March 6, 2015

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – While another round of record snow and cold kept the House and Senate from being able to meet for two days last week, both chambers nonetheless finished work on several notable bills and are poised to pass even more in the three days we meet this week.

Although it has a couple of hurdles still to clear as of this writing, one of the legislative session’s most far-reaching initiatives appears destined to become law.

House Bill 8 broadens civil protective orders to include three new groups: domestic violence victims in dating situations and victims of sexual assault and stalking.

As much as Kentucky has done to reduce domestic violence, it has lagged most states when it comes to who is eligible for a civil protective order. Nearly all states, for example, include victims of dating violence, while the law here has limited domestic violence orders (DVOs) to those who have been married to or lived with their abuser or who have a child in common. That leaves out many young adults and even widowed seniors. Meanwhile, 35 states include stalking and 27 include sexual assault in their civil protective orders.

The passage of House Bill 8 will put Kentucky back at the forefront in protecting victims, and it will give us an additional tool that has been shown to reduce violence and save court costs. Assuming this passes, the next step is making sure these new groups are aware of their eligibility.

Another major piece of legislation – House Bill 152 – did pass the General Assembly last week and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Beshear, who is a supporter.

It will largely de-regulate the telecommunications industry at the state level, making it easier for companies in this field to focus more on next-generation telephone services like cell phones and internet-based calling, which more and more Kentuckians are relying on exclusively.

This legislation means these companies will no longer be required to extend new landlines in the state, if the companies can serve customers in other ways. There are protections for rural areas that make it possible for these customers to switch back to their landline within 60 days if they are not happy with other phone services.

In testifying on behalf of the bill, AT&T’s representative said no customers in the 17 other states having a similar law have ever lost their landline service if they did not want to give it up.

Another bill to clear the legislature last week will restore the three-tier system for beer, wine and distilled spirits. For decades now, Kentucky has barred companies that produce, ship or sell these products from operating in the other two categories.

That system has remained intact for the wine and distilled spirits industries, but since the late 1970s, what is now Anheuser-Busch InBev has owned a beer distributorship in Louisville. Last summer, it purchased another in Owensboro that was ultimately approved when a court ruled against state regulators and granted a license.

Those in Kentucky’s growing craft beer market worried that if this buying spree had continued, large out-of-state brewers would block their products from being distributed altogether to retailers. The passage of House Bill 168 will now keep that scenario from happening.

Although even-numbered years are when the General Assembly enacts the state’s budget, legislators did make an exception this year for a major project for the University of Kentucky. This $265 million research facility will primarily focus on illnesses in which the commonwealth ranks low when compared to other states: cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other preventable diseases.

Under this law, the state will bond half of the amount – $132.5 million – and UK will cover the other half through research contracts and private fundraising. Construction is slated to begin later this year. Once complete, the facility’s estimated economic impact will be $116 million annually.

Speaking of the economy, Gov. Beshear announced on Tuesday last week that Kentucky placed first among the states in Site Selection magazine’s annual rankings of new and expanded industry. Kentucky had more than 350 new location and expansion projects last year that are expected to create nearly 15,000 jobs and result in $3.7 billion in investment. No other state did better on a per-capita basis.

On Thursday, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet reported that Kentucky’s unemployment rate was below the U.S. average in January and has dropped two full percentage points since Jan. 2014. Over those 12 months, according to a federal survey that excludes agriculture and the self-employed, Kentucky added more than 40,000 jobs, which is certainly good news.

As I previously mentioned, the General Assembly is scheduled to meet for three days this week, and my colleagues and I will then return home to give Gov. Beshear time to decide whether to sign or veto the bills he receives. After this recess, we will return later this month for two days to complete our work.

I appreciate those who have let me know their views and concerns. If you would like to join them, either now or throughout the year, you can write to me at 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.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer