We are a half-way through the 30-day session and while many of our priority bills have meandered their way to the House to await action there, the Senate continues working on several outstanding issues.
The Senate passed House Bill 7, a bill authorizing university bonding projects. Universities will use their own bonds at no cost to Kentucky’s General Fund to renovate or build 11 critically-needed buildings. Murray State, for example, laid out plans for renovations of Hester College and College Courts as well as upgrades to existing infrastructure. These creative building proposals not only enhance the quality of higher education in our state but also will be providing needed construction jobs. I congratulate the universities for defining a specific project list and developing a business plan with a dedicated revenue stream. It is the right approach especially after the Senate added language that these projects could not be subsidized with tuition increases. Incidentally, HB7 was the first bill to pass both chambers.
The Senate also passed bills directed at gifted students as well as those who are struggling in the traditional academic environment. Senate Bill 109 which allows high-school students who are taking Advanced Placement or similar certified college credit classes to access their KEES funds early in order to pay for them. Senate Bill 97 allows local school districts to adopt a policy requiring students to stay in school until age 18, or graduation whichever comes first, with the understanding that they would have to offer an approved alternative education program that would help meet the needs of students most likely to drop out. Local districts are best equipped to understand what kind of supports they have or can offer and that decision should not belong to a Frankfort bureaucrat. With this bill, educators are better prepared and the needs of at-risk students can be met outside the traditional educational process.
Senate Bill 39 and Senate Bill 40 both passed the Senate. SB 39 states that any expansion of Medicaid eligibility under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act must be approved by the General Assembly. Similarly, SB 40 directs that the General Assembly must approve any state-run health benefit exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. I believe that policies that have such state-wide impact and are attached to such great costs should simply not be decided by one individual without the benefit of open, transparent debate. While I have my own feelings about the value of expanding government services without having a way to pay for them, this is not about me or my opinion. This is about giving true deliberation to policies that will dramatically affect how your government operates and costs and including as many people as possible in that decision. The Governor was never supposed to have a blank check to do with what he wants.
The Senate also focused on other areas. One of my bills passed, Senate Bill 128. This legislation will make it easier for veterans to be assigned veteran designation on their operator’s license or state-issued ID card. Our military men and women have sacrificed much for us and there’s no reason to burden them with additional bureaucracy.
Senate Bill 6 passed in response to the overwhelming number of deaths resulting from heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky. Unfortunately, this scourge seems to be spreading to the rest of the state. The bill allows dealers of highly-addictive Schedule I drugs such as heroin, meth, and cocaine to be charged with criminal homicide in the event of a drug-overdose death, even if they didn’t sell the drug directly to the deceased. Increasing access to non-emergency medical transportation for our most vulnerable is the intent of Senate Bill 112. This bill will increase competition among providers which hopefully will bring the costs down for those who need the service. It would also represent a significant savings to tax-payers to coordinate transportation as well because Medicaid dollars are used.
Finally, much to relief of state employees across Kentucky, the infamous Senate Bill 144 was killed by its own sponsor earlier this week. Unfortunately, the debate over pension reform continues to unfold. While the Senate has passed SB2 (33-5), an important first step in righting the ship, the bill has stalled in the House of Representatives while some in the lower chamber consider “revenue” measures to cover it. The refrain I continue to repeat is simple: taxpayers shouldn’t shoulder the burden for repairing a system their decisions didn’t run into the ground in the first place. Frankfort must first demonstrate good stewardship of the money it already has.
Even though time is running out on this session, time is never running out on you voicing your opinion. There are several ways to contact me: my toll-free number is 1-800-372-7181 and online, I and the work of the Legislature, can be accessed via www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) represents the 3rd District including Christian, Logan, and Todd counties. He is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Vice-Chair of the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee. Senator Westerfield serves on the Agriculture Committee, the Capital Planning Advisory Board, the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, and the Transportation Committee.