A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – If the end of a legislative session is about what laws the General Assembly can pass, the beginning is about what the House and Senate hope will be on that list.
It’s not a small number this year, with about a dozen major topics expected to be considered by both chambers and many others also vying for passage. Making that process difficult is the fact that there are only 30 working days and the first four were dedicated last month to electing leadership and establishing committees for the next two years.
As legislators returned to the Capitol early last week, however, the House’s agenda began taking shape with the passage of several bills by committee on Thursday.
On that day, the Labor and Industry Committee approved House Bill 2, which would have Kentucky join the 29 other states that now have a higher minimum wage than the one set by the federal government.
This is virtually identical to the version the House passed last year and would be the first increase since 2009. It calls for a three-step approach that would take the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by the summer of 2017. It’s estimated this would benefit several hundred thousand workers.
Last fall, a Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favored this approach, while 37 percent opposed it. The rest were undecided.
Around the same time that bill was approved, the House Economic Development Committee voted for House Bill 152, which would reduce state oversight of the telecommunications industry as the nation moves toward greater use of cell service and internet-based calling.
The bill mainly affects suburban and urban areas, allowing the companies to put more time and resources in those next-generation telephone services rather than expanding landlines. More rural areas would see their landline services stay the same, but the companies would not be required to extend them further.
Another bill that has been widely discussed in recent years cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday. House Bill 145 proposes to implement a statewide smoking ban in public places, with proponents saying this is a health concern and that many Kentuckians already live and work in communities with bans in place. Opponents say that keeping this decision local is the best route to take.
In a tobacco-related issue, the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee took time on Wednesday not discuss a bill but to hear an update from Dr. Will Snell, a University of Kentucky expert on the state’s signature crop.
He said the burley belt, which Kentucky dominates, has about 213 million pounds to sell, but the market only needs about 180 million pounds or less. That, on top of growing African production and a rise of e-cigarettes, are contributing to the lower prices growers are now seeing. Dr. Snell estimated sales for the 2015 crop would likely be between $300-$350 million.
In addition to moving legislation forward, the House and Senate also welcomed a number of groups to the Capitol this past week to highlight their causes. That includes gifted and talented students, those combating hunger and the 874K coalition, which advocates for the estimated 874,000 Kentuckians who have some form of disability.
While it may seem that the legislative session has just started, more than a fourth of it is already complete. The General Assembly is scheduled to wrap up the bulk of its work by March 9th, returning later that month for two days to consider any potential vetoes.
If you would like to let me know your concerns or thoughts about the bills I have mentioned or any other, there are several ways to reach me or to follow the legislative process. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. To check the status of a bill, you can call 866-840-2835, and if you have internet access, the General Assembly’s website – www.lrc.ky.gov – is another great resource that features the full text of legislation and House and Senate votes.
I hope to hear from you soon.