yonts a 300FRANKFORT, Ky. (2/2/14) – The entire state and nation, and indeed the world, came together to mourn the tragic death of Larea Nicole Watson and eight of her children in last Thursday’s fire near Doss Road in Greenville.

I cannot imagine the heartbreak that Chad Watson and his only surviving child, 11-year-old Kylie, feel as they themselves try to heal from their injuries, but I know everyone in Muhlenberg County is there for them and grieving with them—myself and my family included. They are in need of our prayers and our support, including financial support.

The “Calvary Baptist Church Watson Family Fund” has been set up at Old National Bank for Chad and Kylie to help them with their medical and other expenses. Please give generously and, again, keep the family in your prayers.

Budget review subcommittees are starting to dissect details in a proposed $20.3 billion state budget bill that will take center stage during this winter blitz of sorts that we call the Kentucky General Assembly’s “biennial budget session.”

The Office of the State Budget Director came before the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee last week and broke down the proposed spending bill for fiscal years 2014-2016, now in lawmakers’ possession. As it stands now, the proposal—found in House Bill 235—includes $19.8 billion in expected General Fund revenue, $370 million in fund transfers, $166.8 million in savings from Obamacare, $98.6 million in state spending cuts (including five percent cuts for most state agencies and 2.5 percent cuts for state universities and the state police), $69.5 carryover from fiscal year 2014, and $49.5 in others resources or funding lapses.

The budget as proposed would not rely on funding from expanded gaming, the state’s “rainy day fund”—which is the state Budget Reserve Trust Fund of $98 million—or any tax reform. But it remains to be seen what direction we will take on expanded gaming, with bills on that issue pending in the House and Senate, and on other budgetary measures that may have a chance of making their way this winter to the governor’s desk.

One bill that would impact the budgets of private business—and boost incomes for over 300,000 Kentucky workers now making the state minimum wage of $7.25 per hour—cleared the House Labor and Industry Committee last Thursday along with a bill to raise the minimum wage for tipped wage workers.

HB 1 would raise the non-tipped state minimum wage from the current state and federal rate of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour incrementally by July 2016. The first increase to $8.10 would occur this year, followed by an increase to $9.15 in July 2015 and then $10.10 the next year. It would also promote pay equity by requiring workers be paid equal wages for equal work with few exceptions based on seniority, merit pay, or productivity-based measures. HB 191 would raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 to $3 this year, then incrementally each year until it reaches 70 percent of the state minimum wage for non-tipped workers.

Lively debate, as they say, is expected on both these bills as they reach the House floor—liveliness born from the fact that, while many lawmakers favor boosting wages for low-paid workers, many also want to protect business from being burdened by additional costs. It is the age-old ideological clash of government vs. private enterprise, and it can be titanic depending on the players. We shall see how both bills fare in the current budgetary climate at the Capitol and across the Commonwealth.

A bill that would help struggling Kentucky mortgage holders cleared the House unanimously last week with the passage of HB 206. Should the bill become law in its current form, it would authorize an original mortgage to secure payment of interest rate reductions, renewals, and extensions without requiring a trip to the bank to sign the paperwork.

Finance was also the focus of another bill, HB 154, which cleared the House 58-41 last Wednesday. That bill, in general, would increase annual in-service training for school board members, set school finance and ethic training hours for superintendents, and require districts to provide both monthly and annual financial reports to be place on public web sites.  It would also require certification of Kentucky’s school finance officers. Both HB 154 and HB 206 are now before the Senate for its consideration.

A bipartisan measure that would allow low-level one-time felons to petition the courts to seal (or “expunge”) their felony records so many years after completion of their sentence or probation also cleared House committee last week, as did a bipartisan bill to create a “rebuttable presumption” that certain cancers are occupational diseases for paid and volunteer firefighters. The presumption could lead to paid compensation for firefighters disabled or killed by those cancers, which are spelled out in the bill, and would only apply to firefighters who do not currently use tobacco products and did not use them for 10 years immediately preceding his or her cancer diagnosis.

I will have more to share next week on what is happening in Frankfort, and other news as applicable. Please continue to stay up-to-date on all legislative action of interest to you throughout the 2014 Regular Session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835.

For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. Thank you.

SurfKY News
Information provided by Rep. Brent Yonts

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