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Recent News

This Week at the State Capitol - 4/15/22

Senate approves bill to prohibit gray machines in Kentucky - 4/13/22

General Assembly overrides gubernatorial vetoes - 4/13/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 4/1/22

Bill to overhaul public assistance clears final hurdle - 3/30/22

General Assembly sends historic state budget to governor's desk - 3/30/22

Senate approves “Dalton’s Law” to combat fentanyl traffickers  - 3/29/22

Senate advances bill to codify funding for charter schools - 3/29/22

Bill increasing criminal penalties for crimes during natural, man-made disasters advances - 3/29/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 3/25/22

House committee approves unemployment for domestic violence victims bill - 3/24/22

Senate approves bill that would strengthen parents’ rights - 3/23/22

House bill to protect genetic data advances in committee - 3/23/22

Charter schools bill advances off House floor - 3/22/22

House committee approves Teaching American Principles Act - 3/22/22

Senate advances bill to allow 18-year-olds to sell, serve alcohol - 3/22/22

Pari-mutuel wagering modernization bill clears House floor - 3/21/22

House votes to take a gamble on sports betting - 3/18/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 3/18/22

Senate advances bill to require comment period at school board meetings - 3/17/22

Bill legalizing medicinal cannabis clears House floor - 3/17/22

Students to learn about child abuse and prevention under bill - 3/17/22

Legislation calls for equal treatment of religious organizations in emergencies - 3/17/22

Senate bill would allow some felons to access state aid for college - 3/16/22

House committee advances bill to ban gray machines - 3/16/22

Senate committee approves measure that seeks research on nuclear energy - 3/15/22

House bill would impose harsher punishment for abusing young children - 3/14/22

House approves legislation cracking down on fentanyl trafficking - 3/14/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 3/11/22

Senate bill would establish a behavioral health pilot program - 3/10/22

Resolution ending COVID-19 state of emergency heads for governor's desk - 3/10/22

Legislation addressing nursing shortage advances from House committee- 3/10/22

Senate approves proposed biennial budget - 3/9/22

House committee considers alternative teacher certification bill - 3/9/22

House approves bill to make masks optional in public schools - 3/8/22

Senate bill seeks replacement of KSU board members -3/8/22

General Assembly sends name, image, likeness bill to governor's desk - 3/7/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 3/4/22

House approves bill on income tax rate reform - 3/4/22

House bill on unemployment insurance clears the Senate - 3/3/22

Legislation on election security clears Senate Committee - 3/3/22

Senate approves House bill on vehicle tax relief - 3/2/22

Imagination Library bill advances in Senate committee - 3/2/22

House approves bill to regulate charitable bail organizations - 3/1/22

Bill would make animal owners pay for care in hoarding cases - 3/1/22

Tax rebate bill receives full Senate approval - 2/28/22

Constable reform bill advances off House floor - 2/28/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 2/25/22

Senate resolution would end COVID-19 emergency declaration in Kentucky - 2/24/22

House committee approves religious freedom bill - 2/24/22

Senate committee approves measure to boost nursing ranks in Kentucky - 2/23/22

Bill seeking to address law enforcement staffing concerns advances - 2/23/22

House approves bipartisan peace officer certification reform bill - 2/22/22

This Week at the State Capitol -2/18/22

Bipartisan anti-SLAPP bill unanimously advances off House floor - 2/18/22

Senate bill would create standards for teaching key civics topics - 2/17/22

Tax-related constitutional amendment proposal clears House committee - 2/17/22

Proposed constitutional amendments would limit pardons and commutations - 2/16/22

House approves school resource officer bill - 2/15/22

Lawmakers discuss consumer data protection - 2/15/22

School bus stop-arm camera bill clears House committee - 2/15/22

This Week at the State Capitol  - 2/11/22

Vehicle owners could receive a tax break under Senate resolution -2/11/22

House bill addressing raises for Kentucky State Police advances - 2/11/22

Senate bill would require genetic testing in some deaths of young people - 2/10/22

House approves unemployment insurance reform bill - 2/10/22

Bill extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum women clears House committee - 2/10/22

Senate bill would clarify NIL opportunities for college athletes - 2/9/22

Resolution would recognize antibody test as equivalent to being vaccinated - 2/9/22

House approves bill to slap down 'swatting' - 2/9/22

'Kami's Law' clears House Judiciary Committee - 2/9/22

House committee advances motor vehicle tax bill - 2/8/22

House approves 'Read to Succeed Act' - 2/7/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 2/4/22

Senate bill would offer second chances for those with enhanced misdemeanors - 2/2/22

Senate committee advances bill to strengthen cases against child abusers - 2/2/22

School board public comment requirement bill advances - 2/2/22

Senate bill would make disabilities workforce council more permanent - 2/1/22

Senate bill would require grief training for coroners - 1/31/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 1/28/22

Senate bill seeks to crack down on "porch pirates" - 1/27/22

House approves essential caregiver bill - 1/27/22

Bill would protect confidentiality in first responder counseling programs - 1/26/22

House committee considers requiring public comment at school board meetings - 01/25/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 1/21/22

House begins biennium budget process - 1/20/22

Incest bill clears Senate Judiciary Committee - 1/20/22

Early literacy bill clears Senate vote, heads to the House - 1/19/22

Bill to promote rural small business growth clears House committee - 1/19/22

House approves bipartisan student mental health bill - 1/18/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 1/14/22

Remote learning, COVID-19 emergency order extension bill clears both chambers - 1/13/22

COVID-19 death for first responders advances - 1/13/22

Kentucky General Assembly approves $200 million disaster relief bill - 1/12/22

$200 million tornado relief bill moves forward in the Senate - 1/12/22

Bill to deter unauthorized practice of law clears House committee- 1/12/22

Bill offering remote instruction days advances - 1/11/22

Lawmakers adjust calendar for 2022 legislative session - 1/11/22

This Week at the State Capitol - 1/08/22

Senate bills on school councils, remote instruction move forward - 1/07/22

Lawmakers adjust General Assembly's 2022 session calendar - 1/06/22

Stay connected to the General Assembly during the 2022 legislative session- 12/21/21

Testimony highlights desire for an electric vehicle tax - 11/22/21

Legislative panel hears testimony on bill to curtail distracted driving - 11/16/21

Committee hears testimony on proposed air ambulance membership subscription regulations - 11/09/21

Proposed bill aims to give first responders COVID-19 death benefits - 10/19/21

Kentucky General Assembly to begin 2022 session on Jan. 4 - 10/11/21

Lawmakers hear testimony on student mental health crisis - 10/05/21

 

 

April 15, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

FRANKFORT – It wasn’t until 1992 that a constitutional amendment removed the lieutenant governor as head of the Kentucky Senate and made the General Assembly a fully independent branch of state government.
 
Since then, few legislative sessions have demonstrated that independence more than the one that concluded this week in Frankfort.
 
Lawmakers closed out the year by overriding more than two dozen gubernatorial vetoes during a final sprint toward sine die on Wednesday and Thursday. That capped off an intensive 60 days of work that began in January and resulted in new laws on nearly every prominent issue facing the commonwealth.
 
Education, abortion, redistricting, drugs, gambling, elections, cannabis research and athletics were just a few of the topics that earned a tap from the gavel this year.
 
Lawmakers revamped the state income tax and passed major overhauls to unemployment benefits and public assistance. They channeled millions in disaster relief to Western Kentucky. They debated nearly all facets of Kentucky’s response to COVID-19 and ultimately voted to end the state’s emergency declaration in March.
 
Sports fans may remember the 2022 session for the “NIL” bill, a measure that sets the stage for college athletes to generate income off their name, image and likeness.
 
But Capitol observers will remember it as the year that the House unveiled a landmark biennial budget plan weeks earlier than any session in memory – one of the clearest signs of legislative independence this session.
 
When counting up the general fund, capital costs and operating expenses, the two-year spending plan totaled an historic $114 billion.
 
Like all sessions, debates were common – debates on funding, on social issues, on public health and religion and the government’s role in it all. But bipartisanship also found a foothold in many important areas, especially on issues like tornado recovery and the war in Ukraine.
 
When the gavel fell for a final time on Thursday night, legislators had sent more than 240 bills to the governor’s desk this year, and here’s a partial list of some of the most discussed legislation.
 
Abortion: House Bill 3 bans abortions in Kentucky at 15 weeks of gestation and requires minors to obtain consent from their parents before undergoing the procedure. The omnibus bill also bans online sales of abortion-inducing drugs and regulates the disposal of fetal remains.
 
Anti-SLAPP bill: House Bill 222 seeks to protect freedom of speech. It would offer those who speak out against a matter of public interest protection from strategic lawsuits against public participation, known as SLAPP lawsuits.
 
Budget: House Bill 1, the new executive branch budget, increases to the state’s per pupil funding formula for schools and includes funding for state employee raises and full-day kindergarten. It will also make major investments in public pensions, state parks, clean drinking water and the state fairgrounds.
 
Cannabis research: House Bill 604 establishes the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky. It also defines the mission and responsibilities for the center and appropriates funding.
 
Charter schools: House Bill 9 establishes a funding model for charter schools, building on legislation from 2017 that first allowed charters in Kentucky. It also authorizes two pilot charter school projects in Louisville and Northern Kentucky and changes the appeals process if education officials deny an application for a new charter school.
 
Child abuse: House Bill 263, known as Kami’s Law, makes criminal abuse against a victim under 12 years of age a Class B felony.
 
Child fatalities: Under Senate Bill 97, law enforcement will be required to request a blood, breath or urine test from parents and caregivers suspected of being under the influence at the time of a suspicious child death. If consent is not given, this bill gives law enforcement the power to request a search warrant.
 
College athletes: Senate Bill 6 provides a framework in state law for college athletes to generate personal income off their name, image and likeness, known as NIL.
 
Constables: House Bill 239 will require newly elected constables to undergo professional law enforcement training before performing certain peace officer duties.
 
Coroner training: Senate Bill 66, also known as Nathan’s Law, requires coroners to attend eight hours of training on the grieving process and procedures for death notifications. It also establishes certain procedures that coroners must follow in providing death notifications.
 
COVID-19: Senate Joint Resolution 150 effectively ended the COVID-19 declaration of emergency in Kentucky last month.
 
Crimes during emergencies: Senate Bill 179 enhances penalties for crimes committed during a natural or man-made disaster declaration. Crimes include assault, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and robbery.
 
Criminal justice reform: Senate Bill 90 would establish pilot programs in at least 10 Kentucky counties, providing deferred prosecutions, diversion or dismissal of charges for some low-level offenders based on their participation in drug treatment and vocational services.
 
Death penalty: House Bill 269 adds serious mental illness to the list of disabilities that disqualify offenders from execution – if symptoms were occurring at the time of the offense.
 
Due process: House Bill 290 calls on state colleges and universities to adopt a student code of conduct for non-academic disciplinary procedures and provide students with due process protections that are similar to those in criminal and civil courts.
 
Education: Senate Bill 1 calls for local superintendents – rather than school councils – to determine educational curriculum. It also includes language from the Teaching American Principles Act, which would require instruction in social studies to align with a list of core concepts and documents that supporters say are central to American civics.
 
Election security: Senate Bill 216 seeks to enhance election security through multiple changes in law, including a provision to prevent voting machines from being connected to the internet. It will also increase post-election audits for irregularities.
 
Essential caregivers: Senate Bill 100 specifies that family members, guardians, friends, pastors, clergy and other individuals qualify as essential caregivers. That helps ensure they can visit residents of long term care, assisted living and mental health facilities.
 
Felon student aid: Senate Bill 163 would lift restrictions that prevent some felons from accessing state aid for college, including funds from the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, known as KEES.
 
Fentanyl: Known as Dalton’s Law, House Bill 215 requires those convicted of trafficking fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives to serve at least 85% of their criminal sentences, up from the current 50%. It also makes importing those drugs from another state or country a Class C felony and deems offenders ineligible for a pretrial diversion.
 
First responders: Senate Bill 64 aims to protect the confidentiality of first responders who participate in peer support counseling programs. Supporters say it will benefit thousands of public safety workers who frequently experience trauma on the job but could face repercussions from frank discussions in counseling.
 
Imagination Library: Senate Bill 164 establishes the Imagination Library of Kentucky Program. Founded by country music legend Dolly Parton, this international literacy program provides free books monthly to children from birth to age 5. The state will provide 50% of the funds.
 
Incest: Senate Bill 38 classifies incest as a violent offense. It also ensures that individuals guilty of incest complete at least 80% of their prison sentence.
 
KSU board: Senate Bill 265 directed the governor to name replacements for the Kentucky State University Board of Regents earlier this month.
 
Library boards: Senate Bill 167 seeks to increase local oversight of library boards and gives more authority to county judge-executives on appointing board members in certain districts.
 
Nursing shortages: Senate Bill 10 makes it easier for nurses from outside Kentucky to practice here, helping address major workforce shortages in the profession. It will also remove predetermined numbers for admission to nursing programs.
 
Pari-mutuel wagering: House Bill 607 will tax every pari-mutuel wager at a standard 1.5% rate, including advance-deposit wagers and bets on simulcasts. It also directs more money to the general fund, makes the Kentucky Racing Commission responsible for self-funding, creates a self-exclusion list for problem gamblers and eliminates the track admissions tax.
 
Peace officer certifications: House Bill 206 would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense from serving as a peace officer.
 
Porch pirates: Senate Bill 23 cracks down on people who steal packages off front porches, often referred to as porch pirates. The bill makes it a Class D felony to steal or destroy packages from common carriers and delivery services such as Amazon or FedEx.
 
Public assistance: House Bill 7 aims to revamp public assistance benefits and combat fraud with new rules around benefit eligibility. It also seeks to increase accountability from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and encourage healthy choices for those receiving nutritional assistance.
 
Read to Succeed Act: Senate Bill 9 calls for evidence-based learning techniques and intensive interventions to improve early literacy outcomes and help struggling students in kindergarten through the third grade.
 
Redistricting: Lawmakers passed a series of bills in the first week of the session to redraw the boundaries for Kentucky’s congressional, Supreme Court and state legislative districts. The General Assembly must periodically realign the districts to reflect population changes in the U.S. Census.
 
Religious services: House Bill 43 calls for equal treatment of houses of worship and religious organizations during a state of emergency.
 
Remote instruction: Senate Bill 25 allows school superintendents to allocate up to 10 remote instruction days this academic year to specific classrooms, grades or schools.
 
Tax reform: House Bill 8 seeks to gradually reduce and eliminate state taxes on personal income over several years while simultaneously expanding and diversifying the state’s overall tax base. Once state revenue exceeds certain thresholds, the measure will trigger reductions in the income tax rate of half a percentage point, starting with an initial drop in 2023.
 
Tornado relief: House Bill 5 sends $200 million in aid to communities affected by the December tornados in Western Kentucky. These funds can be used by local governments, nonprofits, school districts and public utilities to pay for construction projects, repairs and more.
 
Transgender athletes: Senate Bill 83 will prevent male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls’ sports, starting in the sixth grade and continuing through college.
 
School resource officers: House Bill 63 calls on local school districts to place a school resource officer in each school by Aug. 1 if they can afford the cost. It also allows local school boards to establish a police department for the district.
 
School board meetings: House Bill 121 requires a public comment period of at least 15 minutes at local school board meetings, unless no one is signed up to speak. It also requires that any board rules and policies regarding conduct apply during the comment period.
 
School breakfasts: Senate Bill 151 calls on schools in the Federal School Breakfast Program to offer students up to 15 minutes to eat breakfast during instructional time.
 
Serving alcohol: House Bill 252 would clear the way for 18-year-olds to sell and serve alcoholic beverages.
 
State police raises: House Bill 259 codifies the salary increases allocated to Kentucky State Police in the executive branch budget. The bill ensures a $15,000 pay increase for troopers ranked below sergeant.
 
Student mental health: House Bill 44 would allow school boards to include provisions in its student attendance policy for excused absences due to a student’s mental or behavioral health status.
 
Swatting: House Bill 48 makes falsely reporting an incident that results in an emergency response – commonly called “swatting” – a Class D felony.
 
Unemployment: House Bill 4 changes the length of unemployment insurance benefits and the job search requirements for recipients. The length of benefits will now be based on the state’s average unemployment rate, and recipients will be required to engage in at least five verifiable work search activities a week.
 
Vehicle taxes: House Bill 6 calls on property valuation administrators to tax vehicle owners in 2022 the same as they did 2021. Beginning next year, the bill would also require them to use the average trade-in value rather than the “rough” trade-in value or “clean” trade-in value when assessing taxes.
 
The next regular session of the General Assembly won’t convene until January 2023, but lawmakers will kick off the interim period in June.
 
Kentuckians can still research bills on the
Legislative Record webpage and share their views by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.
 
Also, legislators are weighing in on the session, offering their final grades for the year. Check out their remarks on the
LRC Capitol Connection YouTube channel.

 

 

END

 

 

April 13, 2022

Senate approves bill to prohibit gray machines in Kentucky

 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, speaks on House Bill 608, which would prohibit “gray machines” in Kentucky.  A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — Legislation advanced out of the Senate on Wednesday to prohibit certain gambling machines, often known as “gray machines,” from operating in Kentucky.
 
The measure, House Bill 608, cleared the Senate with a 24-13 vote after lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill on the chamber floor. It now returns to the House, where lawmakers could vote to concur with the changes Thursday – the last day of the 2022 legislative session.
 
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the legislation would explicitly ban gray machines that have become prevalent across the state. He said they fall outside the three forms of gambling that are currently legal, which include pari-mutuel wagering, charitable gaming and the lottery.
 
“They are illegal and operating outside the law,” Thayer said.
 
But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, generated some debate before the vote.
 
Supporters of HB 608 said gray machines are operating without regulation and creating competition with charitable gaming. Critics of the bill said the machines provide much-needed income for mom-and-pop stores.
 
Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said some operators of locally owned stores depend on the extra money to help keep their doors open. Those who have the machines want them to be taxed and regulated, he said.
 
“In rural Kentucky, it makes a huge difference,” Hornback said.
 
Sen. Philip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, agreed that while he is not personally a fan of using the machines, the income they generate is helping business owners. Wheeler said the machines could be “brought into the fold” in time, and he urged lawmakers to step back and consider the issue more.
 
“To ban them outright is overkill,” he said.
 
Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, called the gaming machines unregulated and untaxed. He said he first learned about them from local service organizations for veterans that depend on revenue from charitable gaming machines.
 
“A vote against this is a vote against our veterans,” he said.
 
Wilson added that the action is not unprecedented. He pointed to simulated slot machines on computers that were once common in Kentucky but have since been outlawed.
 
The amendment to the bill was sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. He cited concerns that language in the bill could have expanded the definition of gambling and said his amendment would address the issue.

 

END

 

 

April 13, 2022

General Assembly overrides gubernatorial vetoes

 

 House Majority Floor Leader Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, makes a motion to override a gubernatorial veto to a bill on the House floor. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky General Assembly spent the second to last day of the 2022 legislative session overriding gubernatorial vetoes related to the state budget, taxes, education and more.
 
Lawmakers voted to override 17 of Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes on the executive branch budget for the next biennium outlined in House Bill 1.
 
The five areas of the budget that lawmakers allowed vetoes to stand included 13 line items. In his veto message, Beshear wrote some of those line items contained technical errors.
 
Some highlights of HB 1 that were not vetoed include:
 
8% raises for state workers on July 1, 2022, and additional raises based on a pay study for the following fiscal year
$250 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for clean drinking water
Hundreds of millions of dollars to fully fund state pensions
Funds to provide social workers with a $2,400 pay increase in addition to the across-the-board raises
Funds to increase the SEEK formula from the current $4,000 per student to $4,100 per student in the first fiscal year and to $4,200 in the second year
Funds to cover the full cost of all-day kindergarten at every public school district in the Commonwealth
Funds to cover 70% of transportation costs for public schools
$25 million in grants for county clerks for elections and deed recording online
$150 million in fiscal year 2023-24 for a major overhaul of the state parks system
 
The legislation was originally approved by a 31-0 vote in the Senate and a 93-3 vote in the House on March 30.
 
Other veto overrides:
 
Senate Bill 1 – The measure calls for local superintendents – rather than school councils – to determine educational curriculum. The Teaching American Principles Act, which would require instruction in social studies to align with a list of core concepts and documents that supporters say are central to American civics, is also included in the bill.
 
House Bill 3 – This bill would require minors to have parental consent before undergoing an abortion procedure. It would also ban the online sale of abortion medication and limit abortion to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
 
House Bill 7 – This legislation aims to revamp public assistance benefits and combat fraud. HB 7 would create new rules around the presumptive eligibility for benefit recipients and seek more accountability from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. It would also establish penalties for fraudulent sales of benefit cards.
 
Another provision seeks to encourage participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – known as SNAP – to make good nutritional choices.
 
House Bill 8 – This is a tax modernization bill that aims to reduce the state income tax rate and diversify the state tax base. Using a special formula, the state will look at the budget reserve trust fund and compare it to the general fund to make sure the state can afford to reduce the state income tax by .5%. If certain conditions are met, the income tax reduction will take place in the second January after that fiscal year.
 
In order to reduce the income tax rate, the state plans to expand the sales tax base.
 
Another provision of HB 8 imposes a 6% use tax on nonessential services such as, nonessential cosmetic surgery, body modifications, photography, research polling, bodyguard services, marketing and more. Another section of the bill imposes a tax on ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, and electric vehicles.
 
Electric vehicle owners will pay an annual $120 ownership fee. Owners of hybrid vehicles and electric motorcycles will be a $60 annual fee.
 
House Bill 9 – Following legislation from 2017, HB 9 codifies the funding mechanism for charter schools, authorizes two pilot charter school projects in Northern Kentucky and the West End of Louisville, and makes changes to the appeal process if a charter school application is denied by a local school board.
 
Senate Bill 83 – Senate Bill 83 would prevent male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls’ sports, starting in the sixth grade.
 
House Bills 241 – The Transportation Cabinet budget contained in HB 241 appropriates nearly $3 billion toward road projects across the Commonwealth for the next two fiscal years.
 
House Bill 243 – This bill is the biennium spending plan for the legislative branch.
 
All of these bills go into effect 90 days after the end of the 2022 legislative session, unless the bill has an emergency clause or a provision that sets a different effective date.
 
The Kentucky General Assembly will convene for its final day of the 2022 legislative session at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

 

 

END

 

 

 

April 1, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

 Legislators consider bills for concurrence in the Senate. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly gaveled out for a 10-day veto recess after passing a landmark state budget and a volley of other prominent bills this week on tax reform, charter schools, abortion, gambling, elections and changes to public assistance.
 
In all, lawmakers delivered 140 bills to the governor’s desk over a two-day marathon of voting and debate on the chamber floors. The action wrapped up close to midnight on Wednesday.
 
The governor now has until the end of the day on April 11 to sign the bills, let them become law without his signature or issue vetoes. Lawmakers will have an opportunity to override any vetoes when the General Assembly reconvenes on April 13-14 for the final two days of the session.
 
Here are some of the bills that received final passage before both chambers adjourned:
 
Budget: House Bill 1 would provide an historic two-year spending plan for the state executive branch with funding for employee raises, full-day kindergarten and increases to the state’s per pupil funding formula. It would also provide major investments in public pensions, state parks, clean drinking water projects and the state fairgrounds.
 
Abortion: House Bill 3 would ban abortions in Kentucky at 15 weeks of gestation and require minors to obtain consent from their parents before undergoing the procedure. The omnibus bill would also ban online sales of abortion-inducing drugs and regulate the disposal of fetal remains.
 
Tax reform: House Bill 8 seeks to gradually reduce and eliminate state taxes on personal income over several years while simultaneously expanding and diversifying the state’s overall tax base. Once state revenue exceeds certain thresholds, the measure would trigger reductions in the income tax rate of half a percentage point, starting with an initial drop in 2023.
 
Charter schools: House Bill 9 would establish a funding model for charter schools, building on legislation from 2017 that first allowed charters in Kentucky. It would also authorize two pilot charter school projects in Louisville and Northern Kentucky and change the appeals process if education officials deny an application for a new charter school.
 
Pari-mutuel wagering: House Bill 607 would tax every pari-mutuel wager at a standard 1.5% rate, including advance-deposit wagers and bets on simulcasts. It would also direct more money to the general fund, eliminate breakage, make the Kentucky Racing Commission responsible for self-funding, create a self-exclusion list for problem gamblers and eliminate the track admissions tax.
 
Public assistance: House Bill 7 aims to revamp public assistance benefits and combat fraud with new rules around benefit eligibility. It also seeks to increase accountability from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and encourage healthy choices for those receiving nutritional assistance.
 
School resource officers: House Bill 63 calls on local school districts to place a school resource officer in each school by Aug. 1 if they can afford the cost. It would also allow local school boards to establish a police department for the district.
 
Nursing shortages: Senate Bill 10 would make it easier for nurses from outside Kentucky to practice here, helping address major workforce shortages in the profession. It would also remove predetermined numbers for admission to nursing programs.
 
Porch pirates: Senate Bill 23 would crack down on people who steal packages off front porches, often referred to as porch pirates. The bill would make it a Class D felony to steal or destroy packages from common carriers and delivery services such as Amazon or FedEx.
 
Fentanyl: Known as Dalton’s Law, House Bill 215 would require those convicted of trafficking fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives to serve at least 85% of their criminal sentences, up from the current 50%. It would also make importing those drugs from another state or country a Class C felony and make offenders ineligible for a pretrial diversion.
 
School board meetings: House Bill 121 would require a public comment period of at least 15 minutes at local school board meetings, unless no one is signed up to speak. It would also require that any board rules and policies regarding conduct apply during the comment period.
 
Coroner training: Senate Bill 6, also known as Nathan’s Law, would require coroners to attend eight hours of training on the grieving process and procedures for death notifications. It would also establish certain procedures that coroners must follow in providing death notifications.
 
Crimes during emergencies: Senate Bill 179 would enhance penalties for crimes committed during a declared emergency related to a natural or man-made disaster. It would apply to assault, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and robbery.
 
Election security: Senate Bill 216 seeks to enhance election security through multiple changes in law including a provision to prevent voting machines from being connected to the internet, among other provisions.
 
Swatting: House Bill 48 would make falsely reporting an incident that results in an emergency response – commonly called “swatting” – a Class D felony.
 
Due process: House Bill 290 calls on state colleges and universities to adopt a student code of conduct for non-academic disciplinary procedures and provide students with due process protections that are similar to those in criminal and civil courts.
 
Kentuckians can track the action through the 
Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

March 30, 2022

Bill to overhaul public assistance clears final hurdle       

 

 Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, speaking on House Bill 7, which would revamp public assistance benefits. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — A bill that aims to revamp public assistance benefits and combat fraud is headed to the governor’s desk after it received final approval from the Kentucky General Assembly on Wednesday.
 
House Bill 7 would create new rules around the presumptive eligibility for benefit recipients and seek more accountability from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. It would also establish penalties for fraudulent sales of benefit cards.
 
Another provision seeks to encourage participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – known as SNAP – to make good nutritional choices, supporters say. 
 
“It tries to make sure that public assistance benefits go to the people that actually really need it,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “It tries to increase accountability, decrease fraud in the system and protect funds for those who need it the most.”
 
Alvarado presented the legislation on the Senate floor. However, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, is the bill’s primary sponsor.
 
“We actually do have a major problem in this state, and that is what we are going to try to start taking care of,” Meade told members in the House.
 
The measure includes a waiver that can be used at the state health cabinet to expand SNAP for the elderly and the disabled. HB 7 also calls for creation of community engagement programs at the cabinet by April 2023.
 
Other provisions would set rules around self-attestation and determination of Medicaid eligibility and verification. The bill would also establish the Benefits Cliff Task Force and require the cabinet to develop an online benefits cliff calculator.
 
“That’s been something that’s been talked about quite a bit through many of our interim meetings. You know that a lot of folks have a hard time transitioning off of public assistance into the private employment, and as a result this is going to hopefully help them as we develop a task force to deal with that issue,” Alvarado said.
 
The legislation would also require the cabinet to contract with a third party to review presumptive eligibility and compliance, and it would prohibit the cabinet from seeking new waivers or renewing waivers without authorization from the General Assembly with a few exceptions, he said.
 
HB 7 has undergone changes since the bill was first filed earlier this session.
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said changes have improved it, but the bill still has shortcomings.
 
“I think the overall bill is still lacking. I think it is still punishing people, potentially punishing people just for being poor,” he said.
 
McGarvey said no one likes fraud, but he pointed to estimates showing that instances of fraud in the nutrition program are around 0.002% of cases. He added that, on a per capita basis, Kentucky has the highest rate of investigating and charging intentional program violations of any state in the southeast.
 
“We are going to spend more money than we are going to save by taking food off of people’s plates. That’s not what we should do,” he said.
 
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, also told representatives there are many lawmakers who are relieved to see recent changes that make the bill more agreeable. However, she said she still doesn’t support many of the measures.
 
“I think it’s just a matter of what keeps you up at night,” she said. “For me, it doesn’t keep me up at night worrying that there is a tiny percentage of people who might get benefits and didn’t deserve them. What keeps me up at night is worrying that there might be people hungry who couldn’t jump through hoops and get benefits.”
 
Meade told members in the House that the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics has done several studies on the issue.
 
He said the college’s latest statistics show that improper enrollments in Medicaid cost the federal government $186 million a year in Kentucky and that Kentucky ranks third in the nation for the biggest increase in improper Medicaid enrollments since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
 
“It is not simply just a small percentage of folks who have been improperly enrolled,” he said.
 
The House voted 70-22 on final passage after the Senate approved HB 7 with a 24-12 vote. It now goes to the governor, who can sign it, allow it to become law without his signature or issue a veto.

 

END

 

 

March 30, 2022

General Assembly sends historic state budget to governor's desk      

 

 Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, speaks on House Bill 1, the proposed executive branch budget, on the House floor.  A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— After countless months of planning and negotiations, the state budget for the next biennium is finished.
 
House Bill 1, the executive branch budget, received final passage by the Kentucky General Assembly on Wednesday, hours before the beginning of the veto recess period.
 
Chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Christian McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, said the biggest items in the budget reflect a conscious decision to address operational deficits in the state’s workforce.
 
Some of the highlights McDaniel and House Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chair Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, mentioned include:
 
8% raises for state workers on July 1, 2022, and additional raises based on a pay study for the following fiscal year
$250 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for clean drinking water
Hundreds of millions of dollars to fully fund state pensions
Funds to provide social workers with a $2,400 pay increase in addition to the across-the-board raises
Funds to increase the SEEK formula from the current $4,000 per student to $4,100 per student in the first fiscal year and to $4,200 in the second year
$23 million to assist Kentucky State University with ongoing financial challenges along with a second appropriation of $15 million
Funds to cover the full cost of all-day kindergarten at every public school district in the Commonwealth
Funds to cover 70% of transportation costs for public schools
$25 million in grants for county clerks for elections and deed recording online
$150 million in fiscal year 2023-24 for a major overhaul of the state parks system
Enough funds to cover 40 days of operations in the event of an emergency

On the House floor, Petrie said the budget makes “historic” investments in K-12 education, and higher education.
 
“It puts us at a little over 52% of our entire general fund budget being allocated in education,” Petrie said.
 
In the Senate, McDaniel said Kentucky must remain competitive with other states and invest in people’s ability to succeed.
 
“Budgets are about discipline and restraint; and they get to the fact that in government, we cannot be here to guarantee anyone’s success, but rather set the environment for people to succeed to the maximum of their God-given potential,” he said.
 
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the bill underscores differences in the chamber. He praised the plan as a “conservative budget” that reflects tough decisions and sets aside money for the budget reserve trust fund.
 
“Just because we have a surplus doesn’t mean when have to spend it all,” Thayer said. “We have to remember where this money comes from. It comes from the taxpayers. It comes from the hard working people of Kentucky who every week have money taken out of their paycheck.”
 
While many members of the House and Senate said they liked HB 1, a few expressed disappointment in some of the educational funding choices.
 
Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, said her district in Northern Kentucky is losing teachers to Cincinnati. She said she’s afraid the SEEK increases and other education appropriations may not be enough for school districts to give competitive raises.
 
In the Senate, Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, praised many of the expenditures, but he criticized the budget for not funding universal pre-kindergarten. He said when adjusted for inflation, spending on education remains below levels prior to the 2008 recession, and called the budget a “missed opportunity” overall.
 
“This is our opportunity to make investments in the state that will reverberate 25 years from now,” he said. “This budget is the opportunity for people to look back 25 years from now and say, ‘that’s when they got this done. That’s when we got Kentucky moving in the right direction.’”
 
Back in the House, Speaker Pro Tempore David Meade, R-Stanford, said HB 1 is an “excellent budget.”
 
“I think this is the best one I have ever seen in my 10 years,” he said, calling special attention to “record” funding in education, pensions, and economic projects and more.
 
Although Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said she has concerns about the transportation funding for school districts, she was “happy to see creative use of ARPA funds.”

“It’s the best budget that I’ve ever had the privilege to vote on, and I hope that we will be able to work with this moving forward into the next biennium,” Minter said.
 
The House approved the executive branch budget by a 93-3 vote while the Senate approved the budget unanimously in a 35-0 vote.
 
Both chambers also approved House Bill 243, the legislative branch budget, and House Bill 244, the judicial branch budget on Wednesday.
 
All three bills will now be sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

 

END

 

 

 

 

March 29, 2022

Senate approves “Dalton’s Law” to combat fentanyl traffickers       

 

FRANKFORT — Named after Dalton Bishop who passed away from ingesting fentanyl, House Bill 215 received final approval Tuesday on the Senate floor.
 
The bill would increase from 50% to 85% the minimum time served before those guilty of trafficking can be eligible for probation, shock probation, conditional discharge or parole. It would also make them ineligible for a pretrial diversion, Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, said.
 
“House Bill 215 deals with enhancing sentencing for those that are trafficking in fentanyl. For those of us that are involved in this area, fentanyl has become a new, big thing that we’re having to deal with from a drug standpoint,” Howell said.
 
Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, is the bill’s primary sponsor. However, Howell presented the measure on the Senate floor, where it was approved for final passage with a 30-3 vote.
 
Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said his community has not been spared from deaths stemming from fentanyl.
 
“This bill came about, I think, as a result of a lot of the deaths that have happened in regards to fentanyl laced drugs,” he said. “And when it happens in your community, that’s when it starts to hit home. We’ve had one family we know have two sons. They no longer have any sons. They’ve lost both of them. Overdose.”
 
Not only did Wilson recall that family, but also the family of Bishop, who died after taking just one pill.
 
“If anybody knows anything about the drug and how dangerous it is, it’s a killer” he said, referring to Dalton Bishop.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said legislators appear to be piecemealing the criminal justice system even further and moving toward mandatory minimums like “the archaic federal system.” She also expressed concern about costs associated with the legislation.
 
“But this has a significant fiscal impact and it enhances aggravated trafficking to include heroin. So it’s going to come at a cost, and I have not had the opportunity to digest whether or not the budget will accommodate this, but we probably need to give corrections a little more money,” Webb said.
 
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said fentanyl and its derivatives are scourges.
 
“When you look at the society today and you look at the drugs that are being trafficked, there is no other deadlier drug at this point than fentanyl, carfentanil and the derivatives,” he said.
 
Carroll said it’s not just users at risk, but also first responders who attend to overdoses and end up in the hospital themselves. Carroll stressed that he has no sympathy for traffickers of deadly drugs.
 
“They are trafficking death, and as we are being more accommodating on the lower end for users. I think we need to be every bit harsher on the higher end of those who are trafficking and making money off of killing our citizens,” he said.

END

 

 

March 29, 2022

Senate advances bill to codify funding for charter schools      

 

 Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, speaks on House Bill 9, which would codify funding for charter schools.  A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — Legislation to establish charter schools in Kentucky became law in 2017, but the Senate gave final passage Tuesday to a bill that would codify a funding model for such schools moving forward.
 
House Bill 9 would also authorize two pilot charter school projects in Louisville and Northern Kentucky and change the appeals process if education officials deny an application for a new charter school.
 
The measure received final passage with a 22-14 vote and now heads to the governor’s desk. It cleared the House floor last week.
 
House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, is the bill’s primary sponsor. However, Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, presented the measure on the Senate floor.
 
“What we have before us here in House Bill 9 is an opportunity for us to excel in those places where the students deserve to be in robust programs of excellence,” he said.
 
Givens emphasized the issue of charter schools is not new to the state. He said the matter was under discussion when he arrived as a newly elected legislator in 2009 and that HB 9 builds on the original measure that passed in 2017.
 
“This is not something that has been rushed,” he said. “That’s 13 years’ worth of conversation here in Kentucky.”
 
If an application for a new charter school is denied, HB 9 allows the applicant to ask why and receive technical assistance from the Kentucky Department of Education to improve it. The department is required to provide the assistance.
 
Another provision allows school districts with less than 7,500 students a way to “veto” a charter school appeal.
 
Givens said that a small number of students moving out of a small district can have a significant economic impact on a school district. That’s why “there are protections written in the bill for the smallest of districts,” he said.
 
Lawmakers debated the bill for more than an hour on the Senate floor.
 
Supporters said the bill will help spur long-needed innovation to the education system while helping close outcome gaps among students. They argued that Kentucky has fallen behind other states in providing the option.
 
Critics, however, said charters will channel funds away from public schools and into private hands. They also argued that charter schools have a mixed record elsewhere and raised concerns that charters will be exempt from important standards like qualifications for administrators.
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, voted against the measures and said it will allow private entities to buy textbooks, desks and buildings – all with public funds.
 
“From Pikeville to Paducah, our school leaders are opposed to this bill,” he said. “This is a money grab, so I say follow the money and watch your public dollars go to private hands. And the person who will really pay the price for this will be your child.”
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, also voted against the legislation. She said those affiliated with charter schools might see school funding as a lucrative opportunity.
 
“They’ve made no secret about it. They’ve said they wanted it. And who are these people,” she asked. “Well, it’s rich donors and billionaires and foundations. What’s the goal here? Well, to get some of the money and also set curriculum, bring people in to teach so they can set the agenda that goes with their agenda.”
 
Several others, like Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, spoke in favor of HB 9.
 
“As I have said when I carried this bill three different times, it’s a pilot project,” Wilson said. “It’s a tool in the toolbox of education. It’s not looking to take over all of education. It’s just looking to be a tool to be used where needed,” he said.
 
Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said he would hate to wake up every morning thinking that the only reason people do things in Kentucky is for profit.

“The word ‘change’ scares the dickens out of a lot of people because it may force them to think a little differently when they get up in the morning or go to bed at night,” he said. “We have educational woes because of people who hate that word ‘change.’”

 

END

 

March 29, 2022

Bill increasing criminal penalties for crimes during natural, man-made disasters advances     

 

 House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, presents Senate Bill 179 alongside Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, on the House floor. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Thieves looking to steal property in an area impacted by a natural or man-made disaster will face harsher penalties under Senate Bill 179.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved the measure Tuesday. House Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, presented SB 179 on the House floor on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton.
 
During a declaration of emergency due to a natural or man-made disaster, those guilty of assault, burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and robbery, will face harsher penalties under SB 179.
 
Miles said the legislation is for those “people preying upon people at their worst time.”
 
For example, first-degree burglary would become a Class A felony, second-degree burglary would become a Class B felony, and third-degree burglary would become a Class C felony during a declaration.
 
Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, successfully amended SB 179 on the House floor to define impact areas. Massey said the amendment is necessary because a natural or man-made disaster often does not impact the entire state.
 
Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, also attempted to amend SB 179 on the House floor, but the amendment failed by a 29-58 roll call vote. Herron wanted to amend the bill to allow a sentencing judge or jury to decline to impose the enhanced penalties.
 
“This safety net ensures that juries and judges in disaster areas can determine who truly deserves the enhanced penalties based on the facts established at trial,” Herron said.
 
The House approved an amended version of SB 179 by an 84-10 vote. The Senate approved the original version of SB 179 by 34-1 vote on March 8.

The Senate will have to vote to concur on the changes made to the bill by the House before it can be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

 

 

END

 

 

March 25, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

 Work gets underway in the House of Representatives. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly spent the last full week of the 2022 legislative session considering a torrent of bills on elections, abortion, religion and gambling. But no issue appeared to capture more of the spotlight than public schools.
 
Lawmakers sent two major bills on education to the governor’s desk this week, including one on early childhood literacy and a separate, much-debated package on academic standards.
 
Another measure on transgender athletes also received final passage, while a bill on charter schools cleared the House floor and several others related to education continued to move forward.
 
Only four days remain in this year’s regular session, and lawmakers are working to finalize bills before breaking next week for a 10-day veto recess. That gives the General Assembly time to override any vetoes from the governor before adjourning for the year.
 
Bipartisanship ran high on Tuesday when legislation on early childhood literacy – Senate Bill 9 – received a final nod in the Senate.
 
Known as the Read to Succeed Act, the bill calls for evidence-based learning techniques and intensive interventions to improve literacy outcomes and help struggling students in kindergarten through the third grade. It won final passage with unanimous support.
 
However, lawmakers faced steep divides throughout the week on Senate Bill 1.
 
The measure calls for local superintendents – rather than school councils – to determine educational curriculum. It was amended in the House to also include language from the Teaching American Principles Act, which would require instruction in social studies to align with a list of core concepts and documents that supporters say are central to American civics.
 
SB 1 cleared the House floor on Tuesday and secured final passage in the Senate on Thursday, but not before sparking lengthy debates in both chambers.
 
The vote on Senate Bill 83 was likewise split. The legislation would prevent male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls’ sports, starting in the sixth grade and running through college. It received final passage in the Senate on Thursday following similar debate.
 
Legislation related to charter schools – House Bill 9 – also moved off the House floor on Thursday with a divided vote. That bill would change the appeals process if a charter school application is denied by a local school board. It would also codify the funding mechanism for charters and authorize two pilot charter school projects.
 
At the beginning of the week, both the House and Senate voted to override gubernatorial vetoes on two measures.
 
The first, Senate Joint Resolution 150, officially ends the COVID-19 state of emergency in Kentucky. The other, House Bill 4, changes the benefits and the job search requirements for unemployment.
 
Meanwhile, many other bills continued to advance through the process this week. That includes legislation related to:
 
Serving alcohol: House Bill 252 would clear the way for 18-year-olds to sell and serve alcoholic beverages. It received final passage in the Senate on Monday and has been delivered to the governor.
 
Pari-mutuel wagering: House Bill 607 seeks to tax every pari-mutuel wager – including advance-deposit wagers and bets on simulcasts – at a standard 1.5%. It cleared the House floor on Monday.
 
Gray machines: House Bill 608 would prohibit certain gambling machines, often called “gray” machines, in Kentucky. It advanced out of Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee on Tuesday.
 
Religious services: House Bill 43 calls for equal treatment of religious organizations during a state of emergency. The legislation was sent to the governor after receiving final passage in the Senate on Wednesday.
 
Parental rights: Senate Bill 40 calls on Kentucky courts to apply a strict scrutiny standard when considering the interests of parents in the care, custody and control of their children. It cleared the Senate floor on Wednesday.
 
Abortion: House Bill 3 would require physicians to seek permission from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before allowing the minor to undergo a chemical or surgical abortion. It passed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
 
Porch pirates: Senate Bill 23 would make it a class D felony to steal or destroy packages from common carriers and delivery services – similar to the penalty for stealing U.S. mail. The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill out of committee on Wednesday.
 
Moment of silence: House Bill 102 would require public schools to implement a moment of silence or reflection at the start of each school day. It cleared the House floor on Wednesday.
 
School breakfasts: Senate Bill 151 calls on schools in the Federal School Breakfast Program to offer students up to 15 minutes to eat breakfast during instructional time. It received final passage in the House on Thursday.
 
Elections: Senate Bill 216 seeks to strengthen election security through multiple changes to state law. That includes preventing voting machines from being connected to the internet and eliminating credit and debit cards as a form of identification. It cleared the House floor on Thursday with changes.
 
Constables: House Bill 239 would require newly elected constables to undergo professional law enforcement training before performing certain peace officer duties. It won final passage in the Senate on Friday.
 
Death penalty: House Bill 269 would add serious mental illness to the list of disabilities that disqualify offenders from execution if symptoms were occurring at the time of the offense. The Senate gave the bill final passage on Friday.
 
The General Assembly is scheduled to gavel back into session on Tuesday and Wednesday next week before breaking for the veto recess.
 
Kentuckians can track the action through the 
Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

March 24, 2022

House committee approves unemployment for domestic violence victims bill

 

 

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, testifies on House Bill 83 in the House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bipartisan initiative to extend unemployment benefits to domestic violence victims is on the move in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
 
The House Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee approved House Bill 83 on Thursday. Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, said she and Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, have worked with stakeholders on the legislation for a couple of years.
 
“What this bill does is allow victims of domestic, dating, sexual and stalking violence who leave work, are unable to work, or separated from employment due to circumstances directly relating to that violence, to be eligible for unemployment benefits….” Kulkarni said.
 
HB 83 would apply in cases where the victim fears violence at or on route to the workplace, Kulkarni added. A victim would also be eligible if he or she wishes to relocate to another area to avoid future violence or protect the safety and health of themselves, their family or co-workers.
 
Kulkarni cited several studies that show domestic violence is linked to unemployment, with 83% of domestic violence survivors reporting their ability to work was negatively impacted by an abusive partner. Kulkarni said this legislation is necessary because Kentucky has a rate of intimate partner violence higher than the national average.
 
“Intimate partner violence impacts 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in their lifetime. In Kentucky, that number is higher,” Kulkarni said. “One in 3 women and 1 in 8 men experienced partner abuse. Nearly 1 in 2 women in Kentucky and 1 in 5 men have reported sexual violence at some point in their lives.”
 
HB 83 would require claimants to provide documentation to prove eligibility, Kulkarni added. The documentation could be police records, court records, sworn statements or other documentation of violence provided by the victim, shelter workers, members of the clergy, medical professionals or other professionals from whom the victim has sought assistance.
 
“This evidence would be kept confidential under this legislation,” Kulkarni said.
The bill would also direct the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet secretary to develop a confidential verification process designed to detect fraudulent claims and train employees.
 
Under HB 83, benefits would be paid from a pooled account and not from the employer’s reserve account.
 
“In addition, nothing in this bill will impact an employer’s experience rating for purposes of calculating the employer’s unemployment insurance tax rate,” Kulkarni added.
 
The measure would also direct the cabinet to train employees to process the claims and provide a report by Sept. 30 each year to the Legislative Research Commission detailing the number of claims filed.
 
During discussion, Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell, and Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, both told Kulkarni they like the bill. Lockett asked Kulkarni about the pooled account that would be used.
 
“The pooled account is something that employers contribute to, and it reduces essentially the burden for each individual employer from paying out for unemployment benefits,” Kulkarni clarified. “And so this is not going to be charged to an employer’s reserve account, which would be individual to an employer.”
 
Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said he also likes the idea of the bill, but he has concerns about the fear aspect in the legislation.
 
“It seems to me that we may be going a bit too far,” he said.
 
Kulkarni said the fear of violence language in the bill means it has to be something that is currently happening and can be proved with documentation and “not the fear of future violence or abuse.”
 
In explaining their “no” votes, Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, and Rep. Scott Sharp, R-Ashland, said they have concerns about the potential of fraud. Calloway said he would like to talk with Kulkarni and Heavrin more about his concerns.
 
HB 83 now goes to the full House for consideration.

 

END

 

 

March 23, 2022

Senate approves bill that would strengthen parents’ rights 

 

 

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, speaks on Senate Bill 40, which seeks to strengthen parents’ rights. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — A bill designed to reinforce parents’ rights received approval Wednesday from the Senate.
 
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said Senate Bill 40 states that Kentucky courts must apply a strict scrutiny standard when considering the interests of parents in the care, custody and control of their children.
 
“The purpose of this bill is to protect the fundamental rights of Kentucky parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children as guaranteed under Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
 
The care, custody and control of parents’ children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by the courts, West said.
 
“In fact, this right of parents to direct upbringing, education and care of their children predates the court itself. It is a right that was already understood and acknowledged long before the United States came to be as a country” he said.
 
West said these rights were recognized in English common law and by the commonwealth’s forefathers. He added that the bill does not affect existing state statutes, which have been under this standard for many years.
 
“This bill simply protects an idea and a standard that has been in operation since the founding of this state and even before that in order for the state to enact laws affecting our fundamental right to parent our children,” he said.
 
An amendment was added to legislation on the Senate floor Wednesday to except instances of child abuse and neglect. It passed 23-14 and now heads to the House.
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, was one of the lawmakers who voted in opposition. He said his most important job is being a parent, but the bill is a solution in search of a problem.
 
McGarvey also expressed concern for children who are being raised by those who are not their biological parents. He pointed to a section of the bill that would define parents as the biological or adoptive mother or father of a child.
 
“Again, I’m thrilled that I get to be a parent to my kids,” he said. “That is not the reality for every child in Kentucky. In fact, there are 67,000 children in Kentucky who reside in households where the primary caregiver is not that definition of parent. There are 9,000 additional children in Kentucky who are in the foster care system.”
 
McGarvey said lawmakers should be talking about what they can do for children, not what can be done to them.
 
“What rights do parents not have in Kentucky right now? I ask as one of them. I don’t feel any threat to help raise my children in the way I see best fit. But this bill could create a problem for kids who do not have their biological parent as their primary caregiver,” he said.
 
West said the legislation will not negatively impact the right to “step into the shoes” of parents for children who have had issues, whether it’s foster care or another arrangement.
 
Sen. Johnnie Turner, R-Harlan, said he was going to vote for the measure.
 
“This bill kind of raises that standard that should have been placed the whole time. We should protect parents’ rights,” he said. “Nothing disrespectful of aunts, uncles, grandpas, brothers and sisters that help take care of them when needed. But this bill raises the bar to where you as a parent now have rights.”

END

 

 

 

March 23, 2022

House bill to protect genetic data advances in committee

 

 

Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, testifies on House Bill 502, which would help ensure data gathered by direct-to-consumer genetic testing services remains private. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee took steps Wednesday to help ensure data gathered by direct-to-consumer genetic testing services remains private.
 
Sponsored by Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, House Bill 502 would put consumers in control of their genetic data from start to finish when they use genetic testing services.
 
Bentley said the state legislation is needed to strengthen the federal regulations and rules laboratories follow, and it is meant to protect Kentuckians by putting up “guardrails.” The measure is known as the Genetic Information Privacy Act.
 
“DNA theft can result in exposure of medical information such as AD (Alzheimer’s disease) or predisposition to cancer,” he said, adding that it can also reveal information about your family relations. “We need to protect that for all Kentuckians.”
 
The measure defines a biological sample as items such as tissue, blood, urine or saliva known to contain DNA.
 
The legislation calls for consumers to have a process to access their genetic data, delete their account and genetic data, and request and obtain the destruction of their biological samples.
 
It would also restrict how law enforcement personnel use DNA records that are voluntarily submitted to eliminate suspects.
 
Ritchie Engelhardt, Head of Government Affairs at Ancestry, said the bill has had broad stakeholder and bipartisan support in the states where similar legislation has already passed.
 
“That includes Arizona, California, Utah and Wyoming,” he said.
 
Similar legislation was taken up at The Council of State Governments’ meeting last fall, and the organization opted to include it in its state bill book on model legislation.
 
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he is in favor of the bill because it’s good legislation and it’s important to protect the state’s citizens.
 
The measure was approved with a 10-0 vote. It will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

March 22, 2022

Charter schools bill advances off House floor

 

 

House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, presents charter school bill, House Bill 9, on the House floor. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— It’s now the Kentucky Senate’s turn to consider a House bill on charter schools after the measure advanced off the House floor on Tuesday.
 
House Bill 9 would make changes to the appeal process if a charter school application is denied by a local school board. It would also codify the funding mechanism for charter schools and authorize two pilot charter school projects.
 
House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, is the primary sponsor of the bill. He said HB 9 builds on charter school legislation from the 2017 legislative session.
 
Under current law, local school boards hold the power to authorize a charter school, and charter schools may appeal that decision to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). McCoy said HB 9 does not change that. Instead, the bill requires the department to explain its decision.
 
“(The bill) says that the KDE has to tell you why they’re denying you or approving you and say why this is or is not something good for the local community,” McCoy said. “In addition, we’ve changed and asked the KDE to offer technical assistance to an applicant.”
 
According to McCoy, another provision of HB 9 would give school districts with less than 7,500 students a way to “veto” a charter school appeal.
 
“If you are a school district with less than 7,500 kids, part of the application process requires that you submit a memorandum of understanding with your application from the local school district. If you can’t get that, then your application is deemed incomplete, thus you don’t have an appeal,” McCoy said.
 
Under HB 9, two charter school pilot projects would be authorized to open by 2023 in the West End of Louisville and in Northern Kentucky. McCoy said the hope is the pilot projects will reveal to the legislature what changes need to be made, if any, to how charter schools operate in the Commonwealth.
 
Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, who is a public school educator, spoke in opposition to HB 9 on the House floor. She also proposed five floor amendments to make various changes to the measure. All five of the amendments failed to gain enough votes to be eligible for consideration.
 
In a House floor speech, Bojanowski criticized the charter school industry and said she believes “using public dollars to fund charter schools in Kentucky is unconstitutional.”
 
“The driving force here is not innovation. It is profits, and selling our children’s education for a profit is wrong,” she said.
 
Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, who is a public school principal, said while school choice sounds “great,” he has also concerns.
 
“I’m all for parents having a choice, but I’m not for giving certain schools unfair advantages,” Truett said. “In my opinion, House Bill 9 is a vote against public education, and I encourage you to think about that before you make that vote.”
 
In a nearly two and a half hour debate, many legislators spoke against HB 9 on the House floor, including Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington. In her speech, she cited data that showed out of 116 charter schools in Tennessee, only five have a success rate of more than 20%.
 
McCoy said he does not think the claim that charter schools have a high failure rate “holds water.” He cited data that shows the charter school failure rate at 2.8%. He also said he does not believe local school boards would allow a charter school to come in to a community and do the “horrible things” some lawmakers expressed concerns about.
 
“Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that there are bad charter schools out there, and I think everybody would agree with me that there are bad public schools out there too,” McCoy said. “That’s not an indictment on the whole process one way or another. This is about parents. Parents need choice, and this bill gives choice in our public school system.”
 
Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, joined several voices speaking in favor of HB 9 on the House floor. He said parents want a choice when it comes to their child’s education, and he believes the legislature should “give them a little bit of choice.”
 
Rep. Scott Sharp, R-Ashland, agreed HB 9 is a bill about giving parents a choice.
 
“I’ve got to do what I think is best for the parents of my district to give them an option of something different, to give them more options than what they have,” he said.
 
The House approved HB 9 by a 51-46 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

 

END

 

 

 

March 22, 2022

House committee approves Teaching American Principles Act

 

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, testifies on Senate Bill 138 during the House Education Committee on Tuesday. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A Senate bill seeking to improve civics education in public schools is one step closer to becoming law.
 
The House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 138, or the Teaching American Principles Act, on Tuesday.
 
“The purpose of this bill is to preserve the alignment of middle and high school standards with American principles of equality, freedom and personal agency,” said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, the bill’s primary sponsor.
 
Under SB 138, public schools would have to provide instruction in social studies that aligns with a list of concepts such as “all individuals are created equal” and “Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law,” among several others.
 
It also requires instruction to be “within the range of knowledge, understanding, age, and maturity of the students receiving the instruction.”
 
Another provision of SB 138 would provide a list of documents for the Kentucky Department of Education to incorporate into grade-level appropriate academic standards for middle and high school social studies classes.
 
Those documents include, “The Mayflower Compact,” the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the “Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “A Time for Choosing” by Ronald Reagan and more.
 
Wise said SB 138 is necessary because less than 25% of U.S. students graduating high school can pass a U.S. civics or citizenship examination.
 
“We are facing a civics crisis in not just the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but the United States,” Wise added. “I do not blame the teachers for that, but I look at things that get cut many times from our standards and it is civics education.”
 
Kate Miller with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky was one of many to testify against SB 138 during the committee meeting. She was joined by students who also spoke against the bill.
 
“Senate Bill 138 first serves as a way to censor speech,” Miller said. “It is a government censorship bill. There’s a long history of these types of bills, and we should remember that First Amendment rights do not stop for teachers or students at the schoolhouse gate.”
 
During Wise’s testimony, he said the intention of SB 138 is not to dictate what can and cannot be said in the classroom.
 
“There is nothing in the bill that tells an educator what you can or cannot teach. It does not discipline teachers,” Wise said. “It does not tell a student what you can and cannot say. It simply looks at the foundations of our country and allows educators to go back and use those documents.”
 
During discussion of the bill, Rep. Attica Scott, D- Louisville, said she has an issue with the bill’s “erasure of women” in the core documents list. She also questioned language in the bill regarding the teaching of slavery, the Civil War and racial segregation and discrimination. In explaining her “no” vote, Scott expressed concerns about censorship.
 
“I just can’t vote for something that takes away the voice of so many people that I represent back home in District 41,” she said.
 
Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, spoke in favor of SB 138 while explaining his “yes” vote. He mentioned his granddaughter and conversations they have about American History.
 
“Things that I have taught her about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, things that I have brought into her mind on this to let her know that equality does exist in this nation,” Dossett said. “Maybe in some instances we could do better, but that we have learned from our past and that she has a chance of a very good life.”
 
SB 138 will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

 

 

END

 

 

March 22, 2022

Senate advances bill to allow 18-year-olds to sell, serve alcohol

 

FRANKFORT — Kentucky is on its way to joining many states where 18-year-olds can sell and serve alcoholic beverages.
 
Currently, Kentucky sets the minimum age to sell and serve alcohol at 20, but House Bill 252 would lower the threshold. The Senate on Monday gave final passage to the bill with a 23-10 vote. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
 
Supporters said the legislation would not only help the beleaguered restaurant industry, but also young people who seek employment.
 
“So when you go into a restaurant today there are empty tables, and it’s not because of COVID or six feet of distancing requirements,” said Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville. “It’s because restaurants do not have enough staff. House Bill 252 is an attempt to correct that part of our workforce shortage.”
 
The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington. However, Adams presented the bill on the Senate floor.
 
By allowing restaurants to hire 18-year-olds, restaurants gain a larger employment pool and opportunities expand for young job seekers, she said.
 
“In comparing Kentucky’s laws to surrounding states, all of them allow a person to be employed before the age of 20, and today this leads many of our young Kentuckians to work across the borders. So, the challenges caused by COVID still reverberate throughout the restaurant industry including workforce shortages,” she said.
 
The bill would also offer “immediate and significant” relief to distribution companies, according to Adams.
 
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, voted for the bill and said he is in agreement about young job seekers who look for opportunities in surrounding states.
 
“We’ve seen when people have the ability to choose – that are under 21 – whether to take a job in the restaurant industry in Ohio or in Kentucky,” he said. “This plays a factor because this plays a factor in their tips. So this will play a factor in workforce retention for some of our restaurants in Northern Kentucky.”
 
Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said he would normally vote against this type of legislation. But if it becomes problematic, the law could be changed next year, he said.

 “I hate to think I would do something to knock one of these young people out of getting a job that they desperately need only because of something like this,” he said. “It doesn’t create an opportunity for them to drink any more than they have on their own.”

END

 

 

March 21, 2022

Pari-mutuel wagering modernization bill clears House floor

 

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, left, confers with Rep. Ken Upchurch, R-Monticello, on House Bill 607 on the House floor. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill Monday that seeks to tax every pari-mutuel wager at 1.5%.
 
Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 607. He said the bill will modernize the pari-mutuel wagering industry.
 
“We’re going to make Kentucky the most desirable place if you want to wager on horses in North America,” Koenig said. “That’s going to create more revenue. That’s going to create more opportunities for our tracks and provide a lot of success.”
 
HB 607 follows reforms to pari-mutuel wagering in the 2021 Regular Session. It is also the product of the Pari-Mutuel Wagering Taxation Task Force. Koenig said the task force met five times during the 2021 interim. 
 
Currently, advance-deposit wagering is taxed at .5%, and bets on simulcasts are taxed at 3%, Koenig said. HB 607 would tax every pari-mutuel wager at 1.5%, the same rate for races happening at a track.
 
“I’m sure all of those tax rates made sense at one point, but we don’t think they make sense anymore,” Koenig said.
 
HB 607 also directs more money to the general fund, eliminates breakage, makes the Kentucky Racing Commission responsible for self-funding, creates a self-exclusion list for problem gamblers, eliminates the track admissions tax and more.
 
Koenig said pari-mutuel wagering brings in millions of revenue to the state already, and if passed, the changes proposed in HB 607 are expected to bring in more.
 
“In 2016, the general fund saw $4 million from (historical horse racing) machines. In 2021, it saw $41 million, so it went up 10 times in a span of four years,” Koenig said. “And this year, we’re estimating it to be $62 million, which will be a 50% increase. So those increases are happening whether we pass this bill or not.”
 
During discussion of the bill, several lawmakers said they would like to see a higher tax rate on pari-mutuel wagering.
 
Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, proposed a floor amendment to raise the tax to 6%.
 
“I believe that gambling is an irresponsible way to raise revenue,” Calloway said. “…. And so my thought process is that if we are going to do this, and we continue to move forward with it, that we should benefit as much as possible from this and try to get as much for the state as we can.”
 
Speaking against the amendment, Koenig said it would “put an end to the historical horse racing machine (HHR) system in Kentucky.” Calloway’s floor amendment failed by a 32-39 vote.
 
Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, also urged the House to consider a higher tax rate on pari-mutuel wagering.
 
“I will be voting no on this bill because we as a body should be looking at ways to fairly tax HHR revenues instead of continuing to subsidize and bailout corporations with record breaking, soaring profits,” she said.
 
Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, who was a member of the Pari-Mutuel Wagering Taxation Task Force, spoke in favor of HB 607.
 
“I think the task force did exactly what it set out to do,” he said.
 
In explaining his “yes” vote, Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said although he would like to see a higher tax rate on pari-mutuel wagering, he likes that the bill in its current form will still generate more revenue for the state.
 
The House approved HB 607 by an 81-14 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

 

END

 

 

March 18, 2022

House votes to take a gamble on sports betting

 

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, presents House Bill 606 on the House floor on Friday. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill many Kentuckians have spent years asking for advanced off the House floor on Friday.
 
House Bill 606 would legalize in-person and online sports betting in Kentucky.
 
“House Bill 606 brings activities that go on in every corner of this state out of the darkness and into the light,” said primary bill sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. “It legalizes sports wagering and regulates it. It regulates the daily fantasy sports, which goes on openly on U.S. companies today, and it legalizes and regulates online poker.”
 
Koenig said sports betting is legal in most of the states surrounding Kentucky. He also cited a statistic from American Gaming Association that estimates $2 billion is illegally wagered on sports in Kentucky each year.
 
The bipartisan bill would tax sports betting by implementing a 9.75% tax on the adjusted gross revenue for in-person sports betting and a 14.25% tax on the adjusted gross revenue for online sports betting. The money would go toward the state’s pension fund.
 
Koenig said the state estimates that legalizing sports betting in Kentucky would bring in $22.5 million in revenue for the state.
 
“Given how many states have exceeded their projections, I think $22.5 million is probably a minimum,” Koenig added.
 
Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, called a floor amendment to set a $1,000 limit on how much a bettor can lose in a 24-hour period online.
 
“For instance, if you are a bartender and you see someone that is (drunk), you would stop and not serve them anymore, and I believe that we could put these same types of limits on this if this is going to move forward,” he said.  
 
Koenig said he “trusts adults to make adult decisions,” and he could not support the amendment because it would be easy to avoid the limit by going to another state. Koenig also mentioned he knows of people in Kentucky who already make their livelihood on sports betting.
 
Calloway’s amendment failed by a voice vote.
 
While voting on HB 606, several lawmakers explained their “no” votes.
 
Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said while he is a “big believer in personal responsibility,” he would not be voting in favor of HB 606.
 
“I think the appropriate way to deal with this issue and all issues of gaming in Kentucky and gambling is through a constitutional amendment. That I would support,” Elliott said.
 
Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, said he was voting “no” on the bill because he does not like that the purpose of the bill is to generate revenue and that it would hurt vulnerable people.
 
Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, voted “yes” on HB 606. She said she was proud to co-sponsor the measure.
 
“I, like many others have said, received so many messages from constituents in District 67 who overwhelmingly want this,” Roberts added.
 
Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, also voted in favor of HB 606. She said the bill is “without a shadow of a doubt” the issue she has received the most phone calls and emails about in her four years in the House with 99% of those messages being in favor of sports betting in Kentucky.
 
HB 606 cleared the House by a 58-30 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

March 18, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

Lawmakers from the House and Senate met in conference committee Thursday night to negotiate the state’s next two-year budget. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — The final days of the 2022 legislative session are well in sight, and lawmakers are redoubling efforts to count votes and move bills, including some high-profile measures this week on gambling and medical cannabis.
 
The Kentucky General Assembly has nine days left in the 60-day session, and many of the most watched bills from this year are hanging in the balance, including the state’s historic executive branch budget, which is poised to top $100 billion.
 
Lawmakers met in conference committee on Wednesday and Thursday night to begin negotiating a budget deal between the House and Senate, and talks are expected to continue next week.
 
The late meetings foreshadow even longer hours ahead as legislators debate, amend and otherwise prepare dozens of additional bills for final passage.
 
This week started with a jolt as the House advanced 22 bills during a marathon floor session on Monday. Measures related to juvenile justice, unemployment insurance, and penalties for trafficking fentanyl, among many others, all cleared the floor.
 
The Senate also kicked off the week by giving final passage to House Bill 263 – known as Kami’s Law – which would increase the penalties for abusing children under 12 years of age.
 
Much of the attention shifted toward medical cannabis and gambling as the week continued.
 
The House advanced a massive package out of committee on Wednesday that included four separate measures on gambling. Two of those bills, which would legalize most forms of sports betting and ban electronic “gray” machines, advanced off the House floor Friday.
 
The medicinal cannabis bill – House Bill 136 – also cleared the House floor on Thursday after a long and impassioned debate.
 
It would legalize some forms of cannabis as a treatment option for people with cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
 
The legislation also calls on officials to track cannabis prescriptions through the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system.
 
In addition to those measures, many other bills were moving through the process this week. That includes legislation related to:
 
Fentanyl: House Bill 215, called “Dalton’s Law,” would make importing fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives a Class C felony. Offenders would be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence and would not be eligible for pretrial diversion under the bill. It cleared the House floor on Monday.
 
Felon student aid: Senate Bill 163 would allow some inmates and felons to access state aid for college, including funds from the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, known as KEES. The bill passed off the Senate floor Wednesday.
 
Refugee relief funds: Senate Bill 195 would earmark $50 million to assist refugees from Ukraine and other countries. That includes grants to help families relocate. The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved the bill on Wednesday.
 
Abortion: With some exceptions, Senate Bill 321 would prohibit abortions at 15 weeks of gestation and redefine the term “pain-capable unborn child” in state law. It moved off the Senate floor on Wednesday.
 
KSU Board: Senate Bill 265 would direct the governor to name replacements for the Kentucky State University Board of Regents by April 4. The bill received final passage on Thursday and was sent to the governor.
 
School boards: House Bill 121 calls on school boards to provide a public comment period of at least 15 minutes during each regular meeting. It would also require rules around civility to remain in effect during comment periods. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Thursday.
 
Child abuse: House Bill 270 seeks to combat child abuse by teaching young students in Kentucky schools to speak up when they are victimized. The Senate Education Committee advanced the measure Thursday.
 
Religious freedom: House Bill 43 would prevent houses of worship and other religious organizations from being singled out for closure during a state of emergency. The bill passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Thursday.
 
Transgender athletes: Senate Bill 83 would prevent male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls’ sports, starting in the sixth grade. It moved off the House floor on Thursday.
 
Public assistance: House Bill 7 calls for a major overhaul of Kentucky’s public assistance programs with a focus on work requirements and battling fraud. It passed off the House floor on Thursday.
 
The General Assembly will return Monday for day 52 of the session, and Kentuckians can track the action through the
Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

March 17, 2022

Senate advances bill to require comment period at school board meetings     

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, speaks on House Bill 121, which would require at least 15 minutes for public comment at school board meetings. A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT —A bill that would require civility and public comment periods during school board meetings advanced Thursday on the Senate floor.
 
House Bill 121 calls on school boards to provide a public comment period of at least 15 minutes, or until comment ends, at each regular meeting. The comment period could be passed over if no one has made a request to speak.
 
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, presented the bill on the Senate floor and told lawmakers that parents were sometimes shut out of school board meetings in Kentucky and many other states.
 
“I think it would be an understatement to say that for the past two years, there’s probably not been more attendance, passion, debate, … dialogue that’s been expressed in local school board meetings in a long, long time.”
 
HB 121 is sponsored by Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg; Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville; and Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville. It received approval in the Senate with a 25-10 vote after lawmakers adopted two amendments. The bill will now return to the House.
 
One amendment was sponsored by Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville. It would require that any board rules and policies related to conduct during meetings remain in effect during the public comment period.
 
“That’s to make sure that we maintain the civility and the order that obviously anyone conducting a hearing of any kind, a board meeting of any kind, must maintain,” he said.
 
The second amendment – sponsored by Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg – clarified that the public comment period could last longer than 15 minutes if needed.
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, stood in opposition to HB 121 after noting that he too is a parent.
 
“I believe in having parents’ voices involved in education,” he said. “Let’s make no mistake about what we are doing here today though. We are telling locally elected officials how to run their meetings.”
 
Wise concluded by thanking parents and school officials, who he said never expected to be dealing with the issues that have come their way.
 
“In the times of strife, in the times of compassion and passion, we appreciate the work that each one of our local officials have displayed,” he said.

 

END

 

 

March 17, 2022

Bill legalizing medicinal cannabis clears House floor   

 

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 136, a bill to legalize medicinal cannabis on the House floor. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Doctors may soon be permitted to prescribe medicinal cannabis to Kentuckians with certain medical conditions.
 
House Bill 136 would legalize medicinal cannabis as a treatment option for people with cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic nausea, cyclical vomiting, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, has carried similar legislation in the House before, but the measures failed to receive approval from both chambers. Nemes said he’s worked with many people over the years to make changes to the legislation that more lawmakers could support.
 
“When I took this bill and grabbed it by the horns and made it tighter, I worked with a lot of you, a lot of senators and made it to where this is truly a bill for people who are just trying to be and just trying to be better,” Nemes told lawmakers on the House floor.  
 
Nemes added he does not support recreational marijuana and was originally against medicinal marijuana, but had a change of heart after hearing about the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
 
HB 136 would not allow people to grow their own marijuana or smoke cannabis, aside from vaping. Nemes said only Kentuckians 21 and older would be permitted to vape medicinal cannabis.
 
Another provision of the bill would create four different licenses to prevent just one person or company from being able to grow, process, dispense and test medicinal cannabis for safety. Prescriptions would also be tracked through the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system.
 
On the House floor, Nemes successfully amended the bill to require legislative approval for conditions to be added or removed from the approved list.

Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, also successfully amended the bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of approved conditions. She said out of the 37 other states that have legalized medicinal cannabis, all of them allow it as a treatment for PTSD. A clinical diagnosis would be required for a patient to be eligible for a medicinal cannabis prescription.
 
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, spoke on the House floor in favor of HB 136 by sharing how medicinal cannabis has helped people he knows.
 
“I know real people that have had their lives turned around by these products, and a lot of them are living in the closet or living in secrecy because they feel like they’re a criminal,” Gentry said.
 
Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said he understands and has compassion for people who are in pain, but he has legal concerns about the bill.
 
“The fact of the matter is marijuana, whether medical or recreational, is still illegal in the federal government,” Fugate said, adding doctors and pharmacists risk losing their United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license by prescribing medicinal cannabis. Fugate also expressed concerns about addiction.
 
Nemes said while marijuana is illegal under federal law, the federal government has said it would not prosecute against cannabis use for medicinal purposes in states where it is legal.
 
Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, also expressed concerns about HB 136. He believes medicinal cannabis needs more research.
 
“I do believe that it can be a great tool in our tool belt in the medical community. However, I do believe that it deserves a lot more time,” Lockett said.
 
In explaining her “yes” vote, Rep. Norma Kirk-McCormick, R-Inez, said she has also seen how medicinal cannabis helps people with chronic medical conditions.
 
Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, also voted in favor of HB 136 with her constituents in mind.  
 
“I’ve cast many votes in support of medicinal marijuana before because the people of District 20 asked me to do it — people from every walk of life,” Minter said.
 
The House approved HB 136 by a 59-34 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

March 17, 2022

Students to learn about child abuse and prevention under bill   

 

FRANKFORT — Erin Merryn has put the stories of how she suffered sexual abuse as a child in the public eye in a far-reaching way by sharing them with legislators across the country.
 
On Thursday, she addressed the Senate Education Committee virtually from Illinois. That lead to the committee’s approval of a measure – House Bill 270 – that would incorporate instruction on child abuse awareness and prevention in Kentucky schools.
 
“I went off to kindergarten and met my best friend, and it was in kindergarten that I had my first overnight in her house, and she had an uncle that lived in the home,” Merryn said. “And in the middle of the night, I woke up to him coming in the room and sexually abusing me, and he told me to keep it a secret.”
 
Merryn said one of the most compelling reasons for legislation on abuse and prevention is victims are often told to remain silent about it. The legislation would lead to teaching students to speak up if they are being abused.
 
“Unfortunately, most parents only talk to their kids about stranger danger. Ninety percent of the time children are not being sexually abused, physically abused by the stranger, but by someone they know and trust,” she said.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, said there are 37 states that have already adopted similar legislation. The bill is also sponsored by Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, and Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton.
 
Tate said it’s not the first time the bill, named “Erin’s Law,” has been discussed in committee.
 
“But I think it’s very timely for this bill especially considering in March of this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that for the third year in a row Kentucky leads the nation in child abuse cases,” she said.
 
Tate said there has been much conversation about social workers and how there are not enough of them in Kentucky.
 
“And so I think that it’s really important, and the social workers do a lot of work and we cannot live without them, but this is a bill and a situation and another tactic. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s certainly something else to add to our toolkit that will help with the situation,” she said.
 
Merryn told the committee she was also abused and threatened by an older teenage cousin who told her to keep the abuse a secret. But she wrote about it in a diary.
 
“This was like the brother I never had growing up who lived down the street from me,” she said.
 
After years had passed, Merryn began writing legislators to advocate that personal body safety be taught to school children.
 
Lawmakers approved changes to the original bill in committee. Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the new language dovetails off earlier legislation.
 
“The original House bill version requires the Kentucky Department of Education to maintain an improved list and for a superintendent to adopt a curriculum that includes instruction for age-appropriate, evidence-based strategies for child physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect,” he said. “The committee sub basically accomplishes the original intent of the bill within the existing trauma-informed processes that we established in the 2019 Senate Bill 1 that was under the School Safety Resiliency Act.”
 
Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, said she appreciated Merryn for sharing her stories with committee members, but she has concerns about some of the language in the bill.
 
“In many cases, this is a socioeconomic issue,” she said. “It can be a poverty issue. What is neglect awareness? I’m more poor than you are, and therefore my parents have neglected me and that just starts into a whole other problem. So, I’m very concerned about how we do this, and I like the sub because it definitely tightens it down. It gets way closer, but I don’t think it’s all the way there.”
 
The measure passed with a 7-0 vote. Two committee members passed on a vote.

 

END

 

 

 

March 17, 2022

Legislation calls for equal treatment of religious organizations in emergencies    

 

Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, testifies on House Bill 43, a measure to prevent houses of worship from being singled out during a state of emergency. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — A measure that would prevent houses of worship from being singled out for closure during a state of emergency received approval Thursday from the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
 
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, told committee members that the bill is in response to the shutdown of churches and other religious organizations in 2020.
 
“The bill does a couple of simple things,” he said. “No. 1, it says that churches and religious organizations should be treated in the same manner as other essential organizations during times of emergency.”
 
The bill would also prevent the state from taking adverse action against a religious organization simply for being religious. Additionally, it would codify recent Supreme Court decisions, which make clear that free exercise rights are fundamental, and that governments can’t treat religious organizations more adversely than other groups, Baker said.
 
The bill also allows religious organizations to bring a lawsuit if they have been discriminated against, he said.
 
David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, offered supportive comments on the bill.
 
“It’s vitally important that we ensure that churches and other religious organizations receive at least equal treatment during an emergency, and that the state is not allowed to discriminate against them on the basis of them being a religious organization,” he said.
 
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, voted for the measure, but expressed concerns about unintended consequences.
 
“You’re opening up for interpretation with this what is actually constituted as religious expression and a right of action against the state that currently exists, and I think that we may be opening ourselves up to some unintended consequences that have not been thought through very well with this,” he said.
 
The measure was approved with a 10-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

 

END

 

 

March 16, 2022

Senate bill would allow some felons to access state aid for college   

 

Sen. Brandon J. Storm, R-London, speaks on Senate Bill 163, which would increase access to scholarships for some felons.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would clear the way for some felons and inmates to receive state financial aid for college advanced out of the Senate on Wednesday – an effort to improve job opportunities and reduce recidivism among those with a criminal record.
 
Senate Bill 163 would remove language in state law has long prevented certain inmates and convicted felons from obtaining aid through the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship, known as KEES.
 
It would also allow inmates to receive funds through College Access Program Grant, the Kentucky Tuition Grant and the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program. Another section of the bill would permit students to use scholarship funds for tuition at qualified proprietary schools.
 
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brandon J. Storm, R-London, said all of provisions center around increasing access to education for Kentuckians.
 
“Statistics indicate that education reduces recidivism,” he said. “Statistics also indicate that jobs reduce recidivism. By deleting the requirement that an eligible high school student and eligible postsecondary student not be a convicted felon, these individuals will no longer be prohibited from obtaining financial aid.”
 
The measure advanced off the Senate floor with a 33-4 vote. However, it was amended before passage to narrow the list of offenders who would be eligible for aid. The amendment disqualifies violent offenders, some drug traffickers and those who have committed offenses against minors.
 
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, who sponsored the amendment, said SB 163 still provides latitude for minor offenses. But, he added, the list of disqualified offenses would include crimes like human trafficking and sexual abuse along with rape and murder.
 
“I think the bill is very fair and very considerate,” he said. “I think there are just some lines that we don’t cross with taxpayer dollars.”
 
Wednesday’s amendment brought a mix of reactions on the floor.
 
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, voted for the legislation and thanked Storm for his work. But he said he would not have supported the measure without the amendment to disqualify certain offenders. He raised concerns over homeschoolers who would not be eligible for the same funds.
 
“These are folks whose SAT scores are some of the highest in the state, who have parents who have shouldered the burden of their child’s education without any help from the state whatsoever,” he said. “And here they see that possibly a violent criminal or someone trafficking in lots of drugs might have KEES assistance when they don’t have KEES assistance.”
 
Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, also voted “yes” for the final bill, but said the changes make it too difficult for some people to improve their lives. He argued that it’s cheaper to have people back in the workforce rather than back in prison.
 
“The amendment on its face seems reasonable,” he said. “Unfortunately, the problem we have over and over again is that we have recidivism.”
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said Senate Bill 163 in its most pristine form was an excellent bill. However, the bill’s original intent was sorely compromised. He voted against the measure.
 
“All of us in here believe in second chances, and that’s where Senate Bill 163 was born,” he said. “However, this Senate floor amendment essentially guts the bill.”
 
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, also voted in opposition. He said he is concerned about diluting the funds for hardworking students who currently qualify for KEES. He said he expects the bill to undergo more changes in the House.
 
As passed on Wednesday, the provisions related to proprietary schools stipulate that eligible programs have to be one of Kentucky’s top five, high demand work sectors as determined by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board.
 
Another section of SB 163 extends KEES financial aid opportunities to a narrow group of students whose parents or guardians were transferred out of Kentucky due to ongoing military service.
 
The bill now heads to the House.

 

END

 

 

 

March 16, 2022

House committee advances bill to ban gray machines  

 

This file photo from Feb. 28 shows Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, speaking at a gaming in Kentucky press conference on House Bill 608.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— As the Kentucky House of Representatives considers legislation to legalize sports betting, a different type of gaming industry may soon be prohibited in the Commonwealth.
 
Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, who serves as the primary sponsor of House Bill 608, says the bill would amend statute to prohibit gambling machines that are not associated with the Kentucky Lottery, charitable gaming or historical horse racing. He presented the bill to the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on Tuesday.
 
Timoney said HB 608 would prohibit “gray machines,” or skill game machines, from operating in Kentucky. Currently, gray machines are not regulated by statute, and some lawmakers and legal experts question their legality.
 
“We’re asking (for this bill) especially for the families who don’t want gaming machines environments that are not age controlled, or even want them at all,” Timoney said. “This bill was not an easy bill to bring forward…. However we must stick to our principles.”
 
HB 608 would also require Kentucky State Police to establish a taskforce dedicated to the removal of gambling devices not authorized by law as well as instruct the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to establish administrative regulations and reporting requirements.
 
Timoney was joined by Mary Harville, CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp., and Madge Vail, vice president of compliance and regulatory affairs for Lancaster Bingo Company, in testifying in favor of HB 608 and against gray machines.
 
Harville said the Kentucky Lottery funds college scholarships, and those funds are already in jeopardy due to the rise of skill games in counties across the Commonwealth. Skill games machines are typically located at gas stations and conveniences stores, which are popular Kentucky Lottery retail locations.
 
“Gray machines target those very same locations, and that is why unregulated gaming machines are a massive body blow to the Kentucky Lottery,” Harville said. “… At the end of quarter two, we looked at our statewide lottery sales. Stores with gray machines are lagging behind the others, about 5.5%.”
 
Harville testified the lottery is expected to lose $60 million annually if the General Assembly does not take action on gray machines. Vail also reported the charitable gaming industry is set to lose millions of dollars, which would hurt charitable causes like veterans clubs, humane societies, churches and volunteer fire departments.
 
Lobbyists and other representatives of the skill games industry testified the machines are legal and self-regulated.
 
Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell, made a motion to consider a committee substitute to amend the bill to include regulations for gray machines instead of banning them all together.
 
Bob Heleringer, a former state representative who is now a lobbyist for skill games company Prominent Technologies LLC, testified in favor of the committee substitute. He said HB 608 in its current form has “constitutional issues” and is “not pro-business.”
 
“(The committee substitute) does not run out a legitimate business in the state that has come in here and has invested in businesses all over this state,” Heleringer said, adding that amending the bill would establish a tax that will benefit the state and a fund for first responders.
 
Banta’s committee substitute on the bill failed by a voice vote.
 
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, said while he supports gaming in Kentucky and supports legalizing and regulating gray machines, he believes more work needs to be done before that can happen.
 
“I don’t really support 608, and with this committee sub now it’s put me in a really tough situation,” Gentry said. “I don’t have the information in front of me to make a logical decision.”
 
Gentry ultimately voted “no” on the bill and expressed regret that he could not support the committee substitute.
 
Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, voted “yes” on HB 608, and said “I think the folks that testified have raised a lot of things that we need to look into.”
 
HB 608 cleared the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on an 11-3 vote with four passes. It will now go before the full House for consideration.


 
 

END

 

 

 

March 15, 2022

Senate committee approves measure that seeks research on nuclear energy 

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, testifies on Senate Concurrent Resolution 171, which seeks research on nuclear energy in Kentucky. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — A few years ago, a moratorium on nuclear energy was lifted in Kentucky.
 
To further investigate the possibility of it coming to the commonwealth, Senate Concurrent Resolution 171 received approval Tuesday from the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee with an 8-0 vote.
 
Sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, the legislation would request the Legislative Research Commission examine funding sources and research institutions capable of conducting a feasibility study of advanced nuclear energy technology for electric power generation in Kentucky.
 
Now is the time for further inquiry to take place, he said.
 
“We have always been able to provide low cost energy due to coal, and unfortunately as we move away from coal, we’re going to fall behind if we don’t look towards the future,” Carroll said. “We’ll be bringing folks in to educate the legislature during the interim on the next gen reactors and hopefully get some folks more comfortable with nuclear energy.”
 
Carroll said he and others have been in contact with the Idaho National Laboratory and have been looking for a funding source for the feasibility study for nuclear energy in the state.
 
“You all know years back we lifted the nuclear moratorium in Kentucky. However, since that time there really hasn’t been a lot of discussion on nuclear energy due to the lower cost of natural gas primarily and electricity in general,” he said.
 
Carroll noted that he serves on a National Conference of State Legislatures working group that is focused on nuclear energy, and the technology has advanced a great deal.
 
The Tennessee Valley Authority is working toward small modular reactors, with one in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Additionally, TerraPower in Wyoming is preparing to build a sodium reactor. It’s one of the next generation reactors that is much safer to use, Carroll said.
 
Legislators are also now considering solar energy legislation, but solar power alone would not be sufficient to meet the state’s needs, Carroll said.
 
If the legislation is signed into law, a committee or subcommittee at LRC would explore funding sources for a feasibility study and work to identify a consultant, university or similar group that could perform the study.
 
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, thanked Carroll for his diligence regarding possible nuclear power in the state. With low energy costs and natural gas, there’s a tendency to be complacent instead of looking forward and trying to prevent things before problems arise, he said.
 
“I think energy really becomes an important issue for our security of our nation and the energy independence and just for our consumers and constituents keeping those costs down,” he said.
 
Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, said that educating people about nuclear power is important.
 
“But as we move to more electrical vehicles and we have to expand the grid here locally, these are things that we have to be considering, so I appreciate your leadership,” he said.

 
 

END

 

 

March 14, 2022

House bill would impose harsher punishment for abusing young children

 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, speaks on House Bill 263, which would impose harsher penalties for child abuse.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would impose harsher penalties for those convicted of criminal abuse to young children received approval Monday from the full Senate.
 
Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said House Bill 263 is a straight forward measure that raises the penalty of first-degree criminal abuse from a Class C felony to a Class B felony if the victim is under 12 years of age.
 
She said the Senate has spent a tremendous amount of time this legislative session focusing on child abuse and changing the trajectory of Kentucky.
 
“House Bill 263 perfectly segues Senate intentions to protect the children of Kentucky. In some cases under current law, the defendant is released while the victim still has a lifetime of suffering,” Adams said.
 
The bill’s primary sponsors are Speaker of the House David W. Osborne, R-Prospect, and Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron. Adams presented the bill on the Senate floor.
 
HB 263 is named “Kami’s law,” and during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last week, seventh grader Kiera Dunk spoke on behalf of the bill’s namesake.
 
Kami was a beautiful 9-month-old baby when her life was changed forever because the man responsible for her safety shook her so violently that she was clinically dead for 23 minutes,” she said. “Kami survived, but due to trauma, only half of her brain remains. Since that day she has been confined to a wheelchair, nonverbal, requires a feeding tube, daily seizures and has to take 12 pills a day and may never be able to use the bathroom on her own.”
 
Kiera said the person responsible for injuring her did not serve enough time in jail.
 
“Last year, Kami had to have her fake skull replaced, got sick and almost died again, while the person responsible roams free with no legal or financial ramification,” she said.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, voted against the measure during the floor vote Monday. She said legislators have continued to take a piecemeal approach to the penal code. 
 
“In my opinion, we need comprehensive overhaul, and we need to look at the statutes that dovetail with each other and as well as the sentencing, which we’re all over the board on from year to year and issue to issue whether or not we’re going to lessen them or strengthen them,” she said. 
 
The bill received approval from the Senate with a 31-4 vote. It now heads to the governor’s desk.


 

END

 

 

 

 

March 14, 2022

House approves legislation cracking down on fentanyl trafficking

 

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, presents House Bill 215 on the House floor. A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that many legislators hope will save lives.
 
House Bill 215, or Dalton’s Law, would make importing fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives from another state or country a Class C felony. Those convicted of importing fentanyl would be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence and would not be eligible for pretrial diversion under this bill.
 
HB 215 would also block those guilty of aggravated trafficking of fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives from pretrial diversion and require them to serve at least 85% of their sentence. Aggravated trafficking is defined in the bill as someone who traffics 28 grams or more of fentanyl or 10 grams or more of carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said drug overdose deaths in the Commonwealth rose 56% last year, and the majority of those deaths were due to fentanyl.
 
“This drug is not just destroying lives and families,” Fugate said. “It’s taking lives and its killing people all over the state of Kentucky and really across the United States.”
 
Fugate and Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said the intention of HB 215 is to target fentanyl traffickers, not users. By targeting traffickers who are lacing other drugs like marijuana and heroin with fentanyl, hopefully lives will be saved.
 
Riley shared the story of 22-year-old Dalton Bishop of Glasgow on the House floor. Bishop, who suffered from substance use disorder, died of an overdose in 2020 after he used drugs he did not realize were laced with fentanyl. HB 215 is named Dalton’s Law in his honor.
 
“I know the sponsor of this bill has put in here that there will be rehab for abusers, but there will be punishment for traffickers,” Riley said. “Unfortunately, Dalton will not have a chance to go through rehab.”

Several lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill will inadvertently target those with substance use disorder who sell drugs in order to support their habit. House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said she’s learned from those recovering from substance use disorder that investing in treatment is the better option.
 
“What I have learned is that increased penalties and incarceration don’t move the needle,” Jenkins said. “They’re very expensive for us as a state, and we are incarcerating people for many, many years without getting the bang for our buck. What we know works is treatment.”
 
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, agreed with Jenkins and said she was voting “no” on HB 215. Marzian called for the legislature to invest in good jobs, good schools, universal pre-k and other things that she believes would help prevent people from doing drugs in the first place. 
 
“Locking people up is not the answer,” Marzian said.
 
Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, spoke in support of HB 215. He said the General Assembly has made “a great effort” to make treatment a priority over the last several years, but this bill focuses on the traffickers.
 
“These are people that put money above the welfare of everybody else that they deal with,” Petrie said. “That is a scourge on the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I can’t think of much worse to be honest with you.”
 
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, also spoke in favor of HB 215. She said she believes the bill narrowly targets drug dealers and will bring the state a step closer to getting fentanyl off the streets.
 
The House approved HB 215 by an 82-12 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
 
“I believe in treatment. I believe in rehab, but I have no sympathy for people that bring poison to the streets and hollers of Kentucky,” Fugate said. “No sympathy— and they need to go to prison for a long time.”

 


 

END

 

 

March 11, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

A high-res version of this photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT — One of the most important bills of 2022 – the state’s biennial budget – was on the move this week, and lawmakers have 12 days to hammer out a compromise if they want to pass a spending plan before breaking for the veto recess.
 
The latest version of the budget bill advanced off the Senate floor on Wednesday after clearing a committee vote earlier in the day. Thanks to historic levels of revenue, House Bill 1 would allocate more than $105 billion toward operating and capital costs in the executive branch over the next two fiscal years.
 
The House passed its version of the bill in January, and while the two chambers share many goals in areas like education, public safety, tourism and infrastructure, key differences remain.
 
If the House does not concur with the Senate changes, lawmakers will need to meet in conference committee to negotiate a final accord. However, Friday was day 46 of the 60-day legislative session, and deadlines are drawing closer.
 
Both chambers are scheduled to gavel out on March 30 for the start of the 10-day veto recess, and lawmakers are looking to pass a final budget before then. That will give them plenty of time to override any gubernatorial vetoes when they reconvene on April 13 and 14 for the final days of the session.
 
While the budget attracted much of the focus this week, lawmakers were working into the night on several other key issues, and dozens of bills continued to advance. Those include bills related to abortion, college athletes, vaccinations, religious objections and firearms, among others.
 
Here are some of the measures moving forward this week:
 
KSU board: Senate Bill 265 calls on the governor to replace members of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Tuesday, and appointees will be subject to Senate confirmation.
 
Masks in schools: House Bill 51 would allow parents to opt their children out of COVID-19 mask and testing requirements at public schools. It would also prohibit public colleges and universities from implementing COVID-19 mask or testing requirements. The bill advanced off the House floor on Tuesday.
 
College athletes: Senate Bill 6 would provide a framework in state law for college athletes to generate personal income off their name, image and likeness, known as NIL. The bill was signed into law on Wednesday.
 
COVID-19: Senate Joint Resolution 150 would immediately end the COVID-19 declaration of emergency in Kentucky. The measure received approval from the Senate last month and cleared the House floor on Thursday. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
 
Workplace immunizations: Senate Bill 93 would grant religious exceptions against immunizations if a workplace requires employees to be immunized against disease. It would also allow exemptions based on the written opinion of a health care provider. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Immunization status: House Bill 28 would prevent local governments and public universities from requiring employees or students from disclosing their COVID-19 immunization status. It would also prevent COVID-19 vaccine passports and allow parents of public school children to opt their children out of COVID-19 vaccine requirements. It received approval on the House floor Thursday.
 
Abortion: With some exceptions, Senate Bill 321 would prohibit abortions at 15 weeks of gestation. It would also redefine the term “pain-capable unborn child” in state law. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
 
Child abuse: House Bill 263, known as Kami’s Law, would make criminal abuse against a victim under 12 years of age a Class B felony. HB 263 received approval Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Incest: Senate Bill 38 classifies incest as a violent offense. It also ensures that individuals guilty of incest complete at least 80% of their prison sentence. The bill was signed into law on Thursday.
 
Firearms: House Bill 29 would prohibit public agencies, local governments and law enforcement agencies from enforcing a federal firearms ban. The measure was approved on the House floor Thursday.
 
Lawmakers are scheduled to return for day 47 on Monday, and Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the action.
 
The Legislative Record webpage allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.

Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

March 10, 2022

Senate bill would establish a behavioral health pilot program for some offenders

 

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, testifies on Senate Bill 90. The bill would establish a behavioral health pilot program for some offenders. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Senate Judiciary Committee took steps Thursday toward establishing a behavioral health pilot program that would help some low-level offenders access services, find jobs and avoid incarceration.
 
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said the components of Senate Bill 90 have been in the works for a few years, and such measures have been considered by many associated with mental health and justice issues.
 
“It really focuses on a couple of different things – getting folks plugged in to behavioral health care, whether that’s substance use disorder treatment or behavioral health, … getting them employed, trained and placed if at all possible,” he said. “The biggest thing you can do to prevent people from coming back to jail is making sure they’ve got a job.”
 
The bill cleared the committee on a 9-0 vote. It calls on the Supreme Court to choose at least ten counties to participate in the pilot program, which would offer the possibility of deferred prosecution for offenders.
 
To qualify, offenders cannot be charged with anything more than a Class D felony. Those with violent offenses or sex offenses, among others, would not be eligible.
 
SB 90 is a collaboration of people who work in many disciplines, Westerfield told the committee. Instead of looking at some problems facing offenders as a single issue, it could be done more comprehensively, he said.
 
“From the far left to the far right, from the prosecution to the defense to the courts, everyone agreed that this population of people could benefit from behavior health interventions,” Westerfield said. “Not just substance use disorders, but also psychological or psychiatric disorders and in many cases, multiples of both of those things combined in the same person.”
 
Westerfield said the bill does not go as far as is possible, especially regarding transportation, but housing is included in the bill. Also, the program would provide vocational assessments with the goal of placing the offender in training or even a job.
 
Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said he stands behind the idea of the program, calling it right headed and rational.

 “These same individuals have to go back at some point, in most instances to the community,” he said. “And the fact of the matter is, if you don’t have this intervention, then pretty much you are recycling potentially the same thing. That’s where you get the recidivism and all that.”

 

END

 

 

March 10, 2022

Resolution ending COVID-19 state of emergency heads for governor's desk

 

Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, presenting Senate Joint Resolution 150 on the House floor.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— Two years after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Kentucky, the COVID-19 state of emergency may soon be coming to an end.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives adopted Senate Joint Resolution 150 on Thursday by a 75-20 vote. The Kentucky Senate adopted the measure on Feb. 24 by a 28-8 vote.
 
If signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear, the resolution would immediately end Kentucky’s COVID-19 state of emergency. If he vetoes the measure, the Kentucky General Assembly could still vote to override his decision.
 
The primary sponsor, Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, filed the resolution on Feb. 18 with the intention of it taking effect on March 7.
 
Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, presented SJR 150 on the House floor on behalf of Douglas. Huff said the resolution is “long overdue.”
 
“The question we really need to ask ourselves is, are we really in a state of emergency?” Huff said. “Are the hospitals overflowing? Are the deaths skyrocketing? Are the numbers climbing? That is the question we need to ask, not whether we can squeak by another month on free federal money.”
 
SJR 150 would also require the governor to ask for the General Assembly’s approval before declaring another COVID-19 emergency.
 
During debate, a couple of lawmakers expressed concerns about the impact the resolution might have on federal funding and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP.
 
Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, said the federal COVID-19-related funds are helping hospitals retain staff and helping keep local economies afloat.
 
“We have a shortage of nurses, and a lot of the federal dollars that have come in are helping with the fact that we have travel nurses that claim a lot of dollars per hour to be here,” Stevenson said. “… The SNAP benefits that are coming as a result of this emergency, it was about $52 million a month.
 
“I do also have to think about the fact that those dollars have come in to our economy, and we have many local grocery stores and farmers that all of a sudden $52 million a month being gone from a system that allows people to purchase food from our grocers and our farmers is really going to be sorely missed.”
 
Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, and Rep. Norma Kirk-McCormick, R-Inez, said the research they’ve done on the SNAP program shows that ending the state of emergency will not take away benefits from those who truly need it and qualify for the program, with or without the state of emergency.
 
In explaining her no vote, Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said since many Kentuckians are still struggling to return to work due to lack of childcare options.
 
“If (the state of emergency) would give us another month or two to get (childcare) back and going, I think it is worth it to receive those federal dollars from California and New York to keep our economy going,” Jenkins said.
 
Rep. Savannah Maddox, R-Dry Ridge, said she agrees that ending the COVID-19 state of emergency is overdue.
 
“(The economic shutdown) has led to rapid inflation and all kinds of socio-economic issues that we are going to be contending with for years, so I’m glad that we are ending the state of emergency,” Maddox said. “It’s no secret that I wish that we would have ended it much sooner.”
 
SJR 150 will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.


 

END

 

 

 

March 10, 2022

Legislation addressing nursing shortage advances from House committee

 

This file photo shows Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, testifying in a legislative committee on Feb. 23.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— It may soon be easier for qualified nurses from other states and countries to practice nursing in Kentucky.
 
The House Health and Family Services Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 10 on Thursday.
 
“Senate Bill 10 improves the process for out of state and foreign trained nurses to practice in Kentucky without compromising our standard of care,” said Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the bill’s primary sponsor.
 
The measure would set up a process for the Kentucky Board of Nursing to issue a temporary work permit to nurses who are currently a licensed registered nurse in good standing in another state or territory where the applicant has worked.
 
Mills said he believes SB 10 “addresses statutory issues that could be holding back nurse availability in Kentucky.” Mills said the state could be short 10,000 to 16,000 practicing nurses in the coming years if things do not change.
 
Nurses from other countries who have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and have received a satisfactory credentials report from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools International Inc. may immediately receive a nursing license under SB 10.
 
The bill also lifts enrollment limits for nursing schools that have a three-year average NCLEX passage rate of 80% or higher.
 
Another provision makes changes to the Kentucky Board of Nursing by limiting board members to three consecutive terms and requiring state Senate confirmation of appointments. The board would also be required to have more practicing nurses and have at least two members from each Congressional district.
 
“I believe these are very practical updates to Kentucky’s nursing oversight process,” Mills said. “And I believe we will see these changes produce positive results in the very near future and help fill this huge nursing gap that we all know that we have in the Commonwealth.”
 
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said she loves “almost everything” in SB 10, but has concerns about the Senate confirmation requirement.
 
“As a psychologist, I know none of the mental health licensing boards have this requirement and it worries me,” Willner said. “There are political appointments to these boards, but having another layer of politics involved in getting people on these boards really concerns me, a lot.”
 
Responding to Willner, Mills said the changes made to the Kentucky Board of Nursing in SB 10 are to ensure the voices of practicing nurses are elevated.
 
“That’s probably one of the reasons we decided to put the confirmation on there is to assure that the balance in the board remains working nurses-focused and (so) it doesn’t get top heavy again with nurse educators and things of that nature,” Mills said.
 
Committee Chair Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked Mills for SB 10.
 
“I just want to personally thank you for, like you said, very practical legislation in addressing our immediate crisis with the healthcare worker and certainly nursing shortage,” Moser said.
 
SB 10 will now go before the full House for consideration. The Kentucky Senate unanimously approved the legislation on March 1.


 

END

 

March 9, 2022

Senate approves proposed biennial budget

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, presents House Bill 1, the state’s two-year budget plan, on the Senate floor.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— The state’s two-year budget plan is another step closer to passage after the Senate voted Wednesday to approve the amended bill and send it back to the House.
 
The proposed $105 billion proposal includes funds for state employee raises, school needs, a training range for police, more lung cancer screening, major renovations to the state Capitol, improvements to state parks and many other efforts.
 
This is the first time since 2018 that the Kentucky General Assembly is working to pass a biennium budget. Economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic led the legislature to pass two single-year budgets in 2020 and 2021.
 
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, presented the bill on the Senate floor after it cleared the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee earlier in the day. He said when he joined the legislature in 2013, the state was facing a major financial crisis.
 
“Pensions had not been fully funded in over a decade, and the state was borrowing money like a drunken sailor at a Friday night poker game,” he said.
 
McDaniel later compared that to this year’s budget proposal, which includes more than $1.7 billion in the budget reserve trust fund and more than $1.2 billion in unspent money. He said that under the watchful eye of the Senate, the state has finally turned a financial corner.
 
“We’ve gone from zero savings, a pension system in the midst of crisis and regular cuts to nearly every facet of government, to a place where now we regularly invest in pediatric cancer, research at our systems of higher education, employee raises, infrastructure and many other items at record levels,” he said. 
 
The budget measure cleared the Senate with 30-6 vote and now heads back to the House. If lawmakers in the House do not concur with the Senate’s changes, the two chambers would next appoint a conference committee to iron out differences.
 
McDaniel said the budget prioritizes helping people deal with inflation. It includes money for one-time tax rebates for Kentuckians and the first raises for most state employees in 15 years.
 
The raises amount to about $4,500 per employee in the first year with additional raises in the second year based on recommendations from the state personnel cabinet.
 
“We have lost and continue to lose some of the best and brightest talent in the commonwealth,” McDaniel said. “Therefore, the No. 1 priority in this budget is improving the work environment for the commonwealth’s state employees.”
 
For the Kentucky State Police, the plan includes $15,000 per year set aside for each trooper pending a pay scale bill, which is currently in committee, McDaniel said.
 
He also pointed to school funding in the proposal. Over the past two years, the Kentucky Department of Education and the schools have received about $1.9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money, McDaniel said.
 
“But we felt it was still important to push additional funds through the SEEK formula. So in year one, we increased it to $4,100 and in year two, we increased it to $4,200,” he said.
 
McDaniel listed several other items in the proposed budget, including:
 
-- A $4,800 raise for social workers in the first year and an additional 10% raise in year two
 
-- A roughly 30% raise for state medical examiners along with 22 new positions in the office

-- Base funding for public universities and $97 million each year for the performance-based funding model for higher education
 
-- A $4 per day per diem increase for local jails
 
-- Full funding for a firing range at the Department of Criminal Justice Training. The budget would also set the stage for a new training academy in Madisonville with appropriations in the second year.

-- An increase in law enforcement training stipends to $4,300 per year
 
-- An allocation of $500,000 to audit the state’s workforce initiatives
 
-- $5 million for child advocacy centers, $3.5 million for domestic violence centers, $1.5 million for rape crisis centers, and $1 million for substance abuse program review
 
-- $215 million in one-time funding to shore up the Kentucky State Police Retirement System
 
-- $250 million in year two for upgrades to the state parks system
 
-- $250 million in year two to renovate the state Capitol, which faces challenges with leaking, peeling paint, an old HVAC system and other problems
 
-- $200 million for renovation of the state fairgrounds
 
-- $25 million for county clerks for an online deed system and voting machines
 
-- A $75 million grant pool for nonprofits
 
-- A $200 million transportation project fund as requested by the governor
 
-- 200 new guard positions for the commonwealth’s prisons
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he appreciated the time and effort that went into the proposed budget. However, he said much work remains to be done.
 
“This is not the final budget we are working on – it’s the first step,” he said. “But as we talk about process, I do want to talk about some of what happened with this budget. The reality is that we were not given a printed copy of the budget until this morning during committee at 9 a.m. Here we are on the floor this afternoon voting the document out the same day.”
 
McGarvey said lawmakers in his caucus see things they like, but also have a number of questions and concerns. He said funding for the state’s SEEK formula appears to be reduced and money for full-day kindergarten was removed from the House plan.
 
“We hope to continue to have input because for all of Kentucky, for all of the people represented, for all of the areas represented in this commonwealth, it’s important that their input is heard in this budget, and we hope that it will be as it continues to go forward in a more transparent process,” he said.

END

 

 

 

March 9, 2022

House committee considers alternative teacher certification bill

 

Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, testifies on House Bill 277 in the House Education Committee on Wednesday.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— Aspiring teachers in Kentucky would have a new option to gain certification through a residency program under House Bill 277.
 
The House Education Committee unanimously approved HB 277 on Wednesday. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville, said the goal of the bill is to recruit and retain more teachers in Kentucky through a “grow your own” approach.
 
“We all know that we have a shortage,” Thomas said. “There are quite a few districts that are operating on emergency certifications right now.”
 
Thomas was joined by Beverly Fort, the teacher recruiter for Christian County Public Schools, in testifying in favor of HB 277. Fort said she believes the legislation will help address the teacher shortage.
 
“Creating a ‘grow your own’ teacher residency program will allow a teacher pipeline to produce new teachers,” Fort said. “This new option is still going to be rigorous. It is still going to require passing of the Praxis, a partnership with an accredited university, all while these candidates are working alongside a master teacher to gain valuable and extensive training and opportunities to teach.”
 
The proposed residency program would take three years to complete and result in the participant receiving a bachelor’s degree and initial certification. 
 
The current version of HB 277 only allows certain districts to participate in the program. The first requirement is that 65% of the district’s population must qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The second requirement is that only 5% of a district’s teachers can hold an emergency certification or provisional certification.
 
Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, and Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, asked Thomas if changes could be made to open up the residency program to more counties. Thomas said he would be willing to work on a floor amendment to address those concerns.
 
Rep. Charles Miller, D-Louisville, a retired high school principal, said Kentucky needs this bill.
 
“I think where you really learn about teaching is once you get there and start doing,” Miller said.
 
In explaining his “yes” vote, retired teacher and Committee Vice-Chair Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said the teacher shortage crisis in Kentucky is “unimaginable.” He suggested a taskforce or working group to look at the issue.
 
“We’ve got to come up with whatever means necessary to get more good, quality people in our profession, and we’ve got to look at a lot of different options to do that,” Riley said.
 
HB 277 will now go before the full House for consideration.


 

 

END

 

 

 

March 8, 2022

House approves bill to make masks optional in public schools

 

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, presents House Bill 51 on the House floor on Tuesday.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— Parents may soon be making the decision on whether or not their child wears a mask at school.
 
House Bill 51 would allow parents of students in public K-12 schools to opt out of any COVID-19-related facial covering guidance issued by local school boards. An amended version of the measure advanced off the House floor on Tuesday by a 56-35 vote.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said HB 51 does not seek to ban masks in school completely.
 
“This legislation doesn’t outlaw mask wearing; it simply makes mask wearing optional from preschool through college,” Bechler said. 
 
The bill would allow parents to opt their child out of submitting to any type of medical procedure related to COVID-19, including testing or vaccination, and wearing any type of medical device in response to COVID-19. Parents would not be required to submit any certification or documentation to secure an exemption.
 
Another provision of the bill would prohibit public colleges and universities from requiring facial coverings or medical devices in response to COVID-19. COVID-19 testing and vaccine requirements would also be prohibited. The bill would make exceptions for those on campuses providing medical or dental services or conducting clinical research.
 
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, worked with Bechler on amending the final House version of HB 51.
 
“Amendment 11 basically says this: That no one can put a medical device on my child or no one can do a medical procedure on my child without me, as the parent, authorizing it,” Calloway said. The amendment was adopted.
 
During discussion of the bill, several lawmakers expressed concerns about HB 51 impeding on local control.
 
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she voted in favor of legislation from the 2021 Special Session that ended the statewide mask mandate and gave that power to the local school boards because it was what was best for her district. Hatton said her beliefs have not changed.
 
“I’m not second guessing my locally elected school boards on this decision,” Hatton said. “It’s inconsistent and not something that I could stand here and live with having voted ‘yes’ in September to give this decision making to the local school boards…” 
 
Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, said he also has local control concerns when it comes to HB 51.
 
DuPlessis said the legislation is something he could vote either way on, but he has concerns that schools would be forced to shut down if there is another COVID-19 outbreak.
 
“If we choose to take away a local school board’s ability to mandate an N-95 mask, which we admit works, they could shut the school down for a couple of weeks, or three weeks or four weeks,” DuPlessis said. “… We’re going to do something that could cause an unforeseen circumstance down the road if another variant comes up.”
 
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he believes HB 51 actually ensures local control.
 
“What we’re doing here today is removing governmental control over that decision and putting it again to the most local level, which is parents,” Nemes said.
 
Some House members pointed out that most schools across the Commonwealth have recently lifted their mask mandates due to declining COVID-19 case numbers. Bechler said, “I believe most parents would make the intelligent decision for the health of their children,” if the Commonwealth faces another spike in cases.
 
In explaining her “yes” vote on HB 51, Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Turners Station, said she hopes the parents, teachers and students in her district who support the bill feel heard.
 
“It sends a message that I hear them loud and clear, and I support the parents’ decision to make the best decision for their child based on their individual needs,” Rabourn said.
 
HB 51 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

 

March 7, 2022

Senate bill seeks replacement of KSU board members 

 

Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, testifies on Senate Bill 265 as Aaron Thompson, President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education looks on.  A high-res version of the photo can be found here

 

FRANKFORT— Legislation that calls on Gov. Andy Beshear to replace the members of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents received approval Monday from the Senate Education Committee.
 
Committee members voted 13-0 for Senate Bill 265, which declares that the current board of regents is no longer functioning according to its statutory mandate. It would require the governor to name eight nominees for the board by April 1.
 
All appointees are subject to confirmation by the Senate, and lawmakers are seeking to complete the confirmation process before the legislature adjourns for the year on April 14.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said he is willing to do whatever he can to support KSU, but that failure to make improvements after a period of time would result in closure.
 
“Failure to move by this General Assembly on this matter constitutes closure of KSU,” Givens said “So we have a choice to either move – and move this institution forward – or do nothing and this institution closes. And I’m not going to be willing for us to do nothing.”
 
He explained that significant change is needed at the university, including cultural change, financial investment and reorganization of the institution. With a combination of those efforts, he predicted that KSU would shine.
 
“I think it will be the beacon on the hill that it can be for all of us in that postsecondary landscape,” he said. “My prognostication, if I’m looking forward, is we are going to be bragging and talking about KSU in three to four years.”
 
Founded in 1886, KSU serves as the only public, historically Black university in Kentucky. However, it has faced severe financial challenges, and in July, Beshear directed the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to complete a financial review.
 
If passed into law, SB 265 would call on the Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee to submit 16 nominations to the governor by March 26. Of those, the governor would then select eight names to forward to the Senate for confirmation. Current board members may be considered.
 
Monday’s committee hearing spurred nearly an hour of discussion about KSU’s role and the decisions that contributed to its financial condition.
 
Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, argued that the university has produced many successful graduates and distinguished programs over the years despite deficient funding from the state.
 
“I want you to understand, great people have been the result of the investment of those who are committed to this institution. Great people,” he said. “I know the history of this institution. I know the failures of the General Assembly.”
 
Neal added that "year after year, decade after decade, since slavery and its institutional beginning, this General Assembly institutionally has not stepped up to the plate. And I can give you rhyme and verse.”
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, was also critical of past funding for KSU, but said closure is not an option.
 
“Kentucky State University must succeed,” he said. “It must succeed, and I think given the right amount of resources and the dedication of this legislature, it can do that. It can thrive.”
 
Another bill related to KSU, House Bill 250, would provide $23 million to KSU to help the university meet its financial obligations for this fiscal year. The measure would also direct the CPE to create and oversee a management improvement plan and a loan repayment plan for KSU.
 
Givens said he expects lawmakers to take that bill up in the next 10 days. However, he explained that realigning the board is necessary to give lawmakers confidence that the appropriation makes sense, and he predicted some hard work ahead in fostering institutional change.
 
“(SB 265) is the first step, it’s not the last step,” he said. “We’ll be back to revisit this institution again with further legislation this session, and I look forward to working with you so we can all get it right.”

END

 

 

 

 

March 7, 2022

General Assembly sends name, image, likeness bill to governor's desk

 

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, presents Senate Bill 6 on the House floor. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.  

 

FRANKFORT— A bill that would permanently allow Kentucky’s collegiate athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) is one step closer to becoming law.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 6 by an 89-2 vote on Monday. The Senate unanimously approved the bipartisan measure on Feb. 10.
 
SB 6 codifies NIL agreement rights and provides a framework for students and colleges and universities.
 
Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, presented SB 6 on the House floor Monday on behalf of the bill’s primary cosponsors, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, and Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville.
 
Palumbo said the bill is necessary because neither Congress nor the NCAA have taken action on NIL since last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue.
 
Following the ruling, Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in July to allow NIL agreements for Kentucky’s student athletes. Since then, lawmakers have met with universities, coaches, athletes and other stakeholders for their input on SB 6.
 
“(Senate Bill 6) provides protections for student athletes seeking compensation through name, image and likeness agreements,” Palumbo said. “It provides similar protections for institutions. It establishes a process for institutions to review name, image and likeness agreements for student athletes.”
 
The bill would also require institutions to provide financial literacy, life skills, social media and brand management education to students.
 
Another provision of SB 6 prohibits students from entering NIL agreements related to sports betting, controlled substances, adult entertainment, banned substances or products or services that would be illegal for the student athlete to possess or receive, Palumbo said.
“As Coach Calipari says, ‘Senate Bill 6 is a model piece of legislation,’” Palumbo said.
 
During the March 1 House Education Committee meeting, one former University of Louisville athlete shared her story of having to donate the $3,000 she made modeling to charity after the NCAA decided the job violated the organization’s NIL policy, despite the job not mentioning her name, school or the sport she played.
 
The NCAA also ruled the athlete ineligible to compete for a semester and required her to complete many hours of community service.
 
Palumbo shared this student’s story on the House floor.
 
“Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you was this fair? No, it was not,” Palumbo said.
 
Rep. Adam Bowling, R-Middlesboro, said SB 6 is a “good bill” and he is proud to support the legislation.
 
“Senate Bill 6 protects both student athletes and our universities and sets our student athletes up for success,” Bowling added.
 
SB 6 will now be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto. Due to an emergency clause in the bill, it would immediately become law upon his signature.

 

END

 

March 4, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol    

 

A photo from the state Capitol this week is available here. It shows a stack of newly filed bills in the House. 

 

FRANKFORT— The House has a new member, bills on taxes and unemployment are advancing and the Kentucky General Assembly hit some major milestones this week as deadlines expired to file new legislation.
 
Friday marked day 41 of this year’s 60-day session, and it capped off an active week that involved an oath on the House floor and a new addition to the ranks.
 
Rep. Keturah Herron, a Democrat from Louisville, was sworn in on Monday after winning a special election last month to represent District 42. The seat was left vacant after longtime Rep. Reginald Meeks retired in December.
 
The ninth week of the session also brought a more complete view of the issues that lawmakers plan to tackle in 2022. That’s because Tuesday was the last day for new bills in the House and Thursday was the last day in the Senate.
 
Overall, legislators have filed 898 bills and resolutions in the House this year and 555 in the Senate. Lawmakers can still change bills as they move through committees and onto the chamber floors. However, 11 have already become law, and a few more are getting close.
 
That includes House Bill 6, which cleared the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the governor’s desk. It seeks to provide relief on vehicle taxes in the face of soaring valuations.
 
The widely supported measure calls on property value administrators to use the average trade-in value for vehicles when assessing taxes rather than the higher – or “clean” – trade-in value. It would also freeze valuations at the levels from January 2021 for assessing taxes on vehicles in 2022 and 2023.
 
Another measure that has now passed both chambers is House Bill 4, a much-debated bill that would change the length of unemployment benefits and job search requirements for recipients.
 
The legislation, which passed off the Senate floor on Thursday, effectively changes the maximum duration of benefits from a flat 26 weeks to between 12 and 29 weeks based on economic conditions and a claimant’s personal decision to seek job training.
 
It would also require claimants to engage in at least five work search activities each week in order to remain eligible.
 
The bill has spurred heavy debate in both chambers. Supporters say it’s needed to combat workforce shortages and help small business remain open. But critics argue that the measure will strip working Kentuckians of crucial support during times of economic hardship.
 
If the House concurs with changes to the bill in the Senate, HB 4 will next head to the governor.
 
Lawmakers continued to advance dozens of other measures this week, including legislation related to:
 
Tax rebates: Senate Bill 194 would give a one-time tax rebate of up to $500 to single taxpayers and up to $1,000 to joint filers, not to exceed the amount of taxes they paid last year. It was approved by the full Senate on Monday.
 
Juneteenth: House Bill 133 would add Juneteenth to the list of federal holidays recognized by the state. It commemorates the emancipation of the last group of enslaved Black Americans and won approval on the House floor Monday.
 
Constables: House Bill 239 would require newly elected constables to undergo the same training as police officers and sheriff’s deputies before performing certain duties. The House advanced the measure on Monday.
 
Charitable bail: House Bill 313 would prevent charitable bail organizations from posting more than $5,000 in bail for anyone charged with a crime. It would also limit the types of offenders who can receive bail support from such organizations. HB 313 cleared the House floor on Tuesday.
 
Nurse shortages: Senate Bill 10 seeks to boost the number of critically needed nurses in Kentucky by improving the process for out-of-state nurses to practice here. It also seeks to improve student access to nursing programs. The measure received approval Tuesday on the Senate floor.
 
Animal shelters: Senate Bill 125 would require animal hoarders to pay shelters for the care of any seized animals, helping to eliminate sudden and extreme costs to shelters. It received approval Tuesday from the Senate Agriculture Committee.
 
Gubernatorial pardons: Senate Bill 149 proposes changes to two sections of the state constitution, which would prohibit the governor’s ability to grant pardons or reduce sentences around election time. The legislation received approval on the Senate floor Thursday.
 
Abortion: House Bill 3 requires physicians to seek permission from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before a chemical or surgical abortion. The bill would also ban the online sale of chemical abortion drugs and require more recordkeeping. It passed on the House floor Thursday.
 
Election security: Senate Bill 216 seeks to strengthen the security of elections in Kentucky through about a half dozen changes to state law. That includes backing up voting machines with ballots and preventing them from being connected to the internet. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the bill on Thursday.
 
Tax reform: House Bill 8 seeks to expand the state tax base and incrementally lower the state’s 5% income tax over a number of years until it is eliminated. Most of the reductions can only take effect if the state meets revenue targets from expanding the base. It passed off the House floor on Friday.
 
The General Assembly will gavel back in on Monday for the 42nd day of the session.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

END

 

 

March 4, 2022

House approves bill on income tax rate reform   

 

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, presents House Bill 8 on the House floor.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A plan to make key changes to Kentucky’s tax structure advanced off the House floor on Friday.
 
House Bill 8 would reduce the personal income tax rate from 5% to 4% beginning in 2023. And as long as the state meets certain revenue thresholds, the income tax rate would continue to decrease by .5% or 1% each year until the personal income tax rate hits zero.
 
After debating HB 8 for nearly three hours, the measure cleared the House by a 67-23 vote.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said the journey to tax modernization has been years in the making. One of the first steps taken by the General Assembly came in the reduction of the personal income tax rate from 6% to 5% in 2018.
 
“Tax modernization— those changes, those revenue measures that we are considering— in large part are for economic growth—writ large— for the entire Commonwealth,” Petrie said. “You look at that stagnation over time, and there’s a deeper seated issue: Our population.”
 
Data shows Kentucky has struggled to have significant economic and population growth and has fallen behind many other states. Tax modernization is one of the key steps Kentucky needs to see growth in those areas, Petrie said.
 
The plan to eventually eliminate the state income tax will take years. At the end of each fiscal year, Petrie said the Department of Revenue will look at whether actual state revenues, not an estimated amount, meet one of the “trigger” requirements to lower the state income tax rate by either a half or full percent.
 
Under HB 8, in order for the income tax rate to decrease by a half percent, the general fund must see a $1 billion increase in revenue.
 
For example, if the state general fund hits $14.5 billion at the end of the 2023 fiscal year, the income tax rate would be lowered to 3.5% on Jan. 1, 2024. If revenues reach $15.5 billion, the income tax rate would instead be lowered to 3%, but no more than that.
 
“It cannot be more than 1% in a given cycle,” Petrie said. “We don’t wanna get too far out over our skis… no more than one point at a time so we can all adjust over time, including our budgets and everybody else.”
 
The way the bill is written means that once the income tax rate goes down, it cannot be triggered to go back up, Petrie added.
 
In order to reduce the income tax rate, the state plans to expand the sales tax base.
 
Another provision of HB 8 imposes a 6% use tax on nonessential services such as, nonessential cosmetic surgery, body modifications, photography, research polling, bodyguard services, marketing and more. Another section of the bill imposes a tax on ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, and electric vehicles.
 
Electric vehicle owners would have to pay three cents per kilowatt hour excise tax at vehicle charging stations. The tax would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, if HB 8 becomes law.
 
In debating HB 8, many House members expressed concerns on how the bill might impact low income workers and families and small business owners.
 
“I don’t think the math adds up, and I also think that this is regressive,” Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, said. “I think it hurts poor people in our state. I think it favors wealthy people in our state. And I think it will be yet another nail in the coffin of our hopes to expand small business here.”
 
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, agreed with Roberts. In addition to worrying about lower income workers, Gentry spoke on other states that do not have an income tax, like Tennessee and Nevada, who make up for it by having a robust tourism industry.
 
“These are high tourist states where the tourism— the people who are coming in from out of state—pay a pretty good chunk of the sales tax,” Gentry said. “That’s why it makes sense there.”
 
While explaining his “yes” vote, Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, said that Kentucky does have the tourism industry that other states have.
 
“Yellowstone (National Park) brings in about $650 million a year. The Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby (bring in) $350 million in two days. In 2015, the Kentucky State Parks had the economic impact of $890 million,” Baker said, adding there are many things Kentucky has to offer, and there are many reasons why he’s proud to vote in favor of HB 8.
 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, also spoke and voted in favor of HB 8. He said he believes the legislation will play an essential role in improving Kentucky for everyone. 
 
“Is House Bill 8 the only thing that’s going to make that happen? No, it takes a comprehensive plan. But it is a foundational component on what we need to do to move Kentucky forward for our families,” Tipton said.
 
HB 8 now goes before the Senate for its consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

March 3, 2022

House bill on unemployment insurance clears the Senate     

 

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, testifies on House Bill 4, which would change the length of unemployment insurance benefits and job search requirements for recipients. A high resolution photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Legislation that would change the length of unemployment insurance benefits and job search requirements for recipients received approval from the Senate on Thursday.
 
House Bill 4 effectively changes the maximum duration of benefits from a flat 26 weeks to between 12 and 29 weeks based on economic conditions and a claimant’s personal decision on whether or not to seek job training. It would take effect at the beginning of next year.
 
“House Bill 4 significantly strengthens Kentucky’s work search standards, which will help guide unemployed workers to find reemployment more quickly by equipping them with appropriate standards and practices for finding a new job,” said Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.
 
Schroder presented the legislation on the Senate floor, where it passed with a 22-13 vote. Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, is the primary sponsor of the measure.
 
Known as the Unemployment Insurance Sustainability Act of 2022, HB 4 seeks to make a number of changes to Kentucky’s unemployment program. Lawmakers had filed three floor amendments to the bill, but all were withdrawn on Thursday before an hour of ardent debate on the measure.
 
Supporters said the bill is needed to help businesses stay open and address critical workforce shortages across the state. However, critics argued the legislation would harm working families who are already facing financial hardship. 
 
Schroder said federal law requires benefit claimants to be available for work and actively search for work as conditions of receiving benefits.
 
“States have flexibility to set standards for what it means to search for work,” he said. “Kentucky has historically set minimal search standards, only requiring claimants to list one job contact per week.”
 
Under the bill, claimants would need to engage in a minimum of five verifiable work search activities each week in order to remain eligible for benefits. At least three of the work search activities must consist of submitting an application or interviewing for a job. Additional activities can include search support such as job shadowing or attending networking events.
 
Between 2009 and 2019, Kentucky claimants spent an average of 19 weeks receiving benefits – the longest benefit duration in the nation. As of June 2021 only 53.8% of Kentucky’s adults were actively employed – the fifth lowest employment population ratio in the entire country, he said.
 
Schroder added that HB 4 supports laid-off workers who choose to upskill by offering them five weeks of unemployment benefits if they enroll in qualified job training or certification program.
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he does not support the bill and could not stand behind the decreased length of benefits.
 
“It slashes unemployment benefits,” he said. “It basically guts the unemployment security system and says to workers: “No, if you’re out of work through no fault of your own, we’re just going to forget about you.”
 
Some of the biggest critics were from Eastern Kentucky.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said that, as a former coal miner, she recalled times when good-paying jobs were plentiful in the area.
 
“It’s an insult, it’s a slap in the face to people who risk their lives to keep energy going,” she said. “You closed the coal-fired plant. We’ve done away with a lot of the jobs, moved them all to the Golden Triangle and other populated places. There’s no equity in that, and there’s no equity in this.”
 
Sen. Phillip Wheeler, D-Pikeville, also said he could not support the measure after seeing economic devastation in Eastern Kentucky for the past two decades. He spoke through tears as he lauded those who worked in coal mines, many of whom want to keep working.
 
“For nearly three decades, coal severance monies poured out of the mountains to our general fund, building roads, schools and improvements throughout our commonwealth,” he said. “We Eastern Kentuckians have always been willing to stand up and do our part, and we remain ready to do so today.”
 
Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said he empathizes with his colleagues and the challenges some people face in their districts. But he also cited concerns for small businesses that contribute to the unemployment insurance fund.
 
“It’s there to be used as a safety net in time of challenge and transition,” he said.  It’s there in ways to make employees be able to sustain a livelihood in times that otherwise it would be hard. But it’s not a safety net for these small businesses. When they fail or close, there’s no UI fund for them to knock the door on and draw money from. When the business fails, it fails.”
 
The bill now heads back to the House for concurrence.

 

END

 

 

 

March 3, 2022

Legislation on election security clears Senate Committee  

 

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, testifies on Senate Bill 216, which seeks to strengthen election security.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation Thursday that aims to strengthen the security of elections in Kentucky through about a half dozen changes to state law.
 
Among several provisions, Senate Bill 216 would require all voting machines to be backed up by paper ballots by 2024 and prevent the use of credit and debit cards as an alternate form of ID to vote. It would also prohibit voting equipment from connecting to any external device or network, including the internet.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said the network provision has appeared in several election bills over the past few years.
 
“It’s never made it across the finish line,” he said. “I think it’s very important as far as confidence goes, and there’s a lot of, still a lot of, people out there that are concerned about that particular issue.”
 
On the ID provision, he said that, according to the secretary of state’s office, credit or debit cards were used as a form of ID 167 times out of nearly 3 million voters in 2020.
 
“So, a very small use, alternate form of ID that I think needs to be removed from our ID list,” Mills said.
 
Another provision would require voting equipment and ballot boxes to remain secured, locked and under video surveillance for 30 days after an election.
 
SB 216 would also place the secretary of state as chair of the state board of elections and change a filing requirement for candidates to one annual report for years when they’re not on the ballot.
 
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said that for about the past three decades, office holders filed an annual report in years without elections. However, the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance changed the requirement to quarterly reports in the past year, he said.
 
“This amendment takes it back to the way it’s been for 25 or 30 years and will quite clearly state the legislative intent,” Thayer said. “The normal reporting process will be in place during years in which a candidate is on the ballot and up for reelection.”
 
The bill was approved with a 7-1 vote. It will next go to the full Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

 

March 2, 2022

Senate approves House bill on vehicle tax relief 

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, testifies on House Bill 6, which would provide tax relief on vehicles. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Legislation that would freeze property taxes on vehicles for the next two years is close to becoming law after it passed off the Senate floor Wednesday with unanimous approval.
 
House Bill 6 calls for officials to use valuations from January 2021 for assessing taxes on vehicles in 2022 and 2023. It also requires taxes to be assessed based on a vehicle’s median value rather than lower or high values going forward.
 
Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, spoke on behalf of the bill Wednesday, saying the changes will ensure that vehicles are valued appropriately in the current environment.
 
In part, the legislation mirrors language from a resolution that the Senate passed last month to freeze assessments. Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, had sponsored that measure.
 
“As most of us will recall, after the administration’s finance cabinet sent a letter to property valuation administrators instructing them as to how to proceed with used car valuations this year, we began to receive a deluge of calls from angered used car owners who saw their property taxes increase dramatically due to the current fluke in availability of used vehicles,” McDaniel said.
 
McDaniel said Douglas’s resolution provided an appropriate response to the issue, and the governor has since acted to freeze assessments. But HB 6 will codify the intent of the legislature, he said.
 
Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Union, is the primary sponsor of HB 6, which advanced off the Senate floor with a 34-0 vote and now heads back to the House for concurrence. If the House agrees with the final version of the bill, it will advance to the governor.
 
The legislation states that taxpayers who have already paid their property tax bill for this year will automatically receive a refund, if owed, within 90 days from the effective date of the bill. It also seeks to improve appeals to property valuation administrators regarding errors in valuations.
 
“It is a good measure for the taxpayers of the commonwealth,” McDaniel said.

END

 

 

 

 

 

March 2, 2022

Imagination Library bill advances in Senate committee

 

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, testifies on Senate Bill 164, which would establish the Imagination Library of Kentucky Program. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— It has been said that reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. If this is true, the minds of Kentucky’s youngest children will soon be stretched even more.
 
On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee voted 8-0 for Senate Bill 164, which would establish the Imagination Library of Kentucky Program along with a trust fund to help support it.
 
The program would oversee efforts to expand Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Kentucky – a book-gifting program for infants and young children. Parton, a widely recognized icon in the entertainment industry, established the reading initiative in 1995 because her father could not read and write.
 
SB 164 is sponsored by Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester and Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, are signed as co-sponsors.
 
McGarvey told committee members that the General Assembly appropriated money for the first time last year to help the Imagination Library grow in Kentucky.
 
“This is a phenomenal program that gives books to every child in a community ages zero to five,” he said.
 
McGarvey said the initiative, which is curated through experts, has been positive elsewhere. He pointed to research showing that having 25 books in a home is equivalent to about two additional years of schooling for a child.
 
McGarvey said the bill would also address administrative measures to help the program expand, adding that funds are available in the House budget proposal for the next biennium. He said there are 90 programs covering 76 Kentucky counties, but the goal is to reach all 120.
 
“This simply sets up the Dolly Parton program in statute, and this committee sub places it with the Department for Libraries and Archives, which is where sort of the educational professionals and the lawmakers have agreed is the best place to house it,” McGarvey said.
 
The bill states that state funds would be used to provide one age-appropriate book to each registered child through the library. Books would be sent monthly to each child’s home at no cost to families.
 
The state program would contribute the 50% of the matching funds required of local programs that participate.
 
Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, thanked McGarvey for sponsoring the bill and said he is excited to see kids get engaged in reading. However, he also asked McGarvey to consider adding language that would ensure the subjects of the books are age appropriate.
 
McGarvey said he would be fine with adding the change, and he is confident the books’ subjects are appropriate. He also said the initiative is not brand-new in Kentucky, but was organized through private organizations and the state is mirroring what has worked well in other states.
 
“(SB 164) sets the guardrails up so that they have a better idea of how it functions, where it is housed and how we can make sure it continues to grow,” he said.

END

 

 

March 1, 2022

House approves bill to regulate charitable bail organizations

 

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, presents House Bill 313 on the House floor on Tuesday.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that would issue new guidelines for charitable bail organizations.
 
House Bill 313 would prevent charitable bail organizations from posting more than $5,000 in bail for anyone charged with a crime, and it would limit the types of charges the organizations can post bail for.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said the bill was inspired by several incidences in the Commonwealth. Individuals were held under a high bond due to the seriousness of their charges, he said, but bailed out by a charitable bail organization and then committed another crime. In some of these cases, an innocent person died.
 
“Unfortunately, some people have been bonded out that should have remained incarcerated,” Blanton said. “And we’ve had citizens, young citizens, teenagers, lose their lives by the individuals that were bonded out.”
 
Under HB 313, individuals charged with a crime related to domestic or dating violence and individuals held under a civil court order would not be eligible to be bailed out by charitable bail organizations.
 
Blanton said the $5,000 limit is not an “arbitrary” number and the majority of individuals charitable bail organizations bail out are being held at a $5,000 bond or less.
 
“We want to make sure that people who are in on petty crimes, who are poor, don’t have access— we don’t want to keep them housed-up.” Blanton said. “We want them to get back out. Maybe some of them have jobs… But we also want to keep in mind public protection and the safety of the people in the Commonwealth.”
 
Judges often set a high bond for individuals who are charged with serious crimes, are a danger to the public or a flight risk, Blanton added. Individuals who are ineligible to be bailed out by charitable bail organizations are still permitted to post their own bonds or to have a family member or friend bail them out.
 
Another provision of HB 313 would require charitable bail organizations to keep track of expenditures, who the organization is bailing out of jail and their charges. This information would be required to be posted publicly and submitted annually to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary. 
 
If the organization posts bail for an individual who commits another offense, HB 313 would also require the bail to be forfeited to the victim of the new crime.
 
Originally, HB 313 required charitable bail organizations to publish a public list of its donors, but a floor amendment from the bill’s primary cosponsor, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, changed that. Nemes said there were concerns over First Amendment rights.
 
“I want to say the reason we want the information and why we’re going to get the information about some of the donors is because we know that there are taxpayer dollars that are funding The Bail Project,” Nemes said.
 
A few lawmakers spoke on the House floor in opposition to HB 313, including Rep. Pamela Stevenson, D-Louisville. She said the way the legal system works is in need of reform and that placing limits on charitable bail organizations hurts low income people.
 
“Don’t fix a broken legal system on the backs of poor people,” Stevenson said. “It’s consistent that what must happen is that we must fix the system. If we need a constitutional amendment so that we can have a bail not be set, then let’s do that.”
 
Blanton said he and Nemes planned to file a bill on Tuesday that would propose a constitutional amendment to address that issue.
 
In voting yes on HB 313, Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, and Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said Nemes’ floor amendment changed their minds on voting against the bill. Minter also advocated for a constitutional amendment.
 
Hatton said voting “yes” on the measure was a “tough decision.”
 
“We’re probably going to be glad that we passed this bill,” Hatton said. “Again, it was a tough decision, but in the modified form I think that it is going to end up being a good thing for our state.”
 
HB 313 was approved by a 76-19 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

March 1, 2022

Bill would make animal owners pay for care in hoarding cases 

 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, (right), testifies on Senate Bill 125, which would make animal hoarders pay for animal care costs when they are seized. With Adams is Mychell Lawson, president of Kentucky Animal Action Inc., who also spoke on the bill.   A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill aimed at making animal hoarders pay shelters for the care of their seized animals received approval Tuesday from the Senate Agriculture Committee.
 
Senate Bill 125’s sponsor, Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, told committee members the proposal has existed for a couple of years, but has been sidelined by COVID-19. She said it’s an issue that now must be addressed—how to save animal shelters from absorbing the sometimes extreme costs of caring for animals.
 
“It is really unfair for shelters and counties to have to pay for the often debilitating costs of caring for seized animals when it is the owner who is legally responsible for the animals,” she said. “So I think counties will embrace this because it’s a real cost-saving measure for them.”
 
Testifying with Adams was Mychell Lawson, president of Kentucky Animal Action Inc. She said the proposed legislation is necessary to curb spiraling costs.
 
“Agencies are often forced to care for animals for months and even years,” she said. “Cases lasting years is actually pretty common, which can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
 
Lawson offered examples of shelters facing heavy costs when large numbers of animals have been seized, including a situation in Elliott County that involved 109 animals and $75,000 of expenses. That cost has probably doubled by now, she said.
 
The bill also includes a mechanism for owners who cannot or will not pay the cost of care to immediately surrender the animal. That would eliminate the potential for gigantic costs to shelters.
 
Some lawmakers raised questions about how it would apply to livestock.
 
Lawson said the bill includes all animals, but is aimed at domestic animal hording. It’s not intended to change what animals control agencies are already pursuing, she said.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson said she has concerns regarding the bill’s possible effect on legitimate purebred breeders and other issues, including private property rights and due process.
“I have a lot of concerns about this bill and how they apply across the nation in other jurisdictions” she said.
 
Senate President Pro Tem David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, also said he has concerns about the bill’s language because it’s too broad. He noted that farmers across the state derive their livelihood from animals and use practices in animal husbandry that are known to be healthy and beneficial.
 
“I’m not going to go into details of some of them,” he said. “But to someone on the outside seeing it for the first time or experiencing it, it may well strike them as cruelty.”
 
Adams said she is open to working with others to amend the legislation.
 
“There are practices that are accepted in the agriculture community, and that is certainly the intent of this bill,” she said.
 
The measure passed out of committee with a 9-1 vote.

END

 

 

Feb. 28, 2022

Tax rebate bill receives full Senate approval

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, testifies on Senate Bill 194, which would create a tax rebate of up to $500 for individuals and up to $1,000 per household. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—Some Kentuckians are closer to having more money in their pockets after the Kentucky Senate voted Monday to advance a bill that would provide state tax refunds.
 
Senate Bill 194 would give a one-time tax rebate of up to $500 to single taxpayers and up to $1,000 to joint filers, not to exceed the amount of taxes they paid last year. The money is available through billions in budget surplus funds in the current fiscal year.
 
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said that taxpayers are facing around $267 in additional expenses each month from the highest level of inflation in 40 years and that the rebate will help working Kentuckians cope with the costs.
 
“If you went grocery shopping this weekend, if you paid a utility bill, if you did any of the basics of life, you’re seeing inflation probably unlike most of us have ever seen in our adult lives,” he said.
 
McDaniel said all of the surplus money in the state’s budget was generated by working Kentuckians, and that lawmakers must consider who is best to decide how the money is spent.
 
“I would argue this vote is a vote of faith in the citizens of this commonwealth,” he said. “It’s a vote of the taxpayers who send us here. It is a vote for the most pressing issue confronting the average Kentuckian.”
 
The bill was approved 28-7 after nearly an hour of debate on the Senate floor.
 
Supporters largely argued that taxpayers need and deserve a refund during times of excess funding and that giving money back to Kentuckians would not hamper other projects in the budget – such as paying down pension debt.
 
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said there is enough money in state coffers to cover the legislation with plenty to spare for other objectives.
 
“I disagree with my colleagues who say rebate,” he said. “It’s refunding. It’s giving your money back to the people who paid it. And once we do this, we’ll still be sitting on $5 billion over the next 12 months to spend – $5 billion.”
 
Opponents, however, said such large spending decisions should be made in context of the state’s next biennial spending plan. They also criticized the bill for not providing rebates to Kentuckians who pay relatively little or no taxes like retirees or the working poor.
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he’s not convinced offering the rebates as proposed would be the best thing to do and that the Senate first needs to hear details on the proposed budget that lawmakers are set to vote on later this session.
 
“We all want to help the people of Kentucky,” he said. “We know there are people in Kentucky hurting right now. The question is: What’s the best way to do it?”
 
He also said money should be returned to more types of taxpayers.
 
“I heard someone say that this is simply returning the money to the people who paid it. I think we need to put one more word in that. It’s returning money to some of the people who paid it. The reality is even those people who don’t pay income tax are paying state taxes that come into our general fund,” McGarvey said.
 
The amended bill now heads to the House for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

Feb. 28, 2022

Constable reform bill advances off House floor

 

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, testifies on House Bill 239 on the House floor. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Newly elected constables in Kentucky could soon be required to be certified as a peace officer in order to have the same powers as a peace officer.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 239 by a 59-38 vote on Monday. The bill would require newly elected constables to undergo the same training as police officers and sheriff’s deputies before performing certain duties.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the goal of the bipartisan measure is to make communities safer.
 
“Of course not all constables are bad, but unfortunately there’s been too many headlines to ignore the fact that constables without proper law enforcement training can be a serious problem,” Koenig said.
 
Currently, constables can make arrests or conduct a traffic stops even if they are not certified peace officers. HB 239 would change that for constables elected after Jan. 1, 2023.
 
“Some people may not realize it, but constables can do all of those things even though they’ve never received one hour of law enforcement training,” Koenig said. “These elected office holders often carry a gun and a badge and exercise the same power as a state trooper, a sheriff’s deputy or a city police officer.”
 
Under HB 239, newly elected constables would have to complete the same 20-week training course from the Department of Justice that covers patrol procedures, defensive tactics, criminal law, tactical response, traffic investigations and more in order to exercise the same powers as a peace officer, Koenig said. This type of training is required for anyone becoming a police officer or sheriff’s deputy in Kentucky.
 
Koenig said the bill would not stop the newly elected constables from serving their communities by directing traffic, serving subpoenas, assisting with child support actions, providing funeral escorts and more.
 
HB 239 would also allow constables to apply to any Kentucky Law Enforcement Council certified basic training course, and the bill would require the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training to accept at least one qualified constable in each training class.
 
Rep. Bill Wesley, R-Ravenna, said he has concerns about how HB 239 will impact rural communities. In Eastern Kentucky, constables are a valuable resource to small police departments and sheriff’s offices and to Kentucky State Police, he said.
 
“I have some counties in my district that cannot afford another officer,” Wesley said. “… This is going to do away with constables altogether. We cannot afford our officers, especially in Eastern Kentucky, to be done away with.”
 
When voting “no” on HB 239, Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she agreed with Wesley and the other House members who are against the measure.
 
“It is an urban vs. rural issue,” Hatton said. “It is something that’s difficult to explain, but in our communities our constables are very important to us…. We count on them, and when they tell me this is not what they need, I can’t support it.”
 
In closing, Koenig said that the General Assembly has approved legislation in previous years to take care of “bad actors” in police departments and sheriff’s offices, and there is currently no method of decertifying constables in Kentucky. He also said the bill has the support of several law enforcement groups across the state, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties.
 
Primary co-sponsor House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, also spoke on the House floor in favor of HB 239.
 
“With the passage of this bill, our citizens can know when they see someone who is a constable who has peace officer duties they know they can trust they are safe with that person,” Jenkins said.
 
HB 239 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

Feb. 25, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol 

 

FRANKFORT— Another week is over in the 2022 legislative session, and the action continues to escalate as lawmakers advance more measures through the chambers and make a final push to file bills before deadlines.
 
It was a stark contrast from the early days of the session when the focus turned almost entirely toward one issue — redistricting. By the eighth week, lawmakers were taking aim at everything from educational standards and religious freedom to nursing shortages, police certifications and Juneteenth.
 
But of all the issues moving through the legislature during the compressed, four-day week, taxes seemed grab the most attention.
 
The Senate captured headlines on Thursday when majority members unveiled a tax rebate plan designed to help Kentuckians cope with economic inflation. The measure — Senate Bill 194 —would provide individual taxpayers with a one-time rebate of up to $500 this year, with a maximum of $1,000 per household.
 
The bill sailed through the Appropriations and Revenue Committee after supporters said the money is available through this year’s $1.9 billion in budget surplus. It now heads to the Senate floor.
 
Discussions on taxes shifted up another gear on Friday when a major proposal on tax reform was announced in the House.
 
House Bill 8 seeks to incrementally lower the state’s 5% income tax over a number of years until it is eliminated. However, before most of the reductions can take effect, the state must meet revenue targets based on expansion of the tax base.
 
That announcement followed House action on a separate tax measure earlier in the week.
 
On Wednesday, House Bill 475 passed a vote on the floor. It proposes a constitutional amendment that could set the stage for new types of taxes at the local level. But even if the measure clears the Senate, Kentucky voters would still need to approve the amendment in a referendum before it could take effect.
 
Other issues before the General Assembly this week included:
 
Peace officer certifications: House Bill 206, a bipartisan measure that would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense from serving as a peace officer, won unanimous support on the House floor Tuesday. 
 
Nurse shortages: Senate Bill 10 seeks to boost the number of critically needed nurses in Kentucky by improving the process for out-of-state and foreign-trained nurses to practice here. It would also improve student access to nursing programs and update the Kentucky Board of Nursing membership requirements to give nurses more of a voice. It received approval Wednesday from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
 
Industrial incentives: Senate Bill 48, which would recover $15 million in incentive funds from a stalled industrial project in eastern Kentucky, received approval Wednesday from the full Senate. It seeks to recoup taxpayer money designed to help Braidy Industries, now known as Unity Aluminum, establish an aluminum mill in Greenup County.
 
Law enforcement shortages: House Bill 414 aims to give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility to recruit and retain officers by removing the age ceiling for applicants. It would also allow agencies to operate under an 80-hour, 14-day work period instead of a 40-hour, seven-day period. The measure advanced off the House floor on Wednesday.
 
Juneteenth: House Bill 133, which cleared the House State Government Committee on Thursday, would add Juneteenth to the list of federal holidays recognized by the state. It commemorates the emancipation of the last group of enslaved Black Americans.
 
Educational standards: Senate Bill 138 calls for public schools to teach a series of core principles and historical documents that supporters say are essential to American civics. The bill cleared the full Senate on Thursday following heavy debate.
 
Religious services: House Bill 43 would prevent a governmental entity from prohibiting religious services during an emergency to a greater extent than imposed on other organizations or businesses that provide essential services. It passed the House State Government Committee on Thursday.
 
Lawmakers will return on Monday for the 37th day of the session and face deadlines next week to file bills in both the House and Senate.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

END

 

 

Feb. 24, 2022

Senate resolution would end COVID-19 emergency declaration in Kentucky 

 

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, testifies on Senate Joint Resolution 150, which would end the COVID-19 emergency declaration in Kentucky. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A resolution that would end the COVID-19 declaration of emergency in Kentucky next month received approval Thursday on the Senate floor.
 
Senate Joint Resolution 150, which passed 28-8, would terminate Kentucky’s declaration on March 7. The measure’s primary sponsor, Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, told lawmakers it’s time to move past the emergency.
 
“When the virus was first announced, there is no doubt that there were a lot of unknowns,” he said. “The medical community, the scientific community and yes, I dare say even the political representatives were caught off guard.”
 
However, Douglas said, instead of proceeding down a purely medical path, politics assumed a major role in decision-making. Some treatments for COVID-19 were ignored or dismissed, while people lost their jobs and schools were shut down, he said.
 
“The emergency seemed to be more about emotion and feeling and a lot less about objectivity and facts,” Douglas said.
 
He added that SJR 150 provides the governor and his executive agencies time to determine if any administrative regulations related to the pandemic need to be filed or changed. He called the measure a thoughtful approach that doesn’t aim to interfere with any federal funding.
 
However, critics argued that Kentucky’s emergency declaration does not include any statewide restrictions, and they cited concerns about unintended consequences, such as the potential loss of federal nutrition assistance.
 
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, said she voted against the measure because it’s too soon. She noted that Kentucky is still experiencing a 12.3% positivity rate and that 60% of residents have received a single vaccine so far.
 
“That’s the highest number we have,” she said. “So, we haven’t done the work that other states have done to get to this point. I think my colleagues know that I felt like that was a responsibility we took on and a responsibility that we did not meet.”
 
Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, also said he couldn’t stand behind the measure.
 
“Why are we doing this,” he asked. “It doesn’t change anything. I understand – I want it to be over. The resolution, I actually cannot wait until I can join in support of it, but what is the rush? I vote no.”

 

END

 

 

 

Feb. 24, 2022

House committee approves religious freedom bill

 

Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, testifies on House Bill 43 in the House State Government Committee. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The House State Government Committee approved a bill Thursday that seeks to protect houses of worship and religious organizations from discrimination.
 
House Bill 43 would prohibit a governmental entity from prohibiting religious services during an emergency to a greater extent than imposed on other organizations or businesses that provide essential services.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, said the restrictions in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic inspired the legislation.
 
“Basically in 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, we faced some unprecedented situations, and during that time churches were shut down,” Baker said. “A lot of confusion and frustration took place during that time.”
 
At the outset of the virus, businesses, such as grocery stores, hardware stores and gas stations, were allowed to remain open to the public. Others, like restaurants, event venues and churches, were not deemed essential and had to close in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
 
Baker said the goal of HB 43 is to make sure churches and other houses of worship are treated the same as other essential businesses if the Commonwealth were to face another crisis that warrants the shutdown of nonessential businesses.
 
HB 43 would also allow a religious organization to take action against a local or state emergency order if it feels the order is discriminatory. This includes seeking an injunction or compensatory damages for pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses. 
 
Baker was joined by David Walls, executive director of the Family Foundation, and Greg Chafuen, legal counsel for Alliance of Defending Freedom, in testifying in favor of HB 43.
 
In voting no on HB 43, Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said, “I’m not endorsing a bill that says it’s OK to break civic rules in emergencies.”
Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, also voted no, citing separation of powers concerns, and that she believes the General Assembly already addressed this issue last year when it made changes to state statute.
 
During discussion of the bill, Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, asked Baker if it would prohibit any religious organization from choosing to shut down or follow other guidelines during an emergency. Baker said no.
 
Tipton, who said he is a Christian, added he’s seen more people suffering from mental health issues and more people struggling spiritually since the beginning of the pandemic.
 
“There is nothing that we, as a government body, should ever do to prevent someone from exercising their god given rights, as you said, protected by the constitution, to worship their god in a way they choose,” Tipton said.
 
HB 43 will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

END

 

 

Feb. 23, 2022

Senate committee approves measure to boost nursing ranks in Kentucky

 

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, testifies on Senate Bill 10, which aims to increase the number of nurses in Kentucky. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill that stands to boost the number of critically needed nurses in Kentucky received approval Wednesday from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
 
Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the measure would improve the process for out-of-state and foreign-trained nurses to practice in Kentucky without compromising standards of patient care. It would also improve student access to nursing programs and update the Kentucky Board of Nursing membership requirements to give nurses more of a voice, he said.
 
Senate Bill 10 is a culmination of quite a bit of work over the interim and into the session, Mills told the committee. It was approved with a 10-0 vote.
 
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, is also sponsoring the bill. He said the nursing shortage has been an ongoing issue dating back to around 2013 and that some estimates show the gap could be as high as 10,000 to 14,000 nurses.
 
Stivers said it has become more exacerbated and apparent during the last couple of years with COVID-19. When elective procedures were halted during the pandemic, some nurses were laid off. Some of them went to other states to work or became travel nurses, he said.
 
“It just created a bigger and bigger problem,” Stivers said. “But this is not just related to hospitals, it’s related to long-term health care facilities and anybody else who relies on nursing.”
 
Instead of using predetermined numbers for admission to nursing programs or a temporary executive order, Stivers said the nursing shortage problem should be handled differently.
 
However, it’s important to have criteria so the public would know that when nurses graduate and start to work in hospitals, they’re qualified to do so, he added.
 
“The other thing we looked at is how we treat nurses who come from other jurisdictions to make sure we create the opportunity – that it is as quick and seamless as possible,” he said.
 
Those working on the bill have consulted with various schools and institutions, the hospital association and nursing board staff, according to Wednesday’s testimony.
 
Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, spoke on behalf of the bill.
 
She said many nurses have left their jobs at hospitals and other facilities to become travel nurses. Paying for travel nurses can be extremely expensive for medical facilities because they can command pay at a national rate, rather than cheaper rates paid in some areas.
 
Delanor Manson, Chief Executive Officer of the Kentucky Nurses Association and other nursing groups, said she represents thousands of nurses in her role. She suggested retention bonuses for nurses who stay in their communities to work instead of becoming travel nurses. She also said her organization is prepared to offer assistance.
 
Manson cited a five-point plan from the association that includes $100 million in proposals to address the issue. She said SB 10 is a good start but should go further.
 
Committee member Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, also suggested retention funds would help retain nurses and called the bill an excellent start.
 
“I’d like to thank the sponsors for bringing this legislation to address this critical need. I particularly appreciate the fact, that of this committee sub, that you worked with various entities to improve the bill,” she said.

END

 

 

Feb. 23, 2022

Bill seeking to address law enforcement staffing concerns advances

 

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, presents House Bill 414 on the House floor on Wednesday. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT— One lawmaker hopes his bill will address some of the staffing issues facing local law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 414 by an 85-12 vote on Wednesday.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said the bill will give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility to address the needs of employees and the communities they serve.
 
“House Bill 414 addresses these issues by amending various statutes relating to public safety to ensure our cities recruit and retain the best people,” Blanton said.
 
When it comes to staffing concerns, HB 414 would remove the age ceiling for applicants. Under current statute, applicants must be between 18 and 45 years old.
 
“Last summer, Louisville Metro Police reported more than 240 job openings. Lexington needed to hire more than 100 people,” Blanton said.
 
The bill would also allow local law enforcement agencies to operate under an 80-hour, 14-day work period instead of a 40-hour, seven-day work period.
 
“This change gives cities and our police departments options as they address the unique aspects of their communities,” Blanton added.
 
Another provision of the bill makes an effort to strengthen the reputation of police and fire departments by amending the disciplinary process to allow more time for complaints against law enforcement officers to be filed, Blanton said.
 
Under this provision, the window for a complaint to be filed would be extended from three days to 10 days. The bill would then give the mayor, city manager or legislative body 10 days instead of five days to file charges if there is probable cause.
 
Two lawmakers, Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, and Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, expressed concerns about the 80-hour, 14-day work week provision.
 
Blanton confirmed the bill does not set a limit on how many hours in a day an officer can work. In response, Wheatley referred to studies that show requiring an officer to work more than 10 hours a day is not healthy or safe.
 
“It’s actually going to cause some people to leave the service if they are forced to work more than 10 hours,” Wheatley added.
 
Blanton, a retired Kentucky State Police officer, said the goal of the change is to give departments more flexibility if an incident occurs that requires a long investigation.
 
“I bring you this bill because I know it will benefit our public safety personnel, our local governments and the citizens many have sworn to protect and serve,” Blanton said.
 
HB 414 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

Feb. 22, 2022

House approves bipartisan peace officer certification reform bill

 

Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, presents House Bill 206 on the House floor on Tuesday. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT— A bill moving through the Kentucky General Assembly would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense from becoming or remaining a peace officer.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 206 on Tuesday.
 
Kentucky law currently prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from becoming or remaining a peace officer. HB 206 would add misdemeanor sexual offenses to the list. The bill would also automatically revoke the certification of a peace officer if he or she is convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, said the measure is an extension of Senate Bills 80 and 52 from the 2021 legislative session. Both bills sought to reform what constitutes law enforcement misconduct in an effort to weed out “bad actors.”  
 
“House Bill 206 helps us ensure that we recruit the very best and that Kentucky’s peace officers serve with honor when charged with the public’s safety and trust,” Roberts said.
 
Primary cosponsor Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, said she was shocked when she learned from a law enforcement officer in her district that individuals convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense, even a misdemeanor sex offense against a child, are not prohibited from serving as peace officers in Kentucky.
 
Decker said she was in “disbelief” at learning her constituent knew about a case in Kentucky. The officer had been originally charged with felony child rape but pleaded guilty and had their charges reduced to a misdemeanor. That allowed them to continue working as a peace officer under current statute.
 
HB 206 cleared the House by a 96-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

Feb. 18, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol

 

Legislators work on the House floor. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly has passed the halfway mark in the 2022 legislative session, and while a handful of measures are now law, many of the most high-profile bills continue to work through the process.
 
Lawmakers hit day 30 of the 60-day session on Wednesday, and more than 900 bills and resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate so far. Of those, more than 200 have passed at least one chamber of the legislature.
 
However, deadlines are looming, and Tuesday is the last day to request new bills from drafters. Legislators have until March 1 to file legislation in the House and until March 3 in the Senate, offering little more than week to wrap up any proposals for this year’s session.
 
Much of the work this week focused on issues affecting schools, including student safety, academic standards, masking and athletics.
 
Among the bills gaining steam was Senate Bill 138, which calls for public schools to teach a series of core concepts and historical documents that supporters say are central to understanding American principles and government.
 
Proponents said the bill is needed to address gaps in civics education and underscore the importance of key people and events in American history. Critics, however, said the measure could stifle much-needed discussions on social topics like race and gender.
 
SB 138 cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday and now heads to the full Senate.
 
Two other measures related to school athletics and transgender students— House Bill 23 and Senate Bill 83—were also generating debate this week as they moved forward in their respective chambers.
 
In essence, both measures would prevent male-to-female transgender students from participating in girls sports. HB 23 received approval in the House Education Committee on Tuesday, while SB 83 advanced off the Senate floor on Wednesday.
 
Supporters say the changes are necessary to provide a fair and level playing field in girls athletics. But opponents contend that the bills are unnecessary and would prevent transgender girls from reaping the social and health benefits of sports.
 
Other issues that lawmakers sought to address this week included:
 
School masks: House Bill 51, which would make facial coverings optional in Kentucky schools, received approval in the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
 
School resource officers: House Bill 63 would require school districts that can afford a school resource officer at each school to have them in place by Aug. 1. If funds or personnel are not available, the bill directs the school district to work with the state Center for School Safety to address those issues. HB 63 received approval on the House floor Tuesday.
 
Child abuse: House Bill 263, known as Kami’s Law, would increase the penalty for first-degree criminal abuse to a Class B felony if the victim is under 12 years old. It cleared the House floor with a unanimous vote Tuesday.
 
COVID-19 immunity: In the event of any state vaccination mandates, Senate Joint Resolution 80 would recognize natural immunity against COVID-19 as equivalent to being vaccinated. The measured received approval on the Senate floor Tuesday.
 
Gubernatorial pardons: Senate Bill 149 proposes changes to two sections of the state constitution that would prohibit the governor’s ability to grant pardons or reduce sentences around election time. It received approval Wednesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
 
School police: Senate Bill 120 would authorize local boards of education to establish a police department for local school districts. It advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
 
School bus cameras: House Bill 221 would allow school districts to install stop-arm cameras on school buses. The cameras would help police track down traffic offenders who drive past buses while children are boarding or exiting. It passed off the House floor on Thursday.
 
Statute of limitations: Senate Bill 153 would remove the statute of limitations for civil actions arising from childhood sexual assault or abuse. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
 
Kentucky State University: House Bill 250 would allow the state to loan $23 million to Kentucky State University to help the struggling university meet its financial obligations for this fiscal year. HB 250 directs the Council on Postsecondary Education to create and oversee a management improvement plan and a loan repayment plan for KSU. The bill passed off the House floor on Thursday.
 
Lawmakers are scheduled to break for Presidents’ Day on Monday but will gavel back in on Tuesday for the 33rd day of the session.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

 

Feb. 18, 2022

Bipartisan anti-SLAPP bill unanimously advances off House floor

 

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, presents House Bill 222, or the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, on the House floor on Friday.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bipartisan measure to protect freedom of speech on Friday.
 
House Bill 222, or the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, would offer those who speak out against a matter of public interest protection from strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPP.
 
The primary co-sponsors of HB 222 are Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, and Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville. Kulkarni has been working on the bill since 2019.
 
Kulkarni said HB 222 specifically “creates a procedure, a special motion to dismiss, by which a judge may dismiss certain civil lawsuits that are used to intimidate, censor or silence those who speak out on a matter of public interest or concern by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense against what is ultimately a meritless lawsuit.”
 
According to Kulkarni, the bill has received widespread support from numerous organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, the Bluegrass Institute, the Kentucky Open Government Coalition, the Kentucky Press Association, the Pegasus Institute, the Public Participation Project, and the Uniform Law Commission.
 
Nemes said HB 222 will protect regular people from anyone in power, regardless of their political affiliation, who seeks to silence them.
 
“(Strategic lawsuits against public participation) are not in the best interest of our citizens, so we want to make sure you can’t abuse the process,” Nemes said.
 
The bill would not prevent a person or entity from filing a bona fide libel or slander lawsuit, and the standard to prove a lawsuit is a strategic lawsuit against public participation is high, Nemes added.
 
The House approved HB 222 by an 82-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

    

END

 

 

 

Feb. 17, 2022

Senate bill would create standards for teaching key civics topics

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, testifies on Senate Bill 138, which would create educational standards on civics topics for middle and high school students.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Legislation that calls on public schools to teach certain concepts and historical documents – ones that supporters say are central to American principles – cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
 
Senate Bill 138 says schools must provide instruction in social studies that aligns with a list of concepts such as “all individuals are created equal” and “Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law,” among several others.
 
It also calls for topics on public policy or social affairs to be taught with consideration of the students’ age and for educators to incorporate two dozen core documents from American history into lessons.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor and chair of the committee, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the purpose of the legislation is to preserve alignment of middle and high school standards with American principles of equality and freedom.
 
“Amid national and state-wide tensions that seem to be further dividing us, I’ve drafted a bill with the intent to unify, Wise said.
 
“Our entire country is facing a lack of knowledge when it comes to civics education. This is at no fault to our educators, but rather a reflection on a growing concern that Americans are falling behind in understanding the importance of civics and government education,” he continued.
 
Wise testified that, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than a quarter of American 12th graders are proficient in civics, and only 12% are proficient in U.S. history.
 
“Although the new K-12 social studies standards have been upgraded to quality performance-based terminology, both educators and parents have complained that the standards seem to lack specific reference to key people, key events, key struggles and key challenges and also ongoing successes that have forged American democratic principles of equality, freedom and individual rights,” Wise said.
 
Some of the documents and speeches that would be incorporated into middle and high school social studies include The Mayflower Compact, The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution, The 1796 Farewell Address by George Washington, The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, Of Booker T. Washington and Others by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.
 
The bill was approved in committee after a series of changes to the original wording. Wise said the revisions clarified his intent and reflected input from various stakeholders.
 
Several people, both for and against the legislation, took turns testifying before committee members. They included parents, students, a man whose family was directly affected by the Holocaust, educators and a representative from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, complimented Wise for considering input, but said he is not in favor of the bill.
 
“I don’t know why we create this boogeyman of critical race theory, and now we’re buying into that here in Kentucky because we don’t teach critical race theory here in our K-12 schools,” he said. “And I don’t know why we have to color the boogeyman of critical race theory Black. I am really troubled by that because that just feeds into racism that exists all across this country.”
 
Thomas said the teaching of history should be open for discussion, and he fears not talking about it could make matters worse. Even some of the United States’ most terrible times in history should be freely broached, he said.
 
“We’ve got to talk about slavery and the oppression that occurred. We’ve got to talk about the Trail of Tears and the horrors that Native Americans faced. We’ve got to talk about the Holocaust in hopes that we never see that again. I mean, those are things that happened in our past,” he said.

    

END

 

 

 

Feb. 17, 2022

Tax-related constitutional amendment proposal clears House committee

 

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, sits between J.D. Chaney, executive director and CEO for the Kentucky League of Cities, and Jim Henderson, executive director and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Counties, as he testifies on House Bill 475 during the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Kentucky voters may soon decide whether or not the Kentucky General Assembly can allow local governments to charge new types of taxes.
 
House Bill 475 cleared the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Thursday. Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, is the primary sponsor of the bipartisan measure.
 
Currently, Section 181 of the Kentucky Constitution limits the types of taxes local governments can charge. Meredith said most cities, counties and municipalities survive on occupational tax and property tax revenue.
 
“If we want to remove the over reliance on occupational tax or income-based taxes at the local level, this is a move we must make,” Meredith said. “If we want to provide more flexibility to our local governments in setting the course for their future, this is a change we must make.”
 
For example, changing the constitution would give the General Assembly the power to approve legislation that would allow local governments to implement a 1% local sales tax.
 
In referencing calls for comprehensive tax reform, Meredith said HB 475 is an essential piece to accomplishing that goal.
 
“There’s no way to truly do comprehensive tax reform if we don’t address the local side as we address the state side,” Meredith said.
 
Meredith was joined by J.D. Chaney, executive director and CEO for the Kentucky League of Cities; Shelby Somervell, vice president of government affairs and communications for Greater Louisville Inc.; Andi Johnson, chief policy officer and director of regional engagement for Commerce Lexington; and Jim Henderson, executive director and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Counties, in testifying in favor of HB 475. They believe this measure will lead to much needed population and industry growth and will make Kentucky more competitive with its neighbors.
 
If HB 475 receives approval from the House and the Senate, Kentucky voters will decide on the proposed change to the constitution during the November 2022 general election.
 
If voters approve, that’s where Meredith hopes House Bill 476, a separate bill that was approved by the House Local Government Committee on Wednesday, would kick in. HB 476 is not a proposed constitutional amendment.
 
Meredith said HB 476 “keeps the status quo and ensures that every county, city or other local government can continue charging any of the taxes or fees that they’re authorized to do in statute currently, but they couldn’t expand to anything new,” until the General Assembly authorizes them to do so.
 
House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, asked the panel if there are any guardrails in place to make sure the gap between “poor” counties and “rich” counties doesn’t increase.
 
Henderson said the changes proposed in HB 475 could benefit every county in the state in a significant way since counties that already do not generate much occupational tax revenue, if any, could benefit from a local sales tax.
 
Shannon Stiglitz, senior vice president of government affairs for the Kentucky Retail Federation, shared with the committee the organization’s concerns with the possibility of a local sales tax and how that might impact businesses and consumers.
 
In voting “yes” on HB 475 in committee, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he shares a lot of the Kentucky Retail Federation’s concerns, but he believes the bill has the potential to alleviate property tax burdens on local families by giving cities and counties more options. He also believes this change will lead to growth.
 
“Our tax policy in Kentucky needs to be toward growth,” Nemes said. “We are a poor state. We are poor counties and poor cities. We can’t pay for our roads. We can’t pay for our schools the way we want to. We can’t pay for the healthcare we want to unless we have growth.”
 
HB 475 and HB 476 will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

   

END

 

Feb. 16, 2022

Proposed constitutional amendments would limit pardons and commutations 

 

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, testifies on Senate Bill 149, which proposes constitutional amendments that would limit the governor’s ability to grant pardons or commute sentences at specific times.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—Legislation proposing constitutional amendments that would limit the governor’s ability to grant pardons or reduce criminal sentences received approval in committee Wednesday.
 
Amendments to the Kentucky constitution must be placed on the ballot and win approval from voters before taking effect. If adopted by the General Assembly, Senate Bill 149 would ask voters:
 
“Are you in favor of limiting a Governor’s ability to grant pardons or commute sentences by prohibiting him or her from granting pardons or commuting sentences during the time period beginning thirty days prior to the general election at which the Governor is elected, and ending the fifth Tuesday succeeding the election by amending the Constitution of Kentucky as stated below?”
 
The measure advanced out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee with an 8-2 vote after its sponsor, Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, testified on the bill.
 
“I can tell you today that the people of the commonwealth find the judicial process, with all of the participants and safeguards I previously described, to be superior to the pardoning powers of one individual,” he said.
 
McDaniel shared media headlines from a series of high-profile gubernatorial pardons that took effect in 2019, including for offenders convicted of rape and murder. He said the bill would allow pardons to continue, but it specifies the times when they would not be permitted.
 
“There are many who believe the power to pardon should remain intact. This is why this amendment does not do away with the power to pardon. It simply restricts that power during the 30 days prior to an election and then between a gubernatorial election and a swearing-in,” he said. “That way, if a governor believes in a pardon strongly enough, he or she can stand in front of the voters or have their party stand in front of the voters to decide their opinion of those actions.”
 
He said the legislation would also prevent any more “hiding in the darkness.”
 
“There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scales of justice without the recourse of the voters of the citizens of the commonwealth,” McDaniel said.
 
Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, voted against the bill, describing it as unnecessary. She said that just because some unconscionable pardons occurred in the past, it doesn’t mean the current governor or future governors would do the same.
 
Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, also voted no on the bill, calling it “a knee jerk reaction” to decisions made in 2019. She said she would prefer a different approach that achieves the same goal without limiting the governor’s constitutional authority.
 
“I feel that we need to have a more comprehensive approach to this if we’re going to actually address the real issues,” she said.
 
Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said pardons have put some dangerous people back on the streets and caused many victims to have to relive the crimes all over again.
 
“It is a substantial thing to change the constitution. That’s not something I do lightly, and I don’t think that Senator McDaniel does either. But what we did see the last time was unconscionable for many reasons,” he said.
 
The most basic form of local government in Kentucky must not be rejected – the justice system, Wheeler said.
 
“We were not set up as a kingdom where one person can wholesale reject these principles and, you know, I’m not going to say there’s not a time when a pardon is not necessary, but in this particular case, we need to preserve our heritage and our traditional English common law and jural rights, and I think this bill goes a long way towards preserving those important rights in the commonwealth,” he said.

   

END

 

 

 

Feb. 15, 2022

House approves school resource officer bill

 

Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, presents House Bill 63 on the House floor on Tuesday. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday that seeks to put a school resource officer (SRO) at every school in the Commonwealth.
 
House Bill 63 is a follow up to Senate Bill 1, or the School Safety and Resiliency Act, from the 2019 Regular Session. SB 1 required school districts to assign at least one SRO to each school in a district as funds and qualified personnel become available.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, says HB 63 would require schools who can place a SRO at each school to do so by Aug. 1. If sufficient funds and qualified personnel are not available, HB 63 directs the school district to work with the state school security marshal at the state Center for School Safety to address those issues.
 
“A byproduct of House Bill 63 is that the Safety Center can keep good statistics on the reasons why schools cannot achieve the intent of an SRO on every campus,” Bratcher said.
 
HB 63 would not provide funding for SROs. Bratcher said having the statistics on why school districts are struggling to fund and find SROs would be the first step in considering possible future legislation that would appropriate state funds for SROs. 
 
“We got to know ‘why’ before we fund something,” Bratcher said. “… House Bill 63 is not an unfunded mandate. It is just a great new step to achieve what the original Senate Bill 1 wanted all the time, and that is safety in our schools.”
 
Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale, attempted to pass a floor amendment to fully fund SROs for each public school in Kentucky. The amendment failed.
 
In speaking against Donohue’s floor amendment, Bratcher reiterated more research needs to be done before the General Assembly decides to fully fund SROs in schools.
 
Lawmakers debated for an hour on HB 63. Several lawmakers spoke against the measure, citing statistics, personal negative experiences with SROs, and opinions from constituents who are against SROs in schools.
 
In explaining her “no” vote on HB 63, Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, shared she’s heard from student constituents who have had negative interactions with SROs. Scott believes the General Assembly should focus on other ways to improve school safety.
 
“We must work to ensure we have stronger anti-bullying policies, suicide prevention measures and common sense gun safety measures, which we, as a body, have failed to address time and time again,” Scott said. “We should be prioritizing mental health resources, such as trained professionals in our schools, not armed guards.”
 
Several lawmakers also rose to speak in favor of HB 63. Many of those in favor of the measure shared stories of a time a SRO prevented a violent act at a public school in their district.
 
Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, shared her positive experiences with SROs at the schools she attended as a child.
 
“Truly, I felt safer knowing that an SRO was there,” Heavrin said. “And not only did they protect students, but they were also part of our community. They made relationships and helped with community relationships.”
 
HB 63 cleared the House floor by a 78-17 vote. It will now head to the Senate for consideration.

 

 

  

END

 

 

 

Feb. 15, 2022

Lawmakers discuss consumer data protection 

 

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would shore up consumer data privacy is taking shape in Kentucky.
 
On Tuesday, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, told members of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee that the commonwealth sorely needs safeguarding measures for consumers’ digital data.
 
He is proposing Senate Bill 15, legislation that would provide basic privacy rights in Kentucky law and give consumers more control of their personal data and information. The measure would also offer more transparency on what data is collected and shared.
 
“We’ve got a consumer protection statute or framework in statute, but it doesn’t carry or cover the digital space at all,” he said. “And it doesn’t do anything to provide all of us as Kentuckians, as people that live and breathe and work, and operate and do business and live here, a way to have any control of our data in the digital space.”
 
Westerfield worked on a similar measure last year. Committee members heard testimony on the legislation Tuesday, but did not take a vote.
 
Other states, such as Virginia, Vermont, Connecticut, Illinois, California and Colorado are among the states where the issue of consumer data privacy has been addressed at varying levels, Westerfield said.
 
He shared real-life examples of how tracking software on a Kentucky newspaper’s homepage has been used in the past. He said such software could gather data on a user’s internet searches and purchases, where people go to lunch, and even where a person’s eyes focus on a website.
 
“That sort of stuff goes on and consumers don’t know,” Westerfield said.
 
Offering testimony virtually was Andy Kingman, General Counsel of the State Privacy and Security Coalition. In Feb. 2020, some members of the SPSC included Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Google, Pinterest, Verizon, Visa and Walmart, according to a letter posted online to state officials in Pennsylvania from the organization.
 
“Our general viewpoint here is that workable privacy framework, it’s important to provide robust and useful protection for consumers,” Kingman said. “We don’t want consumers to be overwhelmed. We don’t want them to be frustrated or to have their intentions frustrated. And we do feel right now that as drafted, SB 15 is going to result in those burdens to Kentucky consumers.”
 
Kingman said the impacts would make Kentucky less competitive for small businesses. He added that the Virginia model is a good one for states to use, and the coalition supports it.
 
Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, questioned Westerfield about how fees and compliance costs could affect small businesses with a website. She asked who would have to pay the costs.
 
“It would be the company that’s gathering that customer data and monetizing it in some way,” Westerfield replied.
 
Westerfield said he thinks it’s becoming more common for small business owners to pay attention to data that’s gathered about customers.
 
“I think in fairness to Mr. Kingman’s remarks, I think it’s an increasing impact because smaller businesses are realizing the potential of collecting that data, to build and learn more about their customers to grow and add more customers to it,” he said. “So I think he’s right that that is something becoming more attractive to smaller businesses, if not on their own, then through third parties that want to sell them those services like you just talked about.”
 
Westerfield said he is working on changes to the bill for this session.

 

END

 

 

 

 

Feb. 15, 2022

School bus stop-arm camera bill clears House committee

 

Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, testifies before the House Education Committee on Tuesday on House Bill 221. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT— A bill seeking to deter drivers from not stopping while children are boarding and departing school buses advanced out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
 
Under House Bill 221, school districts would be allowed to install stop-arm cameras on school buses, and local law enforcement would be allowed to issue civil penalties for violators. 
 
Similar legislation has been proposed for three years, and this is second year that Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, has sponsored the bill.
 
“This bill, again, is about safety about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and that is our children that are riding our school buses to and from school every day,” Hale said. “It is estimated that there are literally thousands of violations that happen across the country and also right here in the state of Kentucky.”
 
Hale told the committee that an incident recently happened outside his home. A neighbor was departing a school bus when a driver ignored the bus’s stop arm and flashing lights. The neighbor’s mother ran out into the street to try to protect the child. Thankfully, no one was harmed, Hale said.
 
“I have no sympathy, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart, no sympathy for anyone that would illegally pass a stopped school bus that is allowing our children to exit that bus or either to get on,” Hale said.
 
HB 221 is not a mandate for school districts, Hale said. The cameras would take a photo of the violator’s license plate. Hale said he hopes the civil penalties in the bill will change the behavior of drivers who pass stopped school buses.
 
Under HB 221, violators would be issued a $300 fine on the first offense and a $500 for a second or subsequent offence within a three-year period.
 
During discussion, Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, asked Hale if stop-arm cameras contain any facial recognition software. Hale said no.
“I want to make sure everyone here understands I know there’s privacy issues that some people have... that is not my intent at all,” Hale said. “This is to protect those children.”
 
HB 221 will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

  

END

 

 

 

Feb. 11, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol

 

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, listens to 9-year-old D’Corey Johnson sing the national anthem on the Senate floor. A high resolution photo is available here

 

FRANKFORT – The sounds of a legislative session have a flair all their own – the roll call vote, the crack of the gavel, the chatter on the chamber floor. During the sixth week of the 2022 legislative session, it was the voice of a Louisville fourth grader that brought all ears to attention.
 
Nine-year-old D’Corey Johnson kicked off the annual Black History Celebration on Tuesday with a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” that climbed all 212 feet of the Capitol dome. When he belted out the national anthem for the Senate, the normally reserved chamber couldn’t help but hoot in applause.
 
The performance was a perfect fit for a busy week in the General Assembly, which included a visit from Kentucky Men’s Basketball Coach John Calipari, a spirited debate on unemployment benefits, and action on a host of other measures related education, children, health and taxes.
 
Education was a key theme at Tuesday’s Black History Celebration, where legislators highlighted the importance of historically Black colleges and universities — particularly Kentucky State University. The event culminated with the 2022 Legacy Award, which posthumously honored state Rep. Darryl Owens.
 
On Wednesday, the focus turned to Calipari and University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who testified in the Senate Education Committee on behalf of Senate Bill 6.
 
The bipartisan legislation would provide a framework in state law for college athletes to generate personal income off their name, image and likeness, known as NIL. Calipari and Barnhart told lawmakers that the proposal would create both parameters and opportunities while also protecting the interests of athletes.
 
SB 6 cleared the full Senate on Thursday and now heads to the House, where lawmakers spent much of Thursday afternoon in deliberations on unemployment. 
 
House Bill 4 seeks to change the duration of unemployment insurance based on the average rate of unemployment across the Commonwealth. The bill would also require participants to engage in at least five verifiable work search activities each week to obtain benefits.
 
Proponents said the measure is sorely needed to address workforce shortages and attract more jobs to the state. Critics, however, argued that the legislation would disproportionately impact rural areas of Kentucky where unemployment is highest.
 
The bill passed off the floor after several hours of debate and now heads to the Senate.
 
Lawmakers maintained a quick pace throughout the week, both in committee and on the House and Senate floors. The General Assembly advanced measures related to:
 
The Read to Succeed Act — House Bill 226 seeks to invest in improving early literacy education through evidence based learning techniques and intensive interventions that can help struggling students catch up. It won approval in the House on Monday and serves as a companion bill to a measure in the Senate.
 
Child abuse — Senate Bill 97, which aims to strengthen investigations of suspicious child deaths and serious injuries, received approval in the Senate on Monday. Among many goals, it would require police to request a blood, breath or urine test from the child’s custodian if that person is suspected of being under the influence at the time of the child’s death.
 
Another measure, House Bill 263, would increase the penalty for first-degree criminal abuse to a Class B felony if the victim is under 12 years old.  It cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday with unanimous support.
 
Vehicle taxes — House Bill 6 would require property valuation administrators to tax vehicle owners in 2022 the same as they did 2021. Beginning next year, the bill would also require them to use the average trade-in value rather than the “rough” trade-in value or “clean” trade-in value when assessing taxes. HB 6 cleared the House with a unanimous vote on Wednesday.
 
First responders — Senate Bill 101 would prohibit first responders from taking photos of people who have died at the scene of an accident or crime unless the photos are for official purposes. Any unauthorized photos could result in a Class A misdemeanor, with fines ranging between $500 to $2,500. The Senate approved the bill Wednesday.
 
COVID-19 — Senate Joint Resolution 80 would recognize natural immunity against COVID-19 as equivalent to being vaccinated — if the state were to implement vaccine mandates. Individuals who are unvaccinated would need to demonstrate the presence of COVID-19 antibodies through a serology test. The measure cleared the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.
 
School sports — Senate Bill 83, known as the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” calls for administrative regulations that would prohibit biologically male students from participating in athletic activities designated for girls. It moved out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
 
The halfway point of the 2022 session is drawing near, and the House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene on Monday for day 28 of the 60-day session.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process. That includes the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

  

END

 

Feb. 11, 2022

Vehicle owners could receive a tax break under Senate resolution

 

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, testifies on Senate Joint Resolution 99, which would direct state officials to hold vehicle valuations to 2021 levels. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Vehicle owners in Kentucky could receive up to $70 million in tax relief under a measure that won unanimous support on the Senate floor Friday.
 
Senate Joint Resolution 99 would direct state officials to assess taxes on vehicles using valuations from 2021 for the next two years. It also calls on the state Department of Revenue to issue refunds for taxes that have already been paid based on current year assessments.
 
The resolution’s primary sponsor, Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said the proposal would help Kentuckians cope with the once-in-a-lifetime jump in vehicle values that occurred during the pandemic.
 
“This would bring tax relief to Kentucky vehicle owners, to our job creators in the automobile industry as well as to people who own fleets of vehicles,” he said. 
 
Douglas said Kentucky taxpayers are facing financial challenges and it’s incumbent on the legislature to require changes.
 
“Typically, vehicle values go down from year to year,” he said. “But the director of state valuation said …that overall in 2022 these valuations have increased. And compared to previous years, it is up approximately 40 percent.”
 
Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, also spoke on behalf of the bill.
 
“You know, probably every member of this chamber has received phone calls from back home in their district about this situation,” he said.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, called it a bipartisan effort.
 
“This issue is so important that the House and the Senate have both addressed it at the same time. It was one of the first things that we did, and you can see that by the bill numbers and the importance of that,” she said.
 
The measure passed with a 34-0 vote Friday.

 

END

 

 

 

 

Feb. 11, 2022

House bill addressing raises for Kentucky State Police advances

 

Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, presents House Bill 259 on the House floor on Friday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A busy week in Frankfort concluded Friday with the Kentucky House of Representatives advancing a bill that will give most Kentucky State Police troopers raises.
 
House Bill 259 was approved by an 87-2 vote. The measure would permanently codify the salary increases allocated in House Bill 1, the proposed executive branch budget, for state police troopers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, said the bill ensures a $15,000 pay increase for troopers ranked below sergeant and a 10% pay raise for troopers ranked at and above sergeant. 
 
“House Bill 1 and House Bill 259 would increase the starting pay of KSP troopers from the current $40,898 per year to $55,888 per year, making KSP the top five law enforcement agency when compared to other departments across our Commonwealth,” Lewis said.
 
Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, a retired KSP trooper, is also a co-sponsor of the bill. He said HB 259 would be “life changing” for troopers and the agency.
 
“We are allowed to have 1,150 troopers, and we are all the way down to 750,” Fugate said. “This will help in recruitment and retention.”
 
Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said HB 259 is a “wonderful” bill, but she would like to see raises for teachers, social workers and judicial branch staff.
 
“If we can find the dollars for this, I hope we can find the dollars for them,” Westrom said.
 
Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, also spoke on the House floor in favor of HB 259 while advocating for a different group of state employees to receive a raise: the state police officers who protect the state Capitol building.
 
“The state troopers who protect this Capitol are not part of this, and I like to think that maybe we can add them down at the Senate and bring it back here to have them get a raise as well,” DuPlessis said.
 
HB 259 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

  

END

 

 

Feb. 10, 2022

Senate bill would require genetic testing in some deaths of young people

 

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, testifies on Senate Bill 80, which would require genetic testing in some postmortem examinations of young people. A high resolution photo is available here.  

FRANKFORT—Legislation that would require genetic testing when a young person dies inexplicably received approval Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
“Senate Bill 80 is essentially an attempt not only to bring closure to families who have suffered the death of a young loved one, but as well as an effort to give them certain information that might in fact save lives,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville.
 
The legislation calls for the state medical examiner’s office to conduct a genetic test when a postmortem examination of someone under 40 does not determine the cause of death. If the genetic test reveals a cause, coroners must note that information on the death certificate.
 
Wheeler introduced committee members to Tracy Fletcher, whose daughter passed away in 2018 from a cause that remained unknown until two years later.
 
Shantell was a 19-year-old, full of life, young lady, very athletic all through school,” Fletcher said. “Loved her car. She was a car enthusiast. She worked on that car many hours to get it where she had it. Loved to be beautiful, but yet she was a tomboy.”
 
Fletcher recalled the terrible time when her daughter was found unresponsive.
 
“There was no one there that night to help her…No one can find anything that night. There was no evidence. They just said she looked like she laid down to sleep. She was a beautiful little girl,” she said.
 
Losing a child at a young age and not understanding why can be exacerbate the grief, Fletcher said. The autopsy results came back as undetermined, and Fletcher, a nurse, said she tried to understand what happened by searching online.
 
“As a parent, to not know what happened to your child at the age of 19, it’s not just devastating you lost them, but it’s the what-ifs that can drive you insane. And we went through a lot of the what-ifs,” Fletcher said.
 
Not only could the legislation help families find answers to heart-wrenching questions about their loved ones, but also it could inform surviving family members of possible health problems they might encounter themselves.
 
Once it was determined her daughter passed away from a genetic disorder, Fletcher consulted a cardiologist and he referred her to the University of Virginia. That’s where the family ended up getting cardiac workups.
 
At the university, they met Matthew Thomas, a pediatric genetic counselor. Thomas testified to the committee virtually and answered a question from Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, about the possibility of opting out of the genetic testing.
 
“In my experience, medical examiners generally have the responsibility of investigating what the cause of death is, and there’s not a regular communication with families about what they want to opt in and out of,” he said. “That certainly can be something that’s considered, but in this situation, the purpose of the testing is to find out why somebody died and protect the family from that ever happening again.”
 
Wheeler said there is no opt-out option in the bill, but he would not mind adding one.
 
The bill is also known as the Micah Shantell Fletcher Law.

   

END

 

 

 

Feb. 10, 2022

House approves unemployment insurance reform bill

 

Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, presents House Bill 4 on the House floor on Thursday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill aimed at changing the length of unemployment insurance benefits and the job search requirements for recipients cleared the Kentucky House of Representatives on Thursday.
 
After several hours of debate, House Bill 4 was approved by a 57-37 vote.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Russell Webber, R-Shepherdsville, said the bill is not intended to solve all of the unemployment and workforce participation issues facing the Commonwealth, but it is an “important first step.”
 
“Right now, 47% of the working age population in Kentucky is not working, so we have 53% of our working age population that is actively working,” Russell said. “… We cannot be known as a state without workers or a state that is short on workers.”
 
Under HB 4, the duration of unemployment insurance benefits will be based upon the state average unemployment rate. One provision of the bill says if the state average unemployment rate is less than 4.5%, benefits may last for up to 12 weeks. Under current statute, unemployment insurance benefits may last up to 26 weeks.
 
The bill would also require recipients to engage in at least five verifiable work search activities a week with at least three of those activities being applying for a job, interviewing for employment or job shadowing.
 
Another provision of HB 4 would give recipients an additional five weeks of eligibility if he or she is enrolled in an approved job training or certification program.
 
“This is a great opportunity, and it helps Kentuckians,” Webber said.
 
Webber also assured his colleagues that this bill would not hurt seasonal workers or those impacted by the Western Kentucky tornadoes.
Several lawmakers, however, expressed fears that HB 4 would hurt rural communities.
 
Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said he believes HB 4 would be “devastating” to the people in his district, where jobs are hard to find and many people commute up to two hours away from home in order to work.
 
Blanton attempted to pass a floor amendment that would change several things about Webber’s original bill, such as keeping the maximum length of benefits at 26 weeks; however the amendment failed.
 
“You see, people drawing unemployment insurance are people who want to work and have been working, but now we’re going to go after them?” Blanton said. “… I would think if we want to solve our workforce participation problem, we would go after that 53,000 that’s not working rather than those 18,000 that are out of work but are willing to work.”
 
Rep. Norma Kirk-McCormick, R-Inez, agreed with Blanton, saying the bill is “super bad” for her district.
 
Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, also agreed that the bill would hurt rural communities. Gentry made a motion to postpone voting on HB 4, but his motion failed.
 
Several other lawmakers joined their colleagues in speaking against HB 4. Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said she worries about the burden the bill would place on the state unemployment office, which is currently understaffed.
 
Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, however, said he believes HB 4 is a “step in the right direction.”
 
“If you want to bring jobs to Eastern Kentucky, we have to improve our workforce participation rate,” Bray said.
 
Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, a small business owner, joined in supporting HB 4. Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, also spoke in support of HB 4, calling it a “good bill.”
 
HB 4 will now go before the Senate for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

Feb. 10, 2022

Bill extending Medicaid coverage for postpartum women clears House committee

 

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, testifies on House Bill 174 in the House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The House Health and Family Services Committee approved a bipartisan initiative Thursday to improve maternal health.
 
House Bill 174 would give Medicaid coverage to eligible new mothers for up to 12 months postpartum. The primary sponsors of the bill are Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, and Committee Chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill.
 
Cantrell said although the bill is only seven words, it will have a big impact for mothers across the state.
 
“The only part (of the bill) being amended is extending that coverage so mothers can stay healthy with their newborns for up to 12 months,” Cantrell added.
 
Moser shared with the committee that Kentucky’s high maternal mortality rate is what inspired she and Cantrell to propose the bill.
 
“Kentucky is one of the highest, and there are a lot of factors, but this will really help a population who often sees health care disparities get the care that they need,” Moser said.
 
Christina Libby, the health outreach navigator for the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, also testified in favor of HB 174. She shared with the committee that she struggled with several medical issues, including postpartum depression, after the birth of her second child, and she was grateful to have health insurance.
 
Libby said that HB 174 would also have a positive impact on Kentucky’s children.
 
“The effect on the children raised by healthy and functioning mothers would have a ripple effect throughout the Commonwealth,” she said.

The measure cleared the House Health and Family Services Committee unanimously. HB 174 will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

 

END

 

 

Feb. 9, 2022

Senate bill would clarify NIL opportunities for college athletes

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, (left); and Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville (right), listen as John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, speaks on behalf of Senate Bill 6

 

FRANKFORT—Legislation moving in the Kentucky Senate on Wednesday would provide a framework in state law for college athletes to generate personal income off their name, image and likeness, known as NIL.
 
Questions over student NIL rights have been brewing since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court called for changes in the NCAA. Many college athletes in Kentucky have been operating under an executive order related to NIL since July.
 
But Senate Bill 6 would provide more concrete parameters in state law about what Kentucky college athletes can and can’t do.
 
On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee heard from John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, and UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who both offered support for the bill. It later cleared the committee with unanimous approval. 
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the legislation would weave a thread of flexibility and balance for schools and student athletes.
 
“There are a lot of reasons why we’re here today, but one of the reasons we look at is the history and the past of the NCAA, and for them not being active in taking action on an issue such as this,” he said.
 
Calipari said the landscape of NIL continues to evolve, and he thanked the many people who have contributed to legislation.
 
“Today we’re met with an opportunity to address this evolving issue as the needs and demands of my players have changed. I’m confident with your interests as well as mine. We will share in creating the best opportunities for players while at the same time allowing men’s basketball at UK to remain the gold standard,” Calipari said.
 
Barnhart agreed with Calipari that NIL issues continue to change. He said the UK athletics department has over 800 transactions on file from about 250 student athletes.
 
“We’re seven months into this, and we know so little about it. We know a lot about it on one hand, and we don’t know where it goes from here,” he said. “And I think this bill gives flexibility to the growth in that place.”
 
Not every student has the desire to participate in NIL, but for those who do, it’s important to protect them, Barnhart said. He pointed to Masai Russell, a track and field student athlete and senior at UK who has worked hard to promote her brand and identity.
 
“It is remarkable what she has done, the way she works at it every day to do the things she does with social media, and she has probably I’m guessing has 300-to-350,000 followers in what she does. It’s pretty remarkable,” he said.
 
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, is co-sponsoring SB 6. He said Wednesday was not the first time lawmakers had considered the bill.
 
“We’re here today to make sure that that executive order doesn’t go away and to continue to improve upon the process as we’re all learning what this new environment of name, image and likeness is,” McGarvey said.
 
NIL is not paying student athletes to play their sports, and it does not allow a university or its athletics department to compensate student athletes beyond the scholarship and already permissible educational benefits, he said.
 
McGarvey likened it to student musicians giving lessons on YouTube or student artists who sell paintings.
 
“You can work at your craft. You can promote yourself,” he said.
 
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

 

END

 

 

 

Feb. 9, 2022

Resolution would recognize antibody test as equivalent to being vaccinated

 

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, speaks on Senate Joint Resolution 80, which would recognize a positive COVID-19 antibody test as equivalent to having been vaccinated. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Senate Health and Welfare Committee advanced a measure Wednesday that – in the event of any state vaccination mandates – would recognize natural immunity against COVID-19 as equivalent to being vaccinated.
 
Senate Joint Resolution 80 would cover individuals who, while unvaccinated, produce enough neutralizing antibodies to counter COVID-19 and can demonstrate the antibodies through a serology test.
 
The resolution would not apply to federal mandates or private businesses that might implement their own vaccine requirements.
 
“We’ve had more and more studies coming out to the point now that we even have international governments that have begun to recognize this as being equal to having been vaccinated,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who is sponsoring the resolution.
 
SJR 80 cleared the committee with 8-2 vote and now heads to the full Senate. If adopted, the provisions would remain in effect until Jan. 31, 2023
 
Alvarado, a physician who serves as chair of the committee, said there are various reasons why some of his constituents have not been vaccinated, and he has heard from many of them. Some are physicians and nurses who have already contracted COVID-19, he said.
 
Alvarado said he reviewed briefs by Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and an original white paper from Australia regarding natural immunity and vaccination.
 
Several countries in Europe require travelers to have proof of vaccination, but also recognize  proof of a previous infection that produces an equivalent antibody response, he said. Some of the applicable countries he named include Finland, Austria, Denmark and Germany.
 
“I think it’s time for the state to be able to recognize, as many international governments have, to start recognizing people that have a measurable antibody response,” he said.
 
The measure was met with opposition from Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, who is also a physician and voted against the resolution. She said the data is still coming out, and that leading health officials are not recommending the resolution’s approach at this time.
 

“My understanding is the only mandates for vaccination in the state right now would be for health care workers and private employers,” she said. “I don’t think the state, and somebody please correct me if I am wrong, is requiring any vaccinations at this point. So no, I do not see the purpose of this. It is not good science."

 

  

END

 

 

 

Feb. 9, 2022

House approves bill to slap down 'swatting'

 

Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, testifies on House Bill 48, the "anti-swatting" bill on the House floor on Wednesday.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would make false 911 calls that result in an emergency response a felony.
 
Current statute already makes falsely reporting an incident a Class A misdemeanor. House Bill 48, also known as the “anti-swatting bill,” would make falsely reporting an incident that results in an emergency response a Class D felony.
 
Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, said Scott County has had at least 10 “swatting” incidences within the last year.
 
Sometimes these fake 911 calls are pranks, and sometimes the calls are used as revenge, Pratt added. It isn’t uncommon for someone to be “swatted” by someone they do not know who lives in another state.
 
Being “swatted” can be an extremely traumatic and sometimes deadly event for the victim.
 
“There was a gentlemen in Tennessee who owned a Twitter (handle) @Tennessee. Another gentleman wanted it and he would not give it up. He ‘swatted’ him,” Pratt said. “He came out to his yard with all the SWAT team and everybody out there and died of a massive heart attack.”
 
In commenting on the bill, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said she believes the bill has good intentions, but is not in favor of adding another felony to statute.
 
“It certainly is criminal to call 911 when you don’t need it, but I think this needs to be an educational aspect rather than another felony,” Marzian said. “We have so many felons locked up already… I’d never heard of (‘swatting’), but it can’t be that many that we need to pass another felony.”
 
The House approved HB 48 by an 86-7 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
 
“These (calls) put people’s lives in danger every day,” Pratt said.

 

END

 

Feb. 9, 2022

'Kami's Law' clears House Judiciary Committee

 

Kiera Dunk, 12, sits next to House Speaker David. W. Osborne, R-Prospect, as they testify on House Bill 263 in the House Judiciary Committee.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Children are the future.
 
That sentiment was clear on Wednesday when 12-year-old Kiera Dunk testified during the House Judiciary Committee meeting on a bill to increase the penalty for first-degree criminal abuse to a Class B felony if the victim is under 12 years old.  
 
Last summer, Kiera met with House Speaker David W. Osborne, R-Prospect, to begin working on House Bill 263.
 
Committee Chair Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, and Osborne are the primary sponsors of the bill, which is named Kami’s Law after one of Kiera’s friends. Kami is a Kentuckian and child abuse survivor.
 
Kami was a beautiful 9-month-old baby when her life was forever changed when the man responsible for her safety shook her so violently that she was clinically dead for 23 minutes,” Kiera said. “Kami survived, but due to trauma only half of her brain remains.”
 
Current statute makes first-degree criminal abuse a Class C felony. Sometimes those accused of first-degree criminal abuse are given an opportunity to accept a plea deal for a lesser sentence. When this happens, he or she does not end up on Kentucky Caregiver Misconduct and Kentucky Child Abuse registries, Kiera added.
 
Kami’s Law would change that.
 
“One of the two reasons for bringing this (bill) is to make sure that raising (the penalty) or elevating it to the Class B level makes it a violent crime, which should be subject to registration,” Massey said, adding that violent offenders are also required to serve at least 85% of his or her sentence.
 
Kiera said under current statute, Kami’s abuser was only sentenced to five years in prison and was released from prison early.
 
“Kentucky has the highest child abuse rates in the nation,” Kiera said. “We need change.”
 
During discussion of the bill, Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, shared data with the committee that shows within the last two years there’s been a 50% increase in children dying at the hands of their caregivers in Kentucky.
 
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved HB 263. The bill will now go before the full House for consideration.

 

END

 

Feb. 8, 2022

House committee advances motor vehicle tax bill

 

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Union, testifies on House Bill 6 in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on Tuesday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Kentuckians may soon get a break on their motor vehicle taxes.
 
The House Appropriations and Revenue approved House Bill 6 on Tuesday. The bill would require that property valuation administrators tax vehicle owners the same as they did 2021.  
 
“House Bill 6 follows concerns from my constituents regarding a letter that they received from the executive branch stating that their motor vehicle appraiser values would be increasing by 40% in 2022 compared to 2021,” said Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Union, the primary sponsor of the bill.
 
Beginning in 2023, HB 6 would require the average trade-in value to be used as the standard value of a motor vehicle for property tax purposes instead of the rough trade-in value or clean trade-in value.
 
Santoro said the executive branch adopted a policy in 2009 that allowed the clean trade-in be used in assessing motor vehicle property taxes. This, in conjunction with the current motor vehicle market, has caused motor vehicle property taxes to skyrocket. 
 
Commenting on the bill, Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said someone she knows learned that the vehicle they purchased a year ago is now worth thousands more than what they originally paid for it.
 
HB 6 would apply to motor vehicles assessed on or after Jan. 1, and it contains an emergency clause meaning it would go into effect immediately upon becoming law, Santoro said. The bill would also provide a way for Kentuckians to receive a refund if they’ve overpaid their taxes for this year.
 
The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee unanimously approved HB 6. It will now go before the full House for consideration.
 
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said this is the number one issue constituents have been calling him about this legislative session.
 
“We’ve got to make sure we protect the taxpayers here,” Nemes said. “This is something that’s coming that’s not their fault, and we need to make sure that we protect them.”

 

 

END

 

 

Feb. 7, 2022

House approves 'Read to Succeed Act'

 

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, speaks on House Bill 226, the Read to Succeed Act, on the House floor on Monday.  A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT­— A bipartisan initiative to improve early literacy in the Commonwealth cleared the Kentucky House of Representatives on Monday.
 
House Bill 226, otherwise known as the Read to Succeed Act, seeks to invest in improving early literacy education among kindergarten through third grade students by implementing evidence based learning techniques and intensive intervention methods to help struggling students catch up.
 
Evidence-based reading instruction would emphasize phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
 
The House approved the measure by an 86-7 vote on Monday. The Kentucky Senate approved Senate Bill 9, the companion bill, by a 28-7 vote on Jan. 19.
 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, and Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, serve as the bill’s primary sponsors in the House.
 
On the House floor, Tipton said test scores from the last several years show that Kentucky’s children are struggling to learn how to read and the pandemic has made the problem worse.
 
Citing Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) data, Tipton said only 52.7% of third-graders scored “proficient” or “distinguished” in reading in 2019. In 2021, that number dropped to 29.8%.
 
“One of the most disturbing correlations I’m aware of is there is actually a correlation between that reading proficiency score and incarceration,” Tipton said.
 
Under HB 226, kindergarten through third grade students who need help will undergo intensive intervention and enrichment that best suits that student’s needs in order to improve his or her reading skills, Tipton said.
 
Tipton said House Bill 1, the proposed executive branch budget, would allocate a total of $22 million toward this project, and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) plans to invest $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars as well. HB 1 is now before the Senate for consideration.
 
HB 226 would also establish a professional development program to educate teachers on how to implement evidence-based learning instruction and intervention techniques. Bojanowski, who is an educator, said the training would be optional for teachers and not mandated.
 
“Every student should have teachers who have the most comprehensive training possible,” Bojanowski said. “This bill would appropriate, and through KDE, $32 million to helping teachers be better prepared to teach reading. I plan on the first day that the link is available to register for the training.”
 
Due to a few changes made to the companion bill in the House, it will now go before the full Senate for concurrence.
 
If the Senate agrees with the changes, the measure will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

 

END

 

 

Feb. 4, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol

 

 

FRANKFORT— Despite losing a day to ice and snow, the Kentucky General Assembly continued to plow through bills this week, including three measures focused on first responders and several others related to education, criminal justice and parental rights.
 
Under threat of winter weather, lawmakers closed out the fifth week of the 2022 legislative session on Thursday afternoon as road conditions began to decline across the Commonwealth.
 
But just as first responders are working in concert this weekend to battle the icy conditions, legislators were largely united this week in efforts to “protect those who protect us.”
 
Before gaveling out on Thursday, the House unanimously approved House Bill 56, a measure that would provide death benefits when a first responder dies in the line of duty from COVID-19. In such cases, families of first responders would receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $80,000.

HB 56 is retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify.
 
The measure now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers have advanced a separate bill to boost mental health for public safety employees.
 
Senate Bill 64 would protect the confidentiality of first responders who participate in peer support counseling programs. Supporters say the bill would benefit thousands of public safety workers who frequently experience trauma on the job but could face repercussions from frank discussions in counseling.
 
The bill received unanimous approval Tuesday on the Senate floor and now heads to the House.
 
A third measure related to first responders cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this week; however, it focuses on curtailing misconduct.
 
Senate Bill 101 would prohibit first responders from taking photos of people who have died at scene of an accident or crime––unless the photos are for official purposes. Any unauthorized photos could result in a class A misdemeanor charge, with fines ranging between $500 to $2,500. The measure will now go to the full Senate.
 
Even with the short week, dozens of other bills continued to move forward in the legislature, including measures related to:
 
The Read to Succeed Act – The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved House Bill 226, or the Read to Succeed Act, on Tuesday. The legislation is a companion piece to a bill in the Senate and would allocate millions toward training teachers in early literacy instruction.
 
Porch pirates – Senate Bill 23 seeks to crack down on people who steal packages delivered through commercial carriers like Amazon or FedEx. The bill would make it a class D felony to steal or destroy such packages, mirroring the penalties for stealing U.S. mail. The measure cleared the Senate on Wednesday.
 
School board meetings – Under House Bill 121, public school boards would have to allow for at least 15 minutes of public comment at meetings, unless no one has signed up to speak. The bill advanced off the House floor on Wednesday.

False police reports – House Bill 48 would make falsely reporting an incident to police that results in an emergency response a class D felony. The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
 
Child abuse – Senate Bill 97 would help strengthen investigations of suspicious child deaths and serious injuries. The legislation would require police to request a blood, breath or urine test from the child’s custodian if that person is suspected of being under the influence at the time of the child’s death. It would also mandate that coroners immediately notify law enforcement officials and social services following the death of a child. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved the measure Wednesday.
 
Parental rights – Senate Bill 40 states that legal custodians of a minor child have a “fundamental right to make decisions concerning their care, custody and control.” It would also require government agencies to meet a strict scrutiny standard before interfering with the rights of a parent or legal custodian. The bill moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
 
The House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene Monday for the 23rd day of the 60-day session, and Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process. That includes the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.


 

END

 

 

 

 

Feb. 2, 2022

Senate bill would offer second chances for those with enhanced misdemeanors

 

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, speaks on Senate Bill 33, which would allow expungement of  enhanced misdemeanors. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—Sometimes second chances are hard to come by. Senate Bill 33 would make it possible for people convicted of enhanceable misdemeanors to clear their records if they have remained law-abiding for a long enough time.
 
Right now, Kentucky law allows expungement of many misdemeanors as long as the offense was not a sex crime or an offense committed against a child. However, about 180 misdemeanors are not eligible if they can be enhanced by a subsequent offense, and the enhancement period does not expire.
 
Senate Bill 33, sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, would change that. It would amend state statute to allow expungement for enhanceable misdemeanors after a period of five to ten years, depending on the crime. The bill was approved on the Senate floor with a 32-4 vote on Wednesday.
 
Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, expressed some misgivings about expungement overall. But, he also said he believes in second chances and that the test of time is a good measure in some situations involving crime.
 
“In this particular situation with a misdemeanor crime, even though it is enhanceable to a felony, if someone goes ten years without having been convicted of a crime, I would say the odds of them committing or being convicted of a crime after that are very, very slim,” he said.
 
Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, spoke in support of the legislation.
 
“I want to commend the sponsor of this legislation because of its reasonableness and it’s a responsible piece of legislation. I’m glad it’s getting the overwhelming support of this body,” he said.

END

 

 

Feb. 2, 2022

Senate committee advances bill to strengthen cases against child abusers

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, speaks on Senate Bill 97, which would help strengthen cases against child abusers. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved a measure Wednesday – Senate Bill 97 – that would help strengthen cases against child abusers in the event of suspicious deaths and serious injuries.
 
In such cases, the bill would require police to request a blood, breath or urine test from the child’s custodian if that person is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the custodian does not consent to the test, and authorities have probable cause, they could issue a search warrant.
 
The measure was approved by an 11-0 vote and now heads to the full Senate.
 
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said an important goal of the legislation is boosting the Kentucky Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel, a 20-member team that reviews records and procedures related to child abuse investigations. The panel periodically offers recommendations to improve Kentucky’s systematic response to child abuse. 
 
“I can’t think of any other panel that we establish in the commonwealth that’s any more important than this,” he said. “As an investigator having these levels of expertise reviewing cases, it can be invaluable in the way we conduct training.”
 
SB 97 would also require coroners to immediately notify law enforcement, the state Department for Community Based Services and the local health department immediately following the death of a child.
 
“These cases are some of the most difficult cases that an investigator would work, and the availability of evidence is crucial to the success in any prosecution,” Carroll said. “If it’s two days later, if a child’s body has been removed without a detective working the scene, obtaining the evidence, it could have a major impact on any prosecution.”
 
Another main component of the bill would require the review panel to determine which state agency is responsible for implementing its recommendations. Any agency that receives a recommendation must provide a written explanation of how it will implement the changes or why the recommendation cannot be implemented.
 
Steve Shannon, Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Programs Inc. (KARP), which represents community mental health centers throughout the commonwealth, testified during the meeting.
 
He said the review panel’s work is not always easy due to the severity of information in the cases. Individuals from varying disciplines, including state police, lawyers, judges, mental health professionals and others, serve on the team.
 
It looked at 200 cases last year, and Shannon hopes the panel will drastically improve the prevention of child abuse.
 
“The motivation is to identify trends, data, what can we use moving forward to maybe address some problems,” he said. “We’re hoping at some point this becomes a preventative strategy and we make things better for kids, make them safer for kids.”

 
 

END

 

 

Feb. 2, 2022

School board public comment requirement bill advances

 

Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, speaks on House Bill 121 on the House floor on Wednesday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill that would require public comment at school board meetings is now one step closer to becoming law.
 
The Kentucky House of Representatives approved House Bill 121 by a 66-24 vote on Wednesday. It would require local school boards to allow at least 15 minutes of public comment at each meeting. It would also allow school boards to skip the public comment period if no one has requested to speak.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, says the bill would guarantee Kentuckians an opportunity to share their concerns or offer support to their local school board.
 
“Many boards already welcome public input and those that are already doing so can continue to do so just as long as they have at least 15 minutes,’ Huff said.
 
Huff said she has not heard from any school board or superintendent who is against the bill. However, she has heard from constituents in support of the measure.
 
“I’ve heard from several individuals of various districts that reached out to share the experience of being denied the opportunity to speak,” Huff said.
 
Huff said she believes some of the tense situations that have happened at school board meetings within the last year are a result of boards not allowing public comment.
 
“I think the opportunity to speak without being locked out will go a long way and be a more peaceful situation,” Huff said.
 
Prior to voting on the measure, Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, called a floor amendment that would allow school boards to cancel a public comment period if there are safety concerns. The motion failed.
 
Huff agreed with Willner that security at school board meetings is important, however, she could not support the amendment.
 
“As I suggested, (school resource officers) are the invaluable resource that can be used during those times such as this,” Huff said.
 
HB 121 will now go before the Senate for consideration.


 
 

END

 

 

Feb. 1, 2022

Senate bill would make disabilities workforce council more permanent

 

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, speaks on Senate Bill 104, which would establish the Employment First Council. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—A bill to establish a more permanent disabilities workforce council within the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation received approval Tuesday during a Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee meeting.
 
Senate Bill 104, which passed 9-0, would establish the Employment First Council as an advisory council that’s charged with boosting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Its members would advise those in the executive and legislative branches of government.
 
“Basically, it’s the idea that everyone has the right to work, and this includes people with significant disabilities,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, told committee members.
 
Carroll, who is sponsoring the measure, said the council was first established in 2018 through an executive order by former Gov. Matt Bevin. It has been reestablished each year during Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration. Carroll said the bill would codify this council going forward.
 
“As most of you know, part of my mission while I am here in Frankfort serving in the Kentucky state Senate is to be a voice for those children and adults with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth,” Carroll said. “And this is one of the bills along those lines that will help to foster employment for those folks.”
 
Johnny Collett, from the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, said disabilities affect many people in the commonwealth, and they should have the opportunity to have real jobs with real wages.
 
“Disability impacts one in three Kentuckians, so our commonwealth has among the highest rate of people with disabilities in the nation, and at the same time, we have among the lowest rate of people with disabilities who are employed,” Collett said.
 
Only about one-third of Kentuckians with disabilities are employed, and that compares to about 75 percent of those without disabilities, he said.
 
“These are economic development issues, these are Kentucky challenges, but they’re also Kentucky opportunities,” Collett said.
 
Collett was joined by Katie Wolf Whaley in offering testimony. She co-chairs Kentucky’s Employment First Council.
 
“When we talk about Employment First in Kentucky, as you said, here in Kentucky and across the country we are talking about delivering meaningful employment, fair wages and career advancement for people with disabilities regardless of the type of disability,” Whaley said.
 
Kentucky’s Employment First policy first grew out of the work of the former Work Matters Task Force, which focused on improving work outcomes for key populations including people with disabilities, she said.
 
Carroll said plans are to first get the council codified and then perhaps during the interim period work on some legislation and other measures to strengthen it.

 
 

END

 

 

Jan. 31, 2022

Senate bill would require grief training for coroners

 

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, speaks on Senate Bill 66. The bill would require coroners to attend grief training. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—A caring attitude following a tragic death can’t be mandated, but Senate Bill 66 would be a step in the right direction, the bill’s sponsor told fellow lawmakers Monday from the Senate floor.
 
“I realize that we cannot legislate compassion or empathy or basic human kindness. I also realize that our coroners are elected officials who have to answer for their actions,” Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester said. “However, I believe it is important that we provide our coroners every educational opportunity to know how to deliver the worst news a family may ever hear in their lifetime.”
 
SB 66, also known as Nathan’s Law, would require coroners and deputy coroners to attend four hours of training to learn about the grief process and procedures for death notifications. The Senate approved the measure with a 35-0 vote.
 
Last week, Stacey Burnett, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, offered testimony on the bill to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
 
Burnett said her son left for Utah to visit friends and go snowboarding in March 2021. One night, the coroner’s van pulled up to her house.
 
Burnett said the coroner had no details of what happened to her son. She asked, “Is he dead? Is he dead?” But the coroner only handed her a piece of paper and walked away. The paper provided contact information for a sheriff’s office in Utah where Nathan was visiting.
 
Alvarado said Burnett and her family are not the only ones who have been adversely affected by a lack of communication, information or empathy.
 
“Unfortunately, her story is not unique, and the recent past, in fact this past summer, we heard of a death notification that occurred in another Kentucky county where the decedent’s family was not present when the coroner went to their residence, so the information was pinned to their front door for them to find when they came home,” Alvarado said.
 
Burnett said that day last March changed her life forever, and she hopes this legislation will help prevent the anguish she felt.
 
“It’s etched in your mind forever,” she told committee members.

 

END

 

 

Jan. 28, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol

 

 

 

FRANKFORT – The 2022 legislative session is nearly a third of the way over, and dozens of bills are moving through the House and Senate, including some this week related to package theft, mental health and school board meetings.
 
The Kentucky General Assembly hit day 18 of the 60-day session on Friday, and along with a roster of important bills, the fourth week of the session also brought some memorable moments on the chamber floors.
 
Legislators took time to recognize trade partnerships with Taiwan, honor the late Rep. John “Bam” Carney, and commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
 
Janitorial workers were praised for their contributions, and school officials from Western Kentucky received a standing ovation for their quick and selfless efforts to help local communities following the recent tornados there.
 
Schools and education were a big theme throughout the week as lawmakers advanced at least three bills related to scholarships out of committee. But the education bill grabbing the most headlines was House Bill 121, related to school board meetings.
 
The legislation would require local school boards to provide at least 15 minutes of public comment at each meeting—unless no one has signed up to speak.
 
Supporters of the bill say that, while most school boards already allot time for public comment, some do not, and parents have requested the change. Critics, meanwhile, say the measure is unnecessary and intrudes on local control. 
 
HB 121 moved out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the floor.
 
Another bill drawing attention this week was Senate Bill 23, which would expand the protections for U.S. mail to include packages delivered by commercial carriers, such as FedEx or Amazon.
 
Under the changes, anyone caught stealing or destroying a package from a common carrier or delivery service could be charged with a class D felony, even if the value of the package is relatively low.
 
Supporters say the bill is needed to crack down on thieves known as “porch pirates,” who have grown more prevalent and more organized in recent years.
 
The legislation cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
 
On Wednesday, the Senate State and Local Government Committee advanced a measure—Senate Bill 64 —which would protect the confidentiality of peer support counseling programs for first responders. Supporters say the protections are necessary to ensure that first responders can participate openly and honestly in counseling.
 
Lastly, lawmakers closed out the week by sending a bill related to COVID-19 visitor restrictions to the governor’s desk.
 
That legislation – Senate Bill 100 – would ensure that patients in long-term care, assisted living and mental health facilities can receive visits from essential caregivers. Visitors could include family members, friends or volunteers, among others.
 
Advocates for the bill say that caregiver visits are essential to the overall wellbeing of the patients.
 
Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel back into session on Monday for week five, and Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process. That includes the 
Legislative Record webpage, which allows uses to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

Jan. 27, 2022

Senate bill seeks to crack down on "porch pirates"

 

 

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, speaks on behalf of Senate Bill 23, which seeks to curb package theft. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— A measure moving through the Kentucky Senate aims to rein in porch pirates, a nickname for people who steal packages off front porches.
 
Sponsored by Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, Senate Bill 23 would make it a class D felony to steal or destroy packages from common carriers and delivery services – similar to the penalty for stealing U.S. mail. The measure cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition on Thursday.
 
Yates said SB 23 is needed to curb theft rings and close a loophole that treats packages from delivery services differently than mail from the U.S. Postal Service. Yates said porch pirates are a growing issue in Louisville that he fears will only escalate.
 
“There’s a loophole in the law. At the time we passed this some 40 years ago, we did not consider the type of commerce that we have today,” he said. “There wasn’t the Amazon, the FedEx and all the other delivery courier services. So, they’re treated different under the law today.”
 
Yates said he has talked with people who have been victimized over and over again. Some have had medicines or other important items stolen, and crime rings have been known to move from city to city, trolling neighborhoods in vans.
 
Yates said he is usually hesitant to increase misdemeanors to felonies, but he reasoned that the bill simply brings the other carriers into conformity with the postal service. The bill also has support from the Fraternal Order of Police, he said.
 
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, voted for the measure, but also expressed concern about switching misdemeanors to felonies.
 
“Like you, I am hesitant to start making misdemeanors felonies, and if it’s a $5 package, a felony can seem kind of steep,” he said.
 
Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said the seriousness of the problem led him to vote for the bill.

“While I obviously don’t want to make $5 crimes a felony, this is merely bringing up modern commerce and making it commensurate with theft of mail,” he said. “When we all see these news stories where crime has gotten so rampant in big cities, where organized gangs are even robbing trains, we thought we left that behind in the 19th Century, and now we’re seeing that once again, especially in our metropolitan areas.”

END

 

 

Jan. 27, 2022

House approves essential caregiver bill

 

 

Rep. Michael Sarge Pollock, R-Campbellsville, presents Senate Bill 100, an act relating to essential caregivers, on the House floor on Thursday. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT— Lawmakers continue to learn as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
 
One thing they’ve learned is the mental and physical health of long term care patients suffered due to COVID-19-related visitor restrictions. Senate Bill 100 aims to permanently change that.
 
On Thursday, Rep. Michael Sarge Pollock, R-Campbellsville, presented SB 100 on the House floor on behalf of the primary sponsor Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville.
 
“This bill provides a strong infrastructure that allows families to be the critical care partners that they are,” Pollock said. “It maintains a role of a personal caregiver and their important role in the mental, physical and spiritual social well-being of the resident.”
 
During Thursday’s meeting of the House Health and Welfare Committee, Adams testified that SB 100 would make family members, guardians, friends, pastors, clergy and other individuals essential caregivers and would permanently allow them to visit residents of long term care, assisted living and mental health facilities.
 
Essential personal caregivers would have to follow safety guidelines set by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services during visitation.
 
Measures passed during the 2021 Regular Session and Special Session temporarily allowed long term care patients an essential caregiver. But those provisions expire Jan. 31, Adams said.
 
On the House floor, Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, said although she worries about a few loopholes in the bill, she supports SB 100 and recognizes long term care facilities have struggled to find a delicate balance when it comes to allowing visitors and protecting residents from COVID-19.
 
“We know that these visitors provide significant amounts of hands-on care,” Stevenson said.
 
The Kentucky Senate unanimously approved SB 100 by a 35-0 vote last week. Due to a few changes made to the bill in the House, it will now go before the full Senate for concurrence.
 
If the Senate agrees with the changes, the measure will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto. An emergency clause in the bill means it would become law immediately upon his signature.

END

 

 

Jan. 26, 2022

Bill would protect confidentiality in first responder counseling programs

 

 

Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, speaks on behalf of Senate Bill 64, which would protect confidentiality in first responder counseling. A high resolution photo is available here.

 

FRANKFORT—It’s no secret that serving in law enforcement, firefighting or other public safety fields can be incredibly stressful. Senate Bill 64 aims to lessen the mental health burdens of these careers through confidential, peer support counseling programs.
 
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, received unanimous approval Wednesday during a meeting of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. It now heads to the full Senate.
 
SB 64 would allow public agencies to create peer support counseling programs for public safety employees who have experienced traumatic events in their work. Central to the bill, however, are confidentially protections for those who participate in the programs.
 
Wilson said police, firefighters and other emergency responders are frequently exposed to situations that can cause psychological trauma, similar to the post-traumatic stress experienced in warfare. Wilson said he learned about these issues while serving as a law enforcement chaplain in Los Angeles many years ago.
 
“I just can’t imagine some of the things they do and then have to go home every day,” he said. 
 
Wilson said the legislation is important to protect those who protect our communities.
 
“This has become quite evident, especially in light of the tornadoes that hit Kentucky and all over in Western Kentucky and Bowling Green – never seen that level of devastation,” Wilson said.
 
Erin Hulsey, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management for the City of Bowling Green, said she has been working with many groups to establish peer counseling.
 
“I learned that being a first responder is truly a unique job,” she told committee members. “The events that police officers and firefighters experience on the job are abnormal to the average person. The events they experience are horrific and traumatic.”
 
She offered statistics from the federal government to drive home what first responders face while doing their jobs.
 
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 60% of men and 50% of women will experience one traumatic event in their life on average, Hulsey reported. However, first responders can experience more than one such event in a single shift, she said.
 
Bryanna Carroll, Director of Public Affairs for the Kentucky League of Cities, said the peer counseling programs could potentially benefit tens of thousands of Kentuckians.
 
“Our cities want to take care of these people both physically and mentally,” she said. “Senate Bill 64 helps ensure they can do so without fear of personal information becoming public knowledge.”
 
The confidentially provisions in SB 64 include some exceptions, such as explicit threats to self or others, information on an abused child or admission of criminal conduct.
 

END

 

 

Jan. 25, 2022

House committee considers requiring public comment at school board meetings

 

 

Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, testifies on House Bill 121 before the House Education Committee on Tuesday. A high resolution photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Local school boards across the Commonwealth may soon be required to allow a public comment period during meetings.
 
The House Education Committee voted in favor of House Bill 121 on Tuesday. It would require local school boards to allow at least 15 minutes of public comment at each meeting. It would also allow school boards to skip the public comment period if no one has requested to speak.
 
Committee Chair Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, is the primary sponsor of HB 121. She said although the bill is simple, she believes it is important. Huff said while most school boards already allow an opportunity for public comments, not all of them do.
 
“I think that this just ensures that there is that opportunity (to speak),” Huff said. “And I think that will really go a long way in making connections with their elected officials rather than hampering them and being felt like (they) were locked out.”
 
Huff added parents have reached out to her and requested this bill.
 
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said she also believes HB 121 is an important bill, but she has concerns that the legislation would not allow school boards to end a public comment period due to safety concerns. Huff said the bill would not prohibit school boards from taking the necessary measures to ensure safety at meetings.
 
Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, expressed concerns that HB 121 might be “intruding” on the way a local school board operates.
 
“I think only (school boards) are best to determine what they need to do at their local meeting,” Massey said, adding he would vote yes on the bill in committee, but he still has some concerns.
 
Huff said she understands Massey’s concerns, but she believes parents should have the right to speak at school board meetings.
 
“Even though these officials are elected, they’re still working for the parents, and they need to be able to answer their questions,” Huff added.
 
Before voting, Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, shared with the committee he does support requiring public comment at school board meetings.
 
“It is a good way for the citizens of these individual districts to be able to know that they have a voice,” Dossett said.
 
HB 121 will now go before the House for consideration.

 

END

 

Jan. 21, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol 

FRANKFORT – The full might of the Kentucky General Assembly was on display this week as lawmakers overrode two vetoes related to redistricting and advanced a landmark budget package off the House floor.
 
Of the hundreds of bills filed in a 60-day legislation session, few underscore the influence of the General Assembly more than the state’s biennial spending plan. And this year’s House proposal is historic for both its magnitude and momentum.
 
The House approved two bills Thursday that would allocate a record $110 billion to the state executive branch, including the Transportation Cabinet, over the next two years. It was the earliest vote on a House budget bill in recent memory, and the measure now heads to the Senate.
 
Lawmakers said preparations during last year’s interim session allowed them to accelerate the pace on budgeting this year.
 
Highlights include increased funding for education, money for public pensions and raises for state police and social workers, among others. The House is also proposing money for clean water projects, capital investments in higher education and expansion of the senior meals program.
 
Thursday’s budget vote is sure to be one of the most watched moves of the session. However, lawmakers also returned this week to another headline issue facing the General Assembly – redistricting.
 
Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed two of the legislature’s redistricting bills on Wednesday; one would redraw the U.S. congressional districts in Kentucky, the other focuses on the state’s 100 House districts. But majority lawmakers in both chambers quickly overrode the vetoes Thursday afternoon.
 
The third week of the 2022 legislative session also brought action on several bills related to education, criminal justice and health care. Lawmakers did not convene on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but bills began moving again on Tuesday.
 
That’s when the House approved House Bill 44, a measure that would excuse absences in public schools for student mental health. The bipartisan legislation cleared the House floor by a unanimous vote.
 
The next day, the Senate advanced Senate Bill 9, known as the Read to Succeed Act. It would amend the existing Read to Achieve Act from 2005, creating a comprehensive system of supports, interventions and evidence-based learning to enhance early literacy outcomes in public schools.
 
The legislation would also establish the Read to Succeed Fund. If money is appropriated for the fund, it could be used to train educators on strategies to improve K-3 reading skills and provide statewide professional learning academies in reading. It could also be used to create a literacy training program.
 
Another measure trekking through the legislature, Senate Bill 38, relates to incest. The bill would amend state law to designate those convicted of incest as a “violent offender.” That would require them to serve 85 percent of their criminal sentence rather than 15 percent under the current law. It advanced out of committee this week.
 
The Senate also passed legislation on the floor on Friday that to ensure patients in long-term care facilities and mental hospitals can receive visits from essential care visitors, which could include family members, friends or volunteers, among others. The measure, Senate Bill 100, now heads to the House.
 
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort on Monday for the 14th day of the session.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the 
Legislative Record webpage, which allows uses to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

Jan. 2o, 2022

House begins biennium budget process

 

 

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, speaks on House Bill 1, on the executive branch budget, and House Bill 241, on the transportation budget, on the House floor on Thursday. A high resolution photo can be found here. A high resolution photo of House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, speaking on the bills on the House floor can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Two budget-related bills cleared the House floor on Thursday.
 
House Bill 1, on the executive branch budget, and House Bill 241, on the transportation budget, will now go before the Senate for consideration. The bills appropriate more than $110 billion.  
 
This is the first time since 2018 that the Kentucky General Assembly is working to pass a biennium budget. Economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic led the legislature to pass two single-year budgets in 2020 and 2021.
 
Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, said he and the other sponsors of HB 1 and HB 241 believe the measures appropriately address Kentucky’s needs and make good use of taxpayer money.  
 
“There is not one penny of taxpayer money that has come into the purview of the General Assembly that the General Assembly has any ownership of,” Petrie said. “We are being lent that money in trust by the taxpayers of Kentucky to render needed services that benefit them.”   
 
The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved both bills earlier in the day on Thursday. In committee and on the House floor, Committee Chair Petrie, and Vice Chair Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, were joined by the chairs of the House budget review subcommittees in testifying on the proposed executive branch and transportation budgets.
 
Reed informed the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee that it has taken eight months of working with various agencies, stakeholders and citizens to draft the two proposals.
 
“This process makes the budget more transparent to the General Assembly and to the citizens of Kentucky,” Reed said.
 
The proposed executive branch budget is expansive. The proposed appropriations include investments in education, public safety, tourism, infrastructure and more.
 
Sponsors of the bill were excited to share that HB 1:
 
- Fully funds full-day Kindergarten for every public school district
- Increases SEEK funding for every student
- Meets the actuarial requirements regarding the Kentucky Retirement System, the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System and the Kentucky - ---- State Police Retirement System
- Gives a 6% pay raise to all state employees
- Gives a $15,000 salary increase to all Kentucky State Police officers
- Allocates $350 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds toward clean water projects
- Funds raises for social workers and provides funding for additional social worker positions
- Provides funding for facility repairs and improvements at public colleges and universities
- Ensures funding for Medicaid growth
- Appropriates $14.1 million to expand the senior meals program, and more
 
HB 1 cleared the House floor by an 85-8 vote.
 
In the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, Petrie said the executive branch and transportation budgets work together in a way the Commonwealth has not seen before.
 
On the transportation budget, Petrie said: “There have been extra measures taken to utilize general funds in selective, surgical ways—hopefully smart ways— to maximize every bit of the road fund money that comes in through that source.”
 
On the House floor, Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Union, said the transportation budget provides $100 million for local governments for repaving roads and fixing potholes, $200 million to match federal infrastructure grants and more. Santoro is the chair of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.
 
HB 241 cleared the House floor by a 90-4 vote.
 
During debate in committee and on the House floor, several lawmakers commented on how they would like to see the executive branch budget include raises for teachers. Petrie said since each school district has its own needs, he believes raises should be decided on the local level and that the the budget frees up money for local districts to use toward raises if they choose.
 
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said she is afraid there could be “winners and losers” if the General Assembly does not appropriate raises for teachers.
 
“I have wonderful superintendents in my district who will do their very best to give their teachers raises, but I’m worried that the way that money gets stretched that their teachers are not going to see that,” Hatton added. “And I’m really disappointed to see that in this measure.”
 
Thursday’s House votes on the executive and transportation budgets are merely procedural so lawmakers can work on the bills in conference committee. Petrie said it is likely that these bills will undergo changes before the General Assembly considers them again later on in the legislative session.

 

 

END

 

Jan. 2o, 2022

Incest bill clears Senate Judiciary Committee

 

 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams speaks on behalf of Senate Bill 38, which would designate incest as a "violent offense." A high resolution photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill designed to increase jail time for those convicted of incest received approval Thursday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
Sponsored by Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, Senate Bill 38 passed with a 9-1 vote. It now heads to the full Senate.
 
The bill would amend state law to designate those convicted of incest as a “violent offender.” That would require them to serve 85 percent of their criminal sentence rather than 15 percent under the current law.
 
“We’re not changing any crimes” Adams told committee members. “We’re just talking about the time served for people who have been convicted.”
 
Incest survivor Laken Albrink testified during the meeting that tougher penalties are needed for offenders. Albrink said she was sexually abused by her stepfather for many years before he was later convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
 
“However, very soon thereafter, he was parole eligible at 15 percent serve time, which what is currently the serve time to be parole eligible for incest as it’s written now,” she said. “So it’s really important to us that we work to get incest classified as a violent offense as is the other sexual offenses that are listed.”
 
Albrink added that the trauma of sexual abuse is compounded for victims each time an offender appears before a parole board.
 
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, cast the lone no vote. He questioned how the changes would impact serve times for juvenile offenders who engage in an incestuous, but otherwise consensual relationship.
 
Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said he assumes that authorities would have to conduct additional fact-finding in situations involving very young children to determine what penalties, if any, apply. He noted that the court would need to consider other factors set forth in statute.

 

END

 

Jan. 19, 2022

Early literacy bill clears Senate vote, heads to the House

 

 

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, speaks on behalf of Senate Bill 9 on the Senate floor on Jan. 19. A high resolution photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— A bill designed to increase literacy for thousands of Kentucky’s children received approval from the Kentucky Senate on Wednesday.
 
Senate Bill 9, known as the Read to Succeed Act, would amend the existing Read to Achieve Act from 2005, creating a comprehensive system of supports, interventions and evidence-based learning to enhance early literacy outcomes in public schools.
 
“I’ll be the first to admit this bill is aspirational,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris. “Our goal is to have every kid know how to read by third grade. Can we do that – I don’t know. But we need to try. This is aspirational public policy.”
 
Also sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the measure passed on the Senate floor with a 28-7 vote. It now heads to the House.
 
West told lawmakers Wednesday that the legislation is based on measures that have proven successful in other states, particularly Mississippi. He also cited research showing that students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to not finish high school.
 
“If we can make sure that kids know how to read by third grade, it changes the trajectory of their lives, and it also changes the trajectory of our state scores,” he said.
 
SB 9 includes specifications and requirements for the Kentucky Department of Education and local school districts.
 
A provision in the bill would establish the Read to Succeed Fund. If money is appropriated for the fund, it could be used to train educators on strategies to improve K-3 reading skills and provide statewide professional learning academies in reading. It could also be used to create a literacy training program.
 
In addition, SB 9 would clarify the intent for all elementary schools. Instruction would be provided by “qualified individuals” and evidence-based reading instruction would emphasize phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.
 
The measure also calls for more collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, Kentucky Educational Television and the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.
 
The Kentucky Department of Education estimates that implementing the bill’s requirements would cost between $15 million to $20 million in fiscal year 2024. But education officials anticipate federal pandemic relief funds could help cover the cost.
 
The Kentucky Read to Achieve Program was created in 2005 to support schools in implementing a reading diagnostic and intervention program for struggling readers.
 
In a speech on the Senate floor, West said the new bill would not do away with Read to Achieve.
But some lawmakers said they are unsure.
 
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said Read to Achieve has had excellent results. He expressed concern that Read to Succeed’s larger grant might move out Read to Achieve.
 
“My biggest fear with Senate Bill 9 is by trying to do it in a classroom setting, you have 15 or 20 illiterate students and one teacher trying to teach that student how to read,” he said. “You’re going to have some students fall through the cracks, and you’re certainly not going to get that 99 percent success rate.”
 
Likewise, Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said Read to Achieve has been in her district since approximately 2005. It exists in high performing schools as well as those that are not performing as well, and Webb said she wants to be better convinced that the existing program will not be compromised.
 
“Hopefully, I can get more information on this and reconcile it better in my mind and maybe the House would consider stronger language to perhaps preserve that,” she said.
 
The Senate is scheduled to convene Thursday at 2 p.m.

END

 

Jan. 19, 2022

Bill to promote rural small business growth clears House committee

 

 

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, testifies on House Bill 308 before the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Small business owners in Kentucky may soon have more access to capital investments.
 
House Bill 308, otherwise known as the Kentucky Rural Jobs Act of 2022, would allow insurance premium tax credits for capital investment companies that invest in small businesses in rural Kentucky. These businesses often have difficulty obtaining a loan or attracting investors on their own.
 
“In a nutshell, this bill creates access to capital for small businesses that maybe could not get that capital somewhere else,” said Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield. The House Agriculture Committee voted to approve HB 308 on Wednesday.
 
HB 308 would create a $125 million fund for the project, with $75 million coming from the state in premium tax credits that cap out at $15 million per year beginning in 2024. The Department of Revenue would process the applications.
 
Bill sponsors Heath and Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, have filed similar legislation in the past. Blanton told the committee on Wednesday that small improvements have been made to the bill over the years.
 
One of those changes includes adding the Western Kentucky counties listed in the Presidential Declaration of Emergency from the December tornadoes to the list of eligible counties. Heath said many businesses in Western Kentucky did not have insurance or may not receive enough money from insurance to cover the cost of rebuilding.
 
Other types of businesses that would qualify to apply include those with less than 250 employees or businesses located in a rural county of less than 50,000 people. Consideration would also be given for businesses in opportunity zones in low income, urban areas and businesses in areas with a labor force participation rate below the national average.
 
“So many small businesses have great potential, but they need capital,” Heath said. “The bill will bring private capital, incentivized in part by a state premium tax, to a variety of businesses such as manufacturing, agribusiness, technology companies and others.”
 
Under HB 308, approved small businesses would be able to use capital investment funds to purchase new machinery, hire and train new employees, and more.
 
Heath and Blanton worked with representatives from investment firm Advantage Capital in drafting the bill. Heath also said the bill has support from the Kentucky Bankers Association, Kentucky Farm Bureau and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
 
During discussion, Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, asked why successful investors need a monetary incentive to invest in rural Kentucky.
 
Advantage Capital representative Tony Toups explained that investors often have to wait longer to see revenue from investing in rural small businesses and that these types of incentives are needed to attract capital investment.
 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, and House Minority Caucus Chair Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, spoke in favor of the bill. However, Graham was not in favor of the process.
 
Heath responded that he intended to file the bill last week, but that did not happen as planned. However, HB 308 will undergo another hearing in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee before moving to the House for a floor vote.
 
“I urge each of your all’s support to help us in the rural areas,” Blanton said. “We’re not looking for handouts. We’re looking for a hand up.”
 
The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee will consider HB 308 at a later date.

 

 

END

 

 

Jan. 18, 2022

House approves bipartisan student mental health bill

 

 

Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear, speaks on House Bill 44 on the House floor on Tuesday. A high-res version of the photo can be found here. A high-res photo of Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, speaking on House Bill 44 can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky House of Representatives wants public school students to know their mental health matters.
 
House Bill 44 allows absences for mental health reasons to qualify as an excused absence. The bipartisan measure cleared the House floor by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.
 
Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear, and Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, are the primary sponsors of HB 44. The pair worked on the bill with three high school students over the summer.
 
“It’s important because it brings mental health issues to the level of conversation without fear of any type of stigma,” McCool said on the House floor.
 
Both McCool and Willner described the bill as a simple change to current statute. 
 
“(HB 44) requires local school districts to include in their attendance policies provisions for excused absences for student mental or behavioral health status,” Willner said. “It doesn’t add extra days for absences, but simply makes it explicit that mental health is health.”
 
According to Willner, she and McCool have not encountered any opposition to the bill. She added that it has the support of school counselors, psychologists, teacher groups and other mental health and education related groups in the Commonwealth.
 
Both McCool and Willner hope the bill helps reduce the stigma of mental health, and that it lets Kentucky’s students know that their elected representatives care about them and their mental health.
 
The House voted 94-0 to approve HB 44. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

 

END

Jan. 14, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol 

FRANKFORT— The Kentucky General Assembly hit its stride in the second week of the 2022 legislative session, passing a $200 million disaster relief bill for Western Kentucky and advancing a series of education bills on remote instruction, early literacy and student mental health.
 
The short, four-day week was punctuated by grief for many lawmakers amid the deaths of two high-profile figures in Kentucky politics.
 
Former State Rep. Darryl Owens was remembered in a funeral service in Louisville on Tuesday, following his death on Jan. 4. Thursday brought word that Larry Forgy, who had remained active in Kentucky politics for decades, had passed away early that morning. 
 
However, the sad news did not deter legislators from addressing some of the largest crises facing the Commonwealth.
 
Bipartisanship reached the high mark on Wednesday when more than a dozen legislators spoke on the House and Senate floors about the violent tornados that swept through Western Kentucky in mid-December. Lawmakers capped off the poignant discussion by passing the relief bill on a unanimous vote in both chambers.
 
The measure, House Bill 5, was married to a companion bill in the Senate. It appropriates $155 million to the newly-created West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund, which will help local governments, schools, nonprofits and public utilities pay for recovery efforts.
 
Another $30 million will help school districts pay for transportation and construction costs as well as wrap-around services for students, and $15 million will go to Kentucky Emergency Management to cover temporary housing.
 
Legislators also prioritized efforts this week to cope with COVID-19, including a bill that will give public schools more flexibility on remote instruction and staffing.
 
Senate Bill 25, which cleared both chambers on Thursday, allows school superintendents to allocate up to 10 remote instruction days to specific classrooms, grades or schools. Supporters say the targeted strategy will prioritize in-person learning and help prevent the shutdown of entire schools or districts at once.
 
The legislation also allows more retired teachers to return to the classroom, helping districts respond to staff shortages, and it extends a series of emergency orders from last year related to a variety of pandemic issues, such as price gouging and food assistance.
 
Another measure—House Bill 56—would provide $80,000 in death benefits to families of first responders who died from COVID-related complications. It cleared a House committee this week and now heads to the floor.
 
Aside from remote learning, a handful of other education bills that have begun their march through the legislature. That includes legislation to allow absences for student mental health and another bill that would require high school seniors to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Both measures moved out of committee this week and up for consideration by the full House. 
 
Lawmakers also made headway on the “Read to Succeed Act” in the Senate, which seeks to improve early literacy by ramping up evidence-based instruction, early interventions and teacher training. The measure advanced out of committee on Thursday and now heads to the Senate floor.
 
Earlier in the week, legislative leaders adjusted the 2022 session calendar to remove Friday from the schedule. Lawmakers will also not convene on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but will return to Frankfort on Tuesday for the 10th day of the legislative session.
 
In the final – and now famous speech – before his death, King challenged a crowd in Memphis, Tennessee to look to the future.
 
“Let us rise up tonight with great readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be,” he said.  
 
Lawmakers want to know your thoughts on what Kentucky ought to be.
 
Observers have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the 
Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

 

END

 

 

 

 

Jan. 13, 2022

Remote learning, COVID-19 emergency order extension bill clears both chambers

 

 

Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, presents Senate Bill 25 on the House floor on Thursday. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does the Kentucky General Assembly’s commitment to addressing the Commonwealth’s pandemic-related needs.
 
On Thursday, the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 25, which seeks to extend a number of COVID-19 executive orders and offer schools some additional flexibility on remote learning.
 
Upon the governor’s signature, the bill will give public school districts up to 10 remote instruction days per school for the remainder of the 2021-22 academic year.
 
That will allow superintendents to move specific classrooms, grades or schools experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases to temporary remote instruction instead of having to shut down entire schools or school districts at once.
 
As more school districts face staffing shortages, another provision in SB 25 would allow more retired teachers to return to the classroom.
 
SB 25 also seeks to extend COVID-19 emergency order protections against price gouging, expand access to nutrition assistance, allow flexibility for retired first responders to return to work and allow state and local governments to conduct business and meetings virtually. It also would extend the emergency order allowing pharmacies to fill prescriptions for up to 30 days.
 
Under this bill, these orders would now expire on April 14.
 
The House approved SB 25 by an 84-9 vote Thursday after amending the bill to include the emergency extensions. The Senate later concurred on changes with a 17-8 vote. Now the measure will be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.
 
Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, and Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, presented the bill on the House floor before the vote. 
 
Rowland said SB 25 is similar to emergency measures that lawmakers adopted in the 2021 Extraordinary Session, some of which are set to expire on Saturday. SB 25 will continue the COVID-19 state of emergency to the extent necessary to secure federal funding and reimbursements, he said.
 
In explaining the education portion of the bill, Lewis said although SB 25 is similar to a bill from the 2021 Extraordinary Session, the guidelines for remote learning were changed to help avoid large-scale shut downs of entire schools or districts.
 
House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, voted “yes” on SB 25, but said she felt the process was rushed.
 
“I think among the body there’s probably a whole lot of concern that things aren’t covered in this bill,” she said.
 
When considering changes made to SB 25 by the House, a few Senate members also expressed frustration with the process and disagreed with changes to the bill.
 
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, is the primary sponsor of SB 25. However, he voted against the final bill after it was amended in the House. So did Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.
 
“I have questions just with the process,” Schroder said. “You know, Senate Bill 25 left the Senate Chamber as a 4-page bill relating to education, and I agree that it did have some COVID measures in there. But it came back under the House Committee Substitute as a 12-page bill with all these emergency orders in there.”
 
On the House floor, Rep. James Nemes, R-Louisville, spoke in favor of the education portion of the bill.
 
“I will say that this is good,” Nemes said. “One reason I’m happy is because it will enable the kids across the Commonwealth to be back in school more often.”
 
SB 25 contains an emergency clause, which will allow it to become law immediately upon the governor’s signature.

 

END

 

Jan. 13, 2022

COVID-19 death benefits for first responders advances

 

 

Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, testifies on House Bill 56 during the House State Government Committee on Thursday. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Families of first responders who died due to COVID-19 related complications may soon be eligible for death benefits.
 
House Bill 56 was approved by the House State Government Committee on Thursday and will now head to the House floor for consideration.
 
Primary sponsor Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, said that under HB 56, a COVID-19 related death would be considered dying in the line of duty for first responders.
 
The measure would amend current statute on death benefits to include COVID-19 on the list of illnesses that qualify a deceased first responder’s family for death benefits. If HB 56 becomes law, those families will receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $80,000. 
 
Statute already defines first responders as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correctional officers and active duty Kentucky National Guard members.
 
Huff testified that HB 56 is retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify.
 
At Thursday’s committee meeting, Huff asked Zoneton Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Moulton to testify alongside him. Zoneton lost its fire chief and its interim fire chief to COVID-19 related complications within two months of each other in 2021.
 
“Both were active in the community and very active members of the fire protection district and a great loss to the community,” Moulton said.
 
During discussion, Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, noted that the one-time $80,000 payment under this bill is not part of full line of duty benefits through the pension system.
 
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, followed up Wheatley’s remarks by pointing out that there are minimal administrative costs associated with HB 56 and that the burden of applying for the benefits would fall on the administrative agency.

“All we’re saying is, rather than the first responder’s family having to make the case, it’s now the administrative agency, and I think that’s appropriate,” Nemes added.

 

END

 

 

 

Jan. 12, 2022

Kentucky General Assembly approves $200 million disaster relief bill

 

 

Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, speaks on House Bill 5 on the House floor on Wednesday. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Lawmakers in the Kentucky General Assembly hunkered down in basements and closets inside their homes as they listened to the howling wind and the sound of breaking glass the night deadly tornadoes decimated Western Kentucky.
 
On Wednesday, those lawmakers shared their experiences on the House and Senate floor as they asked their colleagues to vote “yes” on House Bill 5. Both chambers unanimously answered the call.
 
“House Bill 5 is our attempt to bring some relief to the citizens and local governments who’ve suffered through the terrible storms that hit in December,” said Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield.
 
HB 5 appropriates $155 million in general funds from the 2021-22 fiscal year budget to create the West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund. These funds can be used by local governments, nonprofits, school districts and public utilities to pay for construction projects, repairs and more. The money will be appropriated by the General Assembly as needed. 
 
The measure also gives $30 million to the Kentucky Department of Education for school districts impacted by the storms. The funds may be used for transportation and construction costs as well as necessary wrap-around services, including after-school programs, mental health counseling for students and tutoring.
 
HB 5 also gives Kentucky Emergency Management $15 million to use toward the purchase of FEMA-eligible temporary housing.
 
Heath, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, said the funds will be repaid once the insurance claims and federal government dollars are processed. Allocating the money from the general fund now allows communities in Western Kentucky to begin recovery efforts sooner rather than later.
 
Members from both chambers who represent districts hard-hit by the storms shared their own stories from that night and thanked first responders, volunteers, colleagues, neighbors, Gov. Andy Beshear, President Joe Biden and more for the overwhelming amount of support they’ve received over the last month in the wake of the tornadoes.
 
Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, said the response has been heartwarming.
 
“We saw the worst nature had to offer, but in the days following, we saw the best that humanity had to give in a time where I think we needed that probably more than we ever have,” Meredith said.
 
Meredith and his family took shelter in their basement as the storms tore through his neighborhood. Their home sustained some damage, but nothing major. Meredith said the pressure from the storm felt like the pressure changing on an airplane, multiplied five or 10 times.
 
In the Senate, lawmakers from Western Kentucky reflected on the immense damage.
 
“The saying goes that a picture may be worth a thousand words, but no picture can properly reveal the complete and utter devastation that a tornado brings when it comes through your town,” said Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray. Howell sponsored a companion measure in the Senate—Senate Bill 5.
 
“It is well documented the destruction done to Mayfield, Kentucky, by the storms on the night of Dec.10. This storm ripped right through the center of our town taking too many of our lives, homes and businesses with it,” he said.
 
Senate Majority Whip Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he and his family were fortunate not to sustain any damage when the storms hit.
 
“Thankfully, not even a leaf was disturbed at our house,” Wilson said, however, he added that the losses in Bowling Green are “indescribable.”
 
On the House floor, Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, said emergency alerts on his cell phone woke his family up. Dossett, his wife, mother-in-law and granddaughter rode out the storm together. Weeks later, Dossett can see the impact that night has had on his 9-year-old granddaughter’s mental health.
 
“With this legislation, it is important to have this initial funding coming through,” Dossett said. “As I mentioned, with our children that have lived through this experience, to know there is funding there to help them towards mental health… these kids are going to be living with this for a very long time.”
 
Some lawmakers already have an idea of what the legislature can do next to support Western Kentucky. Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, said housing is a big concern for the survivors of the storm.


“I would urge this body to remember that we need to think about housing,” Minter said. “Affordable housing. We still have about 250 people who do not have a place to go and so much of our rental stock has been devastated.”
 
The other lawmakers from districts impacted by the storms who commented on HB 5 include: Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., R-Providence; Rep. Chris Freeland, R-Benton; Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville; Rep. Michael Sarge Pollock, R-Campbellsville; Rep. Steve Sheldon, R-Bowling Green; Rep. Walker Thomas, R-Hopkinsville; Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, via Majority Caucus Chair Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro; Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson; Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown; Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton; Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville; and Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon.
 
HB 5 cleared the House floor by a 90-0 vote and the Senate floor by a 32-0 vote. It will now head to governor’s desk for his signature or veto. Upon Beshear’s signature, the bill will immediately become law due to an emergency clause.

 

END

Jan. 12, 2022

$200 million tornado relief bill moves forward in the Senate

 

 

Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, testifies on Senate Bill 5, the tornado relief bill, during the Jan. 12 meeting of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee. A high-res version of the photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT — In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee advanced a massive $200 million relief measure that would help those affected by the December tornadoes obtain housing and educational services.
 
Senate Bill 5 would appropriate $155 million in general funds for fiscal year 2021-2022 to the newly-created West Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) Fund.
 
The legislation would also allocate $30 million to the Kentucky Department of Education for school districts and $15 million to Kentucky Emergency Management for the purchase of temporary FEMA-eligible housing.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, told the committee that money for the fund comes from varying sources, including state and federal government and gifts from private organizations. Eligible recipients include cities, counties, public utilities, state agencies and school districts in the affected areas.
 
Howell said people are concerned that the damage will reverse advances in the area over the past 10 years, particularly efforts to stem population declines.
 
“One of the greatest concerns for the people in Mayfield and the school system is keeping those people there,” he said. “Not only have so many of them lost their homes, but a lot of them have lost their jobs as well. So it’s very difficult for them to stay anchored in the community.”
 
Several lawmakers shared stories in Tuesday’s meeting about devastation from the storms.
 
Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said he drove through Princeton in Caldwell County the day after it suffered extensive damage.
 
“It was evident the tornado stayed on the ground for miles at a time and wiped out everything in its path,” he said.
 
Mills said $300,000 homes were “just gone,” and some residents were not insured or were underinsured. He said the $15 million for temporary housing would cover the purchase of 200 or more mobile homes.
 
“They just need a place to land,” he said of the residents.
 
Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, said nearly 30 people lost their lives in Bremen and Dawson Springs during the torrential weather.
 
“Emergency responders did a great job,” he said. “Given my health, I wasn’t able to be on the ground. But talking to them over the phone, the EMTs, the fire departments, the police, all did a great job responding immediately. As soon as I got on the phone, most of them were already on the ground.”
 
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, said he was thankful for the bill, and he appreciates the Senate’s West Kentucky delegation for its unified support. He said drone footage he shot of the damage was shared thousands of times, even in Singapore.
 
“One of the biggest things and the most jaw-dropping things that I saw with my own eyes was the courthouse there in downtown Mayfield, which is a complete loss,” he said. “Three semi truckloads worth of files are now sitting in Detroit, Michigan being freeze dried and restored by a company that does that.”
 
Although not part of Western Kentucky, areas in Taylor County received substantial damage, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said. He reported that 74 homes were lost, and many people in agriculture were negatively impacted.
 
Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said the recent tornadoes elicited flashbacks to West Liberty when a tornado destroyed the city and affected residents a few years ago.
 
“I got no sleep. My heart was with you all,” she said, referring to how she felt after learning about the recent tornadoes.
 
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

END

 

 

 

 

Jan. 12, 2022

Bill to deter unauthorized practice of law clears House committee

 

 

Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, presents House Bill 256, a bill that would increase the penalty for unauthorized practice of law, before the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 12, 2022. A high-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Those in Kentucky who practice law without a license could face harsher penalties under a new House bill.
 
Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, presented House Bill 256 to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The measure would increase the penalty for unauthorized practice of law to a class A misdemeanor on the first offense and to a class D felony for any subsequent offense.
 
Under current statute, the penalty for the unauthorized practice of law—no matter how many times a person commits the offense—is a class B misdemeanor.
 
“I think someone who’s done this over and over again needs to be appropriately punished in order to create a deterrent effect,” Elliott said.
 
During discussion on the bill, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he believes the current statute is sufficient.
 
“Unlawful practice of law is an important thing. But should it be a felony? I don’t think it should be,” Nemes said, adding he would like for lawmakers to take a holistic look at the penal code before creating more felony offenses in Kentucky.  
 
Elliott said he agrees with Nemes that a holistic look at the overall penal code is needed, but he hopes the increase in penalty for the first offense under HB 256 would create enough of a deterrent.
 
While explaining her vote, Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, said while she normally is against adding felonies, “there is a scourge of unlawful practice of law in immigration specifically. And I have seen firsthand the personal emotional and financial devastation that occurs.”
 
House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, agreed with Kulkarni. Although he is not normally in favor of adding another felony, he said he believes this change is needed.
 
In referencing the impact statement that accompanies the bill, McCoy said: “No one believes this is going to increase the jail population or the cost.”
 
HB 256 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a 14-2 vote and will now go before the House for consideration.

 

 

 

END

 

 

Jan. 11, 2022

Bill offering remote instruction days advances

 

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, presents Senate Bill 25 on the Senate floor on Jan.11, 2022. A high-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT— Lawmakers in the Kentucky Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would provide up to 10 days of remote instruction in the current academic year and help address critical staff shortages in public schools.
 
The measure – Senate Bill 25 – passed off the Senate floor with a 31-2 vote and now heads to the House for consideration.
 
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the high priority for education is to maximize in-person learning as much as possible.
 
Lawmakers passed a similar measure in 2021 to provide remote instruction days to school districts. However, SB 25 offers the days to particular schools, grades, classrooms, or groups of students.
 
Wise said lawmakers found great compromise through using the “surgical strike” approach with a focus on local control.  
 
“These are not non-traditional instruction days,” he said. “These are remote instructional days, which are the equivalent of a day’s worth of education. It is not a packet that is being sent home. These are full instructional days.”
 
In addition to the instructional component, the bill seeks to curb staff shortages by allowing more retired teachers to return on a full-time basis. It would also allow the use of federal funds to pay for added costs related to teacher shortages.
 
The legislation is also designed to help stabilize school funding and create conditions for state and local health departments to support local school districts with COVID-19 plans – all while allowing local control on measures such as testing-to-stay and masking, Wise said.
 
Several floor amendments were filed to increase the number of remote instruction days, but failed to pass on the Senate floor.
 
Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville, said the needs of larger school districts may be different than those of small districts. He said he stands with legislators who want the keep students in school as often as possible, and he has concerns about staff shortages that can elevate to being unsafe for the students.
 
Yates added that Jefferson County Public Schools is the 29th largest school district in the United States, and the possibility of more remote days would offer flexibility for schools.
 
Wise responded by saying the extra days would be unnecessary thanks to flexibility that schools have to start earlier in the morning or stay later in the afternoon to make up instructional time.
 
If passed into law, SB 25 would apply to instructional calendars retroactively, starting back on Jan. 1.

 

 

END

 

 

Jan. 11, 2022

Lawmakers adjust calendar for 2022 legislative session 

FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly will not convene on Friday, Jan. 14 following an adjustment to the 2022 Regular Session calendar.
 
The House and Senate are now scheduled to gavel in for the 10th legislative day on Tuesday, Jan. 18. The last day to introduce bills in the House has been moved to Feb. 28, while the last day to introduce bills in the Senate has been moved to March 2.
 
The revised 2022 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at:
https://legislature.ky.gov/Documents/22RS_Calendar.pdf
 

END

Jan. 8, 2022

This Week at the State Capitol

FRANKFORT— As the 2022 legislative session began to a churn this week, the Kentucky General Assembly still found quiet moments to remember victims of the deadly tornadoes in Western Kentucky – and to show gratitude to those helping in the recovery.
 
The House and Senate convened the 60-day regular session on Tuesday, and the mood in both chambers turned solemn as lawmakers described the devastation and offered messages of unity and thanks, especially to first responders and those who have donated supplies.   
 
The comments led off a lean first week in the General Assembly, during which lawmakers placed a heavy focus on procedural votes and redistricting. But the momentum began to shift on Friday when a new biennial state budget was unveiled in the House – weeks earlier than previous years.  
 
As with all revenue bills, work on the two-year spending plan must start in the House before moving to the Senate later in the session. The package proposed on Friday would allocate more than $51 billion in state and federal dollars annually, and it now heads to committee for review.
 
Meanwhile, lawmakers have sent six bills related to redistricting to the governor’s desk this week.
 
The General Assembly must periodically redraw the boundaries for Kentucky’s congressional, Supreme Court and state legislative districts to reflect population changes in the U.S. Census. With filing deadlines for the next primary election looming, legislators have made the issue a high priority.
 
According to the 2020 Census, urban areas, such as Louisville, Lexington and Covington, have grown in population over the past decade, while rural areas in the eastern and western parts of the state have declined.
 
Bills on redistricting began advancing in committee early in the week, and after amending the 2022 session calendar, the House and Senate gaveled in on Saturday to give the remaining measures a final vote. The legislation includes:
 
-- Senate Bill 2, which establishes new district boundaries for the Kentucky Senate
-- Senate Bill 3, which realigns the boundaries for the U.S. Congressional districts in Kentucky
-- Senate Bill 20, which requires any legal challenges to the constitutionality of the new legislative districts to be filed in the circuit court of the plaintiff's residence
-- House Bill 2, which redraws the lines for state House districts  
-- House Bill 179, which creates a new district map for the Kentucky Supreme Court
-- House Bill 172, which moves the filing deadline for candidates in the 2022 primary election from Jan. 7 to Jan. 25
 
With redistricting out of the way, lawmakers can now turn to other pressing matters facing the Commonwealth.
 
Two Senate bills related to education are already moving forward. Senate Bill 1 calls for local superintendents – rather than school councils – to determine educational curriculum for districts. It cleared the Senate floor on Saturday and is headed to the House.
 
Senate Bill 25 would provide up to 10 days of remote instruction per school for the 2021-2022 academic year. The measure passed out of committee on Thursday and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
 
So far, more than 130 bills have been filed for the 2022 session, and many more are on the way. Lawmakers have until Feb. 25 to introduce legislation in the House and until March 1 to introduce legislation in the Senate.
 
Kentuckians have many ways to keep in touch with the legislative process, including the
Legislative Record webpage, which allows uses to review and track a bill’s progression through the chambers.
 
Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

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Jan. 7, 2022

 

Senate bills on school councils, remote instruction move forward

 

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, presents Senate Bill 1 in the Senate Education Committee on Jan.6, 2022. A high-res photo can be found here.

 

FRANKFORT With the first week of the 2022 Legislative Session almost over, two education bills related to school councils and remote instruction are advancing in the Kentucky Senate.
 
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Education voted 9-1 to pass Senate Bill 1, which calls for local superintendents – rather than school councils – to determine educational curriculum for districts.
 
Superintendents would still need to consult with the principal and school council beforehand and provide a reasonable review and response period for stakeholders in accordance with local policy.
 
The committee also passed Senate Bill 25, which would provide up to 10 days of remote instruction per school for the 2021-2022 academic year. It would also temporarily revise retirement reemployment provisions until June 30. The legislation passed on a 10-0 vote.
 
Both measures now head to the full Senate for consideration.
 
Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, sponsored SB 1 with several cosponsors. He told committee members the legislation is not new to them; it has been a work in progress for seven years. He said the need for the bill has become more and more apparent, and that it would clarify issues, not do away with school councils.
 
“It puts the final say about curriculum with the citizens of the community,” he said.
 
He also highlighted the importance of superintendents and their selection.
 
“At the end of the day, it’s the superintendent that we hold accountable for the performance of our schools,” Schickel said.
 
Sally Sugg, superintendent of Shelby County Public Schools, testified in favor of the changes during the meeting. She said districts need a coherent, cohesive solution to the problems found in the classroom.
 
Parents typically look to teachers and the principal, and the process of collaboration is the key when superintendents select principals, she said. Input is also important, she added.
 
Brenda Jackson, who serves on the Shelby County Public Schools’ Board of Education, also testified in favor of the bill. She said many students go from school to school and need consistency of curriculum.
 
But Sen. Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said he had mixed feelings about site-based decision making councils. He voted no on the measure and explained some positive attributes of councils.
 
“I have found out over the years that there was great value that was achieved through the construction of the site-based decision making councils, and shifting some of the, you call it, the decision making authority to those councils,” he said.
 
Jody Cabble, a teacher at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, testified that school councils have been an “essential driver,” and called the bill a step backward for Kentucky public schools. She expressed concern that changes would cloud transparency and lead to secrecy. She said there should be more “seats at the table.”
 
On the other measure – SB 25 – Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the bill would help fill staff vacancies. Wise chairs the Senate Committee on Education and sponsored the legislation.
 
“The purpose of the bill is to prioritize in-person learning by extending the 2021 Special Session Senate Bill 1 components that have expired through Dec. 31,” he said.
 
“This is one of those issues that we said during the special session we would have to revisit, and we would have to come back to because we need to provide flexibility to school districts,” he said.

 

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Jan. 6, 2022

 

Lawmakers adjust General Assembly's 2022 session calendar

FRANKFORT – Legislative leaders have adjusted the calendar for the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2022 Regular Session with plans to gavel in on Saturday.
 
Under the changes, the Senate and House will both convene for the fifth day of the legislative session on Saturday, Jan. 8. The last day to introduce bills in the House has been moved to Feb. 25, while the last day to introduce bills in the Senate has been moved to March 1.
 
Media professionals who are not Capitol tenants will not have badge access on Saturday and should use the visitor entrances at the front of the Capitol and Annex. Legislative agents should also use the visitor entrances.
 
The Governor’s Budget Address is scheduled for Jan. 13.
 
Observances for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 17 and for President’s Day on Feb. 21 remain unchanged on the calendar along with the 10-day veto recess that runs from March 31 through April 12.
 
Legislators are still scheduled to convene on April 13 and 14 for the final two days of the session.
 
The revised 2022 Regular Session Calendar can be viewed online at:
https://legislature.ky.gov/Documents/22RS_Calendar.pdf.
 

END

 

Dec. 21, 2021

 

Stay connected to the General Assembly during the 2022 legislative session

FRANKFORT— It’s easier than ever for Kentuckians to stay connected to the Kentucky General Assembly. 
 
The 2022 legislative session begins Jan. 4, and Kentuckians can use online resources to:
 
·         See the General Assembly’s daily schedule
 
·         Tune in to live coverage of legislative meetings
 
·         Find out who represents you
 
·         Contact lawmakers and offer feedback
 
·         Read bills and resolutions
 
·         Receive a notice when a bill advances
 
·         See how lawmakers voted on bills and resolutions
 
·         View informational materials on topics being considered by committees
 
·         Learn about the legislative process
 
All that and much more is available on the General Assembly Home Page:
https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx
 
Following the General Assembly’s work often begins with a daily look at the Legislative Calendar:
https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/LegislativeCalendar. The calendar shows which committees are meeting and when the Senate and House will convene.
 
Livestreams of legislative action can be viewed through feeds provided by Kentucky Educational Television (KET) and the Legislative Research Commission (LRC.)
 
KET livestreams all chamber proceedings, while committee meeting coverage is provided by both KET and LRC. For links to the livestreams, go to
https://legislature.ky.gov/Public%20Services/PIO/Pages/Live-Streams.aspx.
 
You can find each lawmakers’ contact info, biographical info, committee assignments and sponsored legislation by clicking on the “Legislators” tab near the top of the General Assembly Home Page:
https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx. You can also look up who represents your district.
 
The online Legislative Record (
https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislation/Pages/default.aspx) has information on every piece of legislation introduced in the Senate and House. You can read summaries, the full text of bills, resolutions, amendments and see exactly how far each piece of legislation has advanced in the process. Bills can be looked up according to bill number, sponsor or topic. If a bill has been voted on in a chamber, you can see how each lawmaker voted by clicking “Vote History” on a bill’s summary page.
 
Bill Watch, a bill tracking service, provided through a partnership of Kentucky.gov and LRC, sends users email notifications each time bills they are interested in takes a step forward. To sign up for Bill Watch, go to
https://kentucky.gov/services/pages/billwatch.aspx.
 
Information about legislative committees is available at
https://legislature.ky.gov/Committees/Pages/default.aspx. To view materials such as info sheets, handouts and PowerPoint presentations that are compiled for lawmakers to review at committee meetings, click on the “Meeting Materials” tab on the left side of each committee’s page.
 
To share feedback on an issue with lawmakers, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. Kentuckians with hearing loss can use Kentucky Relay by dialing 7-1-1.
 
A Spanish language line for legislative information will be available throughout the General Assembly’s 2022 session by calling 1-866-840-6574.
 
To directly reach a lawmaker’s office, call 502-564-8100. An operator will transfer the call to the office of the lawmaker you want to reach.
 
If you have a question about the lawmaking process or legislative resources, the LRC Public Information can be reached by calling 502-564-8100 ext. 59105.

 

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Nov. 22, 2021

 

Testimony highlights desire for an electric vehicle tax

 

 

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, asks a question about an electric vehicle tax during Monday's Interim Joint Committee on Local Government meeting.   A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT— Counties across the Commonwealth would like to see lawmakers make a few changes during the upcoming 2022 legislative session.
 
One of those changes includes establishing an electric vehicle tax or fee.
 
Representatives from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) presented the group’s 2022 legislative agenda to the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government today.
 
“The time for Kentucky to address this is now,” said Shellie Hampton, KACo director of government affairs. “Thirty states, including all of our neighbors, have already instituted an electric vehicle fee.”
 
Hampton also noted that many of the states that have implemented electric vehicle fees share the revenue with county governments.
 
KACo reports that nearly 40% of county roads are in need of moderate to significant repair, and that county governments own and maintain half of the roads in the state. Currently, counties only receive a portion of the motor fuel tax funds from the state to fund their own road departments.
 
Hampton said while electric vehicles account for less than 1% of vehicles in Kentucky, and the initial revenues from an electric vehicle tax would be small, that number is expected to grow. 
 
“Automakers that account for roughly a quarter of the global auto sales in 2019, including Ford, GM, Volvo and Mercedes, announced earlier this month that they will all work toward phasing out sales of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide,” Hampton said.
 
Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, asked if there had been a discussion about not establishing a separate electric vehicle tax and implementing just one “usage tax” instead. 
 
Jim Henderson, KACo executive director and CEO, said ultimately, KACo would like to see counties receive more money to take care of roads and bridges.
 
“As Shellie mentioned earlier, there are projections that as many as 30% of the cars that will be sold new by 2030 will be electric,” Henderson said. “So whatever we do, we really can’t wait much longer to start thinking about an alternative funding source for transportation.”
 
As of 2 p.m. Monday, no bills relating to an electric vehicle tax or fee had been pre-filed by any lawmakers. The Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on any proposed legislation until the 2022 legislative session begins on Jan. 4.

 

END

 

 

Nov. 16, 2021

 

Legislative panel hears testimony on bill to curtail distracted driving

 

 

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, holds up a cell phone as he shares his plans with the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation to file a bill to require the hands-free use of a personal communication device while driving. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT— While a ban on texting and driving is not new, Kentuckians may soon be asked to put their phones down while driving altogether.
 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation on Monday about his intentions to file a bill for the 2022 legislative session that would only allow the hands-free use of a personal communication device while driving.
 
“We’re talking about proposed legislation that’s intended to save lives and improve public safety,” Tipton said.
 
Under this proposed legislation, personal communication devices are defined as a text messaging device, a stand-alone computer, a tablet, a laptop, a notebook computer, a personal digital assistant, a GPS system, a telephone or any device capable of displaying a video, movie, or visual image.
 
The measure would make using your hands to operate a personal communication device while driving illegal. It would also prohibit drivers from unbuckling their seatbelt to reach for a device.
 
Drivers can, however, use a hands-free Bluetooth device to make phone calls while driving.
 
Lawmakers cannot make any decisions on any proposed legislation until the next legislative session begins on Jan. 4. Tipton said if the general assembly adopts this measure, there would be a grace period until Oct. 1, 2022, where drivers would receive a warning.
 
After the grace period, drivers would be fined at least $50 but no more than $100 for a first or second offense, according to a draft of the bill request. On third offense or if the offense results in an accident, the penalty would be at least $100 but no more than $199. If the offense occurs in an active school zone or construction zone, the penalty would be at least $200 but no more than $250. Traffic school would be allowed for a first offense.
 
Kentucky would not be the first state to implement this type of law, Tipton said. According to Jennifer Smith, CEO and founder of StopDistractions.org, 24 states have adopted this type of legislation, including Tennessee, Virginia and Indiana.
 
This not the first time Tipton has sponsored a bill like this. He sponsored House Bill 255 during the 2020 legislative session, which did not make it to a floor vote in either chamber.
 
Kathleen Strack, a co-founder of Two Eyes, Just Try, testified alongside Tipton on Monday. Her brother died near Verona, Kentucky, in 2015 after his truck was hit by a distracted semi-truck driver. Strack said the driver of the semi had been sending and reading text messages for miles leading up to the accident.
 
“Distracted driving is 100% preventable, just like drunk driving,” Strack said. “The difference is drunk driving has become socially unacceptable. That’s not the case for distracted driving.”
 
Steve Blackistone, the state and local liaison for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), also joined the conversation. He said NTSB supports this type of legislation.
 
“As a result of our investigations, we’ve seen firsthand that distraction is a growing and life-threatening problem,” Blackistone said. “To reduce the crashes and injuries and deaths, drivers completely need to refrain from engaging in these distractions.”
 
While discussing the proposed bill, a few lawmakers asked about the effectiveness of the state’s texting while driving ban. Tipton said that it is not uncommon for someone accused of texting while driving to say, “No, I wasn’t texting I was putting in a phone number,” or some other excuse. This legislation would attempt to close that loophole.

 

 

 

 

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Nov. 9, 2021

 

Committee hears testimony on proposed air ambulance membership subscription regulations

 

 

Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, shares how she would like to see state regulation of air ambulance membership subscriptions during Tuesday's Interim Joint Committee on Banking and Insurance meeting. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT— The likelihood of needing an air ambulance is rare. However, many Kentuckians are taking the cost of that service into consideration.
 
Thousands of Kentuckians have air ambulance membership subscriptions to pay any remaining costs that health insurance may not cover. During today’s Interim Joint Committee on Banking and Insurance meeting, Rep. Deanna Frazier, R-Richmond, shared how she believes those membership subscriptions need more oversight.
 
“These memberships are products that transfer an unknown amount of risk to the policy holder to the air ambulance company in exchange for a premium payment,” Frazier said. “Why aren’t these policies regulated as insurance?”
 
Frazier added that she does not seek to ban air ambulance membership subscriptions. Instead, she wants to ensure consumer protection.
 
“It’s time that we take a hard look at these policies and provide consumers of Kentucky with needed protections from predatory policies and marketing tactics,” Frazier said.
 
Frazier also questioned whether or not air ambulance membership subscriptions will be needed once the federal No Surprises Act goes into effect on Jan. 1. This federal law will prohibit surprise medical bills for patients who receive emergency care from out-of-network providers at in-network facilities. Patients will only be responsible for paying their co-pays and deductibles.
 
Chris Brady, general counsel at Air Methods Corporation, an air ambulance company, testified alongside Frazier. Air Methods does not offer air ambulance membership subscriptions. Instead, Brady said the company works with insurance companies to make sure its services are covered as an in-network service.
 
Brady testified that Air Methods would like to see state regulation of air ambulance membership subscriptions as a form of supplemental insurance.
 
Representatives of Global Medical Response’s Air MedCare Network and Air Evac Lifeteam testified against state regulation of the services.
 
Jason Monday, national director of field sales for Air MedCare Network, said the subscriptions his company and other Global Medical Response (GMR) companies offer are not the same as supplemental insurance.
 
Monday said GMR has contracts with several insurance companies, including Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, where services are considered in-network and more than 80% of its services are covered by certain insurance companies. For those with a GMR subscription, the remaining balance is paid in full.
 
Monday also said existing laws and court cases already establish air ambulance subscriptions as distinct from insurance.
 
During discussion, Rep. Tom Smith, R-Corbin, said his constituents are happy with their air ambulance membership subscriptions.
 
“I can’t see where we’re going to benefit as legislators to bring oversight to the problem that doesn’t exist,” Smith said, adding he understands that those in favor of oversight are arguing there is a problem and he’s willing to listen.
 
As of this afternoon, no lawmakers have pre-filed any air ambulance-related bills for the 2022 regular session. Lawmakers cannot act on any proposed legislation until the legislative session begins on Jan. 4.

 

 

END

 

 

Oct. 19, 2021

 

Proposed bill aims to give first responders COVID-19 death benefits

 

 

Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, presents Bill Request 430 to members of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government today alongside Zoneton Fire Protection District Chief Kevin Moulton. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT— While most of the world quarantined, first responders faced the COVID-19 pandemic head on.
 
Unfortunately, some first responders have died from COVID-19 after being exposed in the line of duty, and their families quickly learned they did not qualify for first responder death benefits.
 
Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, told lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on State Government today he hopes to change that with Bill Request 430.
 
Huff was inspired to write the legislation after tragedy struck his home district. Last December, the Zoneton Fire Protection District in Bullitt County lost its fire chief and its interim fire chief to COVID-19 related complications within two months of each other.
 
“This is a bill for first responders; these are our heroes,” Huff said. “They jump in there when your house is on fire… they don’t take your temperature. They don’t put a mask on. They run in there and get you out.”
 
BR 430 would amend current statute on death benefits to include COVID-19 on the list of illnesses that can qualify a deceased first responder’s family for death benefits. Statute already defines first responders as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correctional officers and active duty Kentucky National Guard members.
 
Huff told lawmakers BR 430 would be retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify. Huff said when he prefiled the bill on Aug. 30, there had been 11 first responder deaths in Kentucky. He expects more have died since then.
 
If the bill becomes law, families who qualify would receive $80,000.
 
Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he would like to see medical personnel who work in correctional facilities included in the bill.
 
“I think they’re first responders too,” Graham said. “… That’s the thing I think many of us are concerned about. We don’t want to leave out anyone who are first responders.”
 
Lawmakers cannot take action on BR 430 until the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 4.
 
The next Interim Joint Committee on State Government meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22 at 1 p.m.

 

 

 

END

 

 

Oct. 11, 2021

 Kentucky General Assembly to begin 2022 session on Jan. 4

FRANKFORT – State lawmakers have finalized a calendar for the 2022 Regular Session with plans to convene the General Assembly on Jan. 4 and adjourn April 14.
 
The session is scheduled to last 60 days, the maximum allowed under the state constitution in even-numbered years. Lawmakers will have until Feb. 28 to introduce bills in the House and March 2 to introduce bills in the Senate. 
 
The General Assembly will not meet on Jan. 17 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or on Feb. 21 in observance of Presidents’ Day. The calendar also provides a 10-day veto recess from March 31 through April 12, a time when lawmakers typically return to their home districts to await possible vetoes from the governor.
 
Legislators are scheduled to return on April 13 and 14 for the final two days of the session.
 
The 2022 session calendar is available at:
https://legislature.ky.gov/Documents/22RS_Calendar.pdf

 

END

 

Oct. 5, 2021

 

Lawmakers hear testimony on student mental health crisis

 

 

Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, asks what parents can do to help the student mental health crisis during today's Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting. A hi-res photo can be found here.

 

 

FRANKFORT— Children of all ages across the Commonwealth are facing a major mental health crisis.
 
Student mental health professionals testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Education today on what the Kentucky legislature can do to help students suffering from mental illness and suicidal ideation.
 
The speakers proposed legislative solutions that include more mental health first aid training for teachers at all grade levels and more social-emotional learning programs to prevent mental health issues before they begin. A workforce shortage in the mental health field is also a concern along with a dearth of funds to hire professionals in schools. 
 
Linda Tyree, the crisis response director for the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC), said the cooperative is typically called into schools after a death or serious injury of a student or staff member. More recently, GRREC has been called in to aid students suffering from depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a nationwide mental health crisis, especially for students who spent most of the last school year learning remotely, Tyree said.
 
“We know there was a lot of exposure to trauma, to stress, family stress, and even exposure to pornography when they’re learning online,” Tyree said. These challenges, along with the normal problems of adolescence, have taken a major toll, she added.
 
Amy Riley, a school counselor at Mercer County Schools, said her school is suffering severely from the student mental health crisis.
 
“There were weeks this past spring, shortly after returning from virtual learning, that we would assess two to three students a day for viable suicidal threats,” Riley said. “Many students had to be hospitalized or closely monitored.”
 
Riley told lawmakers she works with children who are 8 to 10-years-old and before coming to testify, she did a suicide risk assessment on a 9-year-old.
 
Riley said Kentucky’s schools are in desperate need of more mental health professionals.
 
“It is my earnest plea that when making crucial funding decisions you not forget the mental health needs of Kentucky students,” Riley said. “Any money and resources spent on mental health needs in Kentucky schools is money that will have an infinite return for the investment.”
 
Marsha Duncan, a social-emotional learning specialist for LaRue County Schools, testified that in the last two years she’s done risk assessments on children as young as third-grade, which was a first for her in more than 20 years in public education.
 
“The needs are many, but the resources are few,” Duncan said, adding a lack of people entering the mental health field and a lack of funding for schools and communities to address mental health needs is a major issue facing the Commonwealth.
 
Duncan said many students are dealing with grief. Some are mourning the loss of someone they knew to COVID-19 and others are mourning the loss of fun activities and normalcy. Children are also afraid of getting sick or losing someone else they love, she added, and adults in schools are suffering from mental health issues too.
 
Following the testimony, committee co-chair Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, asked if the speakers had statistics on the youth suicide rate in Kentucky.
 
Comparing a three-month period in the last year to the same time in 2019, the youth suicide rate increased 57%, Tyree said. Just last Thanksgiving, GRREC assisted a school district following the suicide of an 11-year-old. Tyree said that’s the youngest death by suicide she’s seen.
 
Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, asked what parents, educators and community members can do in regards to prevention.
 
Riley responded that one thing parents can do is become very involved in the social-emotional learning at their child’s school and to advocate for a strong tier-one social-emotional learning curriculum.
 
Tyree agreed, adding that tier-one social-emotional learning means that every kindergartener and first-grade student participates in lessons on how to articulate their feelings, regulate their feelings, and develop other social-emotional skills.
 
Although lawmakers cannot take legislative action on this issue until 2022, Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, who is also an elementary special education teacher, said she would strongly support additional funding for mental health counselors in schools.
 
Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he would reach out to university presidents about their mental health professional programs and recruitment.
  

 

 

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