With the last full working week of the 2010 legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly behind us, much was accomplished as we closed in on final details of the state’s budget, road plan and passage of bills.
The House and Senate Conference Committee continue to meet over the weekend working to find common ground on the differences between the two plans. Our biggest objection to the changes the Senate made to our budget was the deletion of the “Kentucky Jobs for Kentucky Families” program, a $1 billion plan that would build new schools and infrastructure and create 25,000 jobs.
The Senate also reduced the SEEK formula by 1.5% in the first year and another 1% for 2012. We are also opposed to adding the additional two days back into the school year, which forces an unfunded mandate on our schools at a price tag of $78 million over the next two years.
Other cuts proposed by the Senate include an additional $48 million in state contracts, more cuts in Medicaid, and an additional 2.5% cut across state government. These deep, draconian cuts would push Kentucky back decades and place further burden on our citizens already struggling with healthcare costs and rising unemployment.
The Kentucky General Assembly is bound by the Constitution to craft a budget for the biennium and I am confident that our differences will be worked out. There will be shared sacrifice, but our “Kentucky Jobs for Kentucky Families” is the spark that will jump start the Commonwealth’s economic recovery and I believe it must be included in the final budget.
As those negotiations continue, bills are being passed and some are going into Conference Committees to work out House and Senate differences. Some of the bills under discussion include:
· Senate Bill 105, which the House amended and passed by a vote of 89-8, is designed to protect Kentucky agriculture from what some call “anti-agriculture” animal rights organizations. It establishes the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission to help create policy for the proper care of on-farm livestock and poultry. Senate Bill 105 now returns to the Senate for agreement with the House changes.
· Senate Bill 41, which was amended and passed by the House 52-40, would permit alcohol in state parks after local option elections were held. It would also make it easier for distillers to set up sampling booths at conventions, liquor stores, restaurants and conferences. Senate Bill 41 has been returned to the Senate for its consideration.
· House Bill 536, which the House passed by a vote of 80-16, would exempt non-commercial billboards on private property from state permitting requirements. House Bill 536 is now before the Senate for consideration.
· Senate Bill 23 would prohibit drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages when their vehicle is in motion. It cleared the Senate on a 27-6 vote and now goes to the House.
· Senate Bill 178, which would allow preliminary evaluations involving school boards and superintendents to be closed to the public, cleared a House Education Committee by a vote of 16-9. The bill requires that final evaluations be discussed and voted on in public.
· A bill has passed the Senate that would have pretrial officers ask people arrested whether they served in combat. House Bill 377’s goal is to connect combat veterans with services to help deal with problems stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill cleared the Senate on a 35-0 vote and now returns to the House.
· House Bill 462, which passed the House 99-0, would create the Kentucky 911 Emergency Communications Authority that would have an executive director of all 911 communications with expanded duties to include next generation 911. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
There will be more late nights, lengthy discussions and probably heated dialogue as legislators passionate about our agenda work to gain passage and consensus on bills and agree upon a budget for Kentucky. When we leave here next week for the ten day veto period, I am confident it will be with a sense of pride and a job well done under very difficult economic conditions.
You can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. It is an honor to represent you in Frankfort.