We’re in the homestretch of the 2016 session of the Kentucky General Assembly with just a handful of days to go, but as all good horse-racing fans know, the last quarter mile can often seem the longest and most difficult.
The process is working as expected, though, as members appointed by senior leadership in both the House and Senate continue to seek a compromise on the state’s next two-year budget in a conference committee delegated to that task. At issue are the considerable differences in the two spending plans recently passed in each chamber.
The Senate removed critical funding that the House restored to assist with dropout prevention, textbook purchases and professional training for teachers, as well as funds to expand preschool opportunities to more working families. The House’s new “Work Ready” Scholarship Program, passed overwhelmingly in our chamber, was also removed by the Senate. This exciting initiative seeks to assist more than 3,200 high school students attend a KCTCS college this fall in an effort to create a reliable, well-trained workforce, something Kentucky’s business community continues to express as a major priority.
It’s my hope that steps will be taken in the conference committee to soften the blow of some of these cuts so that we can invest in Kentucky’s future and provide the education and workforce development opportunities necessary to help our economy grow.
Over $1 billion to fully fund the KTRS ARC, or “actuarially required contribution,” over the next two years without bonding is included in the House version of the Executive Branch budget bill, HB 303, although exactly how much funding the system will receive — and how the ARC is funded — is subject to change as differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget are worked out in the session’s last days.
Another bill headed the Senate’s way is HB 1, a teachers’ retirement bill to require that state employers pay 100 percent of the additional contribution rate needed to fund the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System at a fiscally sound level. An amendment was proposed to HB 1 before the vote on the bill that would have phased in full funding of the KTRS ARC over four years with recurring revenue. That amendment was defeated along a largely party-line vote of 44-53, and the bill passed the body by a vote of 86-11.
With all this attention to Kentucky’s bottom line, there’s also a flurry of activity as we work in committee and on the House floor to reconcile differences and consider approval of dozens of bills flowing back and forth between the two legislative chambers.
As the budget conference committee hunkered down to work late Thursday, the list of bills passing both the House and Senate and sent to the Governor by week’s end continued grow and included, but was not limited to SB 19, which would allow firefighters with certain types of lung or other cancer presumed to be tied to their employment to be eligible for lump-sum state benefits is also awaiting the Governor’s signature.
A bill aimed at increasing governmental transparency passed favorably out of the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday. House Bill 80, sponsored by Rep. Chris Harris, narrows open records exemptions for private firms providing public services. The bill would require entities offering services traditionally performed by government agencies and receiving at least a quarter of their revenue from taxpayers to adhere to the same open records laws as their government counterparts. The legislation, which recently passed the House on a 92-0 vote, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
On Wednesday, we approved legislation that could increase felony convictions for DUI offenders by allowing the courts to “look back” at 10 years of prior convictions. Kentucky law requires those convicted of a fourth offense DUI within five years to be charged with a felony. Under current law, the clock for determining penalties for offenders is reset after five years. Senate Bill 56 would extend that so-called “look-back” period to allow more habitual offenders to face stiffer penalties. The measure passed 98-0 and now goes to the governor for his signature.
As we are nearing the finishing line on this legislative session, I hope you’ll contact me with your opinions and suggestions by emailing [email protected] or calling the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. Throughout this session, I’ve sought to represent the interests of Breckinridge, Hancock and Hardin counties in the 10th House District and thank you for this opportunity to serve.