Senate Week in Review
Submitted By Reginald L. Thomas
FRANKFORT — What should be the state’s spending priorities for the next two fiscal years? Should Kentucky give felons a clearer path to having rights restored after they have fulfilled their sentences? Should public and private partnerships be formed to work together on large projects?
Many of the big questions confronting our state were taken up and voted on in the Senate Chamber this week, the 12th week of the General Assembly’s 2016 session. As is typical in the home stretch of a legislative session, the number of bills moving through chambers and delivered to the governor’s desk continued to increase with each passing day.
The Senate’s big issue of the week, though, was undoubtedly the state budget. No one is denying that the budget process is difficult because every decision affects real people across the state. As we debated differences in the House and Senate budget proposals, I found that the cuts in the Senate Majority plan were too deep and could not support that plan.
As I said to my colleagues when I stood on the Senate floor on Wednesday to express my concerns, this budget shoots a hole in the city of Lexington and our growth will be stunted. The plan removed a provision for issuing $60 million in bonds for renovations to the Lexington Convention Center. The House’s plan proposed adopting a hotel and motel tax for funding the project – not use the general fund. Furthermore, the Senate’s plan mirrored the governor’s cuts to the University of Kentucky and other public education institutions. I could not, in good conscience, support this plan.
At the time of this writing, members of the Senate and House are meeting in a conference committee to iron out differences in each chambers’ spending proposals. The goal is to craft a plan that both chambers can agree on before the veto recess. I am optimistic that we will find a solution that will protect education, shore up the state employee and teacher retirement plans, enhance the economic development of Lexington, and invest in our infrastructure, while looking out for our most vulnerable citizens.
In other business, the Senate approved a measure that would let voters decide on a proposed amendment to the state constitution regarding the restoration of rights to felons who have paid their debt to society. The measure, Senate Bill 299, would place a proposed amendment on this year’s November ballot that, if approved, would allow the General Assembly to set guidelines for restoring felon voting rights.
Another major issue approved by the Senate this week concerns public-private partnerships, also known as P3s. House Bill 309 would establish oversight and a framework for the use of public-private partnerships as an alternative funding source for major projects. Among the safeguards set up by the bill is the requirement that state projects costing more than $25 million be approved by the General Assembly and the establishment of the Kentucky Local Government Public-Private Partnership Board to review P3 deals with local governments.
Other bills that took steps forward in the Senate this week include:
· Senate Bill 256 would allow high school students participating in basic training required by a branch of the United States Armed Forces to be considered present for all purposes for up to ten days.
· Senate Bill 245 would bring Kentucky’s state ID program into compliance with federal standards. The legislation would make REAL ID-compliant state-issued identification available to Kentuckians. REAL ID is a federal program adopted in 2005 that would come close to establishing a national proof-of-identity program. By 2018, flyers from states that are not REAL ID compliant nor have an extension – or those individuals who do not choose to obtain an enhanced ID – will need a second form of identification to fly domestically. By 2020, all flyers will require enhanced identification.
· House Bill 38 would require the state to set standards for the use and operation of aerial recreational facilities like outdoor ziplines and canopy tours. The legislation was drafted with input from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which would set the standards and regulate ziplines and related forms of entertainment. The department could rely on industry standards and third-party inspections when setting requirements, and could set fees to help administer those requirements.
· House Bill 115 would expand eligibility for screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines.
· House Bill 59 would make it easier for those at risk of violence to shield their home addresses from people who could harm them. The measure would allow people at risk of violence to apply for a substitute address without first obtaining a domestic violence order. A sworn statement would suffice.
As a growing number of bills were moving through legislative chambers this week, others were being delivered to the governor’s office to be signed into law. Some of the legislation delivered to the governor included:
· Senate Bill 43 would make the survivors of emergency medical services providers who are killed in the line of duty eligible for the state lump-sum death benefits.
· Senate Bill 63, the SAFE Act of 2016, would eliminate a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault examination kits dating back to the 1970s. This is a step forward to give victims justice.
· Senate Bill 195 would extend state-paid survivor benefits to surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters by determining that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty.
On Tuesday, we recognized the 75th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were dedicated, determined young men who enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps to become America’s first black military airmen, considered to be an experiment. The Tuskegee Airmen protected freedom in more than 1,200 missions. It was an honor to welcome these heroes to Frankfort, including Frank Weaver of Louisville who was an original Tuskegee Airmen and a World War II veteran. The Senate passed my Senate Resolution 188 honoring these brave airmen and adjourned the Senate in their honor.
With only a few more working days remaining, the session is quickly winding down. There is s still time, though, for important measures to become law. I encourage you to take this opportunity to have your voice heard in this legislative session. You can leave me a message by calling the legislative message line at 800-372-7181 or e-mailing me at email@example.com.
Prepared in part by LRC Public Information Office