2014 General Assembly

Education
11:41 am
Tue March 25, 2014

As Negotiations Enter Crucial Phase, Budget Funding for Higher Ed, University Projects Unclear

The Gatton Academy for Math and Science is housed at WKU.
Credit WKU NPR

The budget passed by the Kentucky Senate this week has mixed news for WKU. Money for a capital project at the school was removed while other WKU-related funds were left intact.

The Senate’s budget deleted funding for most university capital projects, including bonds to fund a renovation of the Thompson Complex Center Wing, home to numerous WKU science classes.

However, the Senate budget does include funding for the Gatton Academy for Math and Science to support 80 additional students beginning in 2015.

The budget passed by the House includes bond funding for the Thompson Complex project and money to expand the Gatton Academy. But it also contains a 2.5 percent cut to higher education funding.

The Senate spending plan restored that higher education funding cut at the expense of most university capital projects.

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Politics
9:37 am
Tue March 25, 2014

Mine Safety Advocates Worried about Loss of Money for Inspections

The Kentucky House reduced the amount of money for mine safety inspections in a recent version of a state budget the chamber passed.
Credit flickr

A slash to Governor Steve Beshear’s proposal for mine safety in the Kentucky House budget bill passed this month has many safety advocates concerned. They say there might not be enough money to conduct required inspections.

Gov. Beshear has proposed $7.6 million in each of the next two years for the state program that inspects and licenses coal mines. But when the budget bill was passed by the House, Beshear’s budget office noticed the number had been reduced to $5.3 million per year.

The Courier-Journal reports the 15 percent reduction was not discussed during the budget committee meeting or floor session when the bill was passed. In response, Gov. Beshear says his administration is “very concerned about the lack of sufficient funds to ensure safety” for miners, and the House and Senate will work together to ensure the funding is there “to cover critical needs in the agency.”

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Regional
4:32 am
Tue March 25, 2014

Still No Agreement On Making Up Snow Days

Credit Kentucky LRC

Kentucky state lawmakers have failed to agree on a bill that would relax the state's school attendance laws because of the unusual number of snowstorms this winter.

State law requires school districts to have at least 170 days and 1,062 hours of classroom instruction each school year. But some school districts have missed more than 30 days this year because of snow, pushing the school year for some districts toward the end of June or even into July.

House and Senate negotiators could not agree Monday on when the school year should end. House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the bill is so important, he'd be willing to appoint new negotiators to try again. Lawmakers have just eight legislative days left to reach a compromise.

In fact, more than 250 bills are in limbo as the Kentucky state legislature enters the final week of their session. Just 22 of the 824 bills filed this year have passed both the House and the Senate and, of those, only eight have become law.

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Business/Politics
4:33 pm
Fri March 21, 2014

Not So Fast: Local Option Sales Tax Bill Hits Delay in Kentucky House

House Majority Whip Tommy Thompson (left) and Rep. Brad Montell in the Kentucky House chamber
Credit Kentucky LRC

A bill to amend the Kentucky constitution to allow voters to choose projects funded by a 1 percent sales tax has been delayed in the House.

The measure, championed by the mayors of Louisville and Lexington, does not have enough votes to pass in that chamber right now, according to Democratic Majority Whip Tommy Thompson.

“We have a few people that have some good questions about that don’t quite understand it, so we want to clear that up," the Daviess County Democrat said. "And then there’s a few more people that we wanted to talk to to kinda see where they were, but I think we’re very close.”

Thompson says the measure is shy by a number of votes “in the single digits,” and he expects it to come for a floor vote Monday.

The measure gained renewed momentum this week after House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he changed his mind after talking with Gov. Steve Beshear, who urged him to support it.

Environment
3:56 pm
Fri March 21, 2014

Bill Passed by Kentucky House Would Disallow Eminent Domain for Pipeline Building

Bardstown Republican Rep. David Floyd debates an eminent domain bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives.
Credit Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill that would prevent the use of eminent domain in the construction of a proposed natural gas liquids pipeline.

Lawmakers voted 75-16 in support of the measure, which would only allow public utilities regulated by the state Public Service Commission to use eminent domain.

The measure is aimed at the Bluegrass Pipeline, which would carry byproducts from natural gas drilling in the Northeast to the Gulf of Mexico. It's proposed to cross 13 Kentucky counties.

Bardstown Republican David Floyd says the bill doesn't prevent the pipeline from being built, it just protects landowners from corporations.

“The pipeline will proceed," Floyd said. "What we’re trying to do is protect those private property owners, protect those landowners from the big, multi-state, carpet-bagging companies that want to come here and condemn their property without proper provocation.”

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Regional
2:19 pm
Fri March 21, 2014

Proposal Floated to Resolve Snow Days Issue

House and Senate negotiators have put together a draft proposal to give relief to Kentucky school districts struggling to make up lost days this winter.

The proposal would let districts extend school days to a maximum seven hours daily. The goal is to give districts scheduling flexibility to reach the required 1,062 instructional hours in a school year.

For districts unable to reach that threshold, the school year would automatically end June 11.

Democratic Rep. John Will Stacy and Republican Sen. Mike Wilson say the proposal will be presented to lawmakers Monday to get feedback.

Stacy says the proposal is a "middle ground" giving school employees and parents some certainty about the end of the school year.

Some districts have missed more than 30 days due to snow and ice.

Politics
8:46 am
Fri March 21, 2014

Stumbo Reverses Course, Now Says He Supports Local Option Sales Tax Bill

House Speaker Greg Stumbo (left) came in for criticism from Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (right).
Credit Kentucky LRC

A series of bills that would amend the state constitution and implement a local option sales tax to fund city and county projects has won support in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Thursday he now supports the bill following a conversation with Gov. Steve Beshear, and expects it to head to the House floor for a vote.

House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins says the bill will likely be voted on Friday in order to give the Senate enough time to discuss it.

“I know that the issue is being worked right now, and don’t know myself … exactly where the vote count is, but I know there’s a lot of work going in by a lot of people to see if the votes are there to be able to bring it out here and debate it and see if it can more forward," said Adkins, a Democrat from Sandy Hook.

One House Republican had some strong words for Stumbo regarding his apparent about-face.

“It shows that he’s playing every side that he can," said Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Russell Springs. "He’s concerned about the political ramifications in November, and he’s playing every side that he can on every issue that he can and this is another example.”

If passed, the measure would go before voters this November, and would implement a 1 percent sales tax on top of Kentucky’s 6 percent sales tax to fund local projects.

Regional
6:20 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Democrats Quash Anti-Abortion Bills in Committee

Three bills that would place more restrictions on abortion access in Kentucky have been rejected in party-line votes.

The House Health & Welfare Committee voted down two similar bills that would require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions and penalize doctors who don’t comply. The committee also rejected a measure requiring women to meet in person with their doctor prior to obtaining an abortion.

Derek Selznick is executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project. He says the mandatory ultrasounds would be traumatic to a woman who conceived a child after being raped.

“While a doctor or somebody is actually holding a transvaginal wand inside of a woman and must explain what they’re seeing on the screen. And that, you know, for, once again, for a woman who’s been raped, that is just adding trauma to that experience,” said Selznick.

Michael Janocik with the Kentucky Right-to-Life Association says one measure contains language permitting exemptions in case of a medical emergency, though rape is not explicitly listed as one of them.

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Environment
8:05 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Bill Heading to Governor's Desk Allows Kentucky's Coal-Fired Plants to Regulate Own Emissions

The bill passed by the Kentucky House and Senate comes at a time when the EPA is trying to crack down on carbon emissions at coal-fired electric power plants.

A bill that would allow coal-fired electric power plants in Kentucky to regulate their own carbon dioxide emissions has passed out of both chamber of the state legislature.

The bill has received massive bipartisan support.

House Bill 388 was filed by Rep. Jim Gooch, who has private interests in coal-related businesses. His bill, which permits coal power plants in Kentucky to regulate their own levels of CO2, one of the major contributors to climate change.

The bill passed in his chamber, as well as the Senate, by unanimous vote.

Hazard Sen. Brandon Smith says the bill is designed to help the coal industry endure a period of hardship due to federal environmental regulations.

“To see us wanting to jump in to these white papers and these new clean air standards they’re pushing down on us without at least fighting back or sending some sort of signal that the House and the Senate do not agree with this, we felt like it left these areas vulnerable," Smith said.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Health
6:40 pm
Wed March 19, 2014

Kentucky House to Consider Bill Legalizing Medical Research on Cannabis Oil

A bill that would permit state universities to research and prescribe medicinal cannabis oil has passed out of a House committee.

Lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 124 by a unanimous vote. 

The proposed legislation would permit the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky to study the effects of a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that some say alleviate symptoms of some neurological disorders.

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