FRANKFORT – Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas and New Year’s Eve are not that far away, the General Assembly is winding down what it calls the interim and is making final preparations for the 2016 legislative session, which will start on Jan. 5 and last for 60 working days.
Although it is impossible to predict what ultimately will become law, we are getting a clearer idea of the major topics that will be debated.
Our biggest priority will be enacting a budget to run state government for the next two years. Included in that will be decisions regarding the future of Kynect and the Medicaid expansion as well as any plan tackling the liabilities facing our public retirement systems.
I will cover those more in-depth as the legislative session progresses. Beyond our work in those areas, the Kentucky House will also be looking to push through some of the proposals we supported earlier this year.
That includes my legislation giving voters a chance next November to approve a constitutional amendment that would let communities decide whether to add a temporary increase – up to one penny – to their local sales tax. This money would go to pay for projects as large as an arena or as small as a new recreational facility or police station. Nearly 40 other states already have something like this in place.
Another proposal of mine whose time has come would raise the state’s minimum wage. It has been more than six years since the last increase, and it is time we change that.
Two criminal-justice issues the House has long backed would make it easier for many offenders to fully re-integrate back into society after they complete their punishment. One bill would expand the expungement process to include many Class D felony offenses, making it easier for those qualifying to get a job or even volunteer in their child’s school. The other would be a second constitutional amendment that would make permanent Gov. Beshear’s executive order last week that is helping restore voting rights to most non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences. Both of these proposals have received strong, bipartisan support over the years in the House.
Last week, the Legislative Research Commission – the legislature’s administrative arm – published its latest annual in-depth look at some of the other issues the General Assembly may confront.
More than three dozen are covered in the report, and they range from whether the state should boost tourism opportunities by requiring school districts to start their year later in August to whether now is the time to invest further in our state parks, which have identified more than $240 million in capital improvements over the next six years.
In transportation, the growing number of electric cars on the road raises questions about how their owners should help pay for highway expenses; and in judicial matters, it is becoming more apparent that our current district, circuit and family courts need to be re-aligned to better balance caseloads. According to the LRC report, the busiest circuit judges have nearly four times as many cases as judges at the low end; at the district level, meanwhile, the caseload for some can be seven times as high.
Other issues expected to come up next year include resolving an unfortunately high number of untested rape kits; deciding whether to increase the upper limit of beer that microbreweries can produce in a year; and determining if zip lines should be regulated more like amusement park rides.
While we may not know what will become law and what will have to wait another year, we do know that the legislative session will be an especially busy time.
Your input is extremely important to that process, so I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on these issues or any other that may arise.
You can always reach me by email at [email protected], and you can leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone at 800-372-7181. That number is open during normal business hours throughout the year. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.