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Saturday, February 28, 2015

This Week in Frankfort

Will Schroder meets with younger constituents, the NKU String Project this week in Frankfort
FRANKFORT -- The Kentucky General Assembly crossed another mile marker this week by reaching the deadline for the introduction of new bills in the House of Representatives. The Senate crossed a similar deadline on Feb. 13.

With these two deadlines in the rear-view mirror, Kentuckians now have a more complete view of the issues lawmakers will take up this year. A total of 752 bills have entered into the legislative process in the Senate and House combined, confirming what has been apparent to anyone who follows the news out of Frankfort: there are a lot of big issues on the agenda this year.

Both the Senate and House have already weighed in on one of the largest issues with each chamber passing its own bill to deal with the state’s heroin epidemic. Both bills feature stronger sentences for dealers and more treatment options for addicts. But there are a number of differences in the finer points of the Senate and House bills.

Among the differences are the ways each chamber would punish traffickers. The Senate measure, SB 1, would make trafficking any amount of heroin a Class C felony. The House bill, HB 213, recognizes three levels of heroin trafficking, with escalating penalties based on how much traffickers had in their possession.

Another difference is that the House bill, unlike the Senate bill, would give local governments the option of establishing needle-exchange programs. Supporters say programs allowing heroin addicts to exchange used needles for new ones at local health departments have a proven record of curbing the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Supporters also say the programs that bringing addicts into health departments gives them an opportunity to seek help with their addictions. Opponents say needle exchanges enable addicts and send the wrong message about tolerance for illegal drug use.

Lawmakers are looking to bridge the differences in their anti-heroin measures in time to send a bill to the governor before a scheduled veto recess begins on March 10.

Issues taken up in legislative chambers this week include:

Teachers’ retirement system. HB 4 would authorize the state to issue $3.3 billion in bonds to reduce the $14 billion unfunded liability of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The legislation passed the House on a 62-31 vote and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Students. SB 10 would allow high school juniors and seniors to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money during high school. Student earning college credit through dual-credit courses could use KEES money they’ve earned to pay for up to six college credit hours. SB 10 has been approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

Gambling. SB 28 would make it clear in the law that it’s illegal for so-called Internet Cafes to sell Internet access to play computer-based, casino-style games, or sweepstakes, in which customers can win cash prizes. The bill passed the Senate and has been sent to the House.

Elections. SB 93 would let Kentucky voters decide on a proposed constitutional amendment that would move Kentucky’s elections for governor to even-numbered years. Elections would also be moved to even-numbered years for the treasurer, auditor of public accounts, attorney general, secretary of state and commissioner of agriculture. SB 93 was approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Debt. SB 94 would limit general fund supported debt to 6 percent of general fund revenue. The road fund is not included, agency debt is not included and there is a provision that would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency to go over the debt limit. The bill was approved in the Senate and sent to the House.

Early childhood development. Early child care and education programs would be mandated to follow a state quality-based rating system under House Bill 234. The bill was approved in the House and delivered to the Senate for consideration.

Public-private partnerships. House Bill 442 would allow state government to partner with private companies on major building projects. The bill was approved in the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

With so many major bills moving through the Legislature, it’s an important time for citizens to stay in touch with lawmakers. There are several easy ways citizens can provide their feedback to the General Assembly.

The Kentucky Legislature Home Page,, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including phone numbers, addressees, and committee assignments. The site also provides bill texts, a bill-tracking service, and committee meeting schedules.

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.  People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.

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