February 7, 2014

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

FRANKFORT – Seven years after the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to raise the state’s minimum wage, the Kentucky House of Representatives returned to the issue on Thursday when it passed legislation that follows a similar path taken by that 2007 law.

This is an issue that is drawing a lot of attention across the country. The National Conference of State Legislatures says 23 states considered raising it 2013, and Kentucky is one of 20 doing the same this year, with more expected in the months ahead.

Those who would benefit from House Bill 1 include the 60,000 Kentucky workers who earn the minimum wage or less, plus several hundred thousand others whose hourly pay is just above that threshold.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of those earning $7.25 an hour or less in Kentucky are female, and a little more than half are older than 22. Almost a third works full-time, meaning they earn about $15,000 annually before taxes. Another study from a year ago found that one in five Kentucky children has a parent making the minimum wage.

Surveys indicate there is a lot of support to increase these workers’ pay. Last year, for example, Gallup found that three out of four Americans favored raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

Under House Bill 1, it would rise by 95 cents a year until 2016, which mirrors the three-step approach the state took between 2007 and 2009.

This legislation also would expand the exemption that keeps many of the state’s smallest businesses from falling under the minimum wage law. That exemption is now $95,000 in gross sales – a figure that has not changed since the 1970s – but it would rise to $500,000 if this bill is approved, meaning many more businesses would qualify if they meet the other requirements.

House Bill 1 also would broaden the rules against wage discrimination, better ensuring workers are not penalized financially because of such things as their gender or race.

Shortly after the House sent this legislation to the Senate, it voted for a companion bill that would raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, a group that includes waiters, waitresses, bellhops and bartenders. Their base wage – $2.13 an hour – has been the same since 1991.

House Bill 191 calls for that figure to rise incrementally until it is 70 percent of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.

While these two bills were the main focus of last week, there were several others making it through the House that are important as well in their own right.

That includes House Bill 228, which would require the governor to make sure that men and women are represented as equally as possible in the appointments the governor makes to the state’s numerous boards and commissions.

House Bill 81, meanwhile, would extend to legislative staff a work-related incentive program that has proven to be popular among Executive Branch employees. Their suggestions have saved the state millions of dollars, earning them a bonus as a result.

In an effort to better prepare high school students for adulthood, House Bill 77 would have the students receive instruction in financial literacy before graduating, beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

As for college, House Bill 261 would give our public postsecondary schools more control over construction on their campuses. It would do this by letting them move forward on projects not in the state’s budget if they have the money to pay for it.

This legislation, which has been through the House several times before, dovetailed with a press conference Governor Beshear held early last week with the leaders of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

The governor’s proposed budget would authorize nearly $200 million worth of projects at KCTCS’s 16 main colleges, the first widespread update since the school system was formed in the late 1990s.

This far-reaching initiative was brought to the governor by school officials, and it would involve no state tax dollars. Instead, the schools would cover nearly three-fourths of the costs themselves, with the remainder raised from other public or private sources. If this moves forward, it would go a long way to improving services for the 92,000 students attending these schools.

Like the remainder of the governor’s budget, this proposal is now being reviewed by the House’s Appropriations and Revenue Committee. It should finish its work within the next several weeks, and a vote by the House will follow thereafter.

As we move forward with our work, I want to continue encouraging you to let me know your thoughts on the issues being debated by the General Assembly. If you would like to write, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; you can email me atRick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 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