• By Sen. Julian Carroll (Submitted Feb. 7)

Legislative update

February is upon us, and many of the measures passed by the Senate thus far have met minimal resistance and enjoyed bipartisan support. However, the pace has increased tenfold as members delve into substantial issues, such as the two-year spending plan and potential pension reforms. During this week’s Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting, State Budget Director John Hicks briefed members on the governor’s proposed two-year spending plan. Director Hicks is highly qualified and has worked on dozens of budgets under eight different administrations, both Democratic and Republican. His testimony to the committee was clear. It outlined the need for new revenue so Kentucky can make essential investments in education, maintain vital services that our citizens rely on, and meet the state’s pension obligations. The presentation was well-prepared, and backed with evidence, and the director answered each question posed to him thoroughly. Passage of the budget is constitutionally required of the General Assembly, so both chambers are continuing to review the governor’s spending plan, working on proposals, and examining further solutions to our pension problems. My hope is we can come together and develop solutions that benefit our state and our people. Senate Bill 1, a designation reserved each year for bills deemed a priority of the Senate majority’s leadership, passed out of the Senate this week. SB 1 prohibits law enforcement and other public officials from enforcing any sanctuary policy in the state of Kentucky. It would also require law enforcement and other public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law. Currently, there are no sanctuary cities in Kentucky. This bill will put an extra burden on our local law enforcement and public officials by having to share in the duties of federal law enforcement. This is a major factor in opposition to the measure by the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police. For these reasons, among others, I voted against this legislation. I am hopeful it will be amended in the House, so we have a bill that keeps our communities safe and addresses the concerns of local law enforcement officials. The budget and these priority bills will continue to dominate the headlines – and our agenda – but less-polarizing, less-publicized bills that benefit Kentuckians also require our attention. Some of those gained passage in the Senate this week, while others were vetted in committees. Additional legislation passed in the Senate this week: • SB 7 strips site-based decision councils from the selection and hiring process of principals in the school district and gives that authority to the superintendent. Many teachers and parents opposed this legislation because it stifles their voice in these processes. After meeting with them, and hearing their concerns, I opposed this measure. However, the bill passed by a vote of 20-15. • SB 87 removes the automatic transfer of a child from District to Circuit Court when a firearm is involved. The bill allows the judge to consider low IQs when deciding whether to transfer a child to Circuit. This bipartisan, common-sense measure sets the criteria in the juvenile justice system. Anything that will help Kentucky kids should be a priority for us in the legislature. I was pleased to vote yes on this needed and practical piece of legislation. It passed 36-2. • SB 42 requires public schools, grades six through post-secondary, to place emergency numbers for suicide prevention, domestic violence and sexual assault when a student is issued an identification badge. Many young people are struggling with these issues, and this measure will provide readily available help. I voted yes, and it passed 36-1. • SB 63 allows school boards to implement virtual high school programs for dropouts aged 21 and older, to complete high school graduation requirements through the use of virtual instruction. A high school diploma is key in today’s workforce, and anything that strengthens our workforce will benefit the Commonwealth. For these reasons, I voted yes, and the bill passed unanimously. • SB 40 aligns Kentucky statutes with the federal government in regards to background checks and fingerprinting of staff at childcare and child placement facilities. SB 40 passed by a vote of 35-0. • SB 45 establishes additional operational standards for nutrition and physical activity for childcare centers in Kentucky. It is designed to continue to improve childcare across the state. The measure passed unanimously. • SB 99 allows local-option elections for distilleries and microbreweries. The legislation passed 27-7, and I voted yes. This is just a quick snapshot of our work this week. Many other issues are being discussed in Frankfort, and I encourage you to join in that dialogue. You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations and other legislative actions throughout the session by logging onto the Kentucky General Assembly website at www.legislature.ky.gov.

By Rep. Joe Graviss Submitted Feb. 8 With more than one-third of this year’s legislative session complete, the Kentucky House of Representatives has already put its support behind a sizable list of bills that is now one step closer to becoming law. Two that passed last Thursday would go a long way toward expanding access to medical care and keeping our children safe as they enter or exit their school bus. House Bill 135 would accomplish the former by allowing physician assistants to write prescriptions for controlled substances. Kentucky is the only state where this is not allowed, but if we join the 49 others, supervising doctors will be able to focus on more complicated cases and physician assistants will be better equipped to do their job. The school-safety measure found in House Bill 34, meanwhile, would let school districts partner with companies that install cameras designed to catch drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. This arrangement would not cost districts anything, and eventually make money for the districts, since the companies are paid from fines and once paid off, send money back to the districts. Several of the bills to clear the House over the past month will help first responders or have a positive impact on the criminal justice system. House Bill 14, for example, would make it possible for families of EMTs who are killed in the line of duty to enroll in undergraduate courses at public colleges and universities without being charged tuition, a benefit already available to qualified families of firefighters and law enforcement. The related House Bill 271 would ensure spouses of any state or local government or school employee who dies in the line of duty are eligible for higher death benefits established in a 2018 law. This will primarily benefit widows who have since remarried and those families that, for various reasons, did not receive in-the-line-of-duty death benefits but would like to reapply if this becomes law. Under House Bill 269, local governments would have authority to take an innovative approach when it comes to collecting fines for parking violations. In this case, the communities could opt to let those ticketed pay at least some of their fine in donated goods that would help our charities. For our veterans, House Bill 24 would move us a step closer to building a new nursing home for them in Bowling Green. This will be Kentucky’s fifth once built, complementing other veteran’s nursing homes in Jessamine, Hardin, Hopkins and Perry counties. We’re still several weeks away from the House voting on modifications to Governor Beshear’s budget proposal, but committees have already started their review. As this work moves forward, there has regrettably been some confusion about whether his budget fully funds the pension systems. The short answer is “Yes,” when talking about teachers and state employees. Those payments are state government’s responsibility, and every penny is there. In addition, the budget paves a path forward to help our quasi-governmental agencies, which include regional universities, public health departments and mental health organizations. If nothing is done, they face a steep increase in pension payments in July that most simply cannot pay. The governor’s proposal calls on these quasi-governmental agencies to make higher payments, but below what they would have been, and the budget helps bridge the gap with extra funding plus by doing things like providing a one-percent raise for state employees and hiring new social workers and revenue-audit staff that adds to the pension fund much needed dollars. In other words, his budget does much more than the one enacted in 2018, and if critics say it shorts the pension systems, then the budget from two years ago was even worse, since it just froze the rates for quasi-governmental agencies with no new money. The governor’s plan should be heralded as a positive move, not a negative one. This week, a House committee will consider one of the legislative session’s more widely discussed pieces of legislation, House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana. More than 30 states allow this, and the bill has many sponsors from both sides of the political aisle. Late last week, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky reported this issue is more popular than ever, with 90 percent of Kentuckians surveyed saying they support medical marijuana. That’s a positive sign for the legislation. I think our friend Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation said it well recently, “Support for medical marijuana is very strong, but we also learned that it’s well ahead of the science showing that marijuana is safe and effective for most of the medical conditions claimed by pro-legalization advocates. Despite the continuing lack of evidence, dozens of states have legalized medical marijuana. If Kentucky follows suit, our goal must be to put in place measures to protect the public health going forward.”

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