KENTUCKY (3/17/13) - Working late into the night last Tuesday, the General Assembly gave final approval to and delivered to the governor dozens of bills, including a special taxing district bill that is a top priority in the House in the current 2013 Regular Session.
House Bill 1—given its numerical mark by sponsor House Speaker Greg Stumbo to signify the bill’s position as his top proposal this session—passed the House and Senate last Tuesday without opposition and was sent to the governor’s desk. The final bill was a compromise reached between House and Senate members to bring more accountability and transparency to more than 1,200 “special purpose government entities” located statewide.
The final bill will require those entities—which include library districts, water and sewer districts, fire districts, and others—to post their finances on a public online registry that will be available in the fall of 2014. HB 1 would also require them to meet reporting and auditing standards, and adopt ethics codes.
While the compromise legislation would not give county fiscal courts the power to veto the entities’ tax or fee increases as originally proposed by the Senate, it would require them to hold public meetings on proposed tax or fee increases before any increases take effect. They would also be required to provide financial reports to their respective fiscal courts.
I did not vote for HB 1—nor did I voice vote for the conference report on the bill-- due to the fact that there was no exclusion in the bill for the TVA and rural water districts. That exclusion may be handled in the next session.
It goes without saying that the protection of Kentucky’s children is always a priority for any General Assembly. The 2013 General Assembly took this commitment a step further by voting for legislation that will bring any child who is a victim of human trafficking under the state’s protection.
HB 3, which received final passage in the House by a 97-0 vote last Tuesday and has been sent to the governor for his signature, would require child victims of what has been called “modern slavery” be considered dependents or abused or neglected children and taken under the protection of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which would help to connect the child to appropriate services. Anyone who is aware of a case of human trafficking would be required to report the situation to authorities, who would then take steps to protect a child victim from prosecution for forced crimes such as prostitution.
To cover any additional costs to the state created by HB 3, the legislation sets up a victim’s fund. The fund would be paid into with “service fees”, or fines, totaling $10,000 per offense paid by convicted human traffickers, proceeds from seized and forfeited property of convicted traffickers, grants, and other funds that may become available. According to latest statistics, 44 children have been identified as human trafficking victims in Kentucky in the past five years.
Child protection would also be improved under HB 290, a bill now on its way to the governor that would create a statutory 20-person independent review panel to investigate deaths or near-deaths of abused or neglected children that have a history with state child protective services.
Files provided to the external review panel by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services under HB 290 would be uncensored, clearing up at least some concerns with Cabinet transparency raised by the media and others in recent years. The legislation would also give the panel access to data from law enforcement or other relevant agencies, as well as provide the panel with some state legislative oversight. HB 290 was sent to the governor after passing the House unanimously on Tuesday.
Legislation pushed for passage for several years that would raise the state’s school dropout age from 16 to 18 was passed in an alternate form last Monday when the House sent the governor a bill allowing public school boards to raise the dropout age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year, as long as they have state approval and programs in place for students at risk of dropping out.
If 55 percent of the state’s school districts adopt the change allowed under Senate Bill 97, districts statewide would be mandated to follow suit within four years. The bill was passed by both the House and the Senate last Monday, and sent to the governor for his signature last Tuesday.
The General Assembly has worked for several sessions to combat the growth of methamphetamine and synthetic marijuana abuse in Kentucky, but criminals keep skirting the law by changing the compounds used in the drugs they make and/or sell.
HB 8, delivered to the governor for his signature last Monday, addresses the problem in a few ways. First, it would include additional substances in the definition of synthetic drug. The bill would also include synthetic drug activity under the offense of unlawful transaction with a minor in the second degree, and make it harder for meth offenders to buy products containing ephedrine (an ingredient required to make meth). It would also require current prescriptive authority over hydrocodone-based drugs to remain intact should the drugs be reclassified under federal law.
Now, let’s talk briefly about SB 50—a measure that has been heavily publicized as an avenue for growth of industrial hemp in Kentucky, should a federal ban on growing hemp be lifted or should Kentucky receive a federal waiver to grow hemp.
SB 50 appeared dead this session until late Friday, when House leadership announced its support for a House floor amendment to SB 50 that would tie industrial hemp production and processing to Kentucky’s broader energy policy and tax credits to help “incentivize” growth of the plant. Furthermore, the bill would put the UK Department of Agriculture and Kentucky State Police commissioner in top positions on the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, and switch licensing of potential hemp growers and processors from the commission to the State Police should a waiver be received or the federal ban lifted.
The amendment to SB 50 is expected to be brought to the House floor for a vote when the House and Senate reconvene at the State Capitol on March 25 and March 26 for the final two days of the session. Both chambers are now in recess to allow the governor time to consider vetoes to legislation passed in the past few days. We have until the 26th to reach an agreement on any bills we hope to resolve by this session’s end—including public pension reform legislation found in SB 2, although resolution on that bill this session remains uncertain.
Rep. Brent Yonts
Please…continue to stay informed of daily action on bills of interest to you. You can do that a few ways: Log onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov; Call the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835; Find committee meeting schedules online, or; Call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. To comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.
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