintended consequences. He wondered if SB 18 would discourage the hiring of women.

SB 18 had the support of Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

“I think it is important to remember there are four members of this body who have experienced something that 33 of us never have and never will,” Thayer said. “For those four ladies and the lives they have given birth to I think this vote today is a testament to them.”

SB 18 passed by a 25-7 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

--END--

 

For Immediate Release

Feb. 22, 2019

Insurance surcharge bill advances to Senate

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, presents House Bill 176 relating to insurance premium surcharge rates. (Click here  for a high-res photo.)  

FRANKFORT—State lawmakers—not the head of the Department of Revenue—would adjust insurance surcharge rates for Kentucky’s law enforcement and firefighter training incentive funds under a bill that today cleared the state House.

House Bill 176, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, would remove the state Commissioner of Revenue’s authority to set premium surcharge rates for funding of training stipends offered through the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund (KLEFPF) and the Kentucky Firefighters Foundation Program Fund (KFFPF) and give that power to the General Assembly.

“I believe that tax rate should be set by us, the elected representatives of Kentucky, rather than the commissioner of revenue,” Koenig, R-Erlanger, told his colleagues in the House.

Koenig said the Commissioner of Revenue has had statutory authority to adjust the premium surcharge rates since 1992. The current rate of 1.8 percent was set by the Commissioner of Revenue in 2010, he said.

An amendment to HB 176 approved by the House would keep the rate at 1.8 percent “so that the fund doesn’t lose any money if this passes,” said Koenig.

Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, voted for the bill.

“I applaud you for bringing this legislation,” he told Koenig. “This is truly our job to do this and not the bureaucracy’s.”

HB 176 passed the House on a vote of 84-11. It now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

--END--

 

Feb. 21, 2019

 

Bill to expand powers of conservation officers clears House

FRANKFORT—Kentucky Fish and Wildlife conservation officers would have the same statutory powers as other law enforcement officers in the state under a bill that has passed the state House.

Current state law prohibits conservation officers from acting outside of the scope of the work of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources unless called upon by the Kentucky State Police, says House Bill 274 sponsor Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies. Under HB 274, which is also sponsored by Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, conservation officers would have the authority to enforce all state laws whenever necessary.

Fugate, a retired Kentucky state trooper, said conservation officers helped him in one of the biggest drug and gun cases of his career.

“Their canine units came to a scene where we had looked for guns for a week and, in 30 minutes, their canine unit found 15 or 20 illegal guns that had been stolen. So this just gives them the authority in law to do what they’ve been doing instead of acting upon a letter from the State Police,” said Fugate.

Additionally, the bill would allow conservation officers to be compensated if they are required to pay damages or other costs as a result of a job-related lawsuit.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, asked Fugate if the liability of conservation officers would change under HB 274. Fugate said it would. 

“(It) would be just like a Kentucky State Police trooper who is sued in the line of duty. It would be the same,” said Fugate.

HB 274 passed the House by a vote of 97-1. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.  

--END--

 

 

 

Feb. 21, 2019

House approves proposed tax changes and parks funding

 

 Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, speaks on appropriations proposed in HB 268. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT— Admission fees charged by nonprofit civic, governmental and all other nonprofit organizations would be exempt from state sales tax under legislation that today cleared the Kentucky House.

House Bill 354, sponsored by House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, passed the House 96-4. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Besides the exemption on admissions sales, Rudy said his bill would raise the threshold for collection of tax on most types of sales by nonprofit civic, governmental and other nonprofits to $10,000. “So that first $10,000 they will not have to collect sales tax on,” he specified.

HB 354 would also create a resale certificate for certain services – such as landscaping, industrial laundry service and pet care—that were added to the state’s sales and use tax rolls last year. Additionally, the bill would change how certain heavy equipment rental property is taxed, and amend tax law impacting Kentucky’s small farm wineries plus make some corporate tax changes.

The House also voted 93-6 in favor of HB 268, also sponsored by Rudy, which would authorize $50 million in bond funds for improvements at Kentucky’s state parks while stating the General Assembly’s “intent” to an additional $50 million for state park improvements in future years.

Funding provided by HB 268—which also would fund several higher education needs in the state—would come from General Fund surplus funds or the state’s “rainy day” fund, officially known as the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, said Rudy.

He added that the bill clearly specifies how the funds it would appropriate can be spent.

“We thought that it would be very, very important to specify where this money would be spent and not give a true blank check,” said Rudy.

HB 268 includes an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect immediately upon becoming law.  It also now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

 

 Feb. 21, 2019

Senate advances midwifery regulatory bill

 

A photo from today’s Senate proceedings is available here. The photo shows Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, explaining Senate Bill 84 in the Senate.

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would recognize, certify and regulate home-birth midwives in Kentucky passed the state Senate today by a 32-4 vote.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 84, would create a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, a primary sponsor of SB 84, said birth certificates show that about 700 babies are born at home in Kentucky every year. That's despite the fact the state stopped issuing permits to home-birth midwives in 1975. He said SB 84 wasn’t whether to allow home-birth midwives but whether to regulate a practice and discourage charlatans from preying on expecting mothers.

“This is a personal choice made by these families for various reasons,” Buford said. “We must ensure the families who choose this option have access to quality care through ... the licensing of midwives.”

He said home-birth midwives were also eager to legitimize their already robust industry.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, spoke against SB 84. The pediatrician by training expressed concern that women seeking to give birth at home during high-risk pregnancies would endanger the baby’s life.

“Therefore, in that theme, I cannot support a measure that does not protect these children in that setting,” he said, adding that he would have liked the bill to prohibit home births in a high-risk situation. Alvarado cited midwifery legislation from Georgia that does just that.

Buford said the advisory council to the nursing board would consider high-risk births when establishing the licensure process. He added that the council would include obstetricians.

SB 84 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

-- END --

  Feb. 21, 2019

Expungement bill advances in Senate

 

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, explains Senate Bill 57 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today in Frankfort. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

FRANKFORT – Legislation to extend Kentucky’s expungement program to additional people convicted of low-level felonies advanced out of a state Senate committee today.

“This is not a soft on crime issue,” said Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “This is a jobs issue. That’s what brought me to work on expungements.”

The measure, known as Senate Bill 57, would allow discretionary expungement of additional Class D felonies not involving sex abuse, breach of public office or crimes against children. Higdon, who sponsored SB 57, said it would also include a 10-year waiting period. Another provision of SB 57 outlines how the state would handle expungement requests for crimes committed before 1975 when Kentucky changed it penal code.

“A lot of times when you plead guilty to a felony you don’t realize it is a little cloud that follows you around for life,” Higdon said, adding that many people were once “young and dumb.”

Higdon said one of the biggest complaints about the current expungement program is the $500 fee to apply for the program. SB 57 would keep the fee but establish a payment program to make it more affordable to low-income citizens.

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, explained that SB 57 would expand who would be eligible for expungements under House Bill 40, passed during the 2016 Regular Session. He said HB 40 already allows for the restoration of voting rights and gun rights to people who have successfully had their records expunged.

Higdon said there have been about 2,000 expungements granted and 300 denied since the enactment of HB 40.

SB 57 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

-- END --

Feb. 21, 2019

Bill seeks online tracking of rape testing kit

FRANKFORT -- Sexual assault victims would be able to go online and check the progress of forensic testing in their cases under legislation passed by the state Senate passed yesterday.

“Kentucky has made great strides in the last few years regarding sexual assault forensic evidence,” Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, said in reference to the SAFE Act of 2016. “We found over 4,000 untested kits that have been tested. We passed comprehensive legislation that established policies, procedures, timelines and trainings.”

Harper said it is now time to communicate with the victims. She said the measure, known as Senate Bill 97, would create an online tracking process for victims of sexual assault.

“We live in a time with the capabilities to track online purchases; certainly we can do the same for the victims of these crimes,” said Harper, who sponsored the measure with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton.

“The SAFE Act has done a tremendous amount of good,” said Westerfield, a former prosecutor. “This is a simple addition to that bill that is going to help victims, survivors, their family, law enforcement and every other interested party in these cases.”

The SAFE Act was introduced after a 2015 report by the state auditor found more than 3,000 untested sexual assault kits in Kentucky. An acronym for “sexual assaults forensic evidence,” the 2016 legislation sought to prevent a backlog of untested kits from ever happening again.

After SB 97 passed by a 35-0 vote, Majority Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Harper should be thanked. He said SB 97 was one of several bills she had carried in recent years concerning sexual assault forensic evidence.

“I think it is a tribute to her tenacity and the righteousness of this cause that this bill and others like it … passed with such a bipartisan overwhelming majority,” Thayer said. “I think we should congratulate her.”

SB 97 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

-- END --

Feb. 20, 2019

 

Foster child ‘bill of rights’ moves to Senate


FRANKFORT—Kentucky children in foster care and other out-of-home care placements would have their own statutory “bill of rights” under a bill that today cleared the Kentucky House.

 

House Bill 158 sponsor and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, told the House that the foster child “bill of rights”—a list of 16 rights including the right to “adequate food, clothing, and shelter” and “a safe, secure and stable family”— found in HB 158 matches a foster parent “bill of rights” already in statute.

 

Meade said the bill would “give (foster children) the rights they deserve, to feel loved, protected and safe in their foster homes and adoptive homes and to help them with their transitions as they move forward.”

 

HB 158 would also require national and state background checks on child residential home and placement agency staff as required under a 2018 federal law, said Meade. The cost of the background checks would be covered by the home or agency, not the employee, he said. 

 

Meade and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, were the primary sponsors of HB 1 that became law last year. That legislation includes broad adoption and foster care reforms intended to reduce the waiting time for children needing permanent homes and improve the overall foster care and adoption process in Kentucky.

 

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, spoke in support of HB 158 before the House passed the measure on a vote of 99-0.

 

“We have such an increasing problem,” said Stone. “Hopefully this is the place—right here—to make that better over time.”

 

Other provisions in HB 158 address timeframes for searches of Kentucky’s “putative father” registry—a state registry created under HB 1 for men who want parental rights to a child they claim to have fathered—as well as clarify some legal definitions involving abuse and neglect of a child. The bill would also update the definition of “voluntary and informed consent” regarding adoption.

 

HB 158 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 

--END--

 

 

Feb. 20, 2019

 

KY House passes “A Day of Prayer” measure


FRANKFORT—The Kentucky House voted 79-18 today to set aside one day each year for Kentuckians to pray or reflect on the state’s public schools and their students.

 

House Bill 166 would designate “A Day of Prayer for Kentucky’s Students” on the last Wednesday of each September to coincide with the global See You at the Pole student-led school prayer event held on that day for nearly 30 years. HB 166 sponsor Rep. Regina Huff said the bill supports a time of student-led prayer or contemplation one day a year on school campuses statewide.

 

Student participation in the event would be voluntary and open to all faiths and religious traditions, said Huff, R-Williamsburg.

 

“This bill clearly states that it is all in accordance to their own faith and conscience to pray, meditate or otherwise reflect. There (are) not any particular religions … mapped out in this bill,” said Huff.

 

“It is for whomever. This is an event where all are welcome and united in a positive manner,” she said.

 

Similar legislation found in 2018 HB 40 passed the House 83-5 last year.

 

Voting against the bill was Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale. Donohue said he represents a district where public schools serve students from diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds. He questioned whether the legislation would work for school districts like his.

 

“I think there’s going to be undue burden at some of the schools and especially in Jefferson County, because we have such a large population that they will not be able to accommodate everyone who wants to do that,” said Donohue. “And I’m just one of those individuals, I don’t like to dictate to schools what their agendas are.”

 

Supporting the bill was Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who questioned why the House is debating the right to pray.

 

“Have you not read our preamble to our Constitution? Have you not read our Constitution? Our Bill of Rights—do they not talk about God?” asked Blanton. “All we’re asking for is that our children have the opportunity, if they choose, to express their God-given rights.”

 

HB 166 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

 

--END--

 

Feb. 20, 2019

 

Bill strengthening state DUI laws heads to House

FRANKFORT – Legislation designed to reduce drunken driving across Kentucky passed the state Senate today by a 34-0 vote.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 85, would strengthen legislation from 2015 that created Kentucky’s ignition interlock device (IID) program. It required repeat driving under the influence (DUI) offenders and first-time offenders with a 0.15 blood alcohol concentration or higher to install IIDs, Breathalyzer-type devices on any vehicle they operate.

“It was a good first step, but it didn’t go nearly as far as we needed it to go,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said of the prior legislation. “In 2017, Kentucky saw 24,576 DUIs. Some of those resulted in crashes. Some of those resulted in fatalities.

“We know that if we had equipped more drivers with ignition interlock devices we wouldn’t have nearly as many DUIs. We wouldn’t have nearly as many crashes – or fatalities. We have seen those devices work in other states.”

Westerfield, a former prosecutor who sponsored SB 85, said officials from both the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving support SB 85. Those associations have cited an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study from last year when explaining their support. That study found the number of impaired drivers in fatal crashes fell 16 percent when states required IIDs for all DUI offenders.

Westerfield said SB 85 would strengthen the IID program by adding a compliance-based component. SB 85 would also move the administration of the IID program to the Transportation Cabinet. He added that the cabinet has agreed to assign five staff members to assist in administering the program.

In addition, SB 85 would make the IID device available to all DUI offenders. And SB 85 would incentivize the use of IID by mandating stiffer penalties for DUI offenders who choose not to use the devices.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, called IIDs a valuable deterrent to drunken driving that legislators have struggled to harness into law. She said this is the third IID bill she has voted on, and one problem with the current IID program is that it isn’t available in many rural areas.

SB 85 now goes to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

 

-- END --


 

Feb. 20, 2019

 

Bill protecting kids’ interests in court advances

FRANKFORT – A Senate panel moved legislation today that would reform Kentucky’s system of guardians ad litem, lawyers appointed by the court to represent the best interests of children involved in the judicial process.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 205, would create the Department of Child and Family Advocacy, modeled after Kentucky’s Department of Public Advocacy, said Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, who sponsored SB 205.

“The intent is to have an agency with a clearly defined mission, set of standards and operating principles that can effectively, efficiently and uniformly provide representation to the commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens,” McDaniel said while testifying before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.

SB 205, as amended by the committee today, would be paid for by more efficiently using the $15 million currently spent on guardians ad litem in addition to federal tax dollars. McDaniel said Kentucky is not currently eligible for those federal funds because it does not have the required guardian ad litem structure.

McDaniel outlined the troubled history of the guardian ad litem system in Kentucky. In September 1998, the state auditor found Kentucky could be more effective in the monitoring of, duties of and payments to guardians ad litem. Further, the 1998 report found that guardians ad litem, judges and family service workers all have different perceptions of the actual duties performed by the guardians ad litem. Key participants in juvenile proceedings also questioned whether all the guardians ad litem performed the required independent research or adequately investigated their cases.

Last month, a finance cabinet audit found that no single agency is responsible for ensuring consistency relating to the appointment of private attorneys as guardians ad litem. Depending on which court they are before, guardians ad litem can be paid $250 or $500 for the same caseload.

“The fact is it has been established for 20 years that what we are doing is not best serving children and the vulnerable,” McDaniel said. “Those are the people that as members of government we are most charged to help.”

He stressed that he thought Kentucky’s judges and current guardians ad litem do the best they can in “what is frankly a flawed system.”

SB 205 would create a commission made up of two members appointed by the governor, one by the attorney general, one by the House speaker and one by the Senate president. The committee would be responsible for recommending three names to the governor to become Kentucky’s first child and family advocate. That person would be charged with operating a completely independent agency with regional offices.

“There are a lot of technicalities inside of the bill ... but that is the essence of Senate Bill 205,” McDaniel said.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier also testified on SB 205.

“We are just here to express our support for this direction,” he said of SB 205’s intent. “I think it helps with creating more uniformity and consistency across the state with how the children are served and represented by guardians ad litem.”

SB 205 now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.  

-- END --


Feb. 20, 2019

 

Sports wagering bill advances to House

 

Rep. Adam Koenig. R-Erlanger, discusses House Bill 175. Click here for a high-res photo.

FRANKFORT—  A bill that would legalize and regulate sports wagering, fantasy sports contests and online poker in Kentucky advanced to the full House today after being approved in committee.

House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Chair Rep. Adam Koenig said House Bill 175 would allow licensed wagering on sanctioned professional and college sporting events at Kentucky horse tracks, Kentucky Speedway, or through an app downloaded at one of those locations. Online poker would be regulated by the Kentucky Lottery under the bill, which also sets out a regulatory framework for operation of fantasy sports contests that are already popular in the state.

HB 175 is sponsored by Koenig, R-Erlanger, and Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville.

Sports wagering alone would generate at least $20 million in annual tax revenue for the state under HB 175, according to committee testimony on the bill last week from the firm Commonwealth Economics. All of that revenue—minus administrative costs and five percent set aside for the state’s problem gambling assistance fund—would go to pay down Kentucky’s public pension debt, said Koenig.

Kentucky is one of several states to consider legalizing sports wagering after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned a federal law that prevented states from allowing sports wagering. Koenig said Indiana and Tennessee are considering sports wagering legislation this year while some states including West Virginia and New Jersey—the state that filed the lawsuit that led to last year’s Supreme Court reversal—have already made sports wagering legal.

Many sports wagering websites operating illegally in the U.S. today are run by offshore companies that skim over $107 billion annually from the U.S. economy, according to Commonwealth Economics’ testimony last week. HB 175, said Koenig, will take the activity “out of the shadows” and ensure sports, online poker and fantasy sports contest wagering is both off limits to minors and safely regulated for use by adults.

“We have an opportunity now to make sure this is done legally, safely, and in a regulated fashion where people can be protected when they wish to engage in this activity,” Koenig told the committee last week, with emphasis on the bill’s benefit to the state pension system.

“It’s not going to fix the pension system but every bit we can find to go to it helps,” he added.  

Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, spoke in support of HB 175. Burch said he sponsored similar legislation in 1978 when illegal wagering in Jefferson County alone totaled $350 million a year.

“So we’re not talking about peanuts—we’re talking about a lot of money,” Burch said.

Koenig said the issue needs to be addressed so that the public is protected and “so that we know that everything’s being done on the up-and-up. It’s only been happening since they invented sports.”

The bill now goes to the full House for its consideration.

--END--

 

Feb. 20, 2019

 

Senate approves voter registration roster bill

 
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, discusses Senate Bill 34 on the Senate floor yesterday.  (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would require the Kentucky Board of Elections to institute measures to help prevent inappropriate use of the voter registration roster has advanced to the state House for its consideration.

 The measure, known as Senate Bill 34, “would draw a bright line between the Secretary of State’s office and the state Board of Elections,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who sponsored the bill. It would do this by granting county clerks, assistant county clerks and the Board of Election staff the sole authority to access, correct or alter the voter registration roster.

 “We need to send a strong message to the voters of this commonwealth before the next election that takes place in May … that the integrity of the ballot box and voter registration rolls has been protected by the legislative branch of the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Thayer said. SB 34 passed the Senate yesterday by a 27-8 vote.

 Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, spoke against SB 34. He said legislators should wait for the outcomes of three separate inquiries into the interplay between the Secretary of State and Board of Elections, as it concerns the voter registration roster.

 “Once again … here we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Thomas said of SB 34’s provisions. “The Secretary of State having access to our voter registration files should remain intact. We want to keep our Secretary of State strong and in charge of our election process.”

 Thayer said SB 34 couldn’t wait because “the very integrity to the Office of Secretary of State has been brought into question.”

 Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, explained why he voted for SB 34.

 “It is the prerogative of this body to make adjustments in a timely matter," he said. "This is timely. This is obvious, and I appreciate it being brought before us today.”

 SB 34 was amended to include an emergency clause, a provision in a bill that it become effective immediately upon approval by the governor rather than 90 days after adjournment.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 19, 2019

 

Golden Alert bill advances to full House

 
 Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, discusses HB 150. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT— A House committee today approved a bill that would change how the state issues Golden Alert notifications when an impaired person goes missing.

It would be up to the Kentucky State Police to initiate a Golden Alert under House Bill 150 should the agency decide an alert is necessary for the safety of someone with a physical, mental or cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The State Police would work with both state and local agencies to issue an alert using “existing resources” such as electronic highway signs, the Amber Alert broadcast emergency response system, and electronic media, the bill states.

Golden Alerts in Kentucky are handled currently by the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management in cooperation with local search and rescue coordinators.

HB 150, which now goes to the full House after passing the House Transportation Committee this afternoon, is sponsored by Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond and House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello.

“This (bill) would … create more of a coordinated effort for those who are impaired,” said Frazier.

Frazier told the committee that she filed the legislation at the request of the family of Fred D. Warner, a 78-year-old Richmond man diagnosed with dementia who went missing in late 2016. A Golden Alert was issued for Warner two days after he disappeared, according to news reports. His body was found over a month later inside his car, which was submerged in a local creek.

“When we filed the missing person’s report with local authorities, they reassured us ‘This situation often occurs and they eventually turn up days later after they run out of gas money,’” Rick Warner, one of Fred Warner’s sons, told the panel. Meanwhile, Warner said family and friends continued searching for his father, posting fliers along the entire length of Kentucky’s I-75 corridor.

“This only reached a very small fraction of the total travelers that the overhead electric signs over I-75 would have reached, and it took days to complete,” Warner told the committee. Other resources already in place—such as electronic signs over or alongside Kentucky highways—could have reached thousands more people, he explained.

Supporting the bill was Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, who said HB 150 could improve the safety of persons with autism. He told the committee of an autistic young man living in his district who he described as “kind of a wanderer”—a trait that he said concerns the young man’s mother.

“This would be another bill that is perfect for that kind of a situation,” said Gentry.

--END--

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT -- It’s easy to tell when a Big-Issue Day arrives at the State Capitol.

You’ll hardly find an empty parking space on any of the parking garage’s six levels. Elevators run nonstop to shuttle people from the lower floors of the Capitol Annex to lawmakers’ offices on the upper floors. Lines snake through the annex cafeteria and spill into the hallway as hungry people wait their turns for plates of meatloaf, pulled pork, or Salisbury steak.

Capitol observers are seeing more days like this as lawmakers close out the third week of the General Assembly’s 2019 session. This week, issues including hemp, solar power, gun rights, abortion, and foster care drew people from across the state to the Capitol campus.

Legislation that moved closer to becoming law this week included measures on the following topics.

Elections. The House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee advanced legislation on Feb. 11 that would require candidates for state offices and most local offices to officially declare their candidacy via a “statement-of-candidacy” form no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline is April 1. House Bill 114 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Wine. Direct shipment of wine to Kentucky consumers would be legal under a bill that was approved by the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on Feb. 12. Senate Bill 99 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Hemp. Two measures concerning the hemp industry were advanced by the House Agriculture Committee on Feb. 13.

The committee approved House Bill 197, which would expand the legal definition of hemp to include the seeds of industrial hemp, derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids and isomers, among other components. That is the same definition found in the new U.S. Farm Bill, signed into law late last year, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The committee also approved House Concurrent Resolution 43, which asks social media sites Facebook and YouTube and web marketplaces eBay and Amazon to revisit policies that interfere with social media marketing of hemp-based products.

Both pieces of legislation now go to the full House.

Alzheimer’s disease. On Feb. 13, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee approved a measure that would create an Alzheimer's and Dementia Workforce Assessment Task Force. The task force would be responsible for studying the state’s healthcare workforce needs and long-term care services, including long-term care facilities that provide care to individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Crime. Senate Bill 70, which would increase penalties against strangulation by making it a felony, was approved by the Senate 31-4 on Feb. 13. The measure now goes to the House. If it becomes law, Kentucky would join 47 other states that already have such laws.

Abortion. On Feb. 14, the Senate gave its approval to a bill that would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heartbeat was detected. The legislation, Senate Bill 9, would allow exceptions for medical emergencies. The bill passed the Senate 31-6 and has been sent to the House, where a similar “fetal heartbeat” bill has also been filed.

Another abortion measure, known as the “Human Life Protection Act” advanced in a House this week. House Bill 148 would outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases if the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade is reversed. The bill would allow exceptions if an abortion is required to save the mother’s life. House bill 148 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Solar energy. Legislation that would change the way owners of solar power systems are credited for electricity they add to the power grid was approved by both the Senate and House this week. Under the bill, the Public Service Commission would set the compensation rate. Because the House amended Senate Bill 100 after receiving it from the Senate, the bill now returns to the Senate to see whether its members agree with the House changes. The original version of the bill passed the Senate 23-12 on Feb. 13. The amended version of the bill was approved by the House on Feb. 15.

Foster care. Legislation that would establish a “bill of rights” for foster children passed the House Health and Family Services Committee on Feb. 14. House Bill 158 would add language to the law books that declares foster children have 16 basic rights, including the right to adequate food, clothing and shelter as well as a safe, secure and stable families. The legislation also would require background checks on child residential home and placement agency staff. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Gun rights. Legislation approved by the Senate 29-8 on Feb. 14 would allow a person to carry a concealed firearm without a license in Kentucky. Senate Bill 150 now goes to the House for consideration.

Government contracts. Legislation that would prohibit public agencies from requiring that its contractors have agreements with labor organizations was approved by the House on a 50-44 vote on Feb. 14. House Bill 135 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Citizens who want to weigh in on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

--END--

 

Feb. 15, 2019

 

Abortion measure advances to Senate

 
Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, discusses House Bill 148 in the House. (Click here for a high-res photo.)


FRANKFORT—A bill that would outlaw abortion from the moment of fertilization for most women in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade has cleared the state House.

The “Human Life Protection Act” or House Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas and Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, passed the House on a vote of 69-20. Should it become law, it would take effect immediately if Roe v. Wade—a landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide—be overturned, said Fischer.

“HB 148 (will) provide full legal protection to every unborn child in Kentucky from the moment of fertilization to childbirth only if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade or the Constitution is amended to restore authority to any state to prohibit abortion,” said Fischer.

Fischer said HB 148 would ban abortion procedures in Kentucky from the earliest stage of pregnancy through childbirth except when required to save the mother’s life. An abortion provider who violates the bill, if it becomes law, could face felony charges.

HB 148 would not allow prosecution for an unintentional abortion that occurs in the course of medical treatment of the mother, and would not allow prosecution of a woman who has agreed to abortion, said Fischer. And it would allow prescribing of the so-called “morning after pill” for emergency contraception since, Fischer said, that medication would be taken “before there is knowledge of any pregnancy.”

Speaking against the bill was Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, who said HB 148 is designed to trigger state legislative action should action be taken at the federal constitutional level.

“It does nothing to advance any policy objectives,” said Minter. “We should not be in the business of passing a bill now that may or may not be valid, depending on what might or might not get handed down by the Supreme Court.”

Rep. Tate advocated for the bill by telling her colleagues of her childhood when her parents struggled to raise a growing family on as little as $230 per month. “Challenges,” she said, should not be seen as “hardships.” 

“I look at (challenges) as opportunities to grow as a person, to aspire to greatness, and to use our God-given talent—and my God-given talent—as a woman,” said Tate.

Four states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi and Louisiana have passed laws similar to HB 148, Fischer said. 

HB 148 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.


--END--

 

 

Feb. 15, 2019

 

Net metering bill clears House, returns to Senate

 
Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, discusses net metering legislation in the House. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT—The House today amended and passed legislation that would change how power companies credit customers with solar panels who add power to the grid.

Senate Bill 100, also known as the net metering bill, cleared the House on a vote of 71-24 after it was amended to clarify that the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) will determine when and how net metering rates are set. Additionally, the House changes would allow the solar industry to intervene in rate cases and allow leasing of solar electricity generating systems, among other provisions.

SB 100, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, was sent to the House after passing the Senate by a 23-12 vote on Wednesday.

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, who proposed the House changes said his amendment addresses “legitimate concerns” that utilities and small businesses have with SB 100.

“Can we protect the non-solar customers, the regular rate payers, those who can’t afford solar – can we protect those – (and) can we help the utilities with the infrastructure costs that they need without pulling the rug out from a fledgling, yet growing, solar industry. The answer is yes we can,” DuPlessis told the House.

The House did not change provisions in SB 100 that would provide dollar-value credits for solar or eligible energy sources fed into the power grid, a process known as “net metering.” Some other Senate provisions were also retained, including a 1-percent cap on the amount of power that utilities must accept from net metering customers.

Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, who presented SB 100 on the House floor for a vote was opposed to the amendment which he said makes the bill “complicated.” Gooch said leasing of solar systems could be especially problematic.

“Some of these solar installers will come around to some older person or somebody (else) … and they will tell them ‘I can save you 30 percent on your utility bill,’” said Gooch. If the rooftop solar installation causes damage to the roof, Gooch said that damage may not be easily fixed.

Although he opposed the amendment, Gooch did vote in support of the bill.

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, said she specifically opposes the 1-percent cap in the bill. She said the cap could remove incentives for customers to buy and install solar electricity generating systems.

“When we need one another to address a real, urgent, irreversible climate crisis, I encourage interdependence—not isolation—and that’s why I’m against this bill,” said Raymond, who voted against the bill.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, supported the bill as amended. Jenkins said she decided to support SB 100 after learning that those on both sides of the issue feel the bill is, she said, a “good step.” 

“It’s not everything that many of us want, but you know what? It’s a whole lot better than it was this morning. So I will be voting yes to keep the conversation going,” she said.

SB 100 now returns to the Senate for its consideration of the House changes.

--END--

 

 

Feb. 15, 2019

 

Direct wine shipments could flow to commonwealth

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, presents legislation to allow direct wine shipment to consumers. Click here for a high-res photo.

 

FRANKFORT – Direct shipment of wine to consumers would become legal under a bill that passed the state Senate today by a 29-5 vote with one legislator abstaining.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 99, would make Kentucky the 46th state to legalize direct wine shipments.

Sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said SB 99 was amended to address concerns from the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky. Representatives of the group testified earlier in the week that the original version of SB 99 might allow unscrupulous wineries to gain an economic advantage by dodging state taxes on the libations they direct ship.

Wise said the amended SB 99 was, in part, an economic development bill.

“Wine is booming in the United States,” Wise said. “It is also booming in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Forty years ago, Kentucky only had 40 acres of wine grapes in commercial vineyards. Now, 600 acres, over 70 licensed wineries and 150 growers make up the state’s wine industry. It has become a very significant ‘Kentucky Proud’ product that our commonwealth should be very proud of.”

Wise said a second benefit would be to Kentuckians who might be yearning for the bouquet of their favorite wine from California, Oregon, Washington or other wine-growing states. He said SB 99 would allow these oenophiles to become members of wine clubs or have wine shipped back from out-of-state wine vacations.

Direct shipment of wine now makes up 80 percent of all red wine shipped in the United States, Wise said. He added that the 45 states allowing direct wine shipments represent 94 percent of the total U.S. population.

“I have heard from many constituents from across the commonwealth who would like Kentucky to join those other states,” Wise said. 

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 15, 2019

Kentucky General Assembly to convene in historic Old State Capitol

 
Kentucky lawmakers will convene in the Old State Capitol on Feb. 19. (Click here for a high-res photo. The photo is provided courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society.)

 

FRANKFORT -- Kentucky lawmakers will meet in historic surroundings next week when the General Assembly convenes in the Old State Capitol Building, a National Historic Landmark that was the center of Kentucky government from 1830 to 1910.

The Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives will go into session in the Old State Capitol’s historic chambers at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The building is located at 300 W. Broadway St. in Frankfort.

“We’re fortunate that Kentucky has been so diligent about preserving a historical treasure that played a key role in our state’s history,” said Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester. “The Old State Capitol is where many decisions made over a century ago set a course that affects Kentuckians to this day.”

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, credits the Kentucky Historical Society for inviting lawmakers to meet in the Old State Capitol.

“Kentucky has a rich history and it comes to life at the Old State Capitol,” Osborne said. “The House Chamber saw more than eight decades of political debate on its floor and countless pieces of public policy enacted within its walls. The Old Capitol’s historic halls have witnessed some of the worst times in our country’s history, but like our Commonwealth they have stood the test of time.

Citizens can view the Feb. 19 proceedings from the Old State Capitol on a livestream on Kentucky Educational Television’s website at www.ket.org/legislature/. Proceedings will also be broadcast on KET KY, the Kentucky Channel. (Journalists who have badges to cover the General Assembly will be admitted to the Old State Capitol’s chambers as space permits.)

The Old State Capitol is a Greek Revival structure, designed by Kentucky native Gideon Shryock, and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of 19th Century architecture. It was the third State Capitol built on Frankfort’s old public square and served as the center of Kentucky government until the current State Capitol building opened a little over one mile away in 1910.

Upon completion of the Old Capitol proceedings on Tuesday, the Senate and House will reconvene in the current State Capitol’s legislative chambers to handle procedural matters, such as the introduction of bills, before officially adjourning for the day.  

--END--

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

Public works contract bill advances to Senate

Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, discusses House Bill 135.

Click here for high-res photo.

FRANKFORT—A bill that would prohibit public agencies from mandating agreements between labor unions and contractors vying for public works projects has passed the Kentucky House.

HB 135 was amended by the House and sent to the Senate on a vote of 50-44 following floor debate on whether public agencies should be allowed to require contractors on public works projects to enter into “project labor agreements,” or PLAs, with organized labor. HB 135 Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, said the bill would make taxpayer-funded contracts more competitive and fair.

HB 135 “will create conditions for all of Kentucky’s skilled labor and qualified contractors to compete on a level playing field,” said Pratt.

Only public works projects that present “special circumstances (requiring) an exemption to avert an imminent threat to public health or safety” would be exempt from the requirements of HB 135, the bill states.

Twenty four other states have passed legislation similar to HB 135, according to testimony on the bill before the House Local Government Committee last week.

Voting against the bill was Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, who told the House that Kentucky has never mandated a project labor agreement on public works projects. He called HB 135 “a solution searching for a problem.”

“The reason we’re having this discussion is because this legislation is trying to put labor in what is considered ‘their place,’” said Donohue. He said PLAs are an option available to the public and private sectors, but are mainly a private sector tool. Toyota, he said, has used PLAs on their major construction projects for over three decades.

Voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, who said HB 135 will make sure any qualified contractor in Kentucky can bid on a public works contract, whether they are  a union shop or not. 

“Passing this bill will allow us to open up the process so we truly can see in every situation—whether it’s Louisville, Lexington, Paducah, Bowling Green, our school districts across the Commonwealth—we can make sure they get the lowest and the best bid so that our taxpayers get the best bang for their buck,” said Meredith.

HB 135 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

--END--

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

Abortion-related measure advances to House

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, explains his vote for Senate Bill 9.

Click here for high-res photo.

Frankfort – A bill that would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heartbeat was detected advanced out of the state Senate today by a 31-6 vote.

Senate Bill 9 sponsor, Sen. Matt Castlen, asked everyone in the chamber to place two fingers on their wrist.

“What do you feel?” said Castlen, R-Owensboro. “You feel your pulse. That’s a sign your heart is beating. It is undeniable that a heartbeat stirs life.”

He said another provision of SB 9 would provide exceptions for medical emergencies. Language in SB 9 also specifically states the measure would not restrict access to contraceptives.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, explained why she voted against SB 9.

“This bill has been declared unconstitutional and it is going to cost Kentucky hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said in reference to anticipated court challenges. “Each year we cut education. We have our opioid crisis. We have our pension crisis. We have 10,000 children in foster care ... so I’m wondering why we are spending scarce resources defending a clearly unconstitutional bill?”

Senate President Robert Stivers II, R-Manchester, voted for SB 9 before addressing some of the criticism of the measure. He said the Supreme Court could reverse precedence, and it’s well beyond the chamber’s ability to try to prognosticate.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, also explained his “yes” vote.

“A lot of people say men shouldn’t make these decisions,” he said. “I represent women in my district. I ran as a pro-life candidate. I speak for them, just like I speak for my wife today.”

SB 9 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END –

 

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

Senate approves concealed carry legislation

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed a measure today that would allow someone to carry a concealed firearm without a license by a 29-8 vote.

Senate Bill 150, dubbed the permitless carry bill, states that people 21 or older who are able to lawfully possess a firearm may carry a concealed weapon without a license in the same locations as people with valid state-issued licenses. Another provision states no one would be allowed to carry or possess any deadly weapon where it is already prohibited by federal law.

Sponsor Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he wanted to stop making criminals out of individuals who happen to slip a gun in their pocket.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said he opposed SB 150 because it doesn’t require gun training and safety classes.

“Most people in this body know my career was in law enforcement,” he said. “For 24 years, I depended on firearms to protect me and to allow me to protect my community. However, as part of that responsibility, I had to receive training at least once a year.”

He said that training not only included how to shoot a gun, but also how to clean it, store it and – most importantly – when it was legally justified to use it.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, spoke in support of SB 150. He noted that the Kentucky Constitution already guarantees the right to open carry, or carry a firearm that is not concealed.

“You are going to have bad actors out there,” said Schroder, a former prosecutor. “You can walk up on someone today and not know if they have a concealed weapon on them.”

SB 150 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

Foster child ‘bill of rights’ measure advances

 

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade explains House Bill 158.

Click here for high-res photo.


FRANKFORT—A bill that would give statutory rights to Kentucky foster children and require background checks on those who work with children in out-of-home care today passed a House committee.

 

House Bill 158 sponsor and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, told the House Health and Family Services Committee that the foster child “bill of rights”—a list of 16 rights including the right to “adequate food, clothing, and shelter” and “a safe, secure and stable family”—was included in HB 158 to match a foster parent “bill of rights” already in statute.

 

“We’re adding a foster child ‘bill of rights’ to show the rights that a child has as they are in foster care,” said Meade, adding that the proposed rights for foster children is the part of the bill of which he’s most proud.

 

College student Cameron Galloway spoke in favor of the proposed rights. Galloway, who told the committee that he himself was once in foster care, said having statutory rights will encourage foster children to “stand up for themselves in a respectful way.

 

“Giving youth and kids their own rights by law will impact them tremendously. Why? Because most don’t even know they have rights,” Galloway told the panel.

 

HB 158 would also require national and state background checks on child residential home and placement agency staff as required by a 2018 federal law, according to Meade. The cost of the background checks would be covered by the home or agency, not the employee, he said. 

 

Meade and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, were the primary sponsors of HB 1 that became law last year. That legislation includes broad adoption and foster care reforms intended to reduce the waiting time for children needing permanent homes and improve the overall foster care and adoption process in Kentucky.

 

Other provisions in HB 158 address timeframes for searches of Kentucky’s “putative father” registry—a state registry created under HB 1 for men who want parental rights to a child they claim to have fathered—as well as clarify some legal definitions involving abuse and neglect of a child. The bill would also update the definition of “voluntary and informed consent” regarding adoption.

 

“I think we’ve done some great things over the past couple of years in this state for foster youth and the adoption process as well,” Meade told the committee. “Kentucky is able to be a leader in the nation on this.”

 

HB 158 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

--END--

 

Feb. 14, 2019

Concealed carry legislation advances in Senate

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, outlines House Bill 150.

Click here for a high-res photo.

FRANKFORT – Legislation that would allow someone to carry a concealed firearm without a license cleared a state Senate panel today.

Senate Bill 150, dubbed the permitless carry bill, states that people 21 or older who are able to lawfully possess a firearm may carry a concealed weapon without a license in the same locations as people with valid state-issued licenses. Another provision states no one would be allowed to carry or possess any deadly weapon where it is already prohibited by federal law.

While testifying before the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, sponsor Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said SB 150 would decriminalize carrying a deadly weapon without a license for those who meet the requirements. Carrying a concealed weapon without a license is currently a misdemeanor unless the defendant has been previously convicted of a felony involving a deadly weapon, in which case it is a felony.

Smith said SB 150 would provide relief to people, such as domestic violence victims, who might carry a concealed firearm but do not have the time or cannot afford the training and licensing fees for a concealed carry license. He said SB 150 would also give law-abiding gun owners the ability to better protect themselves and their loved ones.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, said she has had a concealed carry license for more than 20 years but couldn’t support SB 150 because it doesn’t require gun training and safety classes.

“The basic fundamental instruction I underwent to receive that (license) gave me the confidence I could handle that weapon,” she said. “I think taking away that training is certainly going in the wrong direction.”

There was also a concern about the loss of revenue from licenses. Currently, sheriffs’ offices retain $20 of each $60 application and renewal fee, according to a Local Government Mandate Statement prepared by the Legislative Research Commission.

Art Thomm of the National Rifle Association testified in support of SB 150. He said people could still get concealed carry licenses so, among other things, they could carry concealed firearms in states with reciprocity agreements with Kentucky.

Stephen McBride of the Kentucky Concealed Carry Coalition, commonly referred to as KC3, also testified in support of waiving the concealed carry permit system.

“Open carry of handguns has been legal in Kentucky for over 200 years,” McBride said. “There has never been a permit required to do that.”

SB 150 now goes before the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 14, 2019

 

 

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, discusses Senate Bill 100.


 

FRANKFORT – A bill that would change how much owners of solar power systems are reimbursed for electricity they add to the power grid passed the state Senate yesterday by a 23-12 vote.

The legislation, known as Senate Bill 100, is often referred to as the net metering bill, a reference to the type of billing structure applied to owners who have installed solar power panels, often on top of their homes or small businesses.

The bill is scheduled to be considered by a House committee this morning.

Sponsor Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said when these rooftop solar and other on-site distributed generation (DG) systems first came to market, 43 states – including Kentucky – approved net metering billing to encourage the use of renewable energy.

While net metering policies vary, electric customers of DG systems generally are credited for any electricity they sell via the electric power grid. Smith explained that law requires electric utilities to purchase this excess power at full retail electricity rate, calculated to include the fixed costs of polls, wires, meters and advanced technology that make the electric grid service reliable.

Smith said the problems is that when net metering electric customers are credited at the full retail rate, they effectively avoid paying to maintain the grid. That cost is left to everyone else.

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, stood in support for SB 100.

“We took this piece of legislation, met with both sides, worked on it through the interim and came to what I consider a very good solution for both sides,” he said. “It is a compromise. It is what government should be.”

Mills praised the fact that SB 100 would grandfather in those participating in the current net metering structure for 25 years. In addition, those who install solar panels within the next year would be covered by the grandfather clause. Those installing solar panels after that, however, would have the value of the extra electricity set by the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC).

“The PSC isn’t always the most accommodating organization for power companies,” Mills said. “They are a fair, non-partisan organization that will set ... a fair price.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood in opposition of SB 100. He questioned whether SB 100 would give authority to the PSC to adequately assess the value of the extra electricity.

“The PSC didn’t write this bill,” he said. “The utility companies did.”

Smith defended SB 100.

“This is not a utility bill,” said Smith, who stressed he wasn’t anti-solar. “It is not even a solar bill. This is a customer bill. This is a Kentucky rate-payer bill because they are the ones caught in the middle of the seesaw.”

-- End --

 

 

Feb. 13, 2019

House panel approves “Human Life Protection Act”

 

Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, and Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, present House Bill 148.

Click here for a high-res photo.


FRANKFORT—A bill that would outlaw abortion in Kentucky in most cases if the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade is reversed is on its way to the floor of the Kentucky House.

The “Human Life Protection Act” or House Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, and Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, would take effect automatically should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade—a landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide—said Fischer.

“HB 148 would essentially restore the right to life in Kentucky as it existed before Jan. 22, 1973 (the date of the Roe v. Wade ruling),” said Fischer. “(It will) provide full legal protection to every unborn child in Kentucky from the moment of fertilization to childbirth only if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade or the Constitution is amended to restore authority to any state to prohibit abortion.”

Reversal of Roe v. Wade would trigger the bill, which Fischer said would ban abortion from the earliest stage of pregnancy except when required to save the mother’s life or at times where abortion occurs unintentionally during medical treatment of the mother.

Four states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi and Louisiana have passed laws similar to HB 148, Fischer added. 

While Fischer said he is not aware of any pending U.S. Supreme Court cases that could lead to an overturn of Roe v. Wade, he said having the provisions in HB 148 in place will put Kentucky on “the standby list.”

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, said not all of Roe v. Wade may be overturned in any possible reversal by the Supreme Court. She suggested that more oversight be built into HB 148 before it could be triggered.

“(It might be appropriate) to take a look at the opinion to see whether indeed—if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade—whether indeed it actually did before this law goes into effect,” said Cantrell.

Fischer said hopefully the Supreme Court’s opinion will be clear. “The burden of this bill is on the Supreme Court,” he said.

Opponents to HB 148 testifying before the committee included ACLU Advocacy Director Kate Miller, who said that HB 148 makes no exceptions for victims of rape, incest or domestic violence, no exceptions for in utero birth defects, and would disproportionately affect single mothers and women living in poverty.

Women in poverty are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, which Miller said leads to higher rates of “unintended pregnancy.” Pregnancy, she said, then puts those women “at a higher risk of experiencing violence while they’re pregnant.”

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, spoke in favor of the legislation and said it will save lives. Lee spoke of the “unalienable rights” outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, do you know what the first right listed is? It’s the right to life,” said Lee. He said support is needed for the “unborn life.”

Fischer said some states including New York have passed laws or are considering laws expanding abortion rights in advance of any possible reversal of Roe v. Wade. HB 148, he said, would take Kentucky “the other way.”

“Kentucky has a long and storied history of protecting human life at all stages of development, at least until the (U.S.) Supreme Court removed that authority,” he told the committee. 

HB 148 now goes to the full House for consideration.


--END--

 

  Feb. 13, 2019

 

Senate shines light on non-fatal strangulations

 
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, discusses Senate Bill 70 shortly before the measure was approved by the Senate. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation today that specifically addresses non-fatal strangulation.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 70, would create the crime of non-fatal strangulation as a felony.

“The crime does not require a particular level of injury, but the person who commits the crime does so by impeding and restriction the breathing or blood flow of another person through applying pressure to their throat, neck or torso and blocking the nose or mouth,” said sponsor Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington. “If the act of strangulation results in an injury which meets the elements of another crime, the crime with the highest penalty would apply.”

SB 70 would also amend the legal definitions of domestic violence and abuse, and dating violence and abuse, to include strangulation.

“This would mean that people seeking protective orders, who have been strangled, could more effectively prove the need for this protective order,” Kerr said.

She said 38 states already have laws specifically criminalizing strangulation.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, explained why she voted against SB 70. She said the bill would define strangulation so broadly that it could be applied to situations other than domestic violence.

“It is going to have a lot of unintended consequences in the field,” said Webb, a lawyer by trade. “The language is such that if I slap you on the torso ... impeding your breathing, I can be charged with a felony.”

After SB 70 passed by a 31-4 vote, Kerr acknowledged strangulation survivor Nancy Ross-Stallings who was sitting in the gallery. The Danville woman testified about her attack last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kerr said Ross-Stallings went public about her attack because she wanted to give other victims of this type of violence chances she wasn’t afforded.

“Senate Bill 70 ... will give law enforcement and the victims additional tools to deal with their assailants,” Kerr said.

SB 70 passed by a 31-4 vote. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.  

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 13, 2019

 

Lawmakers consider Alzheimer’s task force

 

Pictured, from left: Resolution 46 sponsor Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson; Mackenzie Longoria, director of public policy at Alzheimer’s Association; Sara Donkin, a former caregiver; and Andrea Whelan, Alzheimer’s Association board member. Click here for a high-res photo.

 

FRANKFORT – State Sen. Robby Mills started noticing some changes in his father’s mannerisms and communication skills in 2011. Three years later, Mills’ father was finally diagnosed with a disease called supranuclear palsy.

“Our family went through many trying circumstances ... none of which I would wish on anybody,” said Mills, R-Henderson, while testifying before today’s meeting of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee in favor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 46.

SCR 46 would create the Alzheimer's and Dementia Workforce Assessment Task Force to study the state's healthcare workforce needs as well as the state's long-term care services and supports infrastructure. The task force would be required to meet monthly during the upcoming legislative interim and to submit findings and recommendations to the Legislative Research Commission by December.

“This is a terrible disease,” Mills said of supranuclear palsy, known as PSP. “It is a mixture of Parkinson’s and dementia. This disease ultimately claimed my father’s life on Nov. 9, 2018. Our family went through many trying circumstances during the seven-year period….”

Mills said the number of Kentuckians living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia is expected to grow to more than 85,000 by 2025.

Mackenzie Longoria, of the Alzheimer’s Association, added that there are currently 71,000 Alzheimer’s patients in Kentucky. She said 250,000 Kentuckians provide more than 20 hours per week of unpaid care to those individuals.

“Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in America,” Longoria said. “In addition to the costs, it is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more seniors than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.”

In 2018 alone, the medical costs associated with this disease reached $277 million, she said.

“It is our hope to shed light on something that for too long had been considered an aging issue, but it is not a normal part of the aging process,” Longoria said. “It is actually an economic and public health crisis.”

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said SCR 46 would create a task force similar to what Wisconsin did a few years ago that led to the development of what is now considered the “gold standard” in dementia-related public policy.

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, recounted his wife’s Alzheimer’s before she passed away.

“I just want people to understand ... what these patients undergo,” he said, adding that Kentucky’s top doctors could do little for his wife in the end.

“It is a major, major matter we need to address,” Carroll said.

SCR 46 now goes to the full Senate for consideration. 

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 13, 2019

 

Hemp legislation passes House Agriculture panel

 
Rep. Richard Health, R-Mayfield, testifies on hemp legislation. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT—Kentucky would expand its definition of industrial hemp to match language in the recently signed 2018 Farm Bill under legislation that today cleared the House Agriculture Committee.

 

House Bill 197, sponsored by House Agriculture Chair Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, would expand the definition to include the seeds of industrial hemp—formally called Cannabis sativa L.—derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids and isomers, among other components. That is the same definition found in the new U.S. Farm Bill, signed into law late last year, which removed hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

 

Until last year hemp was outlawed nationwide since 1970 under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The 2014 federal Farm Bill, however, allowed states to engage in hemp research pilot programs under certain conditions. Industrial hemp has been grown in Kentucky since 2014 under a state-regulated research pilot program.

 

The committee today also approved House Concurrent Resolution 43, also sponsored by Rep. Heath, which asks social media sites Facebook and YouTube and web marketplaces eBay and Amazon to revisit policies that some users say interfere with marketing of hemp-based products.

 

“Multiple industrial hemp business owners across the Commonwealth encountered an unnecessary obstruction in marketing efforts when their key marketing platforms, such as Facebook, unpublished their web pages” even through production and marketing of industrial hemp and hemp products are legal, the resolution states.

 

If passed by both chambers and signed by the governor, HCR 43 would formally request that the four internet companies “quickly reexamine their policies relating to industrial hemp businesses.”

 

Both pieces of legislation now go to the full House for consideration.

 

--END--

 

 

Feb. 12, 2019

 

E-scooter bill rolls out of House committee

FRANKFORT—Shareable electric scooters like the Bird-brand scooters now rolling down Louisville’s streets, would be defined under Kentucky law via a bill that today cleared the House Transportation Committee.

House Bill 258, sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, would both define and set operating standards for “electric low-speed scooters”—or e-scooters—like Bird scooters that have been available for rent via a phone app in Louisville since last year. The scooters are growing in popularity, with Bird rentals now available in over 100 cities worldwide.

Sam Reed with Bird told the committee that HB 258 would allow e-scooters to legally operate much like bicycles on public streets and bicycle paths. It would also limit scooter speeds to 20 mph and set a minimum e-scooter rider age of 16.

“The equipment that we use, the e-scooters, are not currently defined in state law in Kentucky,” said Reed. “What this bill does is it essentially will follow the national regulatory consensus of other companies that are doing the same things were are—Uber, Lyft, Spin, dozens of others—by updating the vehicle code in Kentucky to treat e-scooters similar to bicycles.”

The bill would not prevent local governments from further regulating e-scooters, said Reed.

Reed described Bird scooters as a low-cost way to move people short distances. The average ride on a Bird scooter is 1.5 miles, he said, with each ride costing 15 cents per mile plus a $1 initial rental fee.

Riders of Bird scooters must be at least 18 years of age and upload an image of their driver’s license to operate one of the scooters, said Reed. They are also encouraged to wear a helmet, he said.

Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, asked Reed how similar Bird scooters are to bicycles that can be rented by app. They are similar, said Reed, although he said Bird scooters are “dockless” – meaning they don’t have to be returned to specific locations after a ride.

“(Bird) opens up these vehicles to be real, true last-mile transportation for folks,” said Reed.

HB 258 now goes to the full House for consideration.  

--END--

 

 

Feb. 12, 2019

 

Legislature could uncork direct wine shipments

 
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asks a question about SB 99.
(Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – Direct shipment of wine to consumers would become legal under a bill that advanced in the state Senate today.

“This is something we have been talking about a long time,” said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, chairman of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, the legislative panel that advanced the measure, known as Senate Bill 99.

He said he has received more phone calls from Kentucky citizens in favor of direct shipment of wine than any other issue that has come before the committee in the eight years he has chaired it.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, a sponsor of the bill, testified that 45 states allow direct shipment of wine to consumers. He said it has been reported that a record $3 billion of wine was shipped directly to consumers last year.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he supported SB 99. He said Kentuckians visiting California want the ability to ship wine back home that isn’t sold at their local retail establishments.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asked for clarification on how much wine could be shipped to an individual. Hunter Limbaugh of the Wine Institute testified that a winery in another state could ship up to 24 cases per year to an individual.

Charles George of Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky asked that tighter oversight and accountability measures be written into SB 99.

“This bill is kind of like spilling red wine on white carpet,” he said. “It is going to take a lot of scrubbing to clean it up.”

George said his association would like, among other things, for SB 99 to include what’s known in shipping circles as “common carrier reporting.” That’s when shippers, such as UPS and FedEx, are required to report the amount of alcohol being shipped through their systems into Kentucky by out-of-state suppliers. George added that it is required in 15 states, including four neighboring states.

He also objected to language in SB 99 that would reduce the penalty for illegally shipping wine into the state to a misdemeanor from a felony.

George said there was a lot of money at stake. He said when Oklahoma, a state with a similar population to Kentucky, opened up direct shipment of wine to consumers last year that $4.3 million worth of wine flowed into that state in just the first three months.

George said he would like SB 99 to include enforcement provisions to ensure Kentucky collects the taxes it is owed and that wineries are not given an economic advantage by not having to pay Kentucky taxes.

Higden voted for it but said he would like SB 99 to be amended to include common-carrier reporting requirements when it is considered by the full Senate.  

-- END --

 

Feb. 11, 2019

 

Candidacy bill sails through House elections committee

 
Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, comments on HB 114. He is the chair of the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee. (Click here for a high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT—A scaled-down version of an elections bill that passed the 2018 General Assembly today cleared the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

House Bill 114, sponsored by Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, would require state and most local candidates for public office to officially declare their candidacy via a “statement-of-candidacy” form no later than the last Tuesday in January preceding the general election. The current deadline to file the form is April 1.

“There’s no cost involved in this, and they will still have to file their official paperwork the first Tuesday following the first Monday in June,” said Dossett.

Similar language—although with a different deadline proposed—was found in 2018 HB 97, a much broader measure sponsored by former Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, that proposed new deadlines for candidates to file nomination papers in addition to a proposed deadline change for declaring one’s candidacy. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Matt Bevin, who stated in his veto message that HB 97 would create “a different standard” for local candidates.

HB 114 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

--END--

 

Feb. 8, 2019

This Week at the State Capitol

Feb. 5-8

 

Frankfort -- Family members of the two students killed in last year’s shooting at Marshall County High School held hands, shed tears, and spoke bravely about their grief during this week’s Senate Education meeting.

They came to Frankfort on Thursday to call for safety improvements in Kentucky schools and to deliver a simple message directly to state lawmakers: We’re counting on you.

“We can’t protect (children) from the world,” said Brian Cope, whose 15-year-old son, Preston, was killed in the school shooting along with 15-year-old Bailey Holt. “But for eight hours a day, we should be able to let our children go to school and learn and not be looking over their shoulders and worrying ‘Is something going to happen? Is someone going to shoot me? Stab me?’”

“…If we can protect government buildings, our airports, our sports stadiums, why are we not protecting our kids?” Cope asked. “They are more important than anything.”

Lawmakers embraced the message. For part of last year, a specially-formed committee travelled the state to discuss school safety and collect feedback. Their efforts resulted in omnibus school safety proposals filed last month in both the House and Senate. On Thursday, the Senate proposal, known as Senate Bill 1, was passed by the Senate Education Committee and forwarded to the full chamber, where it was approved the next day.

The bill now goes to the House, which itself has introduced a school safety measure, known as House Bill 1. Giving both the Senate and House legislation the “Bill 1” designations are clear indications that the matter is a top priority of legislative leaders.

In sum, both the Senate and House bills call for improving student safety on a variety of fronts. The bills propose establishing a state school safety marshal, conducting risk assessments, boosting safety and prevention training, requiring superintendents to appoint a school safety coordinator, promoting the assignment of a school resource officer to each school, increasing awareness of suicide prevention efforts, encouraging collaboration with law enforcement, and, as funds become available, hiring more counselors in school districts. The proposals call upon the state to make an anonymous reporting tool available to each school district.

Another legislative highlight of the week occurred Thursday night as the Senate and House gathered in a joint session to hear Gov. Matt Bevin’s State of the Commonwealth Address. In a 45-minute speech, the governor declared that Kentucky is in strong shape as he touted accomplishments and job creation that have occurred in recent years.

In other legislative action this week:

-      A bill that would ensure children in out-of-home care have visitation opportunities with siblings who have been placed in different homes was approved by the Senate. Senate Bill 31 now goes to the House for consideration.

-      The House Health and Family Services Committee voted in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 5, which calls on federal regulators to research the benefits and risks of medical marijuana so that state policymakers can develop scientifically sound policies.

-      Senate Bill 70, which would make strangulation a felony crime, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure now goes to the full Senate. If the measure becomes law, Kentucky would join 47 other states that already have such laws.

-      The House and Family Services Committee approved a measure that would prohibit the use of vaping and tobacco products at Kentucky schools. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

-      The Senate approved legislation aimed at promoting organ donation. Senate Bill 77 would allow citizens to join Kentucky’s organ donor registry when they log into a state website for governmental services offered online. The bill now goes to the House.

Citizens who would like to offer feedback to state lawmakers on the issues under consideration can do so by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

--END--

 

Feb. 8, 2019

 

School safety measure gains Senate approval

 
 
Sen Christian McDaniel speaks about SB 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act, in the Senate.

 

FRANKFORT – The School Safety and Resiliency Act – the No. 1 priority of the General Assembly’s leadership – passed out of the Kentucky Senate today without dissent.

The act, known as Senate Bill 1, is a comprehensive measure that focuses on personnel; systems and structures; accountability; and a culture of student connectivity, said sponsor Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville. SB 1 would create a state school safety marshal, similar to the state fire marshal. SB 1 would also establish the framework for schools to expand the use of school resource officers.

“I can’t say this bill will be preventive – that it will stop acts of evil from occurring,” Wise said, adding that a similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. That measure, known as House Bill 1, has been assigned to the lower chamber’s Education Committee.

One provision of SB 1 would require one guidance counselor with mental health training for every 250 students in a school, contingent on funding. And the guidance counselors would be required to spend at least 60 percent of their workday on counseling-related tasks.

A second provision would expand an anonymous school safety tip line statewide, while a fourth would encourage districts to seek charitable donations to pay for security-related expenses.

A fifth provision would specify who could serve on the board for the Center for School Safety and clarify members’ duties. The nationally recognized center was created by the passage of House Bill 330 in 1998. That measure was in response to the Heath High School shooting on Dec. 1, 1997, in West Paducah. Three girls died and five other students were injured.

Wise said SB 1 was the product of testimony, research and study over eight months by the nonpartisan School Safety Working Group and others who were asked to assist. Legislators formed the group in response to the western Kentucky shooting at Marshall County High School last winter in Benton. Earlier in the week, the parents of the two slain students from the shooting gave emotional testimony in support of SB 1 before the Senate Education Committee.

“No one was shut out from providing input,” said Wise, chairman of the education committee. “No one was shut out from my office. No one was shut out from having comments and feedback.”

Wise said SB 1 was just the first step in the legislature’s efforts to improve school safety. He said the second step would be to fund SB 1’s various provisions during next year’s regular session of the General Assembly. That’s when legislators are constitutionally tasked with passing a biennium budget for the state. Wise stressed that the bill tried to avoid unfunded mandates that cash-strapped rural schools may not be able to afford.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said as chairman of the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee he would work to make sure provisions of SB 1 are funded in the next biennium budget.

“We will find a way to make the funding for this to work,” he said.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, recounted his reaction after hearing of the Marshall County High School shooting while he was in Frankfort for legislative duties. The school is in his district.

“I remember the feelings of helplessness and the desire to do something immediately,” he said. “I think we all felt those feelings that day, however, we realized the best thing we could do was to take a step back and to think through the decisions we were making.”

He said that “pause” has resulted in superior legislation.

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, voted for SB 1 but said the legislation failed to address one underlying problem: The easy access to unsecured guns.

“We don’t want to deal with what to do about guns in the hands of students,” he said. “That is one small, but absolutely critical issue. I understand why it was not discussed because we do not like to even use the word ‘gun’ in many of our discussions.”

C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, commended the bipartisan effort.

“We were working together, and that is great,” said Embry, a co-sponsor of SB 1. “Our children are our most precious and valuable asset that we have in the commonwealth of Kentucky. This bill is a step in the right direction to give them safety.”

SB 1 passed out of the chamber by a 35-0 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for their consideration.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 7, 2019

 

Senate approves siblings’ rights bill

FRANKFORT – Children in out-of-home care would be ensured visitation with their siblings under a bill that was approved today in the Kentucky Senate.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 31, would do this by requiring the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, in the case of siblings removed from their home who are not jointly placed, to provide for frequent visitation or other ongoing interaction between the siblings. It passed by a 36-0 vote.

Sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he introduced the bill after being approached by the grandparents of a brother and sister who said they were separated from their stepsiblings when social workers removed all of them from their mother’s home.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, stood in support of SB 31.

“As someone whose family has lived through the pain of having to have a sibling unit separated while they are in foster care, I can tell you that ongoing bond between siblings is critical beyond what you can describe,” he said. “Every adult associated with their care should try to maintain those bonds in these worst of situations.”

SB 31 now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration.

-- END –

 

 

Feb. 7, 2019

 

Medical marijuana research resolution clears first hurdle


FRANKFORT—A resolution that calls on the federal government to expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana is on its way to full House for a vote.

 

House Concurrent Resolution 5, sponsored by Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, and House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, calls on federal regulators to move forward with research into the benefits and risks of the drug “so that, as policymakers, the General Assembly may develop evidence-based and scientifically sound medical marijuana policies.”

 

According to the resolution, marijuana “impairs short-term memory and judgement.” The resolution also cites evidence that suggests “the risks of marijuana use include poorer educational performance, adverse consequences in the workplace” and other conditions.

 

Bentley, who has been a practicing pharmacist for over four decades, told the committee that HCR 5 is a call for safe medication management.

 

“As an advanced society, we must be have well-considered laws and regulations to move forward,” said Bentley. Evidence-based science, he said, is “the only safe and effective and responsible way forward.”

 

Thirty one states have legalized medical marijuana in some form, according to the resolution.

 

Should HCR 5 become law, it will be forwarded to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for consideration.  

 

 

--END--

 

 

 

Feb. 7, 2019

 

Strangulation bill advances in Senate
 
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, and Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, testify in favor
 of Senate Bill 70, a proposal to make strangulation a felony. (Click
here for high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT – A Danville woman, who survived an assault when she was a 30-year-old graduate student in Texas, testified today in support of a measure to make strangulation its own felony crime under Kentucky’s criminal code.

“Seventy-two hours out from my attack my throat swelled so much I could barely breathe,” Nancy Ross-Stallings said while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the assault. “I had to sit up to sleep. I lost my voice for a number of weeks from this. I have a permanent numb spot on the left side of my throat.”

She said if the measure, known as Senate Bill 70, would become law, Kentucky would join 47 other states with similar laws. New Mexico was the most recent state to pass such a measure. The only other states without it are Ohio and South Carolina.

Ross-Stallings stressed that she wasn’t talking about choking.

“Many domestic violence victims say they have been choked,” she said. “What they actually mean is that they have been strangled. Choking is something that occurs when you have food, or another object, caught in your trachea.”

Sponsor Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, said SB 70 would also allow for the offense of strangulation as one of the acts considered domestic violence and abuse – a designation that can increase prison time for perpetrators.

Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said it was such a problem that her county formed a task force to study it.

“I know many of you are thinking ... don’t we already have laws on the books that could cover this? The simple answer is no, we don’t,” Corn said, adding that perpetrators are sometimes charged with misdemeanors. “None of us would equate a slap on the face to having someone’s hand around another person’s neck. The risk of harm is so great when you talk about strangling another person. It is potentially lethal and should not be treated as a misdemeanor.”

She said it’s hard as a prosecutor to get felony assault charges to stick in nonlethal strangulation cases.

“The bottom line is just this: It is currently too difficult to prosecute these cases under Kentucky law as the law currently exists,” Corn said. “A stand-alone statute does not create a new crime. All it does is set clear elements for prosecutors to be able to prosecute something that is already occurring throughout the commonwealth.”

Kentucky Public Advocate Damon Preston spoke in opposition to SB 70. He said if a new law is needed the change should be part of an overall, comprehensive criminal justice reform package. Preston said legislators needed to stop creating new felonies at the same time they are trying to reduce prison populations in an overcrowded correctional system.

Rebecca DiLoreto of the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also spoke in opposition. She said SB 70 was so broadly written that it could be applied to situations other than domestic violence.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, who co-sponsored SB 70, said the legislation focuses on a major issue that needs addressing.

“This law is needed,” he said. “We are behind as a state. It is a bill which Kentucky can be proud of.”

The committee ultimately approved SB 70. It now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

 

 

Feb. 7, 2019

 

House panel clears bill to outlaw vaping, tobacco use at schools

 
Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, comments on student health legislation found in House Bill 11. (Click here for high-res photo.)

 

FRANKFORT—The use of vaping and tobacco products would be outlawed at Kentucky public schools under a bill that cleared the House Health and Family Services committee today.

 

House Bill 11, sponsored by House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would prohibit students, school personnel and visitors from vaping, smoking or using any tobacco product on public school campuses, in school vehicles or at school activities starting with the 2020-21 school year.

 

Forty-two percent of Kentucky schools already prohibit use of tobacco and e-cigarette products on their campuses and that policy “should now be extended statewide,” said Moser.

 

“I do think that it’s very important that we set certain expectations and set an example for our students, as you stated, and stop normalizing tobacco use,” Moser told a panel of health advocates testifying in favor of HB 11.

 

The bill, which would only outlaw use—not possession—of such products on school campuses and at school events has the support of the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said Moser. Enforcement of the law will be up to local school boards, per the bill.

 

Also supporting the bill, Moser said, is the tobacco industry and e-cigarette company JUUL.

 

“They are both behind this bill in eliminating tobacco use on school campuses,” Moser added.

 

Research shows that e-cigarettes and vaping products are addictive and encourage young people to become smokers later on, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Vice President for External Affairs Bonnie Hackbarth told the committee. “Remember, they’re addicted,” Hackbarth said.

 

Her comments were backed up by Paducah cardiologist Dr. Pat Withrow, who told the panel that e-cigarettes and vaping devices like JUUL pod mods are “full of nicotine.”

 

“The cool factor gets them to pay attention to it; the smooth flavor gets them to try it,” he said.

 

One in five high school students currently use e-cigarettes in the U.S., according to Moser. In 2018, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration released a statement that called youth e-cigarette use an “epidemic.”

 

HB 11 now goes to the full House for its consideration.

 

--END--

 

 

Feb. 6, 2019

 

Organ donor registration expansion bill advances

FRANKFORT – A Senate panel advanced a bill today that would allow citizens to join Kentucky’s organ donor registry when they log into a state website for governmental services offered online.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, testified that she introduced the measure, known as Senate Bill 77, out of concern that Kentucky’s compliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005 would have the unintended consequences of reducing the number of people placing their name on the registry. That’s because Kentuckians have traditionally signed up when they renew their driver’s licenses every four years. Under the Real ID Act, however, driver’s licenses will only have to be renewed every eight years.

Right now, circuit court clerks ask about one million people a year if they’d like to register to be an organ donor, but that number could be “sliced in half” because people won’t need to renew their licenses so often, said Kentucky Circuit Court Clerks’ Trust for Life Executive Director Shelley Snyder.

Adams added that registering is completely voluntary. More than 1.8 million Kentuckians, or about 60 percent of adults in the state, are now registered.

“Senate Bill 77 would allow Kentucky to lead the nation in organ donor registration opportunities,” she said. “Would it not be nice for us to lead in something positive and uplifting?”

The measure now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

 

Feb. 6, 2019

 

Public works contract bill advances to full House

FRANKFORT—A bill that would bar public agencies from requiring agreements between labor organizations and public works contractors today passed the House Local Government Committee.

Supporters of House Bill 135 say the bill would lower the cost of public works projects and save Kentucky taxpayers money.

“As public servants, I think it’s our duty to make sure (agencies) get the best bids at the best price and do quality work at the same time,” HB 135 sponsor Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, told the committee. He said mandatory “project labor agreements,” or PLAs, with labor groups limit competition.

Pratt’s bill is supported by Ben Brubek, a representative from Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. – a national association that supports “merit” contractors who are mostly non-union. Brubek told the committee that PLAs typically increase construction costs by as much as 18 percent.

Opponents to HB 135 say the bill, if passed, could affect the quality of future large-scale, high-skill projects. Larry Roberts, a former director for the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, told the panel that PLAs benefit construction projects by ensuring local, trained workers including minorities and women—who Roberts said are often sought by public sector projects —are included in those projects.

“That’s a type of benefit that you derive out of having a project labor agreement because … apprenticeship and training in the construction industry is very critical,” said Roberts. Building trades groups in Kentucky, he said, invest over $10 million per year in apprenticeship and other training programs.

Roberts went on to say that there are no mandatory PLAs in existence in Kentucky. Of the public works-related PLAs that have been signed, Roberts said “100 percent of those contractors were not union contractors nor were they required to join and sign a contract with a union.”

Committee Chair Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, asked if anything in HB 135 would prevent contractors from entering into voluntary PLAs. Roberts said there is not.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, said he thinks the bill sounds like wise policy.

“I’m here trying to serve the members of my district and the taxpayers, quite frankly, all over the state. And it’s my understanding based on my reading of this legislation that it would save the taxpayers’ money … whenever we have the opportunity to do that, I think it’s wise to move forward in that regard,” said Lee.

Twenty four other states have passed legislation similar to HB 135, which now goes to the full House for its consideration.

--END--

 

Top

 

Feb. 6, 2019

 

Senate panel advances siblings’ rights bill

FRANKFORT – A bill, which would ensure children in out-of-home care have visitation with their siblings, passed out of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee today.

Patricia Fitzgerald of Winchester testified that the measure, known as Senate Bill 31, would have allowed her two grandchildren, whom are in her and her husband’s care, to see their stepsiblings on a regular basis. The stepsiblings have been placed in another home by the state.

Committee Chairman Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he introduced SB 31 after being contacted by the Fitzgeralds. Alvarado explained that it would allow siblings under state custody, who were removed from their home, and, who are not jointly placed, to have visitation rights unless the cabinet determines there is a safety concern.

Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Adam Meier testified that his agency supported the bill.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said SB 31 was an excellent bill she would support.

“It is such a common-sense approach,” she said. “It is almost sad we have to have a law to allow siblings to visit each other.”

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, thanked Fitzgerald for putting a face to the problem when explaining why she supported SB 31.

“We get it when we see you,” Kerr said to Fitzgerald. “Not only are you helping your family, but you are also going to be helping a lot of families and a lot of kids in Kentucky. Thank you for coming. You are very courageous.”

Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, alluded to the growing ranks of Kentucky grandparents caring for children whose own parents can’t, most often because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness, when voting for SB 31.

“A lot of people in this commonwealth are blessed because grandparents are stepping up to fill the rolls that parents have traditionally done,” Meredith said. “Anything we can do to help grandparents during these turbulent times ... we are interested in doing.”

SB 31 now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

-- END --

 

Top

 

Jan. 11, 2019

 

Citizens invited to share comments with Public Pensions Working Group

FRANKFORT -- Kentuckians can share their comments about the state’s public pension systems with state lawmakers serving on a newly formed Public Pensions Working Group by emailing messages to PublicPensions@lrc.ky.gov.

The working group, which was created by co-chairs of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC), pending ratification of the full LRC, will conduct a review of the systems' structure, costs, benefits, and funding.

The group's first meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 9:30 a.m. in Rm. 154 of the Capitol Annex.

Information about the working group, including its membership, is available here.

--END--

 

Jan. 11, 2019

 

Legislative leaders create Public Pensions Working Group

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly has formed a Public Pensions Working Group to review and analyze the state’s public pension systems.

The working group, which was created by co-chairs of the Legislative Research Commission (LRC), pending ratification of the full LRC, will conduct a review of the systems’ structure, costs, benefits, and funding.

The group’s first meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 9:30 a.m. in Rm. 154 of the Capitol Annex.

The panel will be co-chaired by Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, and Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville.

Other members are: Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester; Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown; Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon; Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill; Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville; Senate Minority Caucus Chair Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg; House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort; Rep. R. Travis Brenda, R-Crab Orchard; Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown; Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford; Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright; and Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington.

The working group is authorized to meet as often as necessary at the discretion of the co-chairs during the current General Assembly session, up to March 30, and, if necessary, can meet monthly during the 2019 legislative interim through Dec. 30.

The group is charged with making recommendations for General Assembly action by Feb. 15, although the group’s co-chairs can request an extension until March 1, if needed. If even more time is needed to gather information before making recommendations, the co-chairs can submit an additional request for an extension to Dec. 1.

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Jan. 11, 2019

 

This Week at the State Capitol

Kentucky General Assembly wraps up first week of 2019 session

FRANKFORT -- As usual, the excitement of the opening day of a Kentucky General Assembly session was evident on Tuesday amid the packed crowds, broad smiles, and welcoming handshakes throughout the State Capitol.

But the spirit of the day might have been most clearly revealed in the trembling voices of some new lawmakers the first time they offered public comments in legislative chambers. The mix of nerves, emotion, and deep gratitude they expressed while welcoming family and friends to their swearing-in day showed how humbling it is to be entrusted with a chance to help write a new chapter in Kentucky history.

Besides swearing in new members, the first week of the session gave lawmakers a chance to handle organizational matters such as adopting rules of procedure, organizing committees, and electing legislative leaders.

A top leadership change took place in the House, where Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, was elected to his first term in the chamber’s top job. Though officially new to the position, the role is a familiar one to Osborne since he presided over the House chamber while serving as Speaker Pro Tempore last year while the Speaker’s position was vacant.

Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, was chosen as the House Speaker Pro Tempore.

Republicans and Democrats also announced their caucus leaders. Rep. John Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville, is the new House Majority Floor Leader. Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, was selected as the House Majority Caucus Chair and Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, is the House Majority Whip.

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, will continue serving in his position. Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, is the new House Minority Caucus Chair and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, is the new House Minority Whip.

In the Senate, President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, was reelected as President and Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, was selected as the chamber’s President Pro Tempore.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, returns to his position, as does Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green. Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, was announced as the new Senate Majority Caucus Chair.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, was announced as the new Senate Minority Floor Leader. Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, serves as Senate Minority Caucus Chair and Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, serves as Senate Minority Whip.

Besides handling leader elections and other organizational matters, lawmakers have also started introducing bills. More than 200 of them have been filed so far to begin their journeys through the process.

One piece of legislation off to a quick start, Senate Bill 5, has already become the first bill this year to gain approval from a chamber. The legislation, which was passed on Thursday on a 31-4 vote in the Senate, proposes a constitutional amendment that would move the elections for Kentucky governor and lieutenant governor to even-numbered years every four years. The elections for state auditor, attorney general, secretary of state, and commissioner of agriculture would also move to the same schedule.

SB 5 now goes to the House for consideration. If approved there, Kentucky voters will vote on the matter, as is the case for all proposed constitutional amendments.

In addition to elections, other topics that might receive attention in this year’s session include school safety, sports betting, public pension reform, bail reform, medical marijuana, charter school funding, and many other matters.

Lawmakers are now returning to their home districts. As outlined by the constitution, the Senate and House adjourn after completing the first part of the session and enter a recess period until lawmakers return to the State Capitol on the first Tuesday in February for the rest of this year’s 30-day session.

There are many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process. All the bills lawmakers are voting on can be reviewed in the online Legislative Record at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/19RS/record.html.

You can share your views on the issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

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Jan. 11, 2019

 

Campaign finance reporting bill moves to House

FRANKFORT – The state Senate passed legislation today that supporters said would bring additional transparency, accountability and integrity to Kentucky’s electoral process.

Known as Senate Bill 4, the measure passed by a 34-2 vote. It would require mandatory electronic filing of all candidates’ campaign finance reports by the May 2020 primaries, a process often referred to as e-filing. Currently, the only candidates that have to e-file are those who are running for statewide constitutional offices. Those offices are for governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor of public accounts, attorney general, secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture.

“Here we are 19 years into the 21st century,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. “It is time we use the technology available to update our reporting mechanism so the public can see where candidates raise money and how they spend it.”

He said SB 4 is aligned with the legislative intent of a $1.8 million appropriation to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance to replace its two-decade-old e-filing software. Thayer said the new software would allow for real-time filing via an application on smartphones and other devices.

Thayer, who sponsored SB 4, said the need for the law was illustrated during the last general election. That was when only 106 of the 1,559 candidates running for various offices across Kentucky e-filed.

Thayer added that the deluge of paper filings overwhelmed the registry’s 12 employees. He said that caused delays in the information being entered into the registry’s public database. As the paperwork piled up, Thayer said it went unnoticed that some candidates were not even filing the required finance reports.

In voting against SB 4, Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, expressed concern that candidates in rural mountainous areas of Kentucky do not always have access to dependable internet and mobile phone service necessary for e-filing.

Thayer said he has tried to eliminate Webb’s concerns through a provision in SB 4 that would allow candidates to manually enter the information into computers at the registry’s office. The information could also be provided on an electronic-storage device such as a thumb drive.

Thayer added that SB 4 contains an exemption for candidates who raise less than $3,000.

SB 4 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

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Jan. 10, 2019

Proposed election date change heads to House

FRANKFORT – A bill that would move the governor’s race to even-numbered years passed out of the state Senate today, making it the first measure to clear the chamber this session.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 5, is a proposed state constitutional amendment to move to even-numbered years the elections of statewide constitutional offices. In addition to the governor, those would include the campaigns for treasurer, auditor of public accounts, attorney general, secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture. SB 5 passed by a 31-4 vote.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said he sponsored SB 5 because, in part, it would save about $15 million in taxpayer money by consolidating the dates elections are held. As it stands now, Kentucky has three statewide elections each four-year cycle. Two of those elections follow the national cycle of congressional and presidential races in even years. Tucked between those are the races for statewide constitutional offices.

“It’s a good bill financially,” McDaniel said, adding similar measures had passed out of the chamber five prior times in the past decade. “Senate Bill 5 is certainly no stranger to this body.”

When voting for SB 5, Sen. Wil Schroder, D-Wilder, predicted the change could almost double voter participation in down-ballot races by aligning Kentucky’s election cycle with presidential elections. He noted that only 31 percent of Kentucky voters cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election compared to 60 percent the following year in the presidential election.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, explained her vote against SB 5. She said she feared aligning Kentucky’s election cycle with presidential elections would cause voters to attribute national issues to the state race.

“Kentucky needs to be allowed to focus on Kentucky issues and set aside the national fray ... that sometimes are not as relatable to the Commonwealth and its issues and its people,” she said.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, applauded the stated goals of SB 5 when voting for the bill. He added that if the constitution is ultimately amended, he hopes the savings would go toward expanding early voting or extending voting hours across the state.

“Kentucky is one of the three states in the country whose polls close at 6 p.m.,” McGarvey said.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. Even if the General Assembly passed SB 5 this session, the proposed constitutional amendment would not be placed on the ballot to be decided upon by the people until 2020.

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Jan. 9, 2019

 

Senate panel considers pair of election measures

FRANKFORT – Two election-related bills advanced out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government today.

The first measure, Senate Bill 5, is a proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution to move the elections of governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, auditor of public accounts, attorney general, secretary of state, and commissioner of agriculture to even-numbered years.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said SB 5 would save about $15.5 million in taxpayer money, triple voter turnout in down-ballot races and simplify the election system by aligning Kentucky’s election cycle with presidential elections.

McDaniel, who sponsored SB 5, said this is at least the sixth time a bill to change Kentucky’s election cycle has been considered by state lawmakers in the past decade.

In response to a question by Committee Chairman Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, McDaniel said even if the General Assembly passed SB 5 this session, the proposed constitutional amendment would not be placed on the ballot to be decided upon by the people until 2020.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said there was precedence for the change. He said elections for county judge-executives and other county officials were moved from odd- to even-numbered years in the 1990s.

The second measure the committee considered, Senate Bill 4, would require mandatory electronic filing of all candidates’ campaign finance reports by 2020, a process often referred to as e-filing. Currently, only statewide constitutional office candidates have to file their campaign finance reports electronically. All other candidates are allowed to file paper reports.

Thayer, who sponsored SB 4, said the need for the change was illustrated during the last general election. That was when only 106 of the 1,559 candidates running for various offices across Kentucky e-filed. Thayer added that the deluge of paper filings overwhelmed the registry’s 12 employees. He said that caused delays in the information being entered into the registry’s database so the public could see who was giving money to the candidates.

“The lack of electronic filing led to, in my opinion, a complete breakdown in transparency for the people of Kentucky who deserve to know where the money is coming from and where it is being spent,” Thayer said, who added the legislature already appropriated money to update the registry’s computer system to handle more e-filings.

SB 5 and SB 4 now go to the full Senate for consideration, where they are poised to be among the first bills considered in the chamber this session.

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