2014 General Assembly

Politics
5:15 am
Fri February 7, 2014

Minimum Wage Increase Clears Kentucky House

After more than two-and-a-half hours of debate, the Kentucky House passed a bill Thursday afternoon that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

The issue drew impassioned speeches from supporting lawmakers. 

The debate’s most incendiary comments came from Rep. Jim Wayne.  The characteristically soft-spoken Louisville lawmaker criticized what he called an economic caste system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

“The free market system will guarantee everyone a quality job. Not so; a big lie," argued Wayne.  "The only way capitalism works if for government to step in and set the rules. Now you don’t wanna hear that, but it’s the truth. And that’s what the New Deal was all about.”

Opponents said the higher wage would force some employers to cut jobs. They said it would add costs for school districts and local governments to pay low-wage employees.

The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Politics/Health
8:11 am
Thu February 6, 2014

Kentucky Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Bill Mandating Ultrasound Before Abortion

Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville)
Credit Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky Senate has passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory ultrasound.

The measure passed 33-5 Wednesday with wide Republican support. This is the tenth year the bill has cleared the Senate. All previous efforts have gone on to die in the Democratically-controlled House.

The bill does not provide an exemption for victims of rape. Bill sponsor Whitney Westerfield acknowledges that transvaginal ultrasounds could be traumatic for rape victims.

“I’m not compelling that particular use, and I think that probably would be traumatic and I don’t know, I don’t presume to know what a woman would be thinking in that position, but I think it probably would be," the Hopkinsville Republican said. "They oughta have the option of which ultrasound. That’s why I didn’t write it so it’d be compelled.”

Dissenters say the bill is degrading to women, and  similar laws in other states are costing taxpayers money as a result of legal challenges.

Westerfield said he had not had a chance to review those cases.

Politics
5:28 am
Wed February 5, 2014

Move to Abolish Kentucky Treasurer's Office Passes State Senate

The Kentucky Senate has passed a proposed ballot measure seeking to abolish the state treasurer's office. The proposal would amend the Kentucky constitution to allow the treasurer's duties to shift to the state finance cabinet.

The measure cleared the senate on a 23-15 vote Tuesday. It now goes to the state House.

Republicans backing the measure say it could save the state $1.4 million each year. State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach disputed that, saying his abolishing his office wouldn't save any money. Democrats opposing the bill said the treasurer's office provides needed oversight of state finances.

Minority floor leader R. J. Palmer said the treasurer's office generates more revenue than other state constitutional offices. Republicans said the state auditor would provide needed oversight of executive spending.

Politics/Health
8:01 am
Fri January 31, 2014

Bill Requiring Women to Undergo Ultrasound Before Abortion Passes Kentucky Committee

A Kentucky Senate committee has passed a bill that would require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory ultrasound procedure.

Senate Bill 8 is the latest anti-abortion measure to clear the panel.

Lawmakers heard testimony from Derrick Selznick, who is director of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project. Selznick opposes the bill on the grounds that it’s demeaning to women.

“So for the majority of women that this will effect in Kentucky, there will have to have [sic] a vaginal ultrasound," Selznick said. "And the courts have ruled that the only way a woman can dissent, even though it is written into the law that they can avert their eyes, the only way she can can fulfill that is to wear blinders and noise cancelling headphones. And if that isn’t degrading, I don’t know what is.”

Bill sponsor Whitney Westerfield says the measure is designed to protect innocent life.

Another anti-abortion bill, Senate Bill 3, passed in that chamber last week.

Politics
4:11 pm
Thu January 30, 2014

Minimum Wage Increase Passes Kentucky House Committee

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (left) is a major advocate for increasing the state's minimum wage.
Credit Kentucky LRC

A bill aimed at raising the minimum wage in Kentucky has cleared a House committee.

The measure is a top priority of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who says the current minimum wage doesn't provide a living wage. The Prestonsburg Democrat says full-time employees working for the minimum wage make less than the average cost of a used car in the U.S.

The bill was approved by the House Labor and Industry Committee on Thursday.

Under the bill, the state's minimum wage would gradually increase from the current $7.25 to $10.10 an hour on July 1, 2016. There would be a 95-cent increase this July and another 95-cent boost in July 2015.

Stumbo says Kentucky's minimum wage hasn't been raised since 2009.

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Politics
9:00 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Religious Group Buying Ads on Oppose Expanded Gambling in Kentucky

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is speaking out against expanded gambling in a new radio ad aimed at stirring grassroots opposition to legalizing casinos.

The ad is debuting Wednesday on Christian radio stations.

It features the Baptist Convention's executive director, Paul Chitwood. He says casino operators want to "cash in on the misery" of others. He urges listeners to press their lawmakers to oppose expanded gambling.

Chitwood also makes his case in a video being sent to churches across the state.

The Baptist Convention's campaign comes as expanded gambling supporters are renewing their efforts in this year's General Assembly session.

Lawmakers are considering proposals that would let Kentucky voters decide whether to amend the state's constitution to legalize casinos.

Supporters say casinos would generate much-needed revenue for the state as lawmakers grapple with budget cuts.

Politics
3:15 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Wayne: Balancing Kentucky Budget Shouldn't Depend on Leveling Licensure Fees

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, discusses a bill up for consideration in the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
Credit Kentucky LRC

The legislative scrutiny has begun for Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's proposed budget.

Some lawmakers are critical of the proposal for relying on professional license fees to balance the budget.

From barbers to doctors, blue and white-collar professionals in Kentucky must pay licensure fees in order to practice their given trade. Those fees then go back into funding and staffing the licensing board.

But Beshear’s budget proposal transfers about $370 million in surplus fees to the General Fund, creating a structural imbalance.

Rep. Jim Wayne calls that robbery.

“It puts the boards and commissions in a position where they have to raise the rates on people who are being regulated by their boards and commissions," the Louisville Democrat said. "So, if they don’t have the money to sustain them because it’s been robbed by the governor, they have to go back and then tax, in essence.”

Wayne says the practice has become so commonplace, it’s become a “new normal.”

Kentucky's Troubled Pensions
3:42 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Pension Director: Kentucky Facing Ticking Timebomb When It Comes to Paying Retirees

Kentucky's pension systems are slated to have to pay out more than $17 billion that the state doesn't have.

The numbers come from Kentucky Retirement Systems director William Thielen, who testified before lawmakers in Frankfort Monday. He says the state's various pension funds have only a fraction of what they need to pay all potential retirees.

Thielen says if lawmakers make good on a promise to fund the pensions with the recommend amount, known as the ARC, it'll take a few years before the unfunded liability starts to drop.

“It’ll bottom out around 2018 or ‘19, and then start increasing. But, again, that depends on the full ARC being paid and for us meeting all of our assumptions, and most importantly our investment assumptions," Thielen told lawmakers.

Gov. Steve Beshear has appropriated about $200 million for KRS over the next two years.

Regional
10:26 am
Sun January 26, 2014

State Lawmakers Reflect On Quiet Pace in Frankfort

Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown (left), speaks with Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, after adjournment of the Friday's legislative session in the Kentucky Senate.
Credit Kentucky LRC

The Kentucky general assembly is about a third of the way through the 2014 session.  As is the case in most Kentucky legislative sessions, a great deal of the voting comes in the later weeks and days.  For instance, no votes occurred in either house Friday and both the House and Senate were in session for less than an hour.  Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says his chamber tends to move at a slower pace.

“If you go back and look at the formation of our country, I believe it was Ben Franklin who said that the House is like legislation that comes out as hot as coffee and the Senate is the saucer on which it cools.  So, we are contemplative and more deliberative in our approach than the House of Representatives,” said Thayer.

The pace of the legislative session is pretty typical for the first third of the session.  Franklin County Senator Julian Carrol says the majority party sets the agenda when it comes to bill consideration.

“In terms of their leadership, they want to make certain they don’t want to put them into a spot of having to vote on a bill that be of some harm to then in their effort for re-election, but we’ve moved too slow.  We’ve got an enormous amount of work to do and certainly the pace should have been much better,” said Carrol.

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Politics
2:47 pm
Fri January 24, 2014

Should Kentucky Lawmakers Consider Marital Fidelity When Hiring Next LRC Director?

A Kentucky Representative wants to address the moral character of a top state employee.

The Legislative Research Commission provides a variety of services to the General Assembly. The agency's previous director retired last fall amid reports by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that he was having an extramarital affair with a subordinate who had received substantial pay raises.

Currently, lawmakers are considering a measure that would offer LRC employees a portion of any savings they can generate in the agency. But Representative Tom Riner has amended the legislation to address the moral character and marital fidelity of the next director of the LRC, who has yet to be hired.

Rep. Steve Riggs, the bill's original sponsor, says he agrees with the intent of Riner's amendment, but it can't be enforced as written.

“That one I told him we couldn’t do, cause we can’t prove or disprove fidelity," Riggs said. "We don’t have an investigation team to do that. His has been narrowed down to just deal with morality and ethics.”

The amended bill now awaits a second reading on the House floor.

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