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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Kentucky General Assembly Legislative Update

Sen. Wil Schroder 
By Wil Schroder 

As the Senate eagerly awaits a budget proposal from the House of Representatives, we are busy meeting with the various stakeholders impacted by the Governor’s proposed budget plan. The Senate Appropriations and Revenue (A&R) Committee, of which I am a member, met multiple times this week to deal with budget priorities. Education was a big focus this week.  As mentioned in a previous update, the Governor has proposed 9 percent cuts to most government agencies, which includes education.

We spoke with Department of Education Secretary Hal Heiner who expressed his Cabinet’s commitment to investments in career and technical training. Secretary Heiner also appreciated the Governor’s commitment to KTRS funding and reiterated his support for the Governor’s “no sweeping” budget which ensures that 100 percent of Kentucky Lottery proceeds will fund scholarships and education. SEEK funds were also not impacted by the Governor’s proposed budget.

We also met with University Presidents this week regarding their reaction to budget numbers. Their concerns were expressed and plans were discussed to increase revenue at universities without raising tuition on students. As your State Senator, I plan to examine proposed cuts very carefully and with thoughtful consideration as to the impact they will have. I welcome all feedback.

In addition to focusing on the budget, the Senate passed several meaningful bills this week which will protect the people who selflessly protect us.

Senate Bill (SB) 43 was one of the most prominent bills to pass this week. SB 43 creates death benefits for Emergency Medical Service personnel killed in the line of duty. This bill was introduced in honor of John Mackey, a paramedic from Jessamine County, who was killed in the line of duty last year. We were honored to have his wife, Janine Mackey, join us as we passed this bill through committee and off the Senate floor.

Similarly, Senate Bill 195 extends state-paid survivor benefits to surviving family members of firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers as the result of an act performed in the line of duty. This bill requires the firefighter to be 65 years old or younger at the time of his or her passing and to have been on the job for at least five consecutive years. Also, the firefighter’s cancer cannot be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco--they cannot have used tobacco in the ten years preceding diagnosis.  The death benefit would be $80,000 and would be paid out of the state’s general fund. Estimates have been made showing one to four deaths per year that might be determined to be attributed to the conditions addressed in SB 195.

We also passed Senate Bill 169, which is what we often call a “cleanup bill.” It updates regulations pertaining to elections and duties of county clerks in order to create a more efficient and effective electoral process.  As a candidate for the State Senate, I saw firsthand that the law had not caught up with evolving technology.  Reports that can now be accessed online were duplicated and sent to both Frankfort and the county clerks’ offices.  This bill will help cut down on some of the duplicative filings that occurred.

This week in the Health and Welfare Committee, the ABLE Act passed unanimously.  ABLE stands for Achieving a Better Life Expectancy. This is a bill that I have been working on, with the help of many others, since last session.  Very similar to the 529 College Savings Accounts, the ABLE Act is a way for families with people with disabilities to have a tax-free savings account that will help them set aside money for their loved ones for certain qualifying expenses without the fear of losing their benefits. I was very pleased to see its passage and look forward to its continued progress.

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