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.
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News
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.
Credit Stu Johnson / WEKU News
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.
Kentuckians who owe state taxes now have just two weeks to take advantage of an amnesty program. Delinquent taxpayers can pay what they owe and avoid penalties, fees, and additional interest. Kentucky Secretary of Finance and Administration Lori Flanery says it’s been ten years since Kentucky has offered tax amnesty. “The amount of money that is anticipated is about 55 million dollars. In the 2002 effort, there was actually 40 million dollars collected,” said Flanery.
Kentucky Democrats successfully defended their control of the state House -- but they're now stranded on a political island. It appears that Republicans will take control of the Arkansas House of Representatives, leaving Kentucky as the only southern state with a Democratic-controlled House. And that will make Kentucky House Democrats a big blue target in future years.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is recovering from minor eye surgery. Beshear developed a detached retina this past weekend and his office says he had minor surgery on Monday to reattach it. Spokeswoman Kerri Richardson says there was no injury that caused the retina to detach. The surgery will require the governor to limit his travel for the next week.
The first ever Republican state Senate president will end his 12-year reign by taking a circuit court judgeship back home. David Williams will resign his leadership position and Senate seat next week to start a judgeship that he was appointed to by his chief rival, Gov. Steve Beshear. It ends Williams' nearly 30-year legislative career, which included more than a decade as his chamber's leader. Williams leaves his party with a "super majority" in a Senate that's part of a divided state government
The state’s leading authority on juvenile justice says he would like to see status offenders kept out of incarceration facilities. A status offense is something a youth gets in legal trouble for, but an adult wouldn’t. Common status offenses are running away from home or skipping school. Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Hasan Davis says he believes status offenders shouldn’t be held in a detention center for minor offenses.
Kentucky Senate Republicans have established a succession plan in the case their current leader, David Williams, is appointed into an open judgeship in his district. Williams is considered a leading candidate for the open circuit court judgeship that covers his home county. Governor Steve Beshear, Williams’s main enemy in Frankfort, has the final say over who is appointed to finish the two year term. And Beshear hasn’t ruled out appointing Williams if his name shows up on the nomination list.
More than two thousand absentee ballots have been sent to Kentuckians in military service and other voters overseas. With the presidential election less than six weeks away, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says it’s important to allow for time and distance. “The process of receiving, filling out, and returning an absentee ballot, whether you are in the middle east or here in the United States, it can take weeks, especially for those active duty military members that I saw,” said Lundergan Grimes.
A second legislative hearing on Kentucky’s federally-mandated health insurance exchange led to a dramatic walkout by Democrats to Wednesday. For the second consecutive time, the interim joint Health and Welfare committee saw their meeting devolve into arguments over the exchange. And this time, a motion by Republicans to register a vote of disapproval against the exchange led every Democrat to get up and leave in the middle of the meeting.