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Here's What Happened in Frankfort this Week

There are always surprises in legislative sessions. But one safe assumption when a state budget must be approved is that Senate and House members will form a committee late in the session to iron out differences in each chamber’s preferred state spending plan.

That’s what happened this week as Senate and House members created a conference committee in the hopes of reaching an agreement on Kentucky’s next two-year budget before a legislative recess that’s scheduled to start on March 29.

While many parts of the two chambers’ budgets are in agreement with each other, there are notable differences in each chamber’s spending priorities. Among the questions conference committee members are confronting are:

  • How much should the budget depend on possible new revenue sources? The House plan made spending decisions based on the possibility of new revenue, most notably a proposed 50 cents per pack increase in the cigarette tax and a 25 cent per dose tax increase on prescription opioids at the distribution level. The Senate plan is not based on any tax increases.
  • How should increases in funding for public pension systems be prioritized? Compared to the House plan, the Senate plan directs a larger percentage of its pension funding to the least-funded systems -- the state employee’s system and the police system – than to the teachers’ retirement system, which would still be funded at levels required by statute.
  • Where should spending cuts be made? The Senate plan restored some, but not all, of the cuts to state agencies, including universities, that were proposed in the governor’s original budget proposal. The House plan included less spending cuts and would have spared most university funding.

These are just several among a range of complex budget issues that lawmakers will work on resolving in the days ahead. Their goal is to agree upon a budget early enough that they’ll still have a chance to override vetoes, if the governor casts any, before the session ends.

While work on the budget continued this week, a number of other bills advanced, including measures on the following topics:

Finance Education. House Bill 132 would require a financial literacy course as a graduation requirement for Kentucky high schools. Kentucky is currently ranked 48th in financial literacy. The bill received final passage this week in the House with an 88-3 vote and has been sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Opioid Overdose. House Bill 428 would require those who overdose on heroin or other opioid drugs in Kentucky’s largest population areas to be detained by first responders and taken to a hospital. Passing the House with a 92-3 vote, HB 428 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Law Enforcement. Under House Bill 68, law enforcement officials who encounter traumatic events while on the job would get mental health and wellness support, funded by donations, grants and money from the state Department of Criminal Justice Training budget. HB 68 has received final passage with a 38-0 vote and heads to the governor for his signature.

Gun Violence. Senate Bill 210 would increase penalties imposed on convicted felons for possession of a firearm during the commission of certain crimes. With an 18-0 vote in a House Committee meeting, SB 210 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Revenge Porn. House Bill 71 would make it a crime to post sexually explicit images of someone online without that person’s consent. Penalties for posting such an image would be a misdemeanor for a first offense or a Class D felony for each subsequent offense. HB 71 received final passage in the House today on a vote of 90-2. It now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

Road Plan. House Bill 202 is a $2.5 billion Biennial Highway Construction Plan that would focus on the safety and maintenance of Kentucky’s bridges. The measure passed the Senate this week with changes made and now go back to the state House for consideration of those changes.

If you’d like to offer your feedback on the issues under consideration at the State Capitol, you can share a message with state lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Members of the General Assembly meet in conference to discuss the state budget bill (LRC/provided)