FRANKFORT — Approving the state budget has been called one of the toughest, most important duties of the General Assembly. The 250-page document leaves the governor’s office as a proposal in January. Getting an agreed-upon, finalized version back to his desk in the spring is truly a monumental task. Needs are coupled with resources. Appropriations are matched with priorities. Debt is balanced by revenues. And a consensus between 138 lawmakers is found.
We completed the job on Monday when months of dedicated study, advocacy, review, discussion, negotiation and plain hard work culminated in the final passage of a $20.3 billion two-year budget plan for the commonwealth.
Notably, the final budget supports Kentucky’s education efforts from preschool to college. The plan will expand the state’s preschool program in 2016, increase K-12 SEEK funding, add nearly $10 million for education technology and authorize many important capital projects on our college campuses.
While some state agencies and programs will face cuts up to 5 percent in the next biennium, critical areas like Medicaid are protected from reductions. Funding of child care subsidies for low-income families will be restored for household incomes of up to 125 percent of the federal poverty level in 2015 and expanded to families earning incomes of up to 160 percent of the poverty level in 2016.
There is never enough money to fund all of the worthy projects and programs in the state, but the final product, most lawmakers agree, is a prudent and responsible way to move our state forward.
Many of the other bills sent to the governor on Monday are aimed at improving the health and safety of Kentuckians young and old.
Senate Bill 98 will create an adult abuse registry and require agencies that employ adult caregivers to check the registry database before hiring a personal care staff member. The registry would be maintained by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and would also be available for individuals or families seeking to hire a caregiver. Currently, nursing homes, adult care agencies and families have no way of knowing if a potential employee has been fired for confirmed abuse or neglect. An adult abuse registry will help employers hire responsible caregivers, and more importantly, will better protect our vulnerable citizens from harm.
Senate Bill 109 will prohibit the sale of “electronic cigarettes” to minors. These e-cigarettes are sometimes marketed and sold as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes because they are smokeless. But they still emit a vaporized form of nicotine to users that many people feel is still addictive and unsafe for youth. We want to do all we can to protect our children from drugs, including nicotine, and this measure will help do that.
Senate Bill 124 will allow research and limited medical use of cannabis oil. Under the measure, doctors at the state’s two university research hospitals can prescribe the oil to patients, as well as conduct studies of its effectiveness. The oil has been used as an effective treatment for certain medical conditions, especially pediatric epilepsy. The measure has been named the Clara Madeline Gilliam Act in honor of a Kentucky baby who suffers from pediatric epilepsy. Hers and many other parents of children with epilepsy lobbied for the measure. We hope this provides relief to these families.
The General Assembly is now recessed for a 10-day veto period. While consensus has not been reached on important bills like anti-heroin abuse and the state’s Road Plan, we are still working hard, in informal discussion during recess, toward final agreement on these and many other measures. There is still time for bills to receive final passage.
We return to Frankfort on April 14 to complete the final two working days of the legislative session. We will consider any vetoes the governor might enact on any of the various bills we have passed so far, as well as put a final stamp of approval on any of those last-minute bills still being considered.
In the meantime, you can review the work of the Kentucky General Assembly by visiting our website at www.lrc.ky.gov. You can contact me at email@example.com.