Legislative Update …

Posted February 5, 2020 at 3:28 pm

Governor gives funding plans in budget address

A question has echoed through the Capitol’s corridors the last couple of weeks: How would the new governor propose to pay for initiatives he’s unveiled? The answer came during the governor’s budget address before a joint session of the Senate and House on Jan. 28.

Additional money for education, health care, protecting children, public pension, state employee raises, blighted communities, first responders and social service agencies would come from nearly $1.256 billion in revenue over and above the last budget. That’s a figure that wasn’t expected.

Traditionally, governors brief legislators in advance of their budget addresses. That didn’t happen this time. That’s made it hard to digest the figures in the proposed budget so quickly after the address.

To get an idea of the staggering numbers that have to be examined, consider this: The state will spend about $12 billion in general funds and $14 billion in federal funds – just this year. And the Kentucky Constitution calls on us to pass a 24-month budget this spring to begin on July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

One thing that did jump out was what the governor proposed to fund in the School Safety and Resiliency Act, considered one of the marquee pieces of legislation out of the Senate last year. The proposed budget would cover the $18.2 million the Kentucky School Board Association said is needed to “harden schools” – a reference to investments in physical safety measures such as reinforced doors.

What wasn’t funded was the “softer approach” to school safety – a reference to provisions to address the mental health of students. That means there is no additional money to pay for more school counselors and mental health service providers.

The House gets the first crack at the budget bills. The bills are referred to the influential House Appropriations & Revenue Committee where they are amended. Once the bills are passed out of committee, they go to the full House. As the budget bills are each passed by a majority of House members, they are sent to the Senate where they follow the same procedures.

It’s during these processes legislators can cut through the weeds of financial jargon and study the documents with diligence and discipline. How do we best impact the lives of everyday Kentuckians? That’s one of the questions asked during the budgeting process. This is, after all, taxpayer dollars.

Majority caucus leadership has publicly said they intend to pass a budget before April 1, giving the legislature the ability to override any line-item vetoes to the budget.

In other significant milestones reached during the fourth week of this long, 60-day session, three bills deemed a priority by majority caucus leadership passed out of the chamber.

Senate Bill 6 is a measure that would address legislative pension enhancements, sometimes called “spiking.” The legislation would prohibit state lawmakers who contributed to the Legislators’ Retirement Plan from June 20, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2013 from using salary credited in another state retirement system to determine final compensation in the legislators’ plan. The effective date for SB 6 would be July 1 of this year.

SB 6 would not be retroactive and would not apply to any legislator who took office since January 1, 2014. That’s because they participate in a hybrid cash balance plan that was approved by the General Assembly in 2013. SB 6 passed by a 35-0-2 vote.

Senate Bill 8 would require school resource officers (SROs) to be armed with a gun. The measure is considered an addition to the School Safety and Resiliency Act.

SB 8 would clarify who can serve as a district’s school safety coordinator, which school facilities are required to have SROs, who produces an active shooter training video and when classroom doors can be left unlocked.

The mental health provisions of the bill specify that the goal is to have at least one school counselor per public school and to have at least one school counselor, or school-based mental health services provider, for every 250 students. It passed by a 34-1 vote.

Senate Bill 9 would require that a child born alive – under any circumstance – be given the appropriate medical care to preserve the infant’s life. SB 9, titled the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, would also formalize that any born-alive infant shall be treated as a legal person in state statutes. Another provision would ban scientific research on born-alive infants. It passed by a 32-0 vote.

In yet another milestone, the week saw the Senate pass the first House Bill. The legislation, known as House Bill 236, would conform Kentucky’s hemp laws to federal guidelines that changed after the passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. That bill removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, which allowed farmers across the nation to grow hemp legally.

Other provisions of HB 236 would expand the number of laboratories authorized to test the state’s hemp crop for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive component found in hemp and other types of cannabis. THC testing of the state’s hemp crop is now handled by the University of Kentucky, which has experienced a testing backlog over the past year.

A Senate floor amendment to a provision concerning the transportation of hemp extract between production facilities means HB 236 goes back to the House for consideration of the change.

Other bills that passed the Senate this week include:

Senate Bill 57, dubbed the water fountain bill, would eliminate the requirement that a bottle filling station be installed during school renovations. Only newly constructed schools would have to have the stations. It was filed after some schools interpreted current law to mean the stations had to be included during security upgrades called for in the School Safety and Resiliency Act. It passed by a 35-0 vote.

Senate Bill 64 would require the state finance cabinet to indemnify county attorneys for the money they spend defending state laws. There is already a law on the books that require fiscal courts to reimburse county attorneys for legal fees associated with defending county government.

SB 64 brings clarity to an area of law that has brought cost and confusion to county prosecutors across the state. That’s because some county attorneys have been responsible for the cost of defending lawsuits that arise out of the work they do on behalf of enforcing state laws. It passed by a 35-0 vote.

Senate Bill 74 would allow police to seek a search warrant for blood alcohol concentration tests in all driving under the influence (DUI) investigations. Under current law, police can only seek a search warrant for the tests in DUI investigations that involve serious injury or death.

Kentucky motorists can have their licenses taken for refusing to take the tests under current law, but the penalties have been somewhat blunted by the use of ignition interlocks. Those are Breathalyzer-type devices connected to the ignition systems of vehicles. That’s because motorists charged with DUI can sometimes get back behind the wheel by agreeing to install the devices. SB 74 passed by a 31-4 vote.

Senate Bill 79 would clarify language in the child abuse and neglect checks for new hires in school districts. These checks are required for public school employees, student teachers, contractors and school-based-decision-making council members. SB 79 is designed to ensure due process for prospective employees who are facing accusations of child abuse or neglect. It passed by a 35-0 vote.

Between now and the end of the session on April 15, feel free to give lawmakers feedback on these bills or other pending legislation by visiting the Kentucky Legislature website at www.legislature.ky.gov, clicking on the “legislators” dropdown menu in the upper left corner and selecting “contact a member.”

To those of you who have reached out to my office in the past weeks, thank you for staying engaged during these early weeks of session. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call the toll-free line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov. You can review the Legislature’s work online at www.legislature.ky.gov

Note: Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties. He is the chairman of the Education Committee; as well as co-chairman of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee. Senator Wise is also a member of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee; the Public Assistance Reform Task Force; the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.