With a pair of eastern Kentuckians leading the general assembly, the mountain region has a powerful influence over the state’s legislative agenda. Besides House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who comes from Prestonsburg, there’s Senate President Robert Stivers, who makes his home in Clay County. The political power of eastern Kentucky was on display this winter when hundreds of residents gathered at the state capitol for “I Love the Mountain Day.” Organizing the event was Sue Tallichet, who chairs “Kentuckians For The Commonwealth”.
The Senate unanimously passed a measure Thursday that would put a limit on the amount of debt the state can incur. Senate Bill 10, jointly sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, would cap the state's bonded indebtedness at 6 percent of General Fund revenues. That is the generally accepted level used by bond rating agencies.
Physician Assistants Gather Outside Senate After Vote
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Proposed changes in state law are designed to keep more Physician Assistants in Kentucky. It allows for more leniency in their supervision. Newly graduated Physician Assistants must currently work under the direct supervision of a medical doctor for a year and a half. So, they can only work when “the Doctor is in.” As a result, Virginia Valentin with the Kentucky Physician Assistant Association says about half of P-A grads leave the commonwealth.
A bill solidifying a panel to review child death and near death cases passed Kentucky’s House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday. Gov. Steve Beshear created an external government panel by executive order last year to review certain child abuse cases. The order—established in the summer of 2012—followed a failed attempt by the General Assembly to pass a bill that would have established a similar panel.
'I Love Mountains Day' participants make their way up Capital Avenue
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Kentucky’s capital steps were the scene this afternoon for an annual rally of Appalachian activists. The ‘I Love Mountains Day’ event brought hundreds to Frankfort. Besides residents, the annual ‘I Love the Mountains’ rally also attracts supporters from outside the region. Sydney Bernstein came to Frankfort from Kansas City. “And I think it’s important to preserve what was originally here, when this is just for money. It’s just for money and not to for anything else. Money and energy and there are obviously alternative ways to get energy,” said Bernstein.
Using D-N-A evidence in the prosecution of crimes is not new, but new uses continue to surface. While often effective, critics worry those techniques could amount to an unlawful search and violate the U-S Constitution. Kentucky’s General Assembly took up those questions today. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee was Jayann Sepich. She told how, in 2003, her 22 year old daughter Katie was raped and murdered outside her New Mexico home. A D-N-A test identified her attacker. Now, Jayann Sepich says Kentucky should collect D-N-A samples from a suspect whenever there’s a felony arrest.
The debate over ‘big money in politics’ returned today to Frankfort. A house committee considered a resolution calling for constitutional limits on corporate donations to campaigns. The U-S Supreme Court says corporations have free speech rights and can make campaign contributions. In the 20-10 Citizens’ United decision, the high court ruled the First Amendment prohibits restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and labor unions. But, Representative Mary Lou Marzian says the chief justices should not have the final word.
Kentucky's top two legislative leaders say the local option sales tax isn't likely to come up this year. The local option would allow cities and counties to put temporary sales tax increases to a public vote. It would typically be used to pay for infrastructure projects. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray are the major forces behind the option, and a bill amending the state Constitution to allow it has been filed in the Senate.
The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would reform the majority of the state's pension system. Senate Bill 2 contained the recommendations of a legislative task force on the underfunded pension system. It suspends cost of living adjustments and creates a hybrid, 401k-style pension plan for new hires. Bill sponsor Damon Thayer says the bi-partisan support for the bill shows the need for continued cooperation on pensions.
FRANKFORT — A proposal to allow six of Kentucky's public universities to start more than $360 million in infrastructure projects overwhelming passed the House today, 97-1. House Bill 7 allows the universities to issue their own agency bonds to build new dorms, academic buildings and other improvements, including a stadium renovation at the University of Kentucky. House budget chairman Rick Rand, a Democrat from Bedford, is the sponsor of the bill and told his colleagues that no state money would be used for the projects.
Kentucky legislators and community leaders on Wednesday honored an athlete and an academic during the 10th annual Black History Month Celebration at the Capitol. The 2013 Black History Month celebration honoree was Wilbur Louis Hackett Jr., a groundbreaking football player. He was also the 2011 Kentucky Black Sports Hall of Fame inductee who state Sen. Gerald Neal, of Louisville, said "epitomizes all that is good about sports."
Gov. Steve Beshear is encouraging lawmakers to take bold stances in reforming the state's tax code, before past budget decisions and cuts and cripple Kentucky. Beshear made the pleas Wednesday night in his annual State of the Commonwealth address. The speech focused on the state's lack of revenue—and how reforming the tax code would allow enough new money to solve the state's pension problems, plus increase funding for education. The idea, Beshear said, was for lawmakers to be forward-thinking in their decisions this year.
An effort to reform Kentucky's underfunded pension systems passed in its first hearing Wednesday from a state Senate committee meeting. Senate Bill 2 stems from the recommendations of a legislative task force that met over the summer to try and solve the pension problems. It includes a suspension of cost of living adjustments and creates a new hybrid plan that acts like a 401K with a promised rate of return.
A bill authorizing bonding projects for most of Kentucky's public universities appears to have ample support to be approved this week in the state House. House Bill 7 authorizes more than $300 million in projects, including renovations for dorm rooms, academic buildings and football stadium renovations at the University of Kentucky. The bill unanimously passed the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning, without a single lawmaker even questioning the bill.
Kentucky lawmakers seemed eager to dig into another tax reform bill this year, but the chair of the latest tax reform commission says reform isn't likely coming soon. Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson,who chaired the commission and Mary Lassiter, the secretary of the cabinet, addressed lawmakers on the budget committees about the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Tax Commission. Many lawmakers were eager to see a bill filed, even if tax reform is unlikely in this year's regular session. But Lassiter and Abramson implied that one was not likely anytime soon.
Women who produce children as a result of rape would not be obligated to share parental rights with their rapist under legislation filed Tuesday in the Kentucky House. Kentucky, along with 34 other states, allows rapists to take their victims to court and seek these rights. Rep. Dennis Keene, who is sponsoring the bill, called the allowance a "loophole in Kentucky law." "I've got two daughters," said Keene, a Democrat from Wilder. "I wouldn't want any human being to go through that."
Kentucky’s legislators come to the House and Senate chambers for day five of the so called ‘short’ session today. Lawmakers confirmed their respective leaders during the first four days back in early January. Now, it’s time to get down to the business of acting on legislation. Later today, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Auditor Adam Edelen will provide details of a bill to reform ‘special taxing districts.’ Then later, a joint meeting of the two houses budget committees will hear about the blue ribbon tax commission’s recommendations.
Within a few weeks, the Kentucky General Assembly could modify the new ‘Pill Mill’ law. It was intended to help crack down on improperly run pain clinics, but some health care professionals complain it’s too cumbersome. Dave Hopkins, who oversees the state’s prescription drug monitoring program, agrees one of the law’s provisions is probably not necessary.
With three storage centers throughout Frankfort, tracking down state records can be a hassle. But a consolidated facility should make archives easier to sort through, a state official says. The construction schedule hasn’t been set, but the new records center will take about seven months to complete, Finance and Administration Cabinet spokeswoman Pamela Trautner said.
There’s currently a break in the action. State lawmakers don’t return to Frankfort until February 5th. They’ll face three pressing issues…tax reform, underfunded public pensions, and legislative redistricting. The governor has already mentioned special sessions are a possibility, but, House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover doesn’t want to wait to begin the discussion.
Money coming into Kentucky’s state accounts recently indicates a positive trend, but an official who studies the figures warns against reading too much into them. For the first six months of the fiscal year, receipts have increased almost four percent. The official revenue forecast for the entire year calls for two point four percent growth. Greg Harkenrider with the Office of the State Budget Director says there’s still reason for concern.
State Sen. Julie Denton has filed two bills that would put control of implementation of the Affordable Care Act into lawmakers’ hands. Gov. Steve Beshear created a state-run health exchange through an executive order and is mulling whether to expand Medicaid. Both are parts of the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Denton says her goal is to let lawmakers have some say in either matter.
Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer at the microphone and Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer in the aisle.
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The G-O-P has long dominated the state senate and the house remains solidly under the control of Kentucky Democrats. But, their actual numbers are always in flux. For example, this year, there are more Republicans in both chambers….perhaps making collaboration between the parties a bit more attractive.
A swearing-in ceremony for returning state Senator Albert Robinson.
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Kentucky lawmakers, many for the first time, have taken their seats for this winter’s legislative session. The gavel fell in both the house and senate around noon today. While many rookie legislators got their first taste of Frankfort politics, veterans were already at work throughout the capitol building, setting the general assembly’s agenda.
The second meeting of the state’s Industrial Hemp Commission will soon begin sorting through the details of its efforts to bring legalized hemp to Kentucky. The commission will work on the details of a new legislative bill proposal, such what the bill will include and which legisators will sponsor it during the 2013 session, said the chairman, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.
The State Senate Republican Caucus has officially nominated Senator Robert Stivers for Senate president. Stivers’ new role won’t be official until it’s voted on by the full chamber in early January. But the GOP holds a 24-14 advantage, meaning Stivers is all but certain to succeed former Senate President David Williams. Williams left the Senate to take a position as a circuit judge.
Just weeks before Lexington gets down to the nitty gritty work on a new budget, it’s lost two top fiscal experts. City Budget director Ryan Barrow is moving onto the state Office of Financial Management. Plus, in January, Lexington Finance Commissioner Jane Driskell will become the governor’s budget director. “Working in local government you keep up with trends at the state budget level and also at the federal budget level, so hopefully my learning curve will be shorter than somebody coming in that didn’t have that prior experience,” said Driskell.
Kentucky's state pension plans have problems, and a bipartisan legislative task force has approved sweeping recommendations to overhaul them -- including putting new employees in a hybrid plans akin to 401Ks. The task force -- with an 11-1 vote -- is recommending that the General Assembly start fully funding their pension contributions starting with the next budget in 2014. Lawmakers’ inability to do that is part of the pension plans problems.