The General Assembly is now roughly a third of the way through the “long” 60-day session. The Governor has proposed his budget, recommending large cuts to state government spending except for a few critical areas like primary education and public safety. The savings from these cuts are proposed to be redirected into the beleaguered and indebted state pension funds. If you are interested, you can download the proposed budget documents from the state budget director’s website at http://osbd.ky.gov.
Keep in mind this proposed budget will change several times. Like any bill, it begins in one chamber before moving to the other for further amendments. The House starts with the budget bill first because the Constitution requires spending bills begin in the lower chamber. Following their changes, the budget bill will be sent to the Senate where further amendments will be made. If history holds, neither chamber will fully agree with the changes, and so both chambers will form a single “conference committee” made up of people in both parties in both chambers to hammer out a compromise bill. Lots of bickering, bargaining, and debating will go on in the meantime as people in both chambers and both parties find ways to agree.
While the budget bill makes the rounds, lots of other work is underway. I am working on bills to create and protect crime victims’ rights, increase penalties for synthetic drug offenses, protect against new drugs on the rise, help victims of sex crimes tell their story at trial, and collect data in our juvenile justice system to combat “DMC” (disproportionate minority contact). We have passed a bill to restrict funding to Planned Parenthood and – after 12 years of trying – delivered the informed consent bill to the Governor’s office to sign into law.
I was thankful to participate in that particular moment of history last week. Customarily upon final passage of a bill, the clerk of the last chamber to vote delivers the bill to the Governor’s office to be signed or vetoed. One of my fellow senators suggested a group of us accompany that delivery when it happened. On February 2, when President Stivers executed his final signature, the Senate recessed for a few minutes to allow this special group to do just that. I was joined by a dozen other legislators who proudly walked the clerk and the bill downstairs from the third floor of the Capitol to the first, a trek so many bills have made in the hands of clerks. Not even one of the longest-serving members of the Frankfort press corps remembers something similar having happened before. You can find photos and video from the historic moment on Twitter and Facebook. I recommend both as a great way to stay on top of what is happening in the Legislature.
During the week we also recognized an important part of the Commonwealth’s history, saying goodbye to former State Senator and civil rights activist, Georgia Davis Powers. In the Capitol Rotunda a memorial service was held to honor the late Senator Georgia Powers, who was the first African-American and first woman elected to the Kentucky Senate. Her visitation attracted Kentuckians from all corners of the state to pay respects to her and her family. First elected to the Senate in 1967, Powers was a pioneer in Frankfort who fought hard to end discrimination across the state.
Last week also saw another attempt at encouraging computer science and coding courses across Kentucky. As one of the primary sponsors of SB 107, I spoke about the critical need for this curriculum to flourish statewide. There are several big companies who can brag about computer science job creation, but I want to highlight Apple, Inc.’s numbers for some perspective. As of 2014 Apple had created 1,027,000 jobs, and of this number, 627,000 jobs are attributable to the iOS device ecosystem (iPads, iPhones and iPods) alone. Over $8 billion has been earned by U.S.-based app developers. And remember, these are just for Apple. Microsoft, Google and Facebook have numbers just as staggering that contribute to a growing computer code economy.
There also exists a quickly-growing need to fight against cyber threats. We hardly go a couple weeks without hearing about a data breach at a local retail chain or even a U.S. government agency. In short, these are critical career fields, and unless we all suddenly decide to quit using our smartphones and debit cards, the need for these jobs is not going away anytime soon. Kentucky simply must pursue this training for students to have a competitive workforce for tomorrow.
If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, or if my office can assist with you with any bureaucratic trouble you are experiencing, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at [email protected] You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Whitney Westerfield is the state senator serving Logan, Todd and Christian counties.