FRANKFORT – This week, the General Assembly returns to the Capitol for a single day to wrap up the 2016 legislative session.
While this time traditionally has been set aside just to consider whether the House and Senate should override any vetoes a governor might issue, we have begun in recent years to also use this time to vote on other bills that were unresolved before the veto recess. This year, the biggest of those is the state’s two-year budget.
As you may recall, negotiations between legislative leaders stalled over a fundamental disagreement. In the House, we believe education – from preschool to postsecondary – should be protected if state revenues are growing and our sizable public pension costs can be met. The Senate and Governor Bevin disagree when it comes to higher education, even as their own budget proposals call for hundreds of millions of dollars to be set aside in reserves that extend beyond what the state needs for emergencies.
House and Senate leaders met last week with the governor and our public postsecondary presidents to see if a compromise was possible, and House leaders offered a plan that attempts to protect higher education from severe cuts while trying to get a budget enacted. My hope remains that a deal can still be reached.
Our work is not complete until a budget is signed into law, but as we wait on its outcome, the legislative session was a success in many other ways.
One new law, for example, will put Kentucky in line with more than 30 other states that already have public-private partnerships. Like it sounds, P3 is designed to make it easier for state and local governments to work with the private sector to build projects the government cannot take on alone or to run services like a utility.
Some of this can already be done, but this law will standardize the process statewide while making it more transparent and accountable to the public. With the federal government providing less resources than it has in the past, states are turning to P3 to boost their infrastructure. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is among the concept’s leading advocates.
Another new law will crack down on repeat DUI offenders by doubling the look-back period from five years to 10. Because each successive DUI leads to additional penalties, this law should make it easier to take repeat offenders off the road and hopefully lead many to treatment.
According to law enforcement, there were more than 15,000 first-time DUI offenders last year and 3,300 who were convicted for a second offense. The numbers for a third offense topped 700, and for a fourth DUI, which is a Class D felony, the total was 82. With a longer look-back period, the numbers of repeat offenders will undoubtedly rise.
Under another new law, the goal is to make a second set of numbers go down. In this case, the General Assembly is establishing a framework to reduce the estimated 3,100 rape kits that the state auditor’s office said last year had not been tested. This law will reduce that backlog and ultimately ensure that kits in the future will undergo forensic testing within 60 days. Other states have faced similar issues and have shown it is possible to make this work.
In another criminal-justice matter, many Class D felons will have a chance to expunge their record, making it easier for them to apply for jobs or volunteer in school. The House has supported this concept for years, because thousands of Kentuckians are still paying for a crime that may have occurred decades earlier.
This legislation will apply to about 70 percent of Class D felony convictions, with violent or sex-related offenses not included. For those who do qualify, the process cannot begin until at least five years have passed since the end of their punishment, and they cannot have been charged with another crime. Prosecutors and, if possible, victims will be notified as part of the expungement process.
Some of the other bills the General Assembly approved this year will:
· Re-align 9-1-1 fees on mobile/internet-based phones so local governments are less burdened with the cost of providing this emergency service;
· Help our fast-growing distilleries, breweries and wineries by increasing production limits and making it easier for them to serve their customers;
· Add emergency medical workers to the professions eligible for lump-sum death benefits from the state if they are killed in the line of duty. Law enforcement and firefighters are those already covered;
· Make it possible for the judiciary to start a pilot program to open up most juvenile hearings; and
· Establish a disabled veteran-owned business program, so the public will be more aware of these companies. Another new law calls on professional organizations to consider qualified military training when granting licenses or certificates.
Although the legislative session is over this week, it is never too late to let me know your views on issues affecting the state. You can always reach me by writing to 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.