The newest justice on Kentucky's Supreme Court will formally be sworn in this week, giving the court a record three women on the bench at one time. Justice Michelle Keller will take the oath tomorrow in the Capitol. The swearing in will take place at 11 a.m. and is open to the public. Keller previously served on the state Court of Appeals, and Beshear appointed her to the 6th Supreme Court District in April. There are seven justices on the Supreme Court. Never in state history have three of them been women.
The General Assembly came away from the 2013 regular session with a host of accomplishments, but the biggest for many lawmakers was Senate Bill 2, known as the pension reform bill. SB 2 changed the current public employee pension system from a defined-benefit plan to a hybrid plan, in which the employee and the employer both contribute funds. The bill put a stop to the state’s ballooning $33-billion pension shortfall. But while SB 2 saves the state’s pension fund from getting any bigger, it also saves cities in Kentucky from having to pay their employees the same benefits they had in the past.
After months of deliberations, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has decided to expand Medicaid in Kentucky under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare—a move that's won praise from Democrats and health advocacy groups. Beshear said Thursday that expansion benefits Kentucky in many ways. "This move makes sense not only for our health but also for our pocketbook. More important it makes sense for our future," he says. The expansion will insure more than 308,000 Kentuckians. And according to studies done by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville, Medicaid expansion would bring about $800 million to Kentucky between next year and 2021.
When conducting a background check on a person buying a gun, Kentucky’s Attorney General says they’re still limited by the information available in the system. And, with many mental health care providers already under a financial strain, Jack Conway says inputting all that data can be a hardship. “Not only do those agencies have to provide mental health services, they have to interface with the data bases and law enforcement and provide the information and make sure it gets captured, make certain it’s available to people that need to access the information. So, we’re in the process of looking, making certain that all of our information is getting into the system,” said Conway.
In a historic appointment, Governor Steve Beshear has named Court of Appeals Judge Michelle M. Keller of Fort Mitchell to the Kentucky Supreme Court. The appointment increases the number of women on the state's highest court to three. It is the first time the state Supreme Court has had three female justices on the bench. Keller replaces Justice Wil Schroder, who resigned January 17 due to health reasons.
Kentucky's legislative leaders have passed two bills to shore up the state's underfunded pension systems, effectively staving off a special session on the issue. The new plan would reduce a personal tax credit of $20 to $10, generating roughly 33 million in revenue that would go to General Fund, but lawmakers would use for pensions. It would also use revenue from technical changes in the state's tax code, as well as money from federal tax changes.
Kentucky lawmakers have achieved a compromise that would set up a regulatory framework should the federal government legalize industrial hemp. The so-called hemp bill—Senate Bill 50—gives control of licensing of future hemp farmers to the Industrial Hemp Commission, but allow the Kentucky State Police to do background checks on the farmers. The state Department of Agriculture would be given many administrative roles for licensing hemp farmers and the University of Kentucky would be charged with researching the issue.
Kentucky military personnel serving overseas will be able to get ballots electronically under legislation approved late Tuesday in the Kentucky General Assembly. How they send them back is still to be determined. Working until the last minute of the 2013 session, legislators went back to the original Senate version of the military voting bill that allowed for electronic sending of ballots to overseas military, but snail mail return of the ballot.
Kentucky House and Senate leaders have changed the schedule of this year's legislative session, in hopes of avoiding a special session. A potential—and costly—special session has loomed over the General Assembly in recent days, as lawmakers continued work on pension reform. Instead of convening Friday, lawmakers will work on Tuesday, with hopes that talks started Thursday night could lead to an agreement on pension reform by then.
The commonwealth last deregulated telephone services in 2006. Now, another effort, prompted by the popularity of cell phones and wireless access to the internet, is underway. However, opposition from rural residents who worry they’ll lose access to reliable land lines has left the measure in limbo. Phone companies like A-T-and-T promise they’ll improve cell phone and internet service in rural Kentucky if they can back away from traditional phone services.
There’s an old joke in Frankfort that goes, “Instead of meeting 60 days every two years, the general assembly ought to meet two days every 60 years.” More recently, lawmakers have gathered annually, but there’s talk among some that the old ways are best. They want to gather for a couple months, every other year. The discussion is being provoked by a constitutional amendment proposed by western Kentucky Senator Bob Leeper. Over a decade ago, voters agreed the general assembly should gather every winter. Now, Leeper, who’s the only independent in the general assembly, would like voters to re-visit that decision.
Lexington’s repair plan for its police and fire pension fund faces one more vote in the General Assembly. The bill, already approved by the House, won committee approval today and soon goes before the full Senate. Scott County Senator Damon Thayer, who’s working to fix the state’s pension systems, calls Lexington’s proposal inadequate.
The voices of hundreds of disabled Kentuckians were heard Tuesday at the state capital. Rally organizers claim a record number of individuals with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities were expected. Their aim was to leave a lasting impression on the state’s policy makers. The day began with activists, many with disabilities, filling the hallways at the state capital annex. They filed into a couple rooms to hear their marching orders. After getting directions to offices occupied by state lawmakers, they left…hoping to make a case for state services needed by Kentucky’s disabled residents.
The recent passage of Senate Bill 88 by the Kentucky state Senate has alarmed some with concerns they may soon find land line telephone service a thing of the past. Senate Bill 88 is directed at deregulating certain aspects of communication services. Lourdes Baez, communications director for the Senate Majority, said this bill will not leave rural homes without access to land lines. “There has been an immense amount of misinformation,” said Baez. According to Baez, there are protections in the bill which will not allow land lines in rural areas to be discontinued.
Along with pressing issues like State pensions, tax reform, or Medicaid managed care, come some lighter matters at the capital. The Kentucky Senate is considering a bill to declare Clark County as the birthplace of ‘beer cheese.’ Clark County Senator R.J. Palmer testified to the economics of beer cheese in her community. “We had six thousand people in Winchester Kentucky for a beer cheese festival. Six thousand people on Main Street in Winchester. We’ve got time to do these things while we’re here,” said Palmer.
Another attempt at bringing charter schools to Kentucky is making progress in the state Senate. But, proponents face a bigger challenge in the Kentucky House. Session after session, Kentucky’s state Senate has endorsed charter schools. So, it’s not surprising that this winter a charter school bill has cleared the Senate Education Committee. If enacted, charter school would be exempt from many state requirements, with the aim to cut costs and improve education. This year, Senator Mike Wilson is selling the idea such freedom could help schools that persistently perform poorly on achievement tests.
The House passed its version of a state pension overhaul bill Wednesday, along with a proposal to help fund the ailing pension system by expanding the Kentucky Lottery and instant racing at horse racetracks. The funding measure — House Bill 416 — received 52 "yes" votes and 47 "no" votes, falling shy of the 60 votes needed for a revenue-generating bill to become law in this year's 30-workday legislative session. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Wednesday that the Senate will not accept the bill because it did not get 60 votes.
A bill addressing issues with 2012's pill mill bill has cleared a state Senate committee, less than a day after it cleared the full House. The bill calls off some regulations of the 2012 House Bill 1, which cracked down on prescription pain clinics and abuse. It also exempts hospitals and long term care facilities from pulling KASPER reports every time they prescribe medication.
A bill moving Medicaid managed care late payments to the Department of Insurance's review process has overwhelmingly passed the state House. House Bill 5 passed 99-0 off the floor, after a few technical amendments were added to it. House Speaker Greg Stumbo is the bill sponsor and says his goal is to make sure health care providers start getting paid by Medicaid managed care organizations, which has been a problem since the MCO system was implemented.
Allowing the purchase of alcohol on Election Day is a step closer to reality. In Kentucky, liquor hasn’t been sold on Election Day since the beginning of prohibition. Northern Kentucky Senator John Schickel says the measure also allows local voters to restrict alcohol sales. “It’s my feeling and I think the feeling of the majority of people in the legislature now is that this is a law that’s passed its practical application and it’s small business. This is a big deal to small business, small tavern owners, small restaurant owners.”
Hoping to prevent the neglect and abuse of elderly patients, lawmakers are working to create a list of qualified caregivers. However, critics say a recent revision will leave the job incomplete. A measure debated in a state Senate committee sets up what’s known as a ‘clear-to-hire’ list. It would be an on-line list, open to the public, of workers qualified to care for sick, disabled and elderly adults. Marsha Hockensmith, who’s with the Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, says it’s a guide, and a comfort, for relatives who need to hire help.
A move to toughen Kentucky’s texting while driving law failed to pass out of committee today. The bill calls for adding three points to violators’ licenses. After accumulating 12 points within two years, a driver’s license can be suspended. The Transportation Committee heard emotional testimony from Wil Craig, who suffered a brain injury as a passenger in a 2008 crash.
The office of constable, which is established by Kentucky’s state constitution, is again under scrutiny. Earlier attempts to eliminate the office have failed. However, critics this year are taking a different approach. Instead of eliminating the office, which carries with it police powers, a constitutional amendment proposed by northern Kentucky Representative Adam Koenig, puts it under county control.
The Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly approved a proposal Monday that would let the state ignore any new federal gun laws. After a lively debate that involved discussion of everything from the Gettysburg Address to a shortage of ammunition, the chamber approved Senate Bill 129, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jared Carpenter of Berea, on a 34-3 vote
State Rep. Sannie Overly has filed a bill that will allow the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to explore public-private partnerships to help construction projects with big price tags. The bill doesn't specifically name any projects, but Kentucky currently has multiple instances where the bill could help work start, namely the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky and Interstate 69 in western Kentucky.
The Kentucky Senate is expected to vote on legislation focused on blocking any new federal gun control measures. The measure is sponsored by Madison County Senator Jared Carpenter. “It does nothing to change any rules or laws that are in effect as of 2013. If any laws go into effect after January one 2013, then this bill says we will not follow those laws,” said Carpenter. Lexington Senator Kathy Stein says the proposal over-reaches state legislative authority.
A plan that fixes Lexington’s underfund police and fire pension fund won approval in a legislative committee today. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says general assembly’s approval would cut the pension’s long term costs by 45 percent. “This is legislation and an agreement that represents three important themes. One it is affordable for the city. Two it is sustainable and three is provides a dignified retirement,” said Gray.
Proponents of equality for the gay community filled the floor of the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday afternoon in support of anti-discrimination legislation, saying popular momentum is on their side. The Fairness Coalition, a group of five state rights organizations, hosted the rally. Supporters were there in favor of House Bill 171 and Senate Bill 28, identical proposals that would amend numerous anti-discrimination statutes to include definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Child advocates urged members of a Senate panel Wednesday to find money in Kentucky's cash-strapped budget to reverse cuts to a program that helps poor parents pay for child care. When the spending cuts take effect in April, many parents will lose their jobs, kids will be placed in dangerous child care settings and some rural child care centers could close, advocates told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
From left to right: Peggy Henson-Lexington Council member, Gerry Roll-Director of Foundation for Appalachia Kentucky, Jack Burch-Director of Lexington Community Action Council
Credit Stu Johnson / Weku News
Anticipated cuts in state subsidies for child care got the attention of a Senate panel today. In April, the Beshear Administration says thousands of families will no longer qualify for state assistance with their childcare…eventually effecting over 14-thousand kids. The state doesn’t have the money to maintain those subsidies at current levels. But instead of cutting child care, Gerry Roll, who directs the Foundation for Appalachia Kentucky, says state officials should closely evaluate funding for early childhood education.