Posts Tagged ‘House Bill 7’

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.

Working Toward a Cliffhanger or Finale? This Is How the Capitol Turns

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Today marks 18th day of the 30-day legislative session. Rumors of a special session(s) soon-after swirl the Capitol halls like echoes in the marble naves of the century-old temple of democracy.

The robust beginning of the session and the new spirit of bipartisanship proclaimed by legislative leaders signaled promise of a productive gathering of the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly.

But, alas, the hourglass is emptying, and so far only one bill has made it to the Governor’s desk: House Bill 7 that gives bonding authority to the state’s public universities to self-finance their own construction projects for student housing and academic and athletic complexes.

With issues ranging from industrial hemp to public pension reform, lawmakers might leave the legislative table in 12 days with their bellies full but their plates un-cleared.

Last week, the House gave approval to a bill aimed at improving the bachelor degree attainment in the east and west coal-producing counties of the state. It’s a goal of Pike County Democrat Leslie Combs who pursued (along with House Speaker Greg Stumbo) an attempt last year to make the privately-owned University of Pikeville a state-supported institution for that same reason.

The measure’s metamorphosis this session is embodied in House Bill 210 that creates the Kentucky Coal County College Completion Program to award scholarships to students in coal- producing counties to get their bachelor’s degree from schools in those areas. Thirty-four Kentucky coal counties are impacted by the bill, 26 in the east and 8 in the west. Bell County Democrat Rick Nelson made an unsuccessful attempt at broadening the bill to let kids in coal-producing counties attend any public institution they choose in the state, but that proposed floor amendment was ruled out of order.

House Minority Floor leader Jeff Hoover referenced some recent studies critical of private universities’ matriculation rates and student loan defaults. He said the report ranked the University of Pikeville number one in students who failed to earn a degree after a six-year stint on the campus. He questioned whether Comb’s measure would upend that ranking.

Hoover’s Republican colleague Ben Waide, co-sponsor of HB 210, redefined the bill as an economic development and answer to the brain drain because it will make it more likely for college graduates in coal-producing counties to remain there and start businesses that will boost those lagging economies. Representative Combs doubled-down on her message for better education and quality of life for those in the margins.

Pike County Democrat Keith Hall opined that the money made available for the scholarships was paid for on the backs of coal miners through coal severance taxes into state coffers. Fifty percent of coal severance tax dollars, he added, is designated to the state general fund. He said the measure is not one of charity, but an opportunity rightly owed to coal producing counties.

The maximum scholarship of $6,000 dollars a year would be awarded for a student attending a participating institution that is a nonprofit, independent college or university. Lesser scholarship awards would be available for college satellite or extension campuses or to those pursuing a degree in-state but outside the designated coal counties. The measure cleared the House 97 to zero, and now waits for assignment to a Senate committee.

In other news…

A measure to allow overseas military to cast absentee ballots electronically was snagged in committee last week. Senate Bill 1 would allow armed forces members, their spouses and others overseas to register to vote and get an absentee ballot electronically. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes shared a witness table with Senate President Robert Stivers in pitching SB 1, but they disagree over a key provision which would enable military personnel to actually vote online. Stivers omitted the provision via committee amendment but Grimes hopes to restore it.

As it stand now ,SB 1 would let overseas voters get their ballots via fax, e-mail or another secure electronic transmission system, but they would have to mail in their ballots. Secretary of State Grimes said about 300 overseas absentee ballots were not counted in last year’s general election in Kentucky for a host of reasons. She asserted that failing to modernize has costs you can literally count.

President Stivers wants to study the issue and ensure the integrity of Internet voting before taking further action.

SB 1, as amended in committee last Thursday by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee now waits for action by the full Senate membership.

On Friday last week, House Licensing and Occupations chairman Dennis Keene introduced — for discussion only — HB 52 to expand gambling in the Commonwealth. It does not include a constitutional amendment to let voters decide on gaming expansion as some previous efforts contained. Representative Keene says while the exact dollar determination of casino gambling in the state is unknown, economists on staff with the Legislative Research Commission estimate that seven casinos would generate more than $900 million a year, yielding a yearly tax revenue of $295 million. He laid out how the revenue pie would be sliced in today’s hearing. Some of the money would be injected into the state’s anemic public pension systems.

HB 52 was for discussion only and no vote was taken.

You can watch entire meetings of any of the bills mentioned in this post and see our nightly reports at Tune into “Legislative Update” each weeknight at 11pm ET for a daily digest of Capitol happenings and follow me on Twitter @ReneeKET.

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