FRANKFORT – While much of the public’s interest in the General Assembly’s work is understandably focused on the first few months of the year, when new laws are adopted, most of the remaining weeks on the calendar play an important role as well in the legislative process.
We call this period the interim, and it runs from June through the first half of December. Although no official action is taken, this time nonetheless gives us a chance to hear from constituents and state officials in a less-hectic environment and to review the progress of new laws and whether future changes are needed. That preparation makes our job much easier when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol each January.
There are 14 main House and Senate committees that meet jointly during the interim, while 10 other statutory committees permanently monitor various areas of government, including Medicaid and the hundreds of administrative regulations that state agencies write each year. A new statutory committee created this year will focus on the welfare of Kentucky’s children.
On Friday last week, the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary kicked off this part of the legislative calendar with an agenda centered on the expungement process that helps those convicted of certain crimes get their lives back on track after they have paid their debt to society.
Later this year, that committee will almost certainly discuss the constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law. Voters will have a chance to ratify it in November, and if it is approved, victims will have more of a voice in the legal system regarding cases in which they are involved.
One of the interim committees expected to be especially busy this summer is Appropriations and Revenue, which writes the state’s two-year budget and which this year also spearheaded a major overhaul of our tax code.
Since the fiscal year ends this month, the committee will soon hear from the state budget office about whether we ended with a surplus or deficit in revenues. Based on recent reports, it looks like we’ll be a little over projections, which is good news.
The tax changes taking effect next month, however, will make predictions more difficult in the months ahead because of the uncertain impact the changes will have. I strongly opposed this law during the legislative session because of the added burden it will place on working families, which will soon find it more expensive to repair a vehicle, exercise at a fitness center or take care of their pets. Many retirees will also see their state income-tax exemption drop by a fourth.
I will discuss these changes further in future column, but for now, state officials did announce a website on Thursday designed to answer questions you might have. It can be accessed online at TaxAnswers.ky.gov.
Another major change taking effect this summer, and that the General Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee will be closely monitoring, is Governor Bevin’s Medicaid waiver, which has received federal approval but could still be blocked by the courts.
If the waiver is not dismissed, it will begin in Northern Kentucky next month and eventually cover the entire state by early 2019. Those enrolled in Medicaid who qualify will fall under the waiver’s new work, volunteer and premium-paying requirements.
A third major issue expected to dominate the interim is school safety. Legislative leaders recently created a new working group to focus on what more the state can do to keep students and school staff safe, and its first meeting is being held this week. A final report is due at the end of the year.
Other issues expected to be covered this summer and fall include whether Kentucky should consider legalizing medical marijuana; the progress of a 2016 program designed to benefit disabled veterans who own a business; and the potential impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing states to regulate betting on sports.
There may not be any new laws approved between now and the holidays, but as these examples show, there is still plenty of work for the General Assembly to do during this time.
Like the legislative sessions, your input in this process is extremely important, so I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the state. You can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
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 such things as committee meeting schedules, please visit the General Assembly’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov.