What should be the state’s spending priorities for the next two fiscal years?
Should Kentucky give felons a clearer path to having rights restored after they’ve fulfilled their sentences?
Should public and private partnerships be formed to work together on large projects?
Many of the big questions confronting our state were taken up and voted on in the Senate Chamber this week, the 12th week of the General Assembly’s 2016 session. As is typical in the home stretch of a legislative session, the number of bills moving through chambers and delivered to the governor’s desk continued to increase with each passing day.
The Senate’s big issue of the week, though, was undoubtedly the state budget. No one is denying that the budget process is difficult because every decision affects real people across the state. As we debated differences in the House and Senate budget proposals, I found that the cuts in the Senate Majority plan were too deep and could not fully support that plan.
The Senate budget bill includes some of the same cuts that I did not like in Gov. Bevin’s proposal, many of which didn’t survive the House budget plan. My reservations about cuts in the budget, include $1.5 million in each fiscal year to Court Appointed Children’s Advocates (CASA) programs, $15 million in bond funds to renovate the Kentucky School for the Blind, $450,000 in each fiscal year in support of the Louisville Waterfront Development, $550,000 in each fiscal year for the Home of the Innocents, and $1 million a year to promote breast and cervical cancer screening for women. I believe these cuts will adversely affect women, children, families and the disabled. For these reasons and more, I cast a pass vote on HB 303 as amended. I am hoping for changes to these cuts in the bills final version.
At the time of this writing, members of the Senate and House were meeting in a conference committee to iron out differences in each chambers’ spending proposals. The goal is to craft a plan that both chambers can agree on before the veto recess. I am optimistic that we will find a solution that will protect education, shore up the state employee and teacher retirement plans and invest in our infrastructure, while looking out for our most vulnerable citizens.
In other business, the Senate approved a measure that would let voters decide on a proposed amendment to the state constitution regarding the restoration of rights to felons who have paid their debt to society. The measure, Senate Bill 299, would place a proposed amendment on this year’s November ballot that, if approved, would allow the General Assembly to set guidelines for restoring felon voting rights.
Another major issue approved by the Senate this week concerns public-private partnerships, also known as P3s. House Bill 309 would establish oversight and a framework for the use of public-private partnerships as an alternative funding source for major projects. Among the safeguards set up by the bill is the requirement that state projects costing more than $25 million be approved by the General Assembly and the establishment of the Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board to review P3 deals with local governments. I voted yes.
Other bills that took steps forward in the Senate this week include:
Senate Bill 256 would allow high school students participating in basic training required by a branch of the United States Armed Forces to be considered present for all purposes for up to ten days. I voted yes.
House Bill 38 would require the state to set standards for the use and operation of aerial recreational facilities like outdoor ziplines and canopy tours. The legislation was drafted with input from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which would set the standards and regulate ziplines and related forms of entertainment. The department could rely on industry standards and third-party inspections when setting requirements, and could set fees to help administer those requirements. I voted yes.
House Bill 115 would expand eligibility for screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines. I voted yes.
House Bill 59 would make it easier for those at risk of violence to shield their home addresses from people who could harm them. The measure would allow people at risk of violence to apply for a substitute address without first obtaining a domestic violence order. A sworn statement would suffice. I voted yes.
As a growing number of bills were moving through legislative chambers this week, others were being delivered to the governor’s office to be signed into law. Some of the legislation delivered to the governor included:
Senate Bill 63, the SAFE Act of 2016, which I am the primary sponsor, would eliminate a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault examination kits dating back to the 1970s. This is a step forward to provide victims with swift justice.
Senate Bill 64, which I am the primary sponsor, would clarify the language in KRS defining reasonable fee in the property valuation administrator (PVA) office and align the fee schedule with the Kentucky’s Open Records Act.
Senate Bill 43 would make the survivors of emergency medical services providers who are killed in the line of duty eligible for the state lump-sum death benefits. I voted yes.
Senate Bill 195 would extend state-paid survivor benefits to surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters by determining that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty. I voted yes.
You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations, and other legislative actions, throughout the session:
Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at www.lrc.ky.gov;
LRC toll-free bill status line at 866-840-2835.
LRC toll-free meeting information line at 800-633-9650.
LRC toll-free legislative message line at 800-372-7181.
General Assembly’s Spanish message line at (866) 840-6574.
E-mail me personally at [email protected]