FRANKFORT – Just as it is often said that games are won or lost during practice, a similar principle applies as well to legislation. Before a bill can clear the House or Senate, it has to make it through a committee first.
That groundwork is especially crucial when it comes to the budget, which Gov. Bevin proposed late last month and the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee began reviewing in-depth last week. The chamber is on track to complete this work and vote by the early days of March.
A chief point being debated is the steepness of the governor’s proposed cuts – nine percent lower than what is being spent this fiscal year – at a time when the economy is improving. Indeed, federal statistics show that Kentucky added 40,200 jobs between Dec. 2014 and Dec. 2015. That includes 4,600 hired by construction companies and 7,800 by manufacturers, two bellwether industries used to gauge consumer confidence.
The administration has said those cuts – which would begin almost immediately but exempt such areas as Medicaid, classrooms, public safety, veterans and public pensions – would be made by the cabinet secretaries. Enacting something of that size, however, deserves more detail and legislative input.
The same goes for authorizing up to $100 million in bonds for undefined workforce development projects and taking up to $500 million from the state’s health insurance trust fund for a use also not described.
Legislators are also questioning flat-lining per-pupil spending for elementary and secondary students for the next two years and reducing state support even further for postsecondary schools, which have sustained a cumulative cut of 16 percent since 2008.
There is broad support in the General Assembly for working with the governor to strengthen our public retirement systems – which would receive most of the money from the cuts – and to improve workforce training, but we need to make sure the final budget is truly a shared vision between the two branches of government and that it continues building the momentum Kentucky has.
While the budget discussions were moving forward last week, the House Judiciary Committee put its support behind legislation that would tackle synthetic drugs like Flakka, which has gained a foothold in the northeast corner of the state. One sheriff testifying for the bill said the effect of this particular drug is the worst he has seen in his career. If House Bill 4 passes, trafficking in or possessing synthetic drugs would lead to much tougher penalties.
Two bills that cleared the entire House last week have been through the chamber before.
House Bill 70 is a constitutional amendment that, if approved by the General Assembly and then voters in November, would automatically restore voting rights to most felons after they serve all aspects of their sentence. Murder, sexually related offenses and election bribery are among the crimes that would be excluded.
Kentucky has some of the strictest laws when it comes to restoring voting rights, and it affects tens of thousands of citizens who have long paid their debt to society. This measure always draws bipartisan support in the House, and there is growing hope this is the year it will clear the Senate as well.
The other legislation familiar to the chamber, House Bill 50, would authorize public benefit corporations, something already available in about 30 other states. As its name implies, this legal designation would give private businesses a chance to better verify their commitment to serving not just their customers but their community as well.
Public benefit corporations do such things as use local suppliers, maximize recycling and energy-saving measures, donate to charity and give their employees time off to volunteer. While some point out that companies can already do these things, public benefit corporations are required to take an extra step by making sure that their investors and the public are regularly aware of how they are meeting their social responsibilities.
Studies show these types of corporations make good business sense in their own right. They generally weathered the country’s recession better than many other companies, and are especially attractive to younger workers who are not only looking for a career but a cause as well.
Under House Bill 172, which passed the House unanimously on Tuesday, widowed spouses who had been married at least five years to a teacher would be able to continue receiving the teacher’s survivor benefits even after re-marrying, something not currently allowed. According to the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System, more than 450 surviving spouses would be potentially affected if this change is enacted.
Although it is still early in the legislative journey for virtually every bill, one did cross the finish line last week, when Governor Bevin signed Senate Bill 4 into law. This will now require those seeking an abortion to have a face-to-face meeting with their doctor the day before, either in person or via video conferencing. This strengthens a late 1990s law that first established these meetings, but which the courts have since allowed to be done through a recorded phone message.
As more bills seek to become law, it is increasingly important to let me know your thoughts. Should you want to write, 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.
I hope to hear from you soon.