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Recent News

County clerks’ group talks elections with lawmakers   - 11/28/18

Pension plans need ongoing attention, oversight board told - 11/26/18

Legislative panel apprised of bridge tolling - 11/19/18

Kentucky’s early childhood programs reviewed by lawmakers - 11/16/18

Bourbon boom continues, lawmakers told - 11/09/18

Kentucky cities share their priorities with lawmakers - 10/25/18

Kentucky dairy and grain issues reviewed by panel - 10/11/18

Juvenile justice gaps targeted by agencies, lawmakers - 10/05/18

Kentucky wine industry gets additional support - 10/04/18

Legislative panel briefed on future of state parks - 09/27/18

KY 911 service discussed by state committee - 09/26/18

Legislative panel considers bank tax reform - 09/26/18

Lawmakers study plans to protect the vulnerable - 09/20/18

Legislative panel discusses medical marijuana - 09/14/18

Calendar set for General Assembly’s 2019 session - 09/06/18

Kentucky dairy, other farms look to the future - 09/05/18

Kentucky Medicaid program eyes options in face of shortfall - 08/30/18

State lawmakers check in on federal bank regs - 08/29/18

Medical marijuana supporters pitch lawmakers - 08/24/18

Kentucky looks at new reforms to cut jail, prison population - 08/23/18

Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives - 08/14/18

Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens - 08/14/18

Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges - 08/07/18

Water needs discussed by state legislative panel - 08/07/18

Experts view youth violence as public health crisis - 07/19/18

New state laws go into effect July 14 - 07/06/18

November 28, 2018

 

County clerks’ group talks elections with lawmakers 

 

FRANKFORT--How to give more leeway to Kentucky voters who want to cast ballots before Election Day was considered by some state lawmakers today during committee testimony from the Kentucky County Clerks Association.

 

Although Kentucky voters can cast absentee ballots in-person or by mail during set periods before an election with a valid excuse, Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government that many hospital and air transport workers in his area have difficulty voting because of their changeable work schedules.

 

“Inside the two-week period for requesting an absentee (ballot) they learn they’re going to be in Shanghai or Anchorage, Alaska on Election Day, and at that point it’s just too late for them to vote,” Miller said. He asked Kentucky County Clerks Association (KCCA) President and Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe if consideration has been given to expanding absentee voting so those workers have more options.

 

As a county clerk in Northern Kentucky -- which is home to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport—Summe said she understands the challenge of meeting the voting needs of airport workers. But she cautioned that providing options may come with added costs for counties, asking lawmakers to consider how sustainable some changes may be.

 

Early voting, specifically, raises certain questions, Summe told the committee.

 

“My county is huge, so even if I had three voting centers in the center of my state, how would I fund that? Where would I have them? How would I pay (election workers)?” she asked.

 

No broad support for early voting was voiced by the committee although Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, mentioned early voting as a possibility. Riggs said the state’s two-step mail-in absentee ballot process—which requires a voter to turn in an absentee ballot application before receiving a mail-in ballot—is “cumbersome.”

 

“The way we do it now is more than 100 years old with very few changes,” Riggs said. “It keeps people from voting because it’s not as convenient as it needs to be. I’m not sure we need that in a democracy.”

 

Summe said some changes may be necessary, but asked that lawmakers consider that early voting in addition to voting on Election Day would be “expensive.” And those costs, she said, will draw money away from counties.

 

“So you have to really, I think, have a conversation, which I would love to have,” said Summe.

 

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, told Summe he is concerned about a lack of poll workers in the state. He asked about worker pay, which Summe said is set by each county. In her county, she said poll workers are paid $20 per two-hour training class and $150 for a 12-hour Election Day shift.

 

Seum said the dearth of workers poses some real problems for election operations.

 

“The danger now I think … if we’re getting a shortage of poll workers, now we’re going to think about combining precincts, which then, now you’ve got travel time, the poll is now farther away from someone. So that’s a danger,” he said.

 

But Summe said that “danger” can also be an opportunity. Having more flexibility, she said, can benefit voters.

 

On the issue of precincts, Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Rep. Rob Rothenburger asked if modern voting machines could eliminate the need for more precincts by accommodating more voters per precinct without lengthening voting lines. Summe said that is a possibility.

 

“The precincts themselves – the new equipment does alleviate a lot of those particular timing issues and should allow for a precinct to be bigger, but the statutes could be a little clearer on how that would work,” she said.

 

KCCA was one of many local government associations sharing its legislative priorities for the 2019 Regular Session, which starts in January. Some other associations that came before the panel to share their session goals included the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association and the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association.


--END--

 

November 27, 2018

  

Pension plans need ongoing attention, oversight board told

FRANKFORT— Funding for Kentucky’s public pension systems continues to be challenge, a state retirement official told a state pension oversight board yesterday.

With the KERS (Kentucky Employees Retirement System) nonhazardous plan now less than 13 percent funded with around $13.5 billion in unfunded liabilities – making it the worst-funded of all the state’s pension plans – Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) Executive Director David Eager told the Public Pension Oversight Board that legislative attention is needed.

“We’re pretty close to pay as you go on KERS nonhazardous,” Eager said, explaining to the board that pension funds have decreased as retirements rise and payroll contributions fall.

“If we receive no contribution and no investment income, it’d be insolvent in two years,” Eager said of the KERS nonhazardous plan. “That’s not going to happen. We’re going to get contributions and hopefully we’re going to get investment income. (But) we’re in a very fragile state.”

Some good news shared by Eager and KRS Deputy Executive Director Karen Roggenkamp indicates that the unfunded liability for KRS overall decreased by $450 million between 2017 and 2018, thanks mostly to a decrease in the unfunded liability of retiree health insurance plans.

“So we gained $450 million on that unfunded,” Eager said.

The KRS actuarial review excludes legislative changes made under 2018 Senate Bill 151 – the 2018 General Assembly’s pension reform bill – which is pending a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court.

KRS’ County Employees Retirement System (CERS) nonhazardous pension plan’s funding level dipped only slightly from 52.8 percent to 52.7 percent in 2018, accompanied by a slight uptick in the pension plan’s unfunded liability, according to a state legislative actuarial and financial update provided to the board.

Showing improvement is the Teachers’ Retirement System, the state’s retirement system for Kentucky’s active and retired educators.  The funding level for the TRS pension plan increased from 56.4 percent to 57.7 percent in 2018, according to the legislative update, while the pension system’s unfunded liability was unchanged.

The unfunded liability for the state’s pension plans overall (including KRS, TRS, and the Judicial Retirement Plan and Legislators Retirement Plan) totals $37.97 billion for 2018 – an increase of $430 million over previous levels, according to preliminary numbers included in the legislative update.

--END--

 

 

November 19, 2018

 

Legislative panel apprised of bridge tolling

FRANKFORT – Motorists have paid more than $168 million in tolls to cross three major interstate bridges connecting Louisville and Southern Indiana since the implementation of electronic tolling in December 2016.

And that number exceeded projections by $75.6 million for last fiscal year alone, said Megan McLain of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet while testifying before today’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation.

“We are meeting all of our projections by a fairly large margin,” said McLain, the innovative finance manager for the cabinet. She added that there is an average of 33 million annual traffic trips across the bridges, or eight million more than projected.

Starting earlier this year, registrations on vehicles couldn’t be renewed if their owners had an overdue toll. Since that time, McLain said 43,000 outstanding tolls have been paid totaling about $3 million. She added that there are currently 97,000 “holds” on vehicle registration renewals because of unpaid tolls.

“Registration holds are our primary form of enforcement so we are very happy with how that has been going,” McLain said.

She also touted new features on the tolling system’s website. That included the ability to pay a toll online before an invoice is created. A motorist can now provide their license-plate number instead of an invoice number to pay a toll.

“Our citizenry seems to be very earnest and honest and they wanted to pay before that,” McLain said of the feature. “They didn’t want that hanging over their head. They didn’t want to wait for an invoice.”

Referring to complaints about poor customer service, McLain said that the bi-state tolling system, named RiverLink, now has 85 employees performing customer-service duties. She said call wait times average under one minute, time to respond to emails average one day and time to respond to letters average three days.

Rep. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, asked whether lessons learned from the tolling of the Louisville-area bridges could benefit any projections on how tolling would go if implemented on a long-sought-after Interstate 69 Ohio River crossing – dubbed I-69 ORX – in the Henderson area.

“I would be very disappointed in us if we didn’t take the lessons learned in Louisville and apply them to our next tolling project,” McLain said. “I do think we will have a system that starts even better than the Louisville one did from the very beginning.”

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, asked how effective the license plate cameras are in picturing the plates of vehicles who cross the bridges without a transponder – an electronic device placed on the inside of the windshield that is used to detect crossings on a tolled facility. He added that he has driven across the Louisville-area toll bridges about a half-dozen times without a transponder and never received a bill.

McLain said that while the cameras don’t capture every license plate number, the all-electronic tolling system is so much less expensive to operate that it makes up for lost revenue.

“While we might not collect as much gross revenue, in the end, or net revenue is higher because our expenses are lower,” she said.

Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, said he is receiving complaints about the cost of the tolls from trucker associations. He asked if the transportation cabinet has any proposals to provide relief to trucking companies that use the bridges multiple times a day.

McLain said the toll policy is set by a board with members appointed from both Kentucky and Indiana. “Any changes we would make to toll policy would have to go through that board,” she said.

McLain added that while some trucking companies have expressed concerns about the cost of the tolls, others have said the extra costs were made up by quicker travel times the two new Louisville bridges provided.

-- END --

 

 

November 16, 2018

 

Kentucky’s early childhood programs reviewed by lawmakers

FRANKFORT— Voices of state officials reading story books to children in the State Capitol rotunda echoed through the building’s halls today as the state’s legislative Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee met in the Annex next door.

Governor’s Office of Early Childhood (GOEC) Executive Director Linda Hampton told the panel that turning the rotunda into a classroom for a day to support the state’s “Believe in Me KY” literacy and adoption/foster care initiative showcases some of the good things that Kentucky’s tobacco settlement dollars make possible.

“All of this could not have happened (except) through the importance of the tobacco money because again, the fact truly is literacy is the foundation for learning,” said Hampton.

Kentucky lawmakers budgeted over $24.5 million in its tobacco settlement funds for its Early Childhood programs in fiscal year 2018, Hampton reported. Most of those funds are allocated to two programs, child care assistance and the HANDS (or Health Access Nurturing Development Services) Program. HANDS received slightly more than the child care program – or $9 million—in fiscal year 2018, according to GOEC.

HANDS is overseen by the Department for Public Health, which also administers the state’s Early Childhood Mental Health (ECMH) program that serves mostly children from birth through age 5 and their families. The department’s Early Childhood Development Branch manager Paula Goff told the panel that adverse experiences in children too young to read can lead to trouble later on.

“Children who don’t have good social and emotional development – they don’t form good attachments with caring adults – as they get older, we read about them in the newspaper. We see what happens to them splattered across our TVs, and right now many of those children if you look back … they’re in prison,” said Goff. Breaking that cycle means offering supports for them and their families, she said.

Her branch helps toward that end by using state tobacco dollars to provide support to families by funding services from mental health specialists in their “off hours,” Goff said. In fiscal year 2018, the ECMH served over 4,700 children and families and helped train over 1,000 staff in Head Start, childcare and state-funded preschool.

The HANDS program provides hands-on training to parents of young children through a voluntary home visiting program handled by local health departments. Over 5,500 first-time parents were served by that program with the support of state tobacco funds in fiscal year 2018, said Goff.

What Goff called the “proven effectiveness” of the HANDS program – which has been in place statewide since the year 2000 – has led the state to expand the program’s reach to families with more than one child. That part of the program is funded through a 2011 federal grant and non-tobacco dollars, she said.

Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Co-Chair Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, asked Goff how parents can receive support from HANDS. She said parents are referred for support from a number of sources including physicians and hospitals.

“It’s an open referral,” she said. “Once the health department gets the referral, they’ll call that family.”

A baby must be no older than three months to be eligible for services through the HANDS program under current state regulation, Goff said. But some mothers of older infants (up to six months of age) have a brand-new program to help them out. That program, called HEART (Healing Empowering Actively Recovering Together), is geared toward mothers in recovery from substance abuse, she said.  

“Because not everybody gets captured in that first three months of life who would like to participate,” said Goff. The HEART program is now operating in Floyd County, but Goff there are plans to expand it to other areas.

Sen. Minority Whip Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, said an abandoned baby shared the same hospital nursery as his daughter some 30 years ago. He asked GOEC and Goff what services are available for abandoned infants. Most of those children, Goff said, end up in foster care.

There are more than 10,000 children in Kentucky’s foster care system right now, said Hampton.

“There are so many children who are abandoned, and they don’t have anything,” she said. “What they do have is folks like you who saw that. They have folks like all of us who are morally obligated to be there for our children.”

Kentucky’s tobacco settlement dollars are drawn from the state’s share of a 1998 multi-billion-dollar settlement between major tobacco companies and 46 states.

--END--

 

 November 9, 2018

 

Bourbon boom continues, lawmakers told

FRANKFORT – Kentucky Distillers’ Association officials appeared before a legislative panel today to unveil their priorities for the General Assembly’s upcoming session, set to begin on Jan. 8.

“One of our top priorities is to pursue legislation to bolster the ignition interlock devise statute that we currently have in the state,” said Bryan Alvey, the association’s senior director of governmental and external affairs, while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. “Our industry takes social responsibility very seriously.”

The state’s current ignition interlock device statute was last amended in 2015 with the passage of Senate Bill 133. It requires some people convicted of driving under the influence to blow into a breathalyzer-type device to start their vehicle. The association would like to expand the program.

Alvey said the group also supports stiffer penalties for minors who possess fake IDs in addition to expanding Louisville’s driving under the influence (DUI) court to other parts of the state.

“We think these efforts will also help public safety as a whole,” Alvey said.

Another legislative priority is to make a change to a tax provision included in 2018’s House Bill 366. Alvey said the state revenue cabinet has interpreted the law in an unfavorable way to distillers. He said that has resulted in distillery tour tickets purchased through tour companies being taxed twice – or at a 12 percent rate.

“We are the heaviest taxed industry in the state,” Alvey said. “Anything we can do to minimize our tax burden would be greatly appreciated.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said tour tickets being taxed twice was the result of what he believes is a misinterpretation by the state revenue cabinet.

“I do think it is our responsibility to clean that up,” he said. “That is not what we meant to happen.”

The association is also looking to extend a provision in 2015’s Senate Bill 11 that allows a voting precinct in a “dry” county to go “wet.” Alvey said the provision has allowed distilleries in dry counties to serve bourbon samples to visitors in addition to selling distilled spirits.

Kevin Smith, chair the association’s public affairs committee, testified at the hearing on the health of Kentucky’s bourbon industry. He said this year’s tax assessed value of aging barrels is $3 billion, up $456 million from 2017. He added that premium small batch and single barrel brands are now driving the “bourbon revolution.”

Smith said there are 8.1 million barrels of bourbon in Kentucky. That’s almost two barrels for every person living in the state, he said.

Distillers have made $485 million in capital investments since 2011, Smith said, and plan to spend another $620 million on capital improvements in the next five years.

Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, asked how many people are employed by Kentucky’s distillers. Smith said the distillers belonging to the organization had 17,500 employees last year and an annual payroll of $800 million. That figure doesn’t include nonmember distillers such as Buffalo Trace in Frankfort.

“We (Kentucky) dominate the bourbon production landscape, but we are always mindful to know that this is something that is potentially in jeopardy,” Smith said, who is also a vice president for the multinational spirits company Beam Suntory. He said recent tariffs on distilled spirits have the potential of being disruptive to the industry.

“I mention this to you because I know a lot of leadership mentions that this isn’t hurting the industry, but I’ll tell you ... our company is already seeing millions of dollars lost in revenue as a result of these tariffs,” he said.

Smith said that his employer has declined – so far – to pass along the increased costs to consumers.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, pointed out to association officials that half the world’s bourbon is stored in his district.

“I’m very proud of that fact, and I’m very proud to be in bourbon country,” he said.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who co-chairs the committee, ended the meeting by announcing the panel’s last meeting of interim will be on Dec. 10 in Frankfort.

 

--END--

 

 

October 25, 2018

 

Kentucky cities share their priorities with lawmakers

FRANKFORT—Kentucky cities continue to call for separation of their retirement system from the Kentucky Retirement Systems as state lawmakers gear up for the General Assembly’s 2019 regular session.

Separating the County Employees Retirement System (CERS) from KRS is the top priority of Kentucky cities, according to Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) President and Mayfield Mayor Teresa Rochetti-Cantrell. She told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government yesterday that while CERS is the KRS’s largest system with nearly $9 billion – or 75 percent – of KRS assets, CERS only holds 35 percent of the seats on the KRS Board of Trustees.

Talk of a possible CERS separation from KRS has been ongoing since at least 2016, based on news reports.

“Cities want to ensure that the promised made to (our) workers are kept,” Rochetti-Cantrell told the committee yesterday.

Legislation filed in 2017 by Interim Joint Committee on Local Government Co-Chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, would have allowed the separation from KRS over a four-year period. Separate laws governing administration, benefits and investments of the CERS would have been established under Bowen’s Senate Bill 226, which stalled late in the session.

When asked today by Rep. DJ Johnson, R-Owensboro, about how KLC envisions the separation, KLC Deputy Executive Director J.D. Chaney said it would take time to separate CERS assets from KRS, which is why SB 226 would have provided for a four-year transition. Both systems could have retained their own management staff during that time, he said, allowing for resolution of any fiscal issues.

Johnson said he sees that as “a doubling of effort, possibly a doubling of cost. And I don’t see where the solution to take care of that is at this point.” But Chaney said most of the administrative costs, around 63 percent, are already paid by CERS.

Chaney said “traditional allocation of cost” would likely continue under separation, adding that KLC is flexible on that issue “if there was a compelling policy argument.”

Also commenting on the cost of separation was Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. Simpson said recent figures shared by KRS before the state Public Pension Oversight Board indicate that separation may be cost-prohibitive. Chaney countered that KRS’s figures actually support CERS’s argument that separation is better for local government employees.

“If it’s going to cost the state system more for us to separate on an ongoing basis, it shows they have been relying on CERS assets to make those purchases…” said Chaney, adding that CERS alone should be able to recover “in short order.”

KLC’s second highest priority for the 2019 session is road funding – namely, getting more of the state’s gas tax revenue. Rochetti-Cantrell said KLC proposes that the 2019 General Assembly adopt a compromise between KLC and the Kentucky Association of Counties that would give cities and counties an equal 13 percent share of gas tax revenues above $825 million, which KLC reports was the total available for revenue sharing in fiscal year 2014.

“This helps ensure cities that are often the center of commerce and activity within a county have the funds necessary to ensure the upkeep and safety of high-traffic areas, while also holding counties harmless,” Rochetti-Cantrell told the committee.

Other KLC priorities for 2019 include state legislation that gives cities greater revenue flexibility and protection, support for cities’ continued fight against opioid abuse, and updating state laws that adhere to an outdated population-based city classification system updated in 2014.

Bowen advised KLC to carefully consider its top priority as session nears, cautioning the group on “the contentious nature of pensions.”

“My only counsel to you would be—and I know how much you’re advocating for that—but I sure wouldn’t sacrifice some of these other priorities in an over-energized effort maybe on that. That’s just some parting counsel to you as I walk out the door,” said Bowen, who is not running for reelection this year.

--END--

 

 

October 11, 2018

 

Kentucky dairy and grain issues reviewed by panel

FRANKFORT—A pending revised U.S. free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada could mean big gains in trade for Kentucky agriculture, state lawmakers heard yesterday.

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles told the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which he referred to as “NAFTA 2.0” would almost eliminate tariffs on all U.S. commodities and have a positive impact on Kentucky agriculture. The agreement has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Congress or the other two countries.

One Kentucky agricultural industry eager for the agreement is the dairy industry, hard-hit by dwindling milk consumption and falling market prices. Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, asked Quarles if the USMCA would impact dairy trade with Canada, and the response was yes.

Quarles said the “major sense of contention” between the U.S. and Canada has concerned a class of processed milk products that includes skim milk and whole milk powder – classified by Canada as “Class 7 dairy products” – which Quarles said the U.S. believes has not been treated fairly.

The issue is one that “fortunately, the USMCA does address,” he told Rothenburger. “It is a bright spot for American agriculture.”

Here in Kentucky, Quarles said the dairy market has begun to stabilize thanks to efforts by the state to find markets for Kentucky milk. Last week’s groundbreaking in Somerset for $5 million plant expansion of Prairie Farms milk plant is also some bright news for Kentucky, he said. The national dairy outlook, however, is less reassuring.

“Nationwide there’s a contraction. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next, but we’re trying with some of the federal rules; the milk ordering system is something I think can be tweaked that can help Kentucky,” said Quarles.

Kentuckians can help their dairy industry, he said, by drinking more milk. Per capita consumption of milk nationally is down three gallons per person since 2011 and down nine gallons per person since 1980, he added.   

“The best thing we can do here in Kentucky to help show support for our dairy farmers is, number one, remind folks that milk is the (state’s) official drink,” said Quarles.

Also discussed was the impact of September’s heavy rains on the state’s grain crop this year. Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, said farmers are seeing steep discounts in prices paid for soybeans and other grain because of damaged grain quality. He said that has been troublesome for farmers in a year where world grain prices are “terribly depressed” despite high yields.

“We’ve got to do a better job of being consistent in these grading methods” when grading grain quality, said Hornback. “This is a very serious issue, and it doesn’t just deal with soybeans.”

Speaking on the issue before the committee for the industry was Hopkinsville Elevator Company general manager Eston Glover III.  He said this is the first time in 17 or 18 years that his company has seen damage issues with soybeans. Elevator companies both store and buy grain, like corn and soybeans, for market.

“This is a unique situation,” said Glover. He said the people who work for him are very experienced with grading in normal situations but that unique situations like Kentucky has experienced this year require “some extensive training. We have to retrain ourselves on the situation too, and make sure that we’re consistent.”

Hornback pre-filed legislation yesterday that he said will give the Kentucky Department of Agriculture more authority to investigate grain discounts and ensure consistency.

“I mainly want the (elevator companies) to know throughout the state that the Commissioner, myself and everybody else that we are watching, that you can’t take advantage of our farmers. That we have to do a better job at being consistent in these grading methods,” he said.

 

--END--

 

 

October 5, 2018

 

Juvenile justice gaps targeted by agencies, lawmakers


FRANKFORT— Nearly two years after his bill to reduce the number of minority youth in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system stalled in committee, the state Senate Judiciary Committee chairman says he will champion similar legislation in 2019.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, announced at today’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary his intention to file legislation addressing “disproportionate minority contact” in the state’s justice system during the upcoming 2019 session. Westerfield was also the sponsor of 2017 Senate Bill 20, aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of mainly African-American youth in Kentucky’s justice system.

The West Kentucky lawmaker said the racial imbalance among minors in the state’s juvenile justice system became clear after Kentucky passed juvenile justice reforms in 2014.

“It has brought into sharp relief the numbers that we see in Kentucky that are pretty stark,  depending on which county you’re looking at,” said Westerfield. “We see a very disproportionate number of youth of color in the system (in some parts of the state). It is out of proportion to their share of the population. It shouldn’t be that way.”

States are required to try and reduce disproportionate minority contact, or DMC—which the U.S. Department of Justice characterizes on its website as “overrepresentation of minority youth in the nation’s juvenile justice system”—per federal law passed by Congress in 2002.

Westerfield said his 2019 proposal will incorporate input based on DMC data from various state agencies including the Administrative Office of the Courts. Data shared today by the AOC’s Department of Family and Juvenile Services Executive Officer Rachel Bingham showed that African American youth are the most overrepresented in the state’s justice system.

Eleven percent of the state’s youth population is African American while 81 percent of the same population is white, said Bingham. Yet for the first six months of 2017, 25 percent of the more than 12,000 complaints made to the state’s Court Designated Worker (CDW) program (which processes criminal and noncriminal complaints against juveniles) were levied against African American youth. That percentage dropped slightly to 22 percent for the same period this year, she said.

“Again, if you look at the 25 (percent) and 22 (percent)—over double of what our youth population is for African American youth at 11 percent. We consider that to be disproportionate,” said Bingham.

Data regarding “public offenses” – or offenses committed by juveniles which are treated the same as adult crimes – for the first six months of this year also showed disparities between African American and white youth, she told lawmakers.  African Americans youth comprise 16 percent of charges for public offenses at school, and 29 percent of charges for public offenses out in the community. 

The state looked at national research into why the percentages are so different, said Bingham, and found that the answer may rest in how we see African American youth out in the community.

“We do know that research says there is a way that we see kids of color and we actually age kids of color—in all actuality up to three years, she said. “Are we more harshly charging our youth out in the community just because of our own … biases that we related to our own history? What’s the difference between those non-school related (charges)?”

AOC Director Laurie Dudgeon said some suggestions of the state Juvenile Justice Oversight Council (JJOC) that lawmakers may want to consider are: eliminating charges for children under age 12, instead referring them to FAIR (Family, Accountability, Intervention and Response) teams created under the 2014 juvenile reforms; mandatory diversion of certain cases, and; close examination of the state’s youthful offender law.

“We see the disparity numbers much less coming out of our schools than when we don’t know people at all,” Dudgeon said.  “And I think that’s based on the really objective set of criteria we have for our status offenses. I think if we could take another look at the youthful offender statute that would be a great place to start.”

Juvenile Justice Advisory Board member Pastor Edward Palmer, Sr. suggested that lawmakers also consider mandatory diversion for eligible children in the juvenile justice system.

“What we know from research is that the deeper they go in, the more likely they are … to end up part of the adult criminal system,” Palmer said.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said lawmakers should also consider where crime occurs when looking at why numbers are what they are.

“There’s nowhere in this presentation that addresses the fact that the vast majority of violent crime is coming from these areas,” he said. “So it would only stand to reason that there would be more contact. And to try and make the contact some correlation between the population is, to me, unfair and is not in the interest of justice.”

Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, said children entering the justice system at a young age is one of her concerns.

“I think the younger you bring a child into the system, the worse your outcomes are. So I think that’s one area that we should look at – are we criminalizing children of color at a higher rate than we are white children?” she said.

--END--

 

 

 

October 4, 2018

 

Kentucky wine industry gets additional support


FRANKFORT— Grapes are used to make Kentucky wine, but not all of those grapes come from Kentucky.

It’s a conundrum that Kentucky grape growers and wineries face as growers struggle to find grape varieties suitable to Kentucky’s soil and climate.

“We can grow grapes – finding the right varieties (is the challenge),” Kentucky Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Warren Beeler told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Oversight Committee yesterday. 

Beeler said Kentucky wineries often find it easier to buy juice from the grapes used in their wine than to grow the grapes themselves. That has caused grape production in the state to level off, he said, but that could change. Researchers at the University of Kentucky are currently trying to identify grape varieties that are best suited for growth here in the Commonwealth.

“The viticulture (grape production) folks at UK have got to find out what we can grow, and then maybe we can get back to expanding,” Beeler told the committee.

To help UK achieve its goal, the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board (KADB) in August approved up to $390,189 in state tobacco settlement funds for the UK Research Foundation to support research into wine grape varieties that can be grown in Kentucky. That research, overseen by the state’s Viticulture and Enology Extension Program, will receive the funds over two years.

Last month, the KADB approved $280,000 in state funds to support the Kentucky Grape & Wine Council (KGWC). Those funds will support marketing and wholesale reimbursement incentives for the wine industry, according to a KADB news release.

The reimbursement incentives – offered as grants through the KGWC in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture—are designed to help licensed small farm wineries and Kentucky wholesalers distribute wine products. The KGWC also offers a cost-share grant program in cooperation with the department that reimburses 50 percent of the total cost of approved marketing projects.

In the works, said Beeler, is a loan program to assist Kentucky’s wine industry. That program has not yet been finalized.

Speaking in support of Kentucky’s wine industry was Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield. He told the committee that Kentucky wineries shouldn’t get lost amid strong growth and sales in the bourbon industry.

“I would hope that we could continue to grow that segment of agriculture,” Meredith said of the wine industry. “I think there’s more stability in the wine market than in bourbon, and we certainly need to be prepared to take advantage of that.”

Kentucky currently has around 70 wineries in operation, Beeler said.

Kentucky’s tobacco settlement funds come from the state’s share of a multi-billion-dollar master tobacco settlement agreement reached 20 years ago between major tobacco companies and 46 states, including Kentucky. Settlement funds directed toward diversification of Kentucky agriculture have totaled over $580 million in agricultural investments since 2001, according to the KADB.

 

--END--

 

September 27, 2018

 

Legislative panel briefed on future of state parks

FRANKFORT – It’s no walk in the park figuring out how to pay to maintain Kentucky’s 49 state parks.

“We have had a long history of our parks being how folks identify with the state of Kentucky,” Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said while chairing yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government. “They represent our heritage in a lot of cases. And they are certainly our billboard to the rest of the country.”

Committee members asked to be updated on the future of state parks after Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary William Landrum III testified before them last month that Kentucky was leasing some state park attractions it could no longer afford to operate.

Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Don Parkinson testified that despite the fact that the General Assembly appropriated $18 million last biennium and $20 million this biennium, the park system has $240 million in deferred maintenance. That term is used to describe the postponement of buildings and equipment upkeep due to a lack of money.

Parkinson said he wanted to clarify Kentucky’s lease agreements involving state parks. He said the agreements were designed to keep the parks open. Parkinson said he wants to avoid closing more than just the four golf courses shuttered since 2006. Department of Parks Commissioner Donnie Holland testified he was saddened when one of the courses, located at Kenlake State Resort Park in Hardin, closed because that is where he learned to play golf.

Holland said collaborating with local governments to keep attractions open was not a new approach. Similar agreements have been reached in prior administrations. For example, the state partnered with Danville in 2012 to help maintain Constitution Square Historic Site, the birthplace of Kentucky’s statehood. A similar agreement was struck in 2010 when Owensboro took over Ben Hawes Park.

An example of the current administration’s collaboration efforts involve Calvert City Airport, located within Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park. The city is building hangers to accommodate 10 private aircrafts and adding aviation fuel service. Holland said the goal is to re-establish the facility’s Federal Aviation Administration “airport” designation. It had fallen in such disrepair that the FAA had downgraded it to “airstrip” status.

Other partnerships include one with Nelson County to repair the amphitheater at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, home of “The Stephen Foster Story.” The longest-running outdoor drama was threatened when the amphitheater was condemned, Holland said.

A similar agreement was struck with Prestonsburg when the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park amphitheater was also condemned. The city also leased the shuttered swimming pool and plans to reopen it next summer.

Holland said other attractions saved by local governments stepping forward include the boat dock at Lake Malone State Park in Dunmor and the golf course at Kincaid Lake State Park in Falmouth.

Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, said Pendleton County sublet the golf course to a private operator who broke even by July. “That has been a bigger success story than we had anticipated,” he said. “The golf course is back up to par.”

Holland said he is now working with London to use its restaurant tax revenue to take over the operations of Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park.

Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, whose district includes the Levi Jackson park, asked whether the operating agreements restrict logging or mining on the leased parks. Tourism Cabinet Deputy Counsel Jean Bird, who also testified, said the agreements contain conservation easements restricting the use of the property to a park.

“If the land ceases to be used as a park, it will revert automatically to the commonwealth,” she said. “We will do all that we can do to preserve the land, buildings, trees, everything we can.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he would like Parkinson to develop a long-term strategy, based on a set of core values, for the state park system.

“Don, I know you are a man of vision,” Wayne said in reference to Parkinson’s prior experience as senior vice president of KFC and YUM! in Louisville. “I would encourage you’ll to think about that.

“It is a great opportunity you have here to do more than patch up these crises. Give us a vision of where we can go and try to sell it to us. It will take some sales expertise to sell a vision of how great our parks are and how they have to be restored.”

Parkinson said that was “a fair challenge,” adding that he has increased room nights, defined as the total number of hotel rooms guests take up, multiplied by the number of nights in those rooms, by 18,000 per year.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Louisville, who once served as state parks commissioner, asked that Parkinson return to the committee to testify whether Kentucky’s public-private partnership (P3s) law has benefited the state park system. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 132 in 2016 to allow government and private entities to enter into P3s as an alternative financing method for major public projects, such as state park repairs.

 

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September 26, 2018

 

KY 911 service discussed by state committee

FRANKFORT—State legislators today received the 411 on the state’s plans to improve 911 service in Kentucky using real-time mapping of caller data and locations.

“Geo-information systems – GIS – is a critical element of innovative, 21st century emergency communications. In 911, as in so many other facets of life these days, timely and accurate mapping data is of paramount importance,” Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (KOHS) Executive Director John Holiday told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government. “GIS as a whole must be elevated in stature if Kentucky hopes to compete on a national scale.”

Laying out KOHS’s plan to improve its statewide 911 capabilities was KOHS Deputy Executive Director and Kentucky 911 Services Board Administrator Mike Sunseri. Sunseri said moving from voice-only 911 to next-generation 911, or NG911, would improve both locator and messaging capabilities – including sending 911 messages by text rather than by voice only and allowing photos to be sent as part of a 911 call.

To help the state’s 115 911-call centers move toward NG911, Sunseri said his agency has applied for a $1.7 million four-year federal NG911 grant. With a required local match, the grant would provide nearly $2.9 million for NG911 improvements now under discussion.

“The (KENTUCKY 911 Services) Board has received great feedback from the 911 community thus far. The one common element shared by those in trenches … (is) GIS,” which Sunseri said Kentucky’s 911 stakeholders want factored into the state’s 911 plan. That plan, he said, has not been updated since it was created in 2009.  

“We’ve enlisted a technical consultant to help us in that matter and (the plan will be updated) by the end of the calendar year,” said Sunseri. NG911 updates would come later for most 911 call centers around the state.

Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, asked Sunseri what the cost to create a fully GIS-based statewide 911 system would be. Sunseri said he only has enough information to respond anecdotally to that question, specifically mentioning Owensboro – which Sunseri said spends $8,000 a month to maintain their GIS data. Fleming said the statewide figure would run into millions of dollars.

“I can tell you one thing, it’s well north of probably about $10 million to do that,” said Fleming. “But … every life is important, and it might be worth it.”

Rep. DJ Johnson, R-Owensboro, asked if the local matching funds for the NG911 grant are available now or not. Sunseri said there are enough Kentucky 911 Services Board administrative funds in reserve now to cover the first year or two in matching funds, should the grant be awarded.

“But we would never turn money away from the General Assembly should this august body deem it a worthy use of general fund dollars, and we will be making a formal request in some manner,” Sunseri said.  

Some lawmakers wanted to discuss changes at the Kentucky 911 Services Board, formerly called the CMRS (Commercial Mobile Radio Service) Board. Comments were made about a recent four-year state audit that Sunseri said found improper accounting practices undertaken by a past board that were uncovered by the audit, requested by KOHS. The audit showed the past board improperly spent more than $250,000 “from a fund dedicated by statute to be used exclusively for 911 call center grants,” said Sunseri.

The funds were repaid from the board’s administrative fund, Sunseri told lawmakers.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, thanked the agency for cooperating with the state audit. He added that there should be tough “consequences” for those who improperly handled the funds.

“I just hope that there are consequences for people who did that, as opposed to just losing their job or their position, that we pursue consequences” said Riggs. “Otherwise, if we don’t – if there are no consequences other than losing your position – it will just continue to grow.”

 

-- END --

 

 

September 26, 2018

 

Legislative panel considers bank tax reform

FRANKFORT – Don’t bank on the fact that small-town banks will survive – at least in Kentucky. The Kentucky Bankers Association told state lawmakers yesterday that the commonwealth’s tax structure is jeopardizing community banks.

Kentucky taxes its banks at a rate higher than any other state in the nation at an average effective tax rate of 13.3 percent, said bankers association President Ballard Cassady while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Banking and Insurance. He added that Indiana’s effective tax rate for its banks is 6.5 percent, Ohio’s is 7.74 percent and Tennessee’s is 9.33 percent.

Cassady said that is why banks in other states can buy Kentucky banks and essentially fund that purchase with tax savings. He explained that acquiring banks do this by reducing the number of employees, branches and moving investment portfolios to other states. Nine Kentucky banks have been purchased by out-of-state institutions since 2014, according to the bankers association.

To make matters worse, Cassady said, Kentucky is taxing its banks at a rate that is an average of 92 percent higher than it taxes any other corporation in the commonwealth.

But that 92 percent imbalance is just the average, Cassady said. For example, First Community Bank of the Heartland in Hickman was taxed at a rate that was 100 percent higher. First State Financial in Middlesboro was taxed at a rate that was 130 percent higher. Bank of Cadiz was taxed at a rate that was 200 percent higher. And Kentucky Farmers Bank in Ashland was taxed at a rate that was 1,000 percent higher, he said.

“When a bank’s capital remains at work locally, it ripples through local economies so as to be multiplied,” Cassady said of the importance of providing community banks tax relief. “Some economists say by as much as a factor of 10 – enlarging the local tax base and growing Kentucky’s tax revenue the right way.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan “Malano” Seum, R-Fairdale, asked for a clarification of the word “franchise” as used in describing Kentucky’s bank tax. Cassady said the use of the word is somewhat misleading because it doesn’t mean banks are franchised like many fast-food restaurants. He said the word “franchise” just refers to the industry-specific tax.

Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, said calling it a “franchise tax” is a misnomer. He said it is a “tax on capital.” Fischer then asked for a brief history of state tax policy on banks.

Cassady said the disparity between bank tax rates and all other corporations in Kentucky could be traced to a series of events that began in 1995. Before that, the taxes on banks and other corporations had different names but the overall rate differed very little, he said.

“In 1995, we had a court case that made its way from the Kentucky Supreme Court to the United State Supreme Court and back,” Cassady said. “Along the way, Kentucky’s method of taxing banks was found to be unconstitutional.”

In response, the industry employed tax professionals and lawyers to work with the state revenue cabinet to develop what is now called the “bank franchise tax” which at the time was the model being used in most states across the country, he said. The new model still taxed banks at about the same rate as other corporations.

“That all began to change in 2005 when Kentucky lowered the top tax rate on corporations from 8.25 percent to 6 percent with no change to the bank tax model – leaving banks at 8.25 percent,” Cassady said.

It only got worse with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, he said. The federal regulations forced every bank to move more of their assets into capital, the primary component of the state bank franchise tax. Cassady said that immediately skewed state banks’ tax rate upward.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, asked what types of institutions are negatively impacted by the bank franchise tax. “Are you talking about the JPMorgan Chase of the world or Kentucky community banks?” he said.

Cassady said it is the state’s community banks that are being crushed by the franchise tax. “It is more than a 10-ton gorilla sitting on their chest,” he said. “They are not only burdened with the compliance costs that came out of the Dodd-Frank ... but also the huge tax burden they are going to have at the end of the year.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, asked what the state bankers association’s next step was in trying to get tax reform for their industry during the upcoming session. Cassady said his organization would be asking that banks be taxed the same way, and at the same rate, as other corporations in the commonwealth. He added that the organization would provide additional details of how they would like to see that transition take place during an upcoming Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations & Revenue.

 

-- END --

 

 

September 20, 2018

 

Lawmakers study plans to protect the vulnerable

FRANKFORT – Bridgett Howard lived with spina bifida for 32 years before pancreatitis sent her to the hospital where she developed and died from bedsores – in nine days.

That’s what her father, Tom Howard of Salyersville, said while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services.

“This doesn’t need to happen,” he said, adding that Bridgett never developed a bedsore while under her mother’s care for more than three decades.

Howard was joined by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who introduced legislation in 2017 relating to pressure sore treatment and prevention, named the Bridget Ann Howard Act (House Bill 297). The men’s testimony came at a meeting dominated with issues concerning Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens, particularly children, and public policies to protect them.

Two of the state’s top pediatric oncologists testified at the meeting about the Kentucky Pediatric Cancer Research Trust Fund. The fund was created in 2015 with the passage of Senate Bill 82 and appropriated $5 million in the current biennium budget. The appropriation spurred a private donor to contribute an additional $6 million to the fund, said Jamie Ennis Bloyd, the president of the fund’s board.

Dr. John D’Orazio of the University of Kentucky said his school is spending the money on two research projects dealing with leukemia, one with brain tumors and one with sarcomas.

“Thank you for helping us reduce the burden of disease caused by pediatric cancer in the commonwealth,” D’Orazio said to the committee members.

Dr. Ashok Raj of the University of Louisville testified while wearing a sports jacket of gold ribbons given to him by a patient. He explained that the international awareness symbol for childhood cancer is the gold ribbon.

Raj said U of L is spending part of the money on CAR T-cell therapy. It is a type of treatment in which a patient's T cells, a type of immune system cell, are changed in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells.

“I know it is kind of the nerd in me talking, but when you talk about the CAR T-therapy that, to me, is incredibly exciting,” said Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who is a pediatrician. “I try to emphasize that for all of the members of this committee to understand. This is revolutionary stuff.”

The committee also heard an update from the Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel. The panel was established with the passage of House Bill 290 during the 2013 Regular Session after news reports about Kentucky leading the nation in the number of caregiver-related child deaths.

“What this (panel) does best is to try to identify gaps in the system,” said retired Jefferson County Family Court Judge Paula Sherlock, who serves on the panel and testified before the committee. “What are emergency rooms not doing? What is the Cabinet (for Health and Family Services) not doing? What are the courts not doing?

“This is a forum where we can put it all on the table and look at it and not in the blame game but be in the let’s fix this game.”

Sherlock said drug and alcohol abuse leads to many injuries and deaths, prompting Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, to ask if there should be a law requiring doctors to report suspected drug and alcohol abuse to police. He said he considered such legislation a couple of years ago. Panel member Dr. Jaime Pittenger, who also testified, said the fear was that it would discourage parents from sending their child to the pediatrician or being honest with the doctor.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, said the review panel and the pediatric abusive head trauma legislation (House Bill 285) passed during the 2010 regular session have become national models.

“When we as legislators collaborate and work with everyone together, I think we come up with the best solution,” Wuchner said. She added that another tool Kentucky has to combat child neglect is the Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky organization.

“We are going to dovetail nicely with the prior presentation because what we do is prevention,” said Jill Seyfred, the organization’s executive director. “We try to catch the kids upstream. We don’t do treatment. We don’t do intervention. We are prevention in all of its form.”

She said the organization’s programs include a new partnership with a managed-care group and the state hospital association that focus specifically on parents of newborns before they leave the hospital. It is designed to promote safe sleep practices and prevent head trauma.

 

-- END --

 

September 14, 2018

 

Legislative panel discusses medical marijuana

FRANKFORT -- A drug policy advisor for three former presidential administrations cautioned state lawmakers today about legalizing medical marijuana.

"As somebody who has studied this as a social scientist for over 20 years, my position is unequivocal that we should not legalize marijuana," said Kevin Sabet, while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations. "We have a hard enough time with our legal drugs."

If Kentucky lawmakers were to legalize medical marijuana, Sabet said they should study Louisiana. He said that state's very restrictive law has reduced problems associated with marijuana such as underage use, workplace accidents and impaired driving. Sabet added that New Jersey and New York also had some restrictive laws before liberalizing them.

"I would say look south and east rather than west," said Sabet, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Florida where he serves as director of the school's Drug Policy Institute. His and Kentucky Society of Addiction Medicine President Michael Fletcher's testimony was, in part, a rebuttal of individuals who spoke in favor of proposed medical marijuana legislation at the committee's Aug. 24 meeting.

"As an addiction medicine physician, I'm here to champion the implementation of safeguards in all jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized or may be legalized in the future," said Fletcher. "My comments today reflect the public policy position stated by American Society of Addiction Medicine."

He said the organization, known as ASAM, does not support the legalization of marijuana.

Committee Co-chair John Schickel, R-Union, asked Sabet whether states with legal medical marijuana have seen an increase in residents filing for disability. Sabet said he has heard anecdotal stories about jumps in the number of people on disability rolls, but he hasn't seen scientific data to back up the claims.

"There has not been a good look at a lot of the data," Sabet said. "We have to scrounge around to find even use data that is relevant."

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, asked what liability a small employer like him would face if an employee caused an accident while on medical marijuana.

"I don't have a crystal ball on how this will affect it," Sabet said, adding that he isn't a lawyer. "I can tell you in other states there is a mishmash of lawsuits that have happened.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, asked whether there was a field sobriety test, or quick method, to determine whether someone was actively under the influence of marijuana.

"There are tests in development," Sabet said. "We do not have anything near what we do for alcohol."

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, asked if any state had repealed laws liberalizing marijuana use. Sabet said Alaska repealed an early marijuana law before a ballot initiative in 2014 made it legal.

"I think you have states going through this debate and discussion," Sabet said of whether anyone is currently considering repeal measures.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan "Malano" Seum, R-Fairdale, said he is an advocate of medical marijuana who smoked it to relieve nausea after cancer surgery. He said regulating it would help ensure people were not purchasing marijuana laced with other drugs on contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides.

"When is the last time we heard of anybody getting hold of rotgut whiskey?" Seum said in reference to the watering down alcohol with poisonous chemicals like turpentine, common during Prohibition. "It doesn't happen because you can go to a store and get a clean product. You know what you are buying."

Sabet said he sympathizes with anyone in situations similar to Seum's.

"I don't think anyone wants to see adulterated products," Sabet said. "I worry about the legal stores in Colorado who are getting away with selling a lot of adulterated products. I also worry about the black market that is selling adulterated products."

Schickel said he expects some type of marijuana legislation to be introduced in during the upcoming session set to start on Jan. 8.

 

-- END --

 

September 6, 2018

 

Calendar set for General Assembly’s 2019 session

FRANKFORT – The 2019 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly is scheduled to begin on Jan. 8 and will last 30 legislative days.

As usual during an odd-numbered year, in which sessions are half as long as in even-numbered years, the session will have two parts. The first four days of the session – Jan. 8 to Jan. 11 – will focus on organizational work, such as electing legislative leaders, adopting rules of procedure and organizing committees. The introduction and consideration of legislation can also begin during this time.

The second part of the session begins on Feb. 5, with final adjournment scheduled for March 29.

Legislators will not meet in session on Feb. 18 in observance of Presidents’ Day. The House and Senate will also not convene on March 8 or 11.

The veto recess – the period of time when lawmakers commonly return to their home districts while the governor considers the possibility of issuing vetoes – begins on March 14. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on March 28 and 29 for the final two days of the session.

The 2019 session calendar is online at: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/calendars/19RS_calendar.pdf.

--END--

 

September 5, 2018

 

Kentucky dairy, other farms look to the future

FRANKFORT — Millions of gallons of milk—including milk produced in Kentucky—will be purchased by the federal government to benefit U.S. dairy farmers and food banks, state lawmakers heard today.

Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Co-Chair Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, said 56 truckloads of milk containing 2.3 million gallons of milk will be hauled through Kentucky as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) $50 million purchase of 11-13 million gallons from dairy farmers nationwide. All of the milk purchased by the USDA will be distributed to food banks across the country, including some in Kentucky.

“That’s going to be beneficial not only to our farmers, but also to those people who desperately need the services of the food bank. So we’re very happy on that right there,” said Dossett.

Kentucky Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy Executive Director Warren Beeler told the committee that the USDA purchase is welcome news to Kentucky dairies that he said have been hard hit by milk quotas in other countries, namely Canada.

“They have what we need. They have a quota-based system where they can control how much milk they produce,” said Beeler, adding that Kentucky may lose 75 dairies this year due to economic pressures. “When consumption’s going down and production’s going up, you’re going the wrong direction … and that’s what happened to us. So, we’re thankful for anything the federal folks can do to help.”

Kentucky dairies are also helping themselves by expanding the products they offer. In Todd County, Dossett said some dairy farmers are looking at opening a cheese plant sourced by the milk that the farmers produce.

Beeler applauded that kind of initiative, saying his agency is currently talking with two or three different groups with similar plans.

“You go to a commodity that’s got some shelf life to it, and you’ve also got something you can price yourself – that’s not priced for you,” he said.

Exhibits focused on agricultural innovation at this year’s recently-concluded Kentucky State Fair also received praise as the committee discussed AgLand – a new fair exhibit highlighting both the past and high-tech future of Kentucky farming. Beeler said he was more proud of the exhibit than of any event in his “40 some-odd years of going to the state fair.”

AgLand, Beeler said, showed fairgoers that farming is a modern practice, using modern technologies like soil testing, solar energy and GPS-controlled equipment.

“If what we’ve got to do is produce 70 percent more by 2050 to feed 9 billion people (worldwide) then everything we do – from a technology, from a science standpoint – has to be cutting edge,” said Beeler. “We have such a disconnect. People think we’re still following a mule. This is science - this is technology.”

--END--

 

August 30, 2018

 

Kentucky Medicaid program eyes options in face of shortfall

FRANKFORT—Kentucky is facing a nearly $300 million state Medicaid shortfall over the next two years that could affect certain Medicaid benefits, state health officials told a panel of state lawmakers today.  

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Adam Meier told the Budget Review Subcommittee on Human Resources that his staff will look at benefits, reimbursement rates and other expenditures to address a projected $156 million Medicaid shortfall this fiscal year and a $140 million shortfall in fiscal year 2020.

The shortfall is due, at least in part, to increased costs not accounted for in last year’s budget projections, according to state Medicaid Chief Financial Officer Steve Bechtel.

A Section 1115 Medicaid waiver approved by the federal government in January and now on hold by a federal court order is considered “one way to mitigate some of the costs,” said Meier. The state has plans to use the waiver to modify the state’s existing Medicaid expansion and implement other policies to help lower state costs. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, is currently vetting proposed changes to the waiver.

When asked by Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, if savings from the waiver are already built into Medicaid’s budget, Meier said no, adding that the waiver is “uncertain.” When asked by Meredith what the state would do without the waiver, Meier said optional and expanded benefits will probably be looked at more closely.

“We can look at, for example, dental, vision, pharmacy – all the optional benefits – and we’ll have to basically weigh what is the cost of each of those buckets. Or we can look at the eligibility, looking at the expansion population and optional population,” he said. “Once we can get a little bit further down the road and we have some certainty as far as the waiver (we’ll have a better idea) what we’re able to take away as far as cost.” 

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the Subcommittee Co-Chair, questioned what he said appears to be a nearly $1.6 billion increase in Medicaid costs in Kentucky since 2015. The biggest part of that growth, said the Cabinet’s Office of Finance and Budget Executive Director Eric Lowery, is Kentucky’s current Medicaid expansion.

“Along with the expansion came the woodwork effect of people who were already eligible for the program but had not yet signed up for it. So, through (20)14, ‘15 and ‘16 we really saw the growth and then things kind of leveled back off,” said Lowery.

Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he expects the state’s health outcomes to improve as personal income improves, saying the two are linked. He said Kentucky has seen “dramatic improvements” in colon cancer screening and some improvement in health outcomes overall.

“We’ve got obviously more opportunities to improve there, but I think we’ve made some good progress,” he said.  

Going back to the discussion on the shortfall, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, asked how the matter could be addressed aside from cutting certain benefits. Meier said the Section 1115 waiver is still a possibility; the Cabinet also plans to look at reducing costs by strengthening Medicaid managed care contracts and reforming purchasing and service delivery.

When McGarvey asked Meier if “pulling benefits” would still be an option, Meier said yes.

“It has to be,” he said. “It’s going to be based on the number of (Medicaid) eligibles and what the benefit costs are.” 

Approximately 1.4 million Kentuckians—or about 1/3 of Kentucky residents—receive Medicaid, according to state Medicaid Commissioner Jill Hunter. Of those Kentuckians, 1.2 million are in managed-care programs, she said.  

--END--

 

August 29, 2018

 

State lawmakers check in on federal bank regs

FRANKFORT – After years of concern that the federal Dodd-Frank Act stifled Kentucky’s rural banks, a state legislative panel reviewed recent changes to that act.

“In the eight years since the enactment of the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank financial control law in 2010, roughly one in five Kentucky credit unions and community banks closed their doors,” U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, said while testifying before yesterday’s meeting of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Banking & Insurance. “Nationwide, more than 43 percent of banks under $100 million in assets completely disappeared.”

Seventy-two percent of community banks reported that Dodd-Frank regulations restricted their ability to extend credit for mortgages, Barr said. He added that small-business lending is at a 20-year low, and the share of banks offering free checking fell from 75 percent to 37 percent.

“By reducing the number of community financial institutions, Dodd-Frank regulations clogged the plumbing of our economy, especially in rural and underserved communities,” Barr said. “Community financial institutions, after all, support 90 percent of the agricultural loans and represent the only physical banking presence in 20 percent of U.S. counties.”

To address the issues, Congress passed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, dubbed the Economic Growth Act, earlier this year.

“Generally speaking, the act tailored many of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank law to reflect the unique nature of community and regional financial institutions that have a different business model and different risk profile than the very large bank holding companies in this county,” Barr said.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, asked if the Economic Growth Act addressed the need for “credit freezes” to combat cyber criminals stealing individuals’ identity. A credit freeze is designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing someone’s credit rating, thus preventing additional lines of credit from being opened.

Barr said, in light of the recent Experian data breach, credit reporting bureaus must now provide to consumers, under certain circumstances, fraud alerts and unlimited, free security freezes and freeze releases.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, asked whether it was too soon to know if the Economic Growth Act had the intended consequence of increasing lending – particularly from community banks.

“Anecdotally, we do hear loan demand is strong in certain markets and that lending is picking up,” said Barr, adding that law is still being implemented.

Rowland also asked whether federal legislators were still considering privatizing at least part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Currently, the NFIP is about $21 billion in debt, despite the fact that Congress canceled $16 billion of its debt in October of last year.

Barr, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, confirmed legislators were looking at some level of privatization.

“As a result, our committee continues to work on reforms that would make the program fiscally sustainable so it would no longer need taxpayer bailouts,” said Barr, adding Congress extended NFIP through November.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said he didn’t think wealthy waterfront-property owners should be allowed to continue to rebuild after floods and be eligible for taxpayer-backed flood insurance. He said 30 percent of the claims made to NFIP are for structures that have been repeatedly flooded and rebuilt with no additional flood mitigation.

“You will be encouraged to know that the reform legislation that passed the (U.S.) House takes on that problem,” Barr said in response. “I certainly support reforms that discourage continuous building in floodplains.”

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, asked whether the Economic Growth Act would ease the regulatory burden of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) on small lenders. Starting in 1975, HMDA required mortgage lenders to report data on housing-related loans to, among other things, evaluate home lending practices, including determining if lenders are engaging in discriminatory lending patterns. The Dodd-Frank act greatly expanded the amount and type of data that lenders are required to collect.

Barr said the final version of the Economic Growth Act provided relief to banks who handle less than 500 mortgages per year. He added that he would have liked the act to provide greater relief to more institutions.

Meredith also asked whether the federal government was considering extending a HMDA-like program to small business lending. Barr said he hoped regulators “pulled back on that idea” because of the compliance costs to lenders.

Meredith responded: “If you want to see small business lending get dried up in Kentucky, passing those HMDA-type disclosers onto small-business lending ... would be disastrous for the industry.”

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Aug. 24, 2018

 

Medical marijuana supporters pitch lawmakers

FRANKFORT – Whether legalizing medical marijuana is the right prescription for Kentucky was pondered today by a state legislative panel.

“I know medical cannabis can help some folks,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, while testifying before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations. “I say that as someone who has never done any illegal drug. I say that as someone who tries to follow every law, even speeding limits. I would break the law willingly if it would help myself, my wife or my children.

“And if I would do it, it ought not to be illegal for our neighbors.”

He testified alongside Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright, on proposed legislation to legalize medical marijuana. The two stressed that they strongly opposed any legislation that might lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

St. Onge said the proposal would not specify what ailments would be legal to treat with marijuana.

“We are not doctors,” she said, “and we feel it is best left to our physicians to recommend in their confidential patient-doctor relationship what they feel might help alleviate some of the pain or some of the symptoms. Marijuana is not a cure that we know of to date. It is used for palliative effects. We believe that is best left to our physicians.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, applauded the fact Nemes and St. Onge said the proposal wasn’t an effort to raise money for the general fund as others have proposed.

“I think advocates for medicinal marijuana need to stop saying this is going to solve our pension problems,” Thayer said. “It is a false promise. We don’t tax pharmaceuticals in this state so why, if we passed medicinal marijuana, would we tax it? It is unfair.”

Thayer said he was against a provision in the proposal that would allow people to grow their own medical marijuana. He expressed skepticism that regulators could prevent homegrown marijuana from being diverted for illegal use.

St. Onge said she now supports a home-grow provision because it accommodates low-income residents unable to afford marijuana dispensaries or rural residents in counties with no dispensaries. St. Onge said the provision would also further discourage the illegal growing and selling of marijuana to medical patients.

Nemes said medical marijuana would be regulated by a new state agency called the Department of Cannabis Administration. He said any violations of the provisions of the proposed medical marijuana law would be a criminal offense.

“It will be their job to make sure the doctors are doing what they need to do and not overprescribing,” Nemes said. “We don’t want any marijuana mills like we have had pill mills.”

Registered users couldn’t smoke medical marijuana in public places, Nemes said. He added that landlords could also prohibit home growing of medical marijuana.

The proposal would discourage medical marijuana “vacationing” by restricting the sale of cannabis to out-of-state residents. Nemes said the proposed legislation is about helping the chronically and critically ill.

“I understand there is opposition to this,’ Nemes said. “ There is good-faith opposition to this. There is legitimate opposition to this. I was against this concept when I ran for office. I respect those who disagree with me today.”

Interim Committee Co-Chair Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, asked if employers could fire employees for testing positive for marijuana use.

St. Onge said employers couldn’t discriminate against job applicants approved by a doctor to use medical marijuana. She said the employer could prohibit the use of medical marijuana on their premises. Nemes added that employers could also prohibit employees operating heavy machinery from using marijuana.

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, said he supported medical marijuana but asked about the legal liability of employing people using medical marijuana. Nemes said the proposal included suggestions from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce designed to shield employers from those employees’ actions.

Rep. Kimberly Poor Moser, R-Taylor Mill, asked what it would cost to establish and operate the Department of Cannabis Administration. Nemes said it would be paid for by a licensing fee on medical marijuana businesses. The proposal calls for the fee to be set at a percent of the gross receipts for each business.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said legalizing some form of marijuana has been a perennial issue during the nearly two decades she has been in the state legislature. She said that has given her an abundant amount of time to study the issue including visiting California and Colorado dispensaries and the doctors prescribing marijuana instead of opioids.

“I didn’t realize the science had become so perfected that you really could treat specific diagnoses,” Westrom said. “There is something very positive about medical marijuana. I think there are a lot of people here who could benefit from this. I just wish we could have some oncologists who could come in and discuss this.”

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Dan “Malano” Seum, R-Fairdale, said he has had several doctors tell him they wished they could recommend marijuana as another tool to treat patients. He added that there was at least one oncologist nurse in the audience.

“I am a cancer survivor,” Seum said. “I’ll tell you point-blank if you get nausea after cancer surgery ... you will be smoking a joint from here to that damn wall if it would take that damn nausea away from you – and I did just that.”

Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, said he supported the proposal even though he will not be returning for the next session of the General Assembly to vote.

“I will tell you over the last 50 years we have probably spent $40 trillion trying to enforce the drug laws,” he said, “and frankly, we have not succeeded. And that’s a fact.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who chaired the meeting, said opponents of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky are scheduled to testify at the interim committee’s next meeting on Sept 14.

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August 22, 2018

 

Kentucky looks at new reforms to cut jail, prison population

FRANKFORT—Staying out of jail may be as easy as having a steady job for some former Kentucky inmates.

Former inmates who stay employed for one year are about 35 percent less likely to return to jail than those who don’t work, Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government in an August 22 meeting. He praised county jails that offer GED and work certification programs which, he said, are helping Kentucky reduce its inmate population and grow the state economy.

“We release 16,000 people a year from state prison alone – 16,000,” Tilley told the committee. “Imagine if we could count on having those people ready for the workforce.”

Fewer than one-third of the state’s 76 county jails have some kind of program to ease reentry for prisoners, he said. Among the jails that do offer such programs is the 297-bed Marion County Detention Center where programs ranging from GED classes to R.E.A.C.H. (Re-Entering American Communities with Hope) help inmates succeed once they are released.

A high-profile former inmate at the Marion County center who Tilley said praised the jail’s programming is former Northern Kentucky football star Zeke Pike, a one-time Auburn quarterback who has struggled with addiction and arrest in recent years.

“I encountered him at the jail several years after he left Auburn … Long story short, he told me that inmates want to be at this jail because they know they’ll get programming help and get back on their feet. And as far as I know, Zeke’s doing pretty well,” said Tilley.

But with its successes, the jail has also faced challenges, said Barry Brady, jailer at the Marion County Detention Center. The cost of incarceration is rising. So are operational costs, which Brady said have increased from a little more than $2 million in 2005 to $4.8 million. Similar stories have been reported by other jailers in a state where the county inmate population is currently between 12,000 and 14,000.

Senate President Pro Tem Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, suggested that performance-based funding for jails may encourage more counties to “step up” by becoming accredited or offering effective inmate programs.

“Not all jails are created equal. Some jails in counties work hard to offer every program that they can offer. Some jails, the only thing they can do, the way they’re set up, is to warehouse prisoners – ‘three hots and a cot,’” said Higdon. “We’ve talked about performance-based funding in education. It’s time we talked about performance-based funding for jails.”

Some solutions are expected to come from 2017 Senate Bill 120, sponsored by Rep. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton. The legislation, now law, is expected to reduce the inmates in Kentucky jails and prisons through alternative sentencing—including reentry programs—and prison industry enhancement programs.  Tilley said the state is waiting on regulations to move those reforms forward.

Committee Co-Chair Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, asked about the education level and skill set of inmates in Kentucky jails. Brady said many inmates do not have their diploma or GED, while Tilley said around 70 percent of state inmates come to prison with their diploma or GED.

“There is a line of thinking, and there is certainly validated evidence, to suggest that a lack of education is a predictor of prison,” said Tilley. While there are highly-educated professionals who suffer from addiction or other events that could land them in prison, he said those individuals often “don’t end up in prison because they’re able to get help and diversion and treatment outside the walls of a prison or jail.”

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, said another predictor of incarceration is a person’s mental health. Good mental health, he said, comes before a desire for job training and educational attainment.

“So my question about performance-based funding: Does it include the factor of, is mental health counseling and proper medicine being administered…or is in only based on job training opportunities and GED opportunities?” asked Riggs.

Tilley said he agrees mental health should come first, but “there’s … reality and there’s what policy should look like.” Community mental health centers in Kentucky haven’t received a Medicaid reimbursement increase since 1998, he said, and mental health professionals today are scarce.

“To the question of whether we should include that as a factor... We’ve got good people working in community mental health,” said Tilley. “So yes, the answer’s yes. What it looks like is really up to you … We want to build it with you … .”

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August 14, 2018

 

Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives

FRANKFORT – An average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day.

That was a statistic federal and state veteran affairs officials kept coming back to while testifying about suicide prevention programs available to Kentucky’s 300,000 veterans at yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

“Within our veterans’ community, there has been a recognized problem with young men and women coming home from serving ... and then finding themselves drifting outside of the military,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, who co-chaired the committee. “This is an issue important to all of us.”

Lexington Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Case Manager Becky Stinsky testified that on average 70 percent of veterans who kill themselves are not seeking treatment through the VA health care system. She told legislators that she conducts suicide prevention training in the community, including companies that employ large numbers of veterans, to try to reach that 70 percent.

Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Heather French Henry testified that her department collaborates closely with the VA.

“If you would have told me 18 years ago that the VA would be offering things like acupuncture, tai chi and yoga, I would have said there probably is never going to be a chance,” Henry said. “But now every VA hospital really is a specialty care facility when it comes to mental health, behavioral health. They do offer some of these more nontraditional ways to address mental health.”

Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, asked how long, on average, it takes a veteran to qualify for VA health care benefits if they have suicidal thoughts.

“If anyone (with suicidal thoughts) contacts the VA, whether they are eligible or not, we are going to care for them,” said Lexington VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator Rebecca Willis-Nichols, who also testified before the committee.

She said the process to apply for VA health care benefits has become “much leaner” and easier in recent years. It can be done online, via mail or in person by filling out a 10-minute form, she said.

Schamore then asked what happens to suicidal veterans that do not qualify for VA health care benefits.

“For those veterans, we are going to care for them acutely and make sure they are safe,” Willis-Nichols said. “We are then going to talk to them about community resources, whether it is their comp care, whether it is contacting their health insurance to get them access that way, or looking at free resources.”

Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville, asked what percent of veterans utilize VA health care. Henry said it was only 9 percent.

“Unfortunately, there are going to be a percentage that do not want to use the VA,” she said. “There might still be a misperception that it is a second-rate health care system. But I will tell you, as one whose dad gets excellent health care at the VA, it is a top-rate health care institution – the only national health care system we got. They do extremely great research and health care work.”

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, asked the officials testifying if they had insight on why female veterans are two-and-half times more likely to kill themselves than female civilians.

Henry said she is working hard to make her department less male centric so women get proper recognition and care. Willis-Nichols added that VA health care had historically been such a male-dominated system that women simply didn’t get the support they needed.

Stinsky theorized that it was because female veterans are more likely to have access to a gun then female civilians. She added that female civilians are more likely to use pills or other methods that are less lethal than firearms.

“I really just want to emphasize that time and distance between someone in crisis and the means in which they can kill themselves makes all the difference,” Stinsky said. “That time and distance is a protecting factor.”

She added that VA health care offers gunlocks to all its patients with no questions asked.

“We don’t put your name on a list,” Stinsky said. “We give them free of charge.”

 

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August 14, 2018

 

Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens

FRANKFORT –  As part of an ongoing commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky, the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will unveil an expanded Kentucky State Fair booth on Thursday. 

New components of the fair booth include a virtual reality experience delivering a bird's-eye view of the legislative process, information about LRC's various social media channels and a demo of LegislaTV. That is an expanding digital signage system at the Capitol Annex, which displays legislative committee meeting schedules and a stream of hundreds of informational slides and videos about the legislative process. 

Visitors will also have the opportunity to receive a complimentary souvenir photograph of themselves in or around the state Capitol, using green-screen technology. 

"The Mission Statement for LRC's nonpartisan staff includes our commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky," said LRC Director David Byerman. "LRC's annual presence at the Kentucky State Fair is an exciting part of our public engagement strategy. Through this exhibit, we hope to connect Kentucky residents more closely to their legislators and the legislative process." 

This year marks the sixth consecutive year that the LRC has operated a booth in the Main Street section of the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. This annual outreach program of the LRC gives citizens of the Commonwealth opportunities to learn about the operations of the legislative branch of Kentucky state government. 

Each year the booth averages personal interactions with over 10,000 people. These interactions help citizens discover who their legislators are through an interactive find-your-legislator program. Citizens also become familiar with the legislative process through publications made available to fairgoers.

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A photo of Legislative Research Commission (LRC) Inventory Control and Maintenance staff members 
assembling the agency's state fair booth on Monday in Louisville can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 7, 2018

 

Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges

FRANKFORT – Kentucky transportation officials plan to spend $700 million to repair or replace 1,000 bridges in six years despite forecasting stagnant growth in the road fund – the pot of money used to pay for transportation projects.

“It is one of the most aggressive bridge rehab and replacement programs in the country,” said Royce Meredith, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official who testified about the initiative during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation. “These are critical structures that affect every Kentuckian.”

Named Bridging Kentucky, the initiative will allow transportation officials to tackle more than three times as many bridge projects as years past. There is $340 million earmarked for nearly 350 bridges in the state’s current biennium, or two-year, budget that started on July 1.

“This program is large and broad,” Meredith said. “It includes structures in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties with a mix of bridges in rural and urban areas. This is a program that affects all parts of the state and impacts almost every driver that uses our roads.”

State transportation officials, highway engineers and consultants are currently screening Kentucky’s more than 14,000 bridges using detailed analytics and calculations for the life-cycle costs of rehabilitation verse replacement. Meredith said the evaluations should be completed this month. It will be followed by a series of industry forums this fall with bridge builders.

“We’re not going to rehab a bridge that should be replaced, and we’re not going to replace a bridge that should be rehabbed,” Meredith said. “Right now it appears about 30 percent of these bridges can be rehabbed.”

He said the bridge construction projects are being prioritized based on budget, construction of structure and project challenges.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, asked why the number of vehicles that cross each bridge isn’t being considered in the prioritization process if the cabinet is using a data-driven system.

“If there are 130 vehicles a day using the structure verse 13 vehicles a day, the one with 130 should be prioritized,” he said, “but you don’t list the number of vehicles that use the bridge as a factor.”

Meredith said the number of vehicles is among the multitude of factors being considered that was not highlighted in the slide presentation shown to the committee.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said there are bridges in eastern Kentucky that cannot handle the weight of a loaded school bus. He said the children literally have to get off school buses and walk across some bridges before the buses can cross the spans. He added that those bridges should be prioritized even if they have a low number of vehicles that cross them.

“That’s just good common sense,” Smith said.

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, echoed Smith’s comment. He said his district has a substandard bridge that provides access to four homes.

“They need that bridge available, not only to get out, but so emergency vehicles can get to them,” Embry said. “The traffic on that bridge will always be very low but it is still important that bridge is fixed – even if the traffic count isn’t very high.”

Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, asked where one could find a complete list of bridges that are being repaired or replaced. Meredith said a list is being maintained on the website bridgingkentucky.com. He said that list would be updated in the next couple of weeks.

Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, urged the transportation department to expedite bridge inspections to avoid lane closures and traffic jams. He said there have been lane closures on the Interstate 24 bridge over the Tennessee River in Calvert City for about three months.

During the last half of the meeting, Robin Brewer of the Transportation Cabinet testified that the state road fund ended the fiscal year $7.7 million above the official revised revenue estimate of $1.5 billion.

Brewer estimates the road fund revenue through fiscal year 2020 to remain $1.5 billion per year.

“We are not really estimating any additional growth through the biennium,” she said. “It’s pretty much on autopilot at this point.”

The committee’s next meeting will be on Sept 12 at the Wayne County Public Library in Monticello.

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August 7, 2018


Water needs discussed by state legislative panel

FRANKFORT—Kentucky has billions of dollars in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure needs, and some state lawmakers are eager to find solutions.

Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy co-chair Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, told Energy and Environment Cabinet officials testifying before the committee yesterday that there is still local water infrastructure in the state dating to the Works Progress Administration of the late 1930s.

“Most cities don’t have the money to make those kinds of investments anymore,” said Gooch, even though water lines regularly break and need repair. “Those kinds of things are problems that we need to address, and they need help.”

He agreed with Deputy Cabinet Secretary Bruce Scott and Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann that local governments need funding to meet their water infrastructure needs. The source of the funding, said Gooch, is “something we definitely ought to look at.”

Investment in Kentucky’s drinking water infrastructure would be the most costly according to Goodmann, who estimated the cost of needed statewide investment at $8.2 billion over the next 20 years. Wastewater infrastructure investment runs a close second at $6.2 billion over the next 20 years, he said.

Also needed is $100 million for work on the state’s dams “in the near-term” based on the state’s 2014 Dam Safety Mitigation Plan, Goodmann told the committee. He was backed up by Scott, who told the committee that water and sewer infrastructure cannot be overlooked indefinitely.

“We have to make an investment. We can’t not make an investment in water and sewer,” said Scott. The outcome would be to be “reactive”—or wait until a major infrastructure failure occurs before some action is taken.

Possible funding options for infrastructure, Scott said, include federal sources like Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loans, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Appalachian Regional Commission grants and Abandoned Mine Land grants. State sources may include state general funds, tobacco settlement funds, or coal severance funds. Local funding and private funding—through a P3 partnership, perhaps—are other possibilities, Bruce said.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, asked Scott and Goodmann about the Cabinet’s view of Louisville Metro’s sewer company, the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which he said has had some “serious issues.” 

“It is in our interest that the small communities be served, period,” Meeks said, but the state’s view of MSD, he said, is also of interest.

Scott said the state has the authority to deal with an issue if “demonstrative progress” is not being made. “The question becomes what constitutes demonstrative progress?” he said.

Two unforeseen sewer collapses in Louisville have raised the question of whether the collapses “negatively impact Jefferson County’s ability to manage its sewage, stormwater or not,” said Scott. “That’s something we have to talk with them about and see whether or not that’s something we have to get involved in in terms of mandates.”

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July 19, 2018

 

Experts view youth violence as public health crisis

 

FRANKFORT – A legislative panel explored the issue of violence, mental health and guns among Kentucky’s youth during a recent gathering 

“This is a topic that we talk about amongst each other ... but it’s something we haven’t really talked about publicly yet,” Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services. “I think it deserves a forum.”

Dr. Brit Anderson, who practices pediatric emergency medicine in Louisville, testified that she realized discussions about firearm injuries can be a divisive topic, but firearm injuries among children is a public health problem. She said recognizing that can allow society to change the conversation and its approach to these injuries.

“Many people read about children killed or seriously injured in the newspaper,” Anderson said, “but before that story is written, I meet that child. I’m sorry to be graphic but it is a reality. I know what it is like to lead a team to save a life. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we do not. I know how hard it is to watch a child bleed, cry, or worse yet, not respond at all 

“I have choked back tears trying to remain professional as I call a time of death and look down at a tiny body. And I know the horrible, chilling, heart-wrenching wail of a parent who has just lost a child. 

Anderson was among a group of doctors and health professionals who testified. She said the group included gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats brought together because they all treat children impacted by firearm injuries.

Dr. Cynthia Downard, a pediatric surgeon in Louisville, said suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years of age in the United States. But in Kentucky, it is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in this age group. And 58 percent of those deaths are suicides.

“I think this is, again, a significant public health problem we need to pay attention to,” Downard said. “As Dr. Anderson said, the sound of a mother losing her child is something you never forget and I would never want to hear again.”

Dr. Christopher Peters, an adolescent psychiatrist in Louisville, said policymakers need to think of suicide as a preventable death. He said the most common way someone takes their own life is by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“The CDC recently reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of suicide for this country since 1999,” Peters said. “Kentucky has its own increase within that average of 30 percent. 

He said teenagers who live in homes with a loaded, unlocked gun are at four times greater risk of killing themselves than if it was unloaded and locked away.

Adams said the group’s presentation was not a referendum on gun ownership or non-gun ownership. She said it just reflected the violence occurring across the nation.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked what could be done. 

Peters said increasing access to health care, improving identification of children who need mental health treatment and limiting children’s access to guns would make a difference.

“It is as simple as locking it up,” he said. “Keep guns locked and safe.”

Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, asked whether mental-health professionals had identified the contributing factors to the increase of anxiety and mental-health issues among the nation’s youth.

“It is a difficult question to answer,” Peters said. “People spend their lives really studying this issue of suicidology.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked the group for their presentation.

“This is a critical conversation we need to have,” she said. “It is in the news quite a bit. We need to look at this as a big-picture problem.”

She added that there seems to be a lack of coping skills among the nation’s youth.

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July 6, 2018

  

New state laws go into effect July 14

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2018 session will go into effect on Saturday, July 14.

That means drivers will soon be required to leave at least three feet of space between their vehicles and cyclists they pass. Children under the age of 17 will not be allowed to get married. And penalties will get tougher for those who post sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. 

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature unless they have a special effective date, are general appropriations measures, or include an emergency clause that makes them effective immediately upon becoming law. Final adjournment of the 2018 Regular Session was on April 14, making July 14 the effective date for most bills.

Laws taking effect that day include measures on the following topics:

Abstinence Education. Senate Bill 71 will require the inclusion of abstinence education in any human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases curriculum in Kentucky high schools.

Bicycle safety. House Bill 33 will require drivers to keep their vehicles at least three feet away from bicyclists during an attempt to pass. If that much space isn’t available, drivers must use reasonable caution when passing cyclists.

Breweries. House Bill 136 will increase what breweries can sell onsite to three cases and two kegs per customer. The new law will also allow breweries to sell one case per customer at fairs and festivals in wet jurisdictions.

Dyslexia. House Bill 187 will require the state Department of Education to make a “dyslexia toolkit” available to school districts to help them identify and instruct students who display characteristics of dyslexia.

Financial literacy. House Bill 132 will require Kentucky high school students to pass a financial literacy course before graduating.

Foster Care and Adoption. House Bill 1 will take steps to reform the state’s foster care and adoption system to ensure that a child’s time in foster care is limited and that children are returned to family whenever possible. It will expand the definition of blood relative for child placement and ensure that children in foster care are reunified with family or placed in another permanent home in a timely manner.

Organ donation. House Bill 84 will require coroners or medical examiners to release identifying and other relevant information about a deceased person to Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates if the person’s wish to be an organ donor is known and the body is suitable for medical transplant or therapy.

Police cameras. House Bill 373 will exempt some police body camera footage from being publicly released. It will exempt the footage from certain situations being released if it shows the interior of private homes, medical facilities, women’s shelters and jails or shows a dead body, evidence of sexual assault, nude bodies and children.

Prescription medicines. Senate Bill 6 will require pharmacists to provide information about safely disposing of certain prescription medicines, such as opiates and amphetamines.

Price gouging. Senate Bill 160 will clarify laws that prevent price gouging during emergencies. The bill specifies that fines could be imposed if retailers abruptly increase the price of goods more than 10 percent when the governor declares a state of emergency.

Revenge porn. House Bill 71 will increase penalties for posting sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. The crime would be a misdemeanor for the first offense and felony for subsequent offenses. Penalties would be even more severe if the images were posted for profit.

Teen marriage. Senate Bill 48 will prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from marrying. It will also require a district judge to approve the marriage of any 17-year-old.

Terrorism. Senate Bill 57 will allow a person injured by an act of terrorism to file a claim for damages against the terrorist in state court. 

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