Amid a $91 million state revenue shortfall, the Kentucky legislature’s Government Contract Review Committee approved $1.3 billion worth of contracts this month. Outgoing Republican Sen. Sara Beth Gregory is a co-chair of the committee. She says the high dollar figure comes at the beginning of a new fiscal year, when large numbers of contracts are typically renewed -- about 1,700 contracts in July alone.
But Gregory says that there are still contracts that creep into the committee that warrant more scrutiny from the public and the media.
“It is somewhat surprising how much is overseen by this committee and how much comes before this committee or has the potential to come before this committee with relatively little press coverage,” said Gregory.
Gregory says the committee’s decisions can be overruled by the secretary of the finance cabinet, and that the best they can do is try to draw attention to contracts that award more money than they should.
The Legislative Ethics Commission reports that despite a reduction in contracts for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the amount swelled to $3.4 billion from 2007 to 2011.
The $20 billion budget passed by Kentucky lawmakers underfunds teachers’ pensions, giving the system hundreds of millions of dollars less than requested to keep it afloat.
Public school teachers in Kentucky don’t get Social Security benefits. They can’t even claim their spouses’ either. So that makes their pensions all the more important.
But the already tight-as-a-snare-drum budget passed by lawmakers continues to underfund the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System by about half the amount they need to bring the system -- which is currently about $13 billion short -- into the black.
Beau Barnes is general counsel for the KTRS. He says that changes in federal accounting laws will only compound the problem.
“The sooner the funding issue can be addressed, the better, because the longer it takes, the more difficult it’s going to be to address because the funding status will continue to decline,” said Barnes. “The GASB accounting measure of unfunded liability would have the pension fund running out of money in about 2036.”
Barnes says he’s optimistic the situation won’t come to that, and is looking forward to working with the governor and the legislature to address a problem to which, so far, they’ve given little more than lip service.
The sponsor of a bill that would ban smoking in public places and some private businesses in Kentucky says House Democratic leadership has killed the measure.
Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington, says a combination of pressure from lobbying groups and political concerns of colleagues with tobacco farms in their districts were behind the bill's failure.
“Some of our leadership polled here on the floor, they weren’t convinced that we had the votes," Westrom said. "And, quite frankly, I just don’t think they wanted to risk it in case it was an uncomfortable vote for somebody.”
Westrom says some lawmakers were likely “scared” by lobbyists.
Tobacco companies have spent handsomely this year, at $70,000 in lobbying expenditures in the first month of the session.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo denies that leadership killed the bill. He says support for it dwindled as the session continued.
A bill that would modify student assessments in Kentucky public schools has unanimously cleared a House committee.
The measure would permit schools under the Kentucky Department of Education’s districts of innovation to implement new testing methods to assess student performance.
Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent Donna Hargens testified before the House Education Committee Tuesday, saying that alternative assessments won’t be any less rigorous than current ones.
“I want you all to know that this will require more from the districts of innovation including additional development for teachers, more time to prepare assessments, more time to conduct authentic performance assessments, and require students to demonstrate mastery," explained Hargens.
The bill, filed by Louisville Rep. Larry Clark, would permit those schools to apply for waivers of current testing methods set forth by the innovation plan as long as they meet college and career-readiness requirements for students.
Seven school districts across the state participate in the plan, which was passed in 2012 by the General Assembly to give educators greater flexibility in turning around struggling schools.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will make an appearance Wednesday before a state Senate committee to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for some felons.
The proposal has won House approval and is being considered by the State and Local Government Committee. Paul's office said Republican Joe Bowen, the committee chairman, invited Paul to testify.
Paul, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, has urged passage of the measure, saying voting rights are "sacred."
If approved, the measure would go on Kentucky's November ballot. Voters would decide whether to amend the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights for some felons who completed their sentences and terms of probation.
Felons now can have their right to vote restored in Kentucky by petitioning the governor.
Law enforcement officers on Kentucky's waterways would have to meet tougher standards to justify stopping and boarding boats under a bill making headway in the Legislature.
The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Sen. Chris Girdler says his bill is aimed at reining in overzealous officers. He says the new standards would put more of the burden on officers to justify inspecting boats.
Boating is a big business in Kentucky, which is home to many lakes and rivers. Girdler says unreasonable searches are bad for business and raise civil and property rights issues.
The acting commissioner for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Matt Sawyers, says that provision would send a strong message to officers that "discretion and respect" is a key part of their job.
The Kentucky House has voted to expand a scholarship program for students in the state's coal regions. House members voted 92-0 Monday to send the bill to the Senate.
The measure is aimed at increasing the number of people achieving four-year college degrees in the eastern and western Kentucky coalfields. The scholarships would be awarded to students who, for the most part, attend four-year college campuses in coal counties, in hopes they stay there after getting their degrees.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo says coalfield counties in eastern Kentucky lag behind other parts of the state in the percentage of its residents with four-year college degrees.
The measure seeks to make permanent a pilot project.
The scholarships are funded with coal severance tax money.
The Kentucky House has approved legislation intended to help citizens of the state better understand how to save and use their money.
Daviess County Representative Jim Glenn is the sponsor of the bill which would form the Kentucky Financial Literacy Commission. The lawmaker from Owensboro says he’s been advising young people about saving money for decades.
Glenn is sponsoring legislation forming the Kentucky Financial Literacy Commission. It’s passed the House and is now before Senators. Glenn, a professor at Owensboro Community and Technical College, says this effort could teach people of all ages.
“It helps the working class people. It helps senior citizens. It helps parents and it helps young students, four basic groups. So, they are gonna put together programs, publications, things that are gonna help people increase their core knowledge of financial literacy,” said Glenn.