With only four legislative days remaining in the session, lawmakers made progress in getting Kentucky’s budgets passed this week. On Thursday, members from both the House and Senate were gathered at a conference table, trying to iron out the differences in their budget proposals before the scheduled veto recess begins on Tuesday.
This past Tuesday, the House tipped off its budget week with a proposed Road Plan that includes proposed road, bridge and other transportation projects totaling $4.58 billion. The House also passed legislation that would require new steps to fund the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System on an actuarially sound basis starting in 2017. Under provisions of House Bill 1, state employers would be required to pay additional contribution rates to fully fund the pension system. The Senate is now reviewing the bills.
A day later, on Wednesday, the Senate responded to the House’s executive branch budget proposal with its own amended version of House Bill 303.
Working from the House’s bill passed last week, the Senate reinstated many of the initiatives unveiled by the governor in January including a 9 percent reduction in spending on Kentucky’s colleges and universities. The Senate plan increased proposed funding for anti-heroin efforts, in comparison to the plan approved by the House, and also called for setting aside $250 million in a “permanent fund” for future pension fund payments.
While the conference committee works to find agreement in the budget that will ultimately land on the governor’s desk, other legislation made its way through both chambers with sponsors hoping for their “One Magic Moment.” Among topics considered were:
- Restoring voting rights. On Monday, the Senate passed a bill that could give some felons a clearer path to regaining voting rights Senate Bill 299, if passed by lawmakers, would let voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly authority to establish a process for non-violent felons who have served their sentences to recover their voting rights. SB 299 is now awaiting House approval.
- DUI offenders. The House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 56 on Wednesday, sending it back to the Senate for approval. SB56 would strengthen penalties for driving under the influence by making a fourth offense within 10 years a felony charge. Currently, a felony charge comes after a fourth offense in five years. The amended version passed by a 98-0 vote. The bill would take effect immediately with the governor’s signature. The Senate originally passed SB 56 in January, 35-1.
- Enhanced ID cards. Senate Bill 245, which would bring Kentucky drivers’ licenses and other identity cards into compliance with the federal REAL ID initiative, was passed by a 26-12 Senate vote on Tuesday. Without compliant IDs, Kentuckians may have future trouble flying on commercial airlines or may face other restrictions after a federally mandated deadline passes. REAL IDs include more personal information and anti-counterfeit facets like barcoded information. So far, only 23 states have compliant IDs even though the original deadline was in January. The bill, which received a favorable vote from a House committee soon after the bill was delivered from the Senate, is now awaiting consideration of the full House.
- Open records. House Bill 80, passed by the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Tuesday, seeks to narrow open records exemptions for private companies providing goods or services normally provided by government agencies. Under HB80, firms who derive at least 25 of their total revenue from governmental sources would have open records apply to it just as if it were a public agency. The bill awaits a vote by the full Senate.
- First responders. Senate Bill 195, which would allow firefighters with certain types of lung or other cancer presumed to be tied to their employment to be eligible for lump-sum state death benefits, passed in the House on Monday. The bill, along with a similar bill providing benefits for emergency medical personnel killed in the line of duty, is awaiting the governor’s signature.
- Parents’ rights. House Bill 129 would expand legal grounds for stripping parental rights in cases of abuse or murder – or the attempted abuse or murder – of a child. Those rights could also be terminated in cases of complicity in the death or injury of a child’s parent, step-parent guardian or custodian. The bill passed a House vote on Monday, sending it to the Senate for consideration.