FRANKFORT — As the final day of a General Assembly session approaches, the fate of numerous bills typically becomes much clearer.
It’s a stark contrast to the early days of a session, when uncertainty fills the air. When a session opens, no one knows which issues will hit stumbling blocks as they navigate the legislative process. Capitol observers wonder for months whether the bills they follow will end up enshrined in the law books.
By this time of year, though, we see a growing number of bills land on the governor’s desk and we gain a clearer view of the measures that will soon become law. Last week we saw bills delivered to the governor’s office that would strengthen penalties against habitual drunk drivers, crack down on those engaged in dogfighting operations, and ensure the swift and proper handling of sexual assault evidence kits.
But for bills that haven’t made it that far by this point, questions linger.
No bill is prompting as many questions and speculation about its fate as the state’s next two-year budget. At the time of this writing, the House and Senate had each passed their own preferred versions of the budget and had reached an impasse in efforts to agree on a compromise measure. Among the sticking points is how much money should go toward shoring up the state’s troubled pension systems and whether or not colleges and universities should face budget cuts. Once budget negotiations ended last Thursday, Governor Matt Bevin ordered the public colleges, universities and community colleges to immediately make 4.5 percent cuts. On Friday, Attorney General Andy Beshear released a statement saying the governor’s unilateral action in cutting the appropriated funding was outside of his authority and asked him to rescind his order.
Negotiations are likely to continue in the days ahead as lawmakers on a budget conference committee strive to find a compromise that will have the support of both chambers when lawmakers return on Tuesday, April 12, for the 60th and final day of the 2016 session. I am hopeful that wisdom, common sense and level heads prevail as our leaders confer on the spending plan that will best serve all the citizens of the commonwealth.
As budget negotiations continued last week, the Senate took action on a number of other bills that were sent to the governor, including the following:
· House Bill 305, which contains the 2016-2018 Biennial Highway Construction Plan, spells out the spending of more than $600 million on transportation infrastructure needs in the Commonwealth over the next three years, a total bolstered by federal matching grants and local governments chipping in. HB 305 now returns to the House for consideration of the changes.
· House Bill 40 would allow someone convicted of certain felonies to petition a judge to vacate the conviction and expunge the record. The individual seeking expungement would have to wait five years after completing the sentence and pay a fee. Under the bill, those convicted for violent or sex offenses would not be included.
· Senate Bill 11, an omnibus bill for the spirits industry, would increase the amount of packaged alcohol sold at distilleries and increase the size of samples handed out at distilleries. The measure is meant to promote “bourbon tourism.” The bill would also allow microbreweries to increase production.
· House Bill 111 would require every public school to post the state’s child abuse hotline number (1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331). The bill was amended to also require the state to waive snow days that school districts are unable to make up. School districts impacted by snow or other school calendar-altering events are required to work with the state to meet all 1,062 required annual instructional hours, if at all possible, by June 5. If the district attempts to meet all required hours and cannot, the state would be obligated under HB 111 to waive any hours that remain.
· House Bill 276 would allow public universities to offer in-state tuition to members of any United States Reserve component. House Bill 87 would allow for any high school student participating in basic training required by a branch of the United States Armed Forces to be considered present for all purposes for up to ten days.
· House Bill 183 would provide for a disabled veteran-owned business certification program. It would also require the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Contract Compliance to establish guidelines for the certification program and application process through the promulgation of administrative regulations.
· House Bill 100 would require health benefit plans that provide benefits for autism spectrum disorders treatment provide a liaison to the insured to facilitate communication between the insured and the insurer.
· House Concurrent Resolution 187 urges and petitions the United States Customs and Border Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to require advance electronic data screening of all inbound shipments to the U.S. to facilitate identification and interception of illegal synthetic drugs and chemicals.
· House Bill 19 would establish the employers’ organ and bone marrow donation tax credit.
Even though time in this session of the General Assembly is short, you can still stay up-to-date on all bills and other legislative actions by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free bill status line at 866-840-2835. You can also comment on legislation by calling the LRC message line at 800-372-7181 or by emailing me directly at [email protected]