KENTUCKY (3/25/12) – Budget negotiations began in earnest this week after the Senate last week voted out an amended version of the state biennial budget plan that was approved by the House in early March.
The Executive Branch budget proposal in House Bill 265 approved by the Senate includes the 8.4 percent cuts and exemptions found in the House proposal, and support for communities that were damaged by recent tornadoes, but it cuts several bond projects that were part of the House plan—effectively reducing proposed bonded indebtedness from $552 million in the House plan to $391 million in the Senate plan. The Senate plan would mandate a reduction of nearly $100 million in contract spending over the next two years.
Most of the rest of the bill looked like the House proposal: Additional money to reduce the case loads of social workers, more than $4 million in proposed funding to expand the state’s electronic prescription drug monitoring system known as KASPER, no salary or cost of living (COLA) increases for state employees and or state retirees. (Members of the teachers’ retirement system—or KTRS—would still get their COLA. The KTRS COLA is prefunded for that retirement system, unlike COLAs for state retirees.) The Senate passed the Legislative and Judicial branch budget bills, which also propose an 8.4 percent cut to each branch’s operational budget, without changes.
The remaining few days in this 60 day legislative session will be devoted to finishing our work on HB 265 and other critical bills still awaiting compromise. Those include legislation that comprises the state’s Transportation Cabinet budget and the state Road Plan for the next two years.
The Transportation budget found in HB 266, which cleared the House last Friday, March 16, includes an estimated $3.5 billion for Kentucky’s road needs over the next biennium. The Road Plan—in a separate but related bill, HB 267—would authorize around $2.8 billion in state-supported highway construction and maintenance and federally-supported construction projects through fiscal year 2014.
Projects in the Road Plan are prioritized based on special designations. The highest priority projects are those to be completed with highway bonds authorized by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010. The bill also spells out how projects would be prioritized should any unanticipated federal highway dollars become available.
Joining HB 266 and HB 267 in the Senate now is House Joint Resolution 77. That legislation includes projects we recommend for funding between fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2018, the four “out” years of the Road Plan.
Combined with HB 267, the projects in the resolution make up the six-year plan the General Assembly is required to approve every two years as part of the biennial budget process. HJR 77 cleared the House by a vote of 89-4, also on March 16.
Rebuilding Kentucky communities damaged or destroyed by recent tornadoes and storms is the impetus behind legislation that passed the House last Thursday. HB 165, which cleared the House 96-0 and now goes to the Senate, would offer a refund on sales and use tax paid on materials used to rebuild in storm-ravaged counties that are declared to be federal disaster areas as a result of storms that hit the state between Feb. 29 and March 3. But the legislation goes further than that.
HB 165 also reaches out to school districts and their staff in those disaster areas by allowing the state’s education commissioner to waive up to 10 instructional days missed as a result of the storms. The “disaster” declaration would preserve schools’ state funding, while ensuring that all school personnel receive salary, wages and benefits for those days. School personnel would make up the work, although possibly in areas different from those to which they are regularly assigned.
Legislation that would help those who have been forced to leave their homeland due to war or other pressures and who have come to the U.S. seeking a fresh start was also addressed by the House last week. HB 183 cleared the full House by a vote of 84-8 last Monday. It would allow—but not require—local school districts to enroll refugees and legal resident aliens in their high schools, even if the students would be over 21 years of age by the time they receive their diploma. Current law allows students to attend public school until they reach 21.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that students as old as age 25, or even older, could attend high school with 14-year-old freshmen under the bill. But proponents of the measure say most if not all students affected by the bill would receive their diploma by age 21 or 22, based on statistics. HB 183 is now before the Senate for consideration.
Senate bills that made their way through the House and to the governor’s desk last week include a measure that would help prevent fatalities involving larger vans by requiring passengers in them to use seat belts.
SB 89, which was sent to the governor after passing the House 61-33 last Tuesday, was filed in response to a 2010 crash on I-65 near Munfordville that killed 10 members of a Mennonite family who were riding in a 15-seat van when it collided with a tractor trailer. Reports indicated that most of the van’s passengers were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. Current state law only requires seat belt use in vans designed to carry 10 or fewer people.
Another Senate bill that cleared the House last week is SB 92, an agricultural bill that would create separate legal definitions for stockyards and buying stations—facilities that offer stockyard services, but are managed as a private livestock market. The bill would also set up new regulatory requirements for both stockyards and buying stations, and would require market agencies to be licensed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. SB 92 passed the House 93-0 and now goes to the governor for his signature.
A Senate measure that would establish a statewide “Blue Alert” system to help law enforcement apprehend someone suspected of killing, wounding or abducting a law enforcement officer cleared the House Transportation Committee last week.
The Blue Alert system envisioned by SB 32 would broadcast identifying information similar to that sent out under the Amber Alert system now in place for missing children. Blue Alerts would be issued only upon request of a law enforcement agency after it is determined that an officer has been killed, injured, or is missing and a Blue Alert is the best response. SB 32 now goes to the full House for consideration.
A total of 20 bills had passed both chambers as of early last Thursday, but that number will likely grow exponentially this week. Remember that you can stay informed of all the action 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 to check the status of a particular bill or resolution. 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.
Representative Brent Yonts
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