Senate Week in Review


By Johnny Ray Turner



FRANKFORT — The state Senate received the House’s version of Kentucky’s next 24-month budget during the 11th week of this year’s 60-day session. From my viewpoint, I think the House is on the right track. The nearly $21 billion state budget bill would restore some funding cuts proposed by the governor to many areas of state government and authorize less debt than proposed in the governor’s budget.

It restores funding cuts for constitutional agencies, PVAs, postsecondary education, several K-12 programs and several other offices while preserving per-pupil school funding and boosting pay for state troopers and other front-line state employees. It proposes a way to fully fund the state’s actuarially required contribution to the teacher pension systems and the ARC-Plus to the state employee retiree system. It also has the largest “rainy day fund” in the history of the Commonwealth with funding from its current $209 million to $282 million above the previous record set in 2001.

Now the Senate can begin to put its mark on the proposed budget. Typically, the budget bills passed by each chamber are different. The differences must be worked out in a conference committee of senators and representatives. Compromises agreed to by conference committee members are then subject once again to approval by a majority of members of each chamber.

While the budget is always the biggest priority during 60-day sessions held in even-numbered years, a number of proposed laws also passed the Senate. Those bills include:

– Senate Bill 63 is a measure to eliminate a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault examination kits dating back to the 1970s. It would require Kentucky’s more than 300 police departments and 120 sheriff’s departments to pick up sexual assault kits from hospitals within five days’ notice from a hospital that the evidence is available, submit the kits to the state crime lab within 30 days, prohibit the destruction of any kits and notify victims of the progress and results of the tests.

If the necessary money is included in the state’s next budget, SB 63 would also require the average completion date for kits tested not to exceed 90 days by July 2018 and not to exceed 60 days by July 2020. It currently takes about eight months for a kit to be tested once it has been submitted to the lab. The progress of the testing would be reported annually to the Legislative Research Commission and state auditor’s office.

– House Bill 148 would require the state Cabinet for Health & Family Services to write regulations allowing for licensed day cares or babysitters to get prescriptions for epinephrine auto injectors, commonly known by the brand name EpiPen. It is a medical device for the injection of a measured dose of adrenaline commonly used for the treatment of anaphylaxis.

A Senate amendment to HB 148 would expand Kentucky’s Safe Infants Act of 2002 by allowing parents of newborns to have up to 30 days to surrender their baby at a state-approved “safe place” without facing criminal charges. The amendment would also add churches or other places of worship to the list of approved safe places where an infant could be surrendered.

Current law gives parents 72 hours after a child is born to leave the baby at hospitals, police stations, firehouses or emergency medical services (EMS) facility.

– House Bill 160 involved the disposal of needles. It would require the Department of Public Health to establish guidelines for safe disposal of hypodermic syringes, needles and what’s known as “sharps” containers. In addition, HB 160 would require the guidelines to be provided to certain medical facilities and pharmacies.

The Senate amended HB 160 to place further restrictions on needle exchanges, legalized under last year’s anti-heroin legislation (Senate Bill 192). It would require a one-for-one needle exchange at needle exchange programs. At least one local health department was not requiring a one-for-one exchange, stating that public health workers should be able to hand out free needles without being required to collect a used one to decrease the spread of disease.

– Senate Bill 253 would create a pilot program to allow the Fayette and Jefferson county school districts to create charter schools committed to “at-risk” students and located in areas where those students reside. Under the measure, the charter schools would be part of the state’s system of public education, but the schools would be exempt from some laws and regulations applicable to public school systems. The charter schools would be tuition free, nonprofit and have no religious affiliation. I voted against this bill because charter schools would siphon much needed resources from existing public schools.

– Senate Bill 278 would allow Bible literacy to be taught in public schools as a social studies elective. The bill would require that the “course provide students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.”

– Senate Bill 206 would allow cities to employ retired police officers if the officer participated in the Law Enforcement Foundation Program fund or retired as a commissioned state police officer. He or she must have retired with at least 20 years of service credit and meets the separation of employment requirements. Those retired police officers employed by a city would receive the benefits they were eligible to receive upon retirement, but would not accrue any additional retirement or health benefits during reemployment. Currently, training officers takes longer than a year. This bill would give police departments the ability to bring in retirees to fill vacancies for a limited time.

– HCR 35 directs the staff of the Legislative Research Commission to study the economic impact of adventure tourism in the six-county region consisting of Breathitt, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Letcher and Magoffin counties.

These bills now go to the House for consideration.

With only a few days remaining before we go into veto, we have a lot of work to do and bills to pass. You can stay up-to-date on the budget proceedings and any bills we are considering, including the ones we passed out of the Senate this week, 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. To comment on a bill, please call the legislative message line at 800-372-7181. You can email me directly at johnnyray.turner@lrc.ky.gov.

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By Johnny Ray Turner

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