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February 29, 2016
This past week in Frankfort, I played a part in a push to promote something we all value: transparency in government. Our caucus attempted to bring the first reading on Senate Bill 45 which would require public disclosure of all retirement benefits for all current and past legislators.
The motion to bring SB 45 up for a reading was done by a procedural floor vote as the bill seems destined to die in committee. “Death” in that sense is exactly what it sounds like. The idea behind the bill is killed and it has no chance of passage.
You would think with all of the pension troubles the state currently faces -- that legislators would welcome initiatives to open up the accountability and improve access to the public on such matters.
If you thought the members of the House would overwhelmingly support opening up the books to allow citizens a view inside their pension system – you would be wrong.
I voted in favor of allowing people to see what legislators collect as pensions, as did 42 other representatives. Eleven members voted against the transparency bill and, now for the most disappointing part of story, over 40 representatives didn’t vote at all.
They just sat there, as if it had nothing at all to do with them. As if it didn’t matter enough to their constituents at home for them to be engaged and participate in the process.
SB 45 passed the Senate earlier this session by a margin of 38-0, with all members voting. Unfortunately, the bill did not enjoy the same success in the House Since where the initiative failed.
Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking on the budget process. The Executive Branch budget is typically not voted on by the House budget committee until after the first week of March, as was the case during the 2012 and 2014 sessions. That is expected to be the case once again this session.
Education is always at the top of our list for funding in a budget session. This year is particularly challenging with the more than $30 billion pension liability Kentucky faces. K-12 education comprises around 44 percent of all state General Fund spending, with postsecondary education claiming a share of around 14 percent. The next largest share of General Fund spending goes to health care—or, specifically, state Medicaid—which claims around 13 percent of General Fund appropriations as we strive to meet the health needs of our citizens.
Tuesday will mark the deadline for any new bill filings and I will be submitting my final two initiatives into the law-making process.
First up, a resolution that would direct our State Transportation department to ask the Federal Government to allow our Kentucky welcome centers to sell Kentucky made items.
Welcome centers could be a showplace for our visitors to see the beautiful and useful items crafted by our skilled artisans and craftspeople. Showcasing the items can also entice travelers to exit the interstate and venture into the towns where the objects are created. It could open opportunities for promotion and spur new dollars being spent in our communities.
Then, finally, on Monday I expect the last few pieces of a proposal to come together that can have wide-ranging impact on jobs in our northeast Kentucky area. Our counties, Carter and Lawrence, are located right on the river and at the crossroads of an industrial corridor that benefits from the skills provided by the men and women from our small communities.
If we are successful in our plan, you will soon be reading more about this bipartisan push to get people back to work at one of the region’s major industrial employers.
If you are following a particular piece of legislation, you can use the Bill Status Line 1-866-840-2835 to track it’s progress or dial 1-800-633-9650 to check meeting schedules if you want to come and sit in on testimony.
By Robert Weber
FRANKFORT -- With the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2016 in its second half, lawmakers have voted on scores of bills, held numerous budget hearings to dig into the governor’s state spending plan and heard many hours of testimony on the major education, health care, and crime issues confronting Kentucky.
But the legislative process is more like a marathon than a sprint, so the final half of our session is sure to see even more action – especially as the state budget comes closer to a vote in the House of Representatives and delivery to the Senate.
The state spending plan was unveiled one month ago by Gov. Matt Bevin, who proposed 4.5 percent budget cuts for the rest of the current fiscal year and 9 percent cuts across state government for the next two fiscal years. The savings are aimed at helping state pension systems meet obligations.
Not all parts of state government would see spending cuts under the governor’s plan. The main school funding formula, known as SEEK, is spared. So is Medicaid, veterans affairs, school district health insurance, student financial aid and more.
Lawmakers serving on budget committees are currently digging deep into the spending plan’s details and continue to seek information from state officials on how proposed spending cuts would affect state services.
Once House members tailor the spending plan into a document they are satisfied with, the budget will receive its turn in the Senate. By session’s end, Senate and House members are expected to meet in conference committee meetings to iron out differences in each chamber’s preferred spending plans.
While the budget is the issue commanding the most attention in Frankfort, many other bills are also working their way through the legislative process. Bills took steps forward this past week on the following issues:
Heroin. Senate Bill 115, would increase penalties for dealing heroin. It would make trafficking in any amount of heroin a Class C felony for the first offense. A Class C felony is punishable upon conviction by between five years and 10 years in prison. Currently, a person convicted of trafficking in under two grams of heroin faces a Class D felony on the first offense, which carries a penalty of one year to five years in prison. SB 115 would also double the time a person convicted of trafficking less than two grams of heroin would have to serve in prison before becoming eligible for parole. The bill calls for a person convicted of any amount of heroin dealing to serve 50 percent of his or her sentence before being considered for parole. The legislation was approved by the Senate and how awaits action in the House.
Life insurance. HB 408 specifies that a law already on the books requiring life insurance companies to make a good-faith effort to locate beneficiaries of death and burial policies should be applied retroactively. The bill passed the House and has been sent to the Senate.
EMS. Senate Bill 43 would create a death benefit for emergency medical services personnel, if they are employed by a city or county government and killed in the line of duty. The death benefit would be $80,000 and go to the next of kin. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration.
Adventure tourism. House Bill 38 would allow recreational zip lines to be regulated. The bill would require the state to set standards for the use and operation of aerial recreational facilities like outdoor zip line and canopy tours should it become law. The bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate.
Dog fighting. Senate Bill 14 would make the owning, possessing, breeding, training, selling or transferring of dogs intended for use in fighting a felony punishable by one year to five years in prison. The bill was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration.
Tenant protection. House Bill 41 would allow victims of domestic violence to get out of a lease with at least 30 days’ notice to their landlord. Additionally, HB 41 would prohibit landlords from denying someone a lease based on the fact that a person has taken out an emergency protective order, domestic violence order or other type of restraining order. The bill also would prohibit landlords from using rental agreements to penalize tenants who request assistance from emergency services and allow a victim to request that locks be changed by the landlord with at least 72 hours’ notice. The bill has been approved by the House. It now awaits consideration in the Senate.
Firefighters. Senate Bill 195 would extend government –paid survivor benefits the families of cancer-stricken firefighters – both professional and volunteer. The $80,000 death benefit would be paid out of the state general fund. Under the legislation, the firefighter would have to be 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years. Their cancer also could not be attributed to a preexisting condition or tobacco. The bill has been approved by the Senate and delivered to the House.
Drones. House Bill 120 would specify in state law that it’s illegal to use a drone to harass someone or for acts of voyeurism, forcible entry, theft or burglary. All offenses would be misdemeanor crimes except harassing conduct, which would be a violation carrying a fine.
The bill would ensure that drone use is allowed for lawful commercial, personal, or law enforcement use. The bill was approved by the House and has been delivered to the Senate.
Next week also marks deadlines for introducing new bills in the House and Senate. At the time of this writing, about 700 bills have been filed for consideration in this year’s 60-day session. With the approaching deadline to add to that number, Capitol observers will soon have an even clearer picture of the range of issues that will be considered in the days to come
That makes this a crucial time for Kentuckians to stay in close touch with their lawmakers and offer feedback on the issues of the day. Citizens can see which bills are under consideration and keep track of their progress by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov. Kentuckians can also share their thoughts with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC), met with Rep. Rick Rand, chairman of the House appropriations and revenue committee, on Thursday, February 18 at the Capitol.
“I am thankful that Rep. Rand took the time out of his busy schedule to meet with me,” said Dr. Stephenson. Rep. Rand was interested in Dr. Stephenson’s opinion of performance-based funding since he has worked in two states (Alabama and Missouri) where that had been implemented. “He understands the importance of community and technical colleges in regards to community, economic and workforce development.”
Since 2008, BSCTC’s state appropriation has been slashed 22 percent, or around $1.9 million. Under the governor’s proposed budget, the college would lose an additional 9 percent.
Dr. Stephenson said the college has implemented stringent cost-cutting measures to alleviate the burden of the cuts being passed on to students. Last year, all 16 colleges that comprise the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) did not raise tuition. Every other public institution in the state raised tuition and fees.
“Despite the cuts from our state appropriations, we have remained student focused and results driven,” added Dr. Stephenson. Since 2008, BSCTC has served more than 24,000 first-generation college students and have increased the number of degrees and credentials awarded by 156 percent.
Dr. Stephenson said that BSCTC and other community and technical colleges cannot fuel the economies of the Commonwealth on an empty tank.
“A reinvestment in community and technical colleges sends a stern message that Kentucky is open for business and ready to compete and thrive in the global economy,” said Dr. Stephenson. “Our future and the future of our children is dependent on it.”
"...We will meet March 5th from 10-4 at the community center downtown. This takes the place of the primary election for president and will be the only time republicans will be able to vote for a presidential candidate as they will not be on the ballot in the May primary.
The Ky Republican party is expecting about a 20 percent statewide turnout. For Lawrence County that should be in the neighborhood of 800 to 900 voters. We expect to have as many as 6 lines for people to register based upon their last names. It will be a paper ballot and will be counted and results sent to the Ky Republican party which is expecting to release state wide results around 7:00pm.
This (caucus) was originally done to allow Rand Paul to run for President and the U.S. Senate at the same time as he could only be on the primary ballot once. Most of the statewide people view this as a positive because usually by the time we vote in May the race has already been decided.
A Caucus is new to most of us but I am looking forward to it. It is an open process and Democrats and other nonregistered voters are welcome at the Caucus if they are interested to see how it works.
The vote is proportioned so it is not winner take all. Delegates will be sent to the state convention to vote based on the percentage of votes they receive statewide. If you need to reach me my new number is 606-939-4523.
Chris Jobe and a lot of the county clerks statewide are worried that a lot of voters, particulary some of the older ones, will not realize that this is the only opportunity they will have to vote for a presidential candidate.
But this caucus is run completely by the Ky Republican party and has nothing to do with the County Clerks with exception of the voter rolls. To vote in the primary you had to be registered Republican as of Dec. 31st 2015."
Lawrence Co. Chairman
Editor's Note: This is a national report from The Rural Blog but since Kentucky has initiated Ky Wired, which will place high speed internet all over the state beginning in Ashland and then Lawrence County, there is no reason not to use this federal program along with Ky Wired for our schools to operate their own service with very little cost. The money saved should be used to purchase laptops for all students as well as other tech devices. It is also time to begin teaching coding and other tech skills in our LCHS vocational department instead of coal mining which is gone and will probably not return as it once was.
Pressure from FCC could bring high-speed Internet to rural and under-served areas via schools
In November Education Week reported on how rural schools in northern Mississippi are paying big bucks for the state's slowest Internet. Education Week and PBS Newshour teamed up to re-visit the region and see what's being done to fix that, and use it as an example of a national problem. Correspondent John Tulenko visited Calhoun County (World Atlas map), which covers nearly 600 square miles of mostly farmland.
C.J. Weddle, a 17-year-old high school student who said she plans to get a four-year college degree, told Tulenko, "The Internet is very contrary at Vardaman High School. You have good, you have bad days, but at Vardaman, you have more bad than good. History classes are limited to books and worksheets. Well, you don’t do research on significant figures in history or significant figures the government now, and that—I think that’s really going to hurt us later. You know, why be limited to that, when there’s a whole world at your fingertips or potentially could be?"
Tulenko writes, "The Internet here is slow because it comes via old copper wires running for miles underground. Even though high-speed cables have been laid by a phone company on one side of the district, on the other side, a second company has said upgrading its service is too expensive. Without those new cables, there is no high-speed Internet for schools and students."
"But help could come from new changes to the $4 billion federal E-Rate program, which helps schools pay for Internet service," Tulenko reports. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, "led an effort to overhaul the E-Rate program, in part by giving districts like Calhoun County the option to use federal funds to build fiber networks of their own, pressuring local telecoms to offer better deals. Recently, Calhoun County became the test case, one of the first districts to seek federal funds to build a new fiber network that included the option of a build-out of its own."
Wheeler told Tulenko, "School administrators say, I’m not going to put up with it anymore, that I’m being told it’s too expensive, or I’m being told it can’t be built. But you actually can take the situation, and the FCC will help you take that situation in your hand by funding it, that’s a game-changer. ... What we did was, we said, 'OK, schools, if you’re not being provided service or not being provided service at a reasonable rate by your local provider, you can build it yourself.'"
But as often happens when telecommunications companies are threatened with government competition, they agree to provide broadband that the had said wasn't economically viable. "Schools here won’t have to build their own network," Tulenko reports. "By inviting outside companies to bid on the job or come in with their own fiber, the district was able to secure a more attractive contract from its local providers to complete the job. But it will take some time, maybe a year." (PBS video)
Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 2/18/2016 03:12:00 PM