Friday, February 24, 2017

Senate pension transparency bill nears final passage

A bill that could slow the financial hemorrhaging of the state’s public pension systems by improving system transparency and performance advanced today after passing the Kentucky House 99-0.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, would provide better oversight of those serving on state retirement system boards, tighten requirements for investment experience, and hold retirement system board members, staff and investment advisers to the same standard code of conduct followed by the larger investment community, said Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge.

It also includes provisions to require that investment expense and return reporting be completed on a quarterly basis and preserve a ban so-called “placement agents” –individuals who help fund managers with financing—among others.

Linder, who chairs the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Personnel, Public Retirement, and Finance and serves on the legislative Public Pension Oversight Board, called SB 2 a true pension transparency bill.

“I think most of us in this body would agree that the two main problems that face the commonwealth at this moment in time are heroin and our unfunded pension liability. Billions and billions and billions of dollars in unfunded liability,” said Linder.  SB 2, he said, will help to fix some of the problems the state retirement systems face.

“This is good government at work. This is compromise. It’s a good government bill,” said Linder.

Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, who represents thousands of state employees and retirees, said the bill isn’t perfect. But, he said, SB 2 “is a bill which I think all of us can agree upon.”

SB 2 now returns to the Senate for final passage.
For audio clips on this and other topics from lawmakers as well as news photos from the current session, visit the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission online. Video clips from the current session, as well as archived videos, are available on the LRC's YouTube channel. To view or sign up for news releases from the current session, visit the LRC's news page.  A virtual tour of the Capitol is also available online.

Bill to fund state’s fifth veterans’ nursing home advances

A bill that would authorize $10.5 million in state bond funds for construction of Kentucky’s fifth veterans’ nursing home passed the state House Thursday by a vote of 99-0.

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville, the sponsor of House Bill 13, said the bond funds are a required match for $19.5 million in federal funds slated to build the 90-bed state veterans’ nursing facility in Bowling Green. Kentucky’s other state veteran’s nursing facilities are located in Hazard, Wilmore, Hanson and Radcliff.

The Bowling Green facility—which would serve a 17-county area in south central Kentucky—is approved for funding “as long as we have our state matching money,” said Meredith.

The bill was amended to encourage that any future beds allocated by the federal government or reallocated by the state for a state veterans’ nursing home be set aside for Magoffin County, where plans are underway to locate a sixth state veterans’ nursing home.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, the sponsor of the amendment, said that it will help meet the needs of veterans in East Kentucky.

“Every veteran comes out a winner,” Blanton said.

HB 13 has an emergency clause, which means the bill would become law immediately after it is signed by the governor or otherwise becomes law.

The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

For audio clips on this and other topics from lawmakers as well as news photos from the current session, visit the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission online. Video clips from the current session, as well as archived videos, are available on the LRC's YouTube channel. To view or sign up for news releases from the current session, visit the LRC's news page.  A virtual tour of the Capitol is also available online.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lady Rockets capture district crown

Crittenden County beat Lyon County 36-30 to capture the Fifth District Tournament championship at Cadiz.

The girls are 25-7 heading into next week's regional tournament at Hopkins Central. Their 25 wins is a school record.

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Unique finds at Our Picket Fence

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Bill would ease farm implement transport; others move

Quarles applauds passage of HB 265
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles on Wednesday applauded the Kentucky House of Representatives for passing House Bill 265, which will help Kentucky farmers transport farm implements on Kentucky roadways.

“This bill is necessary to enable Kentucky farmers to move equipment as efficiently and as safely as possible,” Commissioner Quarles said. “I am grateful to the House for its swift action on this legislation, and I urge the Senate to follow suit.”

The bill adds a definition of a “nondivisible load” to state law, effectively allowing farm implements such as combines or large tractors being moved from the equipment dealer to the farm, or from field to field, to be transported without removing the dual wheels located on each side of the piece of equipment.

Commissioner Quarles said that, under current law, the wheels must be removed before transporting an implement on Kentucky roads, adding to the time and expense of transporting large farm machinery.

Commissioner Quarles said technicians have been injured removing the wheels, and House Bill 265 eliminates that safety hazard. He said being able to leave the wheels attached would make the implement more easily visible to other motorists than if the axle is left exposed when the wheels are removed.

House Bill 265 passed in the House by a 95-2 vote.

Senate panel approves measure to increase options for kids who need homes
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow children removed from their homes by the state to be placed with a close family friend.

House Bill 180 would allow people with emotionally significant relationships to children to be among those with whom a child could be placed in an emergency. Such people, considered “fictive kin” by the bill, includes those who have a close relationship with a child, but aren’t related by birth, adoption or marriage.

“Often, when a child has to be removed from a home, there is another alternative, perhaps that is someone who has meaningful relationship with that child but is not a member of their immediate family,” said Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, the sponsor of House Bill 180.

The legislation is a simple, but helpful, said Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Families and Children.

“It increases the universe of people who the cabinet can place a child with in an emergency situation,’ Feeley said. “Many times, in an emergency situation where children have to be removed because the parents have drug problems or domestic violence, there might be a babysitter, a church member, a family friend, who is known to the child, who the child is comfortable with.”

House Bill 180 “gives the cabinet the ability to do a quick background check on that individual and place the child with that individual. … This is better for the children in that they can stay in a home they are comfortable in or already know rather than going to strangers in what is already a traumatic situation,” Feeley said.

Kentucky First Lady Glenna Bevin appeared at today’s committee meeting in support of the bill. She was praised for her support of measures to help children by Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington.

“We appreciate you so much and for this being your platform and the thing you advocate for,” Kerr said. “You have turned your inspiration into perspiration very personally for a long, long time and we appreciate you taking this and inspiring us.”

House Bill 180 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate approves performance-based funding formula for universities
Postsecondary education funding would be guided by performance-based measures, such as the number of students receiving degrees, under legislation approved yesterday by the Kentucky Senate.

Supporters of the legislation say it will phase out a funding model that, instead of basing funding on educational success, bases it on how much a school received in a previous budget cycle.

The goal of Senate Bill 153 “is to change this funding model, to refocus us on that goal of degree attainment,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, who is a primary sponsor of the legislation, along with Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

The legislation is the result of a work group made up of the president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, university presidents, state budget officials and legislators. The group’s final report endorsed the Council on Postsecondary Education’s goal of raising the percentage of Kentuckians with postsecondary degrees or certificates from the current level of 45 percent to 58 percent by 2025.

Under Senate Bill 153, the postsecondary funding formula would appropriate 35 percent of funds based on student success tied to outcomes, 35 percent would be tied to total student credit hours, and 30 percent would be based on supporting “vital campus operations and student support,” Givens said.

Prior to voting in favor of the bill, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, described himself as “a tuition-paying parent” who’s grateful that the state supports its universities. But he said university funding has lacked accountability. “The universities are going to have to compete in order to get us up to the national standard in degree attainment and the thresholds included in this bill,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he supported the legislation and commended those who worked on it, but expressed some reservations.

“We can talk about performance-based funding and all the different goals that are set out in the bill … but the simple fact of the matter is that unless this General Assembly is willing to put more money into postsecondary education as we go forward, the cost of a college degree will only continue to increase for tens of thousands of Kentucky students who want to better their lives,” Jones said.

The funding model established by SB 153 would be phased in over several years.

”This four-year phase-in before we reach full implementation provides us a period of confidence that the model is working correctly and provides stability for these institutions as they move into what is a bold but very appropriate new funding model,” Givens said.

The bill also calls for a postsecondary work group to review the results of the new funding approach every three years to see if it is successful and make recommendations to the General Assembly.

The Senate approved the bill on a 36-1 vote. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

For audio clips on this and other topics from lawmakers as well as news photos from the current session, visit the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission online. Video clips from the current session, as well as archived videos, are available on the LRC's YouTube channel. To view or sign up for news releases from the current session, visit the LRC's news page.  A virtual tour of the Capitol is also available online.

House votes to give landlords relief under state dog bite law

Landlords now held liable when a tenant’s dog bites someone would receive some relief under a bill that advanced today in the Kentucky House.

House Bill 112, sponsored by Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, would effectively remove landlords from liability for their tenants’ dogs under the state’s dog bite laws by redefining a dog owner as someone who both keeps and cares for a dog on property that the person both occupies and owns or leases. Current law does not specifically include tenants under the definition of dog owner.

Lee said the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 87-9, would give landlords the same protection they enjoyed under Kentucky’s dog bite laws prior to 2012 when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in the case of Benningfield v. Zinsmeister. The landlord in that case was found responsible “despite the fact that landlord had made an effort to go to his leased tenant and say ‘please remove that dog,’” said Lee.

Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, an insurance agent, said he supports HB 112. Greer said he has had clients who own rental property struggle with the current law even in cases where tenants agreed in writing that they would not have a dog.

“If they get a dog later, what bothers me is my insureds … are held accountable. I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

Among those voting against the bill was Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg. Hatton said there is no protection for dog bite victims under the legislation.

“If six pit bulls were trained to kill and let run loose by a tenant, there’s no liability. There’s no protection under this legislation for any person who’s injured by a dog…” she said.

HB 112 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

For audio clips on this and other topics from lawmakers as well as news photos from the current session, visit the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission online. Video clips from the current session, as well as archived videos, are available on the LRC's YouTube channel. To view or sign up for news releases from the current session, visit the LRC's news page.  A virtual tour of the Capitol is also available online.

Council to pick mayor Wednesday

Marion City Council will meet in special session at 4 p.m. next Wednesday to select a new mayor. At Monday's regular council meeting, Mickey Alexander resigned his post as mayor effective next Tuesday. He had served as mayor for 29 years.

Any legal voter age 21 or up who lives inside the City of Marion is eligible to be selected.

The meeting had originally been scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, but was moved back a day for procedural reasons.

Educators to launch campaign on need for school construction

A  facilities plan approved for Crittenden County Schools shows current district property at the middle and high school campus highlighted in yellow with the state highway maintenance facility property that should eventually belong to the school district highlighted in red. The 70-year-old segment of the current middle school would be razed and a new high and middle school wings would eventually be added to Rocket Arena along with shared facilities between the two schools,

FROM FEB. 16, 2017
When the calendar rolls over to March, Crittenden County School District will kick off a campaign to change the future of education in the county.

Starting next month, the district is planning to begin a series of efforts to inform the community on the nuances of proposed school construction to modernize and expand the halls of learning. Superintendent Vince Clark said the rollout will include a variety of materials aimed at explaining the local building need and the board of education’s proposal for a solution. The initial phase of the campaign will include short YouTube videos posted on the district’s website and a survey so that educators can address questions the public may have.

“We need to educate the (county’s) 9,500 people on what we are looking at and what our options are,” Clark said.

What is being eyed is a $31.2 million school facilities plan approved late last year by the board of education. It first calls for construction of a new high school that would allow middle-schoolers currently cramped into a 70-year-old building to then move into the current high school. Adding a wing onto Rocket Arena to serve as a new high school would cost more than $12 million and would call for a tax increase to get construction accomplished anytime within the next 10 years.

The board of education and district administrators appear to be taking a thoughtful approach toward taxpayers who would fund any construction. That is why they want to present their plan online, in print and in person to accommodate everyone in the community who may have questions or input on the proposal. A public forum is tentatively set for March 14.

“There are so many different ways to communicate and (ways) people get their
news,” Clark said.

A second phase of the campaign would start after the school district gathers and weighs all the initial input and concerns from the public.

The board of education is aware that a tax increase could be hard to swallow by taxpayers, particularly a 5-cent increase on the current rate of 46.3 cents per $100 of real estate. That construction nickel would match another already built into the tax rate and free up state matching funds to bring the district’s bonding potential high enough to build a new school.

The average Kentuckian pays about 62 cents per $100 of real estate to school districts, and local officials are hoping to convey to the public that they would still be getting a relative bargain for their tax burden while improving educational opportunities to future generations.

Any tax increase by the five-member board would be subject to recall by voters, so before moving on such a decision, they want to put their best foot forward.
“We’ve got one shot at getting this right the first time,” said board member Eric Larue.

Clark expects to learn from those who have failed and those who have succeeded in urging voters that education is a community responsibility. In fact, he has already spoken with school officials in Marion County, where a second nickel was recently approved by voters, and those from Hancock County, where the construction nickel was shot down at the polls.

The superintendent said multiple forums may be scheduled over the next couple of months to keep the public in the conversation.

“This will give people a chance to hear the plan presented and give folks time to ask questions to help the community understand where we’re at,” explains Clark. “We want to be as transparent as we can be.”

As a stopgap measure to help a middle school building bursting at the seams, the CCMS library will be combined with the high school’s before the 2017-18 school year. To accommodate, a portion of the CCHS library at the front of the building will be walled off over summer break to provide separate study areas for students from the two schools. Also, to provide a noise buffer, the entire library will be glassed in to the ceiling above the concrete half-walls, and doors will be installed at the two entrances from the hallway. The projected cost is about $96,500.

The middle school library will be turned into space for classroom instruction to accommodate next year’s incoming sixth-grade class of 137 students, which is about 40 more than the average class size.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sen. Ridley’s highway safety bill heads to House

A highway safety bill, sponsored by Senator Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, passed out of the Senate today.

“Citizens and law enforcement folks have complained to me about the super bright lighting on some vehicles and how distracting it is,” said Ridley, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This distraction presents a real danger for drivers.”

Ridley’s solution comes in the form of Senate Bill 92 that would restrict modifications of vehicles with certain replacement headlights and other lights that emit from beneath the vehicle.

“It is becoming a real safety issue and would be an addition to the road safety laws already on the books,” added Ridley.

SB 92 would not affect the original equipment installed on cars and trucks by the manufacturer, but would only affect equipment or lighting added after the vehicle rolls off the assembly line, he noted.

SB 92 would prohibit vehicles from:
  • Emitting anything other than white light.
  • Require all headlamps to meet U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.
  • Prohibit headlamps that appear to emit a solid color other than white.
  • Prohibit headlamp covers or film that changes the color of the light emitted.
  • Outline provisions for front, rear, side and undercarriage lighting of a vehicle.
It would exempt original equipment installed by the manufacturer.

SB 92 has the support of Kentucky State Police, the Kentucky Justice Cabinet, Henderson Police Chief Chip Stauffer, and Henderson County Sheriff Ed Brady.
SB 92 is a safety issue for the Kentucky motoring public, said Sen. Ridley.
SB 92 now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.

PSC helps explain high electric bills

Rural Crittenden County residents have been concerned about ballooning electric bills from Kenergy Corp. the past two months, but the Kentucky Public Service Commission says there is "nothing at this point that the commission feels is in any way out of the ordinary operating procedures of those utilities.”

WDRB in Louisville explores the issue with the PSC in a news story available by following this link.

Senate panel approves bill to make some military surplus vehicles street legal

In an effort to make it possible for citizens to title and license certain military surplus vehicles like Humvees, the Senate Transportation Committee today unanimously passed Senate Bill 176.

“It is basically taking care of a problem that was brought to me by one of my constituents,” said Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris.

West told committee members the bill would give citizens who purchase certain military surplus vehicles a way to make them street legal. The bill would set up a way to get them licensed, titled and ensure that they’ve been retrofitted as needed and have seat belts installed.

The proposed legislation calls for military surplus vehicles to be inspected before they are titled. Additionally, a new inspection form for the vehicles will be created and a military surplus vehicle will be defined as a motor vehicle.

The bill now goes to the Senate for full consideration.

Funny money passed locally

This fake $20 bill was passed at a Marion convenience store recently. The red,
Oriental writing on the face to the left is a clear indication the bill is counterfeit.

Counterfeit money has been passed locally of late, and more is circulating in the area.

Liberty Fuels owner Craig Gilland said his Marion convenience store has seen two $20 bills come through the business that are clearly fake, with red Oriental writing on the face. Local businesses are warned to check bills closely.

In addition, Kentucky State Police are warning of fake $20 and $100 bills being passed in the area. These bill, too, are easy to spot, with "FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY" imprinted on the face.

Kentucky State Police are warning people to be on the lookout for counterfeit
bills with "FOR MOTION PICTURE USE ONLY" imprinted on the front.