Posts Tagged ‘House Bill 3’

The Fruits of Ky. Lawmakers’ Labor: Pies or Pits?

Friday, March 15th, 2013

A common quizzical refrain buzzing through the Capitol campus corridors: will this year go down as a do-nothing session of the Kentucky General Assembly? The answer is relative and can be answered both ways.

If you measure success by a bargain on pension reform, industrialized hemp, tax reform, redistricting – the answer is likely ‘no.’

But, if you deem the session victorious for independent review of child death or near death cases stemming from abuse or neglect; raising the school dropout age from 16 to 18; stiffening laws and penalties for human trafficking while granting child victims safe harbor and giving bonding authority to the state’s public universities to build or renovate dormitories, academic buildings and sports complexes — you’ll quickly respond in the affirmative.

According to the Legislative Research Commission website, 101 pieces of legislation have been delivered to the governor so far. There were 216 Senate bills and 458 House bills filed for consideration in a 30-day session, a total not including the mounds of resolutions in each chamber. Simple math will direct you to your own conclusion about productivity or lack thereof. And, many contend that it’s not the number that counts, but the substance. Here’s some proof:

The first bill to reach the governor’s desk (on Feb 21st) was House Bill 7 that gives bonding authority to six of the state’s eight public universities for eleven campus construction projects totaling $363 million. The package includes $110 million in renovations to the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium.

Two weeks later, minor adjustments to the hallmark prescription drug abuse legislation of 2012 were approved. House Bill 217 tweaks laws that regulate pain management clinics, commonly called “pill mills” and requires doctors and pharmacists to use the state’s prescription drug monitoring system, KASPER. House Speaker Greg Stumbo and House Judiciary chairman John Tilley’s HB 217 exempts hospitals, long-term care facilities and hospice programs from some of the law’s restrictions on prescribing and dispensing narcotics.

Child advocates statewide were jubilant over the passage of two measures they say offer more protections and services to abused, neglected, and exploited children. House Bill 3 strengthens Kentucky’s human trafficking laws and offers “safe harbor” for child victims of trafficking –- giving them health and counseling services instead of locking them up for prostitution. It also establishes a victims’ fund from fines and asset seizure of traffickers. And, House Bill 290 makes permanent a 20-member external child fatality and near-death review panel that will have access to full and complete records of neglect and abuse cases. The Kentucky Youth Advocates applaud the measure for striking a balance between public disclosure and protecting sensitive information beyond the victim and perpetrator. Both of those measures were sent to the governor on Tuesday.

A compromise measure long in the making aims to lower the high school dropout rate by keeping kids in school until they turn 18. The initial language of Senate Bill 97 gave every school district the option of upping the legal school dropout age from 16 to 18. That still stands, but the House added language mandating that it will become mandatory statewide four years after more than half of the state’s districts implement it.

Skeptics of the school dropout plan are pessimistic that raising dropout age will actually increase graduation rates. Meade County Democrat Jeff Greer sponsored a rival bill in the state House that would gradually raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 statewide. He’s been on the compulsory attendance beat for at least four sessions, and this time around the compromise sealed the deal.

Louisville Democrat Reginald Meeks, a co-sponsor of the measure, offered some reserved praise. He said lawmakers are backing into a decision instead of forging ahead with progressive, forward-thinking action.

Madisonville Republican Ben Waide has been a relentless foe of the school dropout measure. He stood again to sternly assert that research shows raising the dropout age doesn’t guarantee an improvement in graduation rates.

The House approved the amended school dropout measure on a vote of 88 to ten. The Kentucky State Senate gave it final passage on a vote of 33 to 5. When the measure hit the Senate floor, it was carried by Senator David Givens of Greensburg, who said it had all the elements of a great compromise measure –- time, leaders, and substance. He said the bill wouldn’t work without a number of vigilant supports to see the red flags as youngsters fall into distress, especially early in the game.

Former governor Julian Carroll, who became Frankfort’s state senator in 2005, stressed the value of education for its capacity to prepare students for productive citizenship. He noted the high correlation between dropouts and prisoners.

Though Senate Bill 97 cleared the Senate 33 to 5, four Republicans joined Independent Bob Leeper in dissent. Governor Beshear and the First Lady released a statement of appreciation for passage of what they call “the graduation bill.” The statement said in part that Senate Bill 97 “will help to break the cycle of poverty, close the revolving door of prison, and improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians.”

The ACLU of Kentucky and the Fairness Campaign are among the groups pressuring Governor Steve Beshear to veto the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act” embodied in House Bill 279. Defenders of the measure contend their religious freedoms have been under attack by the government at all levels, while opponents believe the idea will lead to discrimination of gays and lesbians and an erosion of civil rights protections by allowing folks to assert a deeply held religious belief for not doing business or interacting with minority groups. The governor has yet to announce his intentions toward the bill. He could allow it to become law without his signature.

Senate Republican Leader Damon Thayer recited a lyric from the Rolling Stones in announcing a compromise on a bill giving more transparency to special taxing districts such as water and sewer districts, librarie, and fire departments. “You can’t always get what you want,” said Thayer of House Bill One. He has often bemoaned those special purpose government entities as exacting taxation without representation and argued for more local government control over their ability to levy taxes and fees. In the end, negotiators agreed making special taxing districts hold public meetings before increasing taxes or fees and to give reports to fiscal courts regarding their budgets. Non-compliance with the new rules could subject these boards to an audit by state officials and jeopardize state funding.

What’s undone? Hemp, pension reform, redistricting, and a slew of other headline-drawing issues. I’ll break those down next week.

Map Drawing, Hemp Growing, and God-loving Issues Press Lawmakers

Friday, March 8th, 2013

By a mostly party-line vote, the Kentucky state House advanced Democratic leadership’s plan to redraw boundaries for House districts on Wednesday.

Legislative lines drawn last year were declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court and it left the mapping scheme from 2002 in place. Redistricting is required after a decennial census to take into account shifts or growths in population. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the mastermind of the remapping plan before the House mid-week, called the chore personal and often divisive, claimed it’s a mere puzzle of math. His House Bill 2 splits 24 counties which is the minimum, mandated number by the courts; the two additional counties that are split are Graves in the west and Harlan County in the east. It also pairs 11 Republican incumbents against each other and one Democrat against a Republican in the new mapping scheme. A contentious calculation in the redraw is the exclusion of the federal prisoner population. To that point, Speaker Stumbo gave this explanation.

In an inquiry from House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo acknowledged that both the congressional and judicial maps drawn and adopted last year included a count of federal prisoners. The inquisition into that sticking point was pursued even further by Representative Hoover.

Hoover continued a diatribe about rule-breaking referring to a plan for funding public pensions and other matters. Hoover accused House Democratic leadership of using adjusted, manipulated numbers this year that they didn’t use last year to achieve a political goal of maintaining control in the House.

In a rare floor speech, Republican Jill York did some numbers crunching of her own. The House Democrats redistricting plan pits her in a district with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins.

Several aggrieved by the new map proposal rose to denounce it. House Speaker Greg Stumbo was unmoved and in his signature country lawyer vernacular he spouted that when it comes to redrawing legislative lines “somebody’s ox is getting gored.” While he had the body’s attention, he also rebuffed accusations that he’s obstructing compromise or passage of two prominent bills this session: public pension reform and hemp.

After about 85 minutes of floor debate, House Democratic leadership’s new maps for state House districts cleared the House in mostly partisan divide 53 to 46.

The hemp bill Speaker Stumbo alluded to cleared the House Agriculture committee Wednesday morning with minimal opposition. Whether or not the measure, Senate Bill 50, gets a floor vote in the House is concerning supporters. The Speaker claims the hemp measure contains an appropriation, and applying his logic means the measure should have originated from the House. And, the Speaker also isn’t convinced a state law is necessary and asked Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to render an opinion. On Thursday, as Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal wrote “the attorney general agreed with Stumbo that Kentucky would be forced to adopt any change in hemp policy at the federal level. But the opinion also said that if the federal government legalized hemp without providing a regulatory framework, ‘industrial hemp would be essentially unregulated in Kentucky after the mandatory adoption of the federal definition.’”

See Courier-Journal article by Tom Loftus.

Senate Bill 50 doesn’t allow hemp to be grown in Kentucky, as it’s currently banned by the federal government. But, it does establish a regulatory framework in case the feds lift the ban or Kentucky is granted a waiver. A recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor legalizing hemp for industrial uses, compared to 22 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure.

The Kentucky State Police and prosecutors worry that hemp legalization will complicate drug eradication and enforcement efforts because of the physical similarities of hemp and marijuana that they contend make them indistinguishable by the naked eye. Hemp has a much smaller concentration of the psychoactive or intoxicating ingredient, THC, that’s found in marijuana. Hemp fibers can be used for fuel, apparel, cooking, plastics, and moisturizing creams. It’s still uncertain whether or not House Democratic leadership will call the bill up for a floor vote in the 4 days remaining this session.

In the mad dash to hoist bills across the legislative finish line, the Kentucky State Senate toiled nearly until midnight last night. Among the cluster of measures approved was a human trafficking bill that took a rather twisted and, at times, uncertain path through the legislative process. House Bill 3 is called ‘safe harbor legislation’ because it treats children who are sexually exploited for profit as victims as opposed to criminals. Like other child victims of abuse or neglect, they would be eligible for state services. The bill also calls for a victims’ fund to be created from fines and asset seizure of traffickers; victims of forced labor would be able to sue for unpaid wages and law enforcement would trained on recognizing the crime.

According the Kentucky Rescue and Restore Coalition, 101 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Kentucky, 44 of them were children. The State Senate passed House Bill 3 with some minor changes that must be approved by the House before it’s sent on to the governor’s desk.

Around 11:00 last night, the State Senate awarded final passage to a religious freedom measure that that allows citizens to ignore laws that substantially burden their religious beliefs. Opponents argue it endangers civil rights protections, stokes discrimination against gays and lesbians, and even endorses domestic violence under a person’s warped biblical interpretation.

The text of the House Bill 279 reads as follows: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.”

House Bill 279 passed 29 to 6 and now heads to the governor’s desk for his approval, veto, or he can let it become law without his signature.

State lawmakers agreed to change the session calendar and cancel class for today. The move means legislators will work both Monday and Tuesday of next week before taking a 10- day recess for gubernatorial veto consideration. The last day of the 30-day session is slated for March 26th. They are constitutionally bound to conclude their business by March 30th.

Tune in Monday night at 11pm ET for day 27 coverage of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly in Regular Session, and follow @ReneeKET throughout the day for updates.

House Committee Revives Trapped “Modern Day Slavery” Legislation

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The “most immoral and criminal act” in the state is how a Glasgow Democrat described human trafficking in Kentucky. State Representative and lawyer Johnny Bell said the act of terrorizing vulnerable women and children is proliferated via the Interstate 65 corridor in his district and elsewhere. “Modern day slavery,” is the common euphemism for human trafficking, and it accurately depicts the cruelty of an illegal practice of sexual exploitation and forced labor that’s quickly becoming Kentucky’s fastest growing criminal enterprise.

Today, a House committee exacted a parliamentary move to revive an anti-human trafficking measure (House Bill 3) that was idling in a Senate committee and destined for termination this session.

The House Judiciary Committee attached House Bill 3 to a Senate measure by Senator Brandon Smith dealing with “safe child drop-off areas” in response to a horrific shooting recently at Hazard Community College. The practice of conjoining a measure trapped in political molasses with another bill having momentum in order to move stifled legislation along is called “piggybacking.”

The inertia of HB 3 (up until today) to create a safe harbor for child victims of human trafficking baffles victims’ advocates like MaryLee Perry Underwood and Gretchen Hunt of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs. They have been unyielding in their push to enhance penalties and fines for human traffickers and adopt a “Safe Harbor” statute, as neighboring states Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee have done.

The bill is shepherded in the state legislature by a bi-partisan duo of state representatives: Democrat Sannie Overly of Paris and Republican Addia Wuchner of Florence. The measure cleared the state House on February 15th by a vote of 95 to zero.

Here’s Rep. Sannie Overly giving some background on HB 3 from the House floor last month.

Bill co-sponsorRep. Addia Wuchner read chilling words from a human trafficking victim during floor discussion of HB 3.

House Bill 3 aims to ensure that children who are victims of human trafficking are not arrested for prostitution or a status offense (actions that would not be considered crimes if they were 18 or older). Instead, these traumatized child victims will receive the services that they need rather than arrest and detention. It also aims to bring the “johns” out of hiding by clarifying that buying children for sex is a felony crime with an enhanced penalty.

The bill also makes it possible for law enforcement to seize assets from human traffickers and charges convicted traffickers with fines to create a Human Trafficking Victims Fund.

So how big of a problem is human trafficking in Kentucky? MaryLee Perry Underwood is quick with the answer: “Human trafficking takes place in all sorts of places, like truck stops — where runaways are coerced into commercial sex — and on horse farms and in other industries where workers are forced into slavery under threats of deportation and harm to loved ones,” she says. “Children are trafficked by parents, foster parents, and exploitative adults who convince them that they are their boyfriends,” adds Underwood. According to Underwood, the FBI estimates that one in five persons in prostitution is a child, with the average age of entry into prostitution being between twelve and fourteen years of age.

House Bill 3 appears to have vast support from a wide range of stakeholders: prosecutors, defense attorneys, the state Justice Cabinet, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Commonwealth and County attorneys, Kentucky State Police, the Family Foundation, the Catholic Conference, and Kentucky Youth Advocates.

A statement from Martin Cothran with the Family Foundation of Kentucky says: “The Family Foundation supports this bill because we believe in the sanctity of human life which means protecting all children, from conception to adulthood, from all forms of harm which clearly includes human trafficking.”

House Bill 3 which was attached to a separate, unrelated Senate measure is now bound for a vote by the full House. It will then return to the state Senate for approval or rejection.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for Capitol updates throughout the day during the legislative session and tune in KET at 11pm ET each weeknight for “Legislative Update” for a recap of committee and chamber activities.


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