Posts Tagged ‘University of Pikeville’

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.

Diplomas, Blacktop, and Religious Freedom Occupy State Legislature’s 11th Week

Monday, March 19th, 2012

A plan to bolster the number of bachelor degree holders in southeast Kentucky was approved by the House last week. House Bill 260 started off as a measure to make the University of Pikeville a state-supported school, but after resistance from county officials in eastern Kentucky and college presidents, the bill was made over to offer scholarships to kids in far east Kentucky who earn college degrees from schools in that area. Pikeville representative Leslie Combs is the prime sponsor of the bill. She once worked for the private University of Pikeville, and says she’s putting her idea on the back burner for now. A floor amendment was attached to the bill that would allow an eastern Kentucky student to access a pool of money to attend a school outside of the region if a degree program he or she is pursuing is not available at schools in the southeast area.

A mechanism to pay interest on federal government loans Kentucky received to pay out jobless benefits over the last three years was approved by the full House last week.  Kentucky has borrowed close to one billion dollars to pay unemployment insurance claims. The interest payments are due each September; last year Governor Steve Beshear paid out the $28 million due in interest from general fund coffers. House Bill 495 carried by Speaker Pro Temp Larry Clark of Jefferson County authorizes the state to borrow $79 million from the Kentucky Employers’ Mutual Insurance (KEMI) fund to pay the federal interest payments, at three or four percent interest and levy a surcharge to employers beginning in 2014 to pay back the borrowed money. The bill has the backing of five dozen co-sponsors, and several business, trade, and labor groups. The House advanced House Bill 495 without opposition 97-0.

A bill to improve the handling of child abuse and neglect cases that result in death or near death was approved by the full House. Lexington Democrat Susan Westrom’s House Bill 200 addresses the state fumbles of those cases by establishing an external review panel made up of more than a dozen experts with child welfare experience from across the state. House Bill 200 cleared the House 96-0, and now waits for action by a Senate committee.

The Senate also has in its possession a measure to better protect the vulnerable in long-term care facilities from abuse and neglect from workers in charge of their care. Lexington Democrat Ruth Ann Palumbo is the sponsor of House Bill 259, which calls for the state to develop and implement a registry of people who have substantiated allegations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult. The electronic background check is a screening tool to keep adult facilities and individuals from hiring an applicant with those histories of abuse. House Bill 259 cleared the House 97-0 and now heads to the Senate for consideration there.

On day 49 of the 60 day legislative session, the Kentucky House paved the way for $3.8 billion of blacktop, state and federally supported construction, and highway maintenance for the next two years in the Commonwealth. The body passed the Transportation Cabinet budget, the two-year highway construction plan, and the plan for the four “out” years of the six-year road plan. House Transportation Subcommittee Chair Sannie Overly, a democrat from Paris, said despite the cash-flow issues with the general fund, the road fund is robust. It includes $782.8 million dollars to local governments, which Overly said are important for city mayors and county judges.

The Kentucky State Senate last week approved constitutional amendments–on redistricting, religion, and administrative regulations. The most contentious of the proposed amendments relates to redrawing state House and Senate districts and avoiding the county-splitting scheme that caused the most recent remapping attempts to be struck down by the state’s high court. If the House passes Senate bill 18, voters would decide the issue at the ballot box in November, which would also require lawmakers to craft a plan by April 15 of the full legislative session after the decennial census or stay in Frankfort to hash out a plan without pay. The Chamber approved Senate Bill 18 by a vote of 27-11. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling a few weeks ago that struck down the state legislative lines state lawmakers passed and the Governor signed into law, declaring, in part, that the maps split too many counties.

A constitutional amendment to keep the government from stepping into religious matters cleared the Senate chamber with lesser opposition. Senate Bill 158 in its legal language prohibits in part: “a human authority from burdening actions that are based on religious beliefs in support of a compelling government interest using the least restrictive means to further that interest.” Senator Jimmy Higdon commented on the coincidental timing of the measure as an old order of the Amish community in Western Kentucky was pleading its case against outfitting their horse-drawn buggies with the required orange, triangular emblems that they claim violate their religious principles against bright-colored displays. Legislation from both chambers working through the process would allow slow-moving vehicles to be adorned with reflective tape instead of the vivid emblems. Senate Bill 158 was approved 34-4 and now awaits House action.

Constitutional amendments require a supermajority of three-fifths vote of each chamber, which translates to 23 of the 38 Senate votes and 60 of the 100 House votes, before the measure can be put on the ballot for voters. According to the Legislative Research Commission, up to four amendments can be put on the ballot in even-year elections, and referendum matters do not require approval by the Governor.

Monday begins the 10-day countdown to the session’s closure before a recess for a gubernatorial veto period. After a 10-day break, lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on April 12. The session is constitutionally bound to conclude by April 15. Among the issues in need of final resolution: the state’s two-year, $19.5 billion operating budget.

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