Capitol Notes: General Assembly Session Ends
The Kentucky General Assembly’s 2013 regular session came to a close tonight as lawmakers adjourned at the conclusion of the 30th and final session day allowed by the state constitution.
Among the highlights on the final day of legislative activity was the passage of a long-sought bipartisan agreement to ease the state’s public pension debt, along with a funding measure to assist in that effort.
Since the session’s start in early January, lawmakers have also approved measures to allow school districts to raise the high school dropout age, provide better oversight of special taxing districts and make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military.
Most new laws – all that don’t come from legislation with emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in 90 days.
Bills approved this year by the General Assembly include measures on the following topics:
Child protection. House Bill 290 will establish by statute an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries. The panel will be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the cases.
Crime. Senate Bill 15, named the Bryan Durman Act in honor of a Lexington police officer who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2010, will ensure that a person convicted of criminal homicide in the killing of a police or fighter on duty doesn’t become eligible for probation or parole until 85 percent of a sentence is served.
DNA testing. HB 41 will allow some felony offenders in prison or under state supervision to request testing and analysis of their DNA as case evidence.
Hemp. SB 50 creates an administrative framework for the growing of hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government.
Human trafficking. HB 3 will strengthen human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. The legislation will offer assistance to agencies responsible for helping human trafficking victims by creating a “human trafficking victims fund” supported by service fees paid by convicted human traffickers, proceeds from seized and forfeited assets of traffickers, and any grants, contributions, or other funds that may become available.
Military voting. SB 1 will make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. The legislation will allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others serving overseas to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically.
Newborn health screenings. SB 125 will include critical congenital heart disease testing as part of the newborn screening program.
Pill mills. HB 217 will make adjustments to the “pill mill” law approved last year by easing some reporting requirements when pain medications are dispensed for legitimate needs while upholding the original bill’s intention of stopping prescription drug abuse. Mandatory reporting to KASPER (the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system) will be lifted for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Exemptions would also be made for post-surgery patients, end-of-life patients, and some specified other patients with a clear medical need for increased pain management.
Proof of insurance. HB 164 will allow people to use electronic insurance cards on their smart phones or other electronic devices as proof of motor vehicle insurance. Drivers will still be required to keep paper insurance cards in their vehicles
Public pensions. SB 2 will offer a plan to ease the state’s public pension debt and HB 440 offers a financing component to the plan. SB 2 will require the state to contribute the full amount recommended by actuaries to the pension system each year beginning in fiscal year 2015. Rather than a defined-benefit plan, the legislation offers future public workers a hybrid cash balance plan with a guaranteed four percent return on contributions. On the funding side of the issue, HB 440 will generate almost $100 million a year from tax changes that include a $10 reduction in the personal income tax credit, a trade-in credit for new cars, a cap on vendor compensation for sales tax collection, and enhanced collection efforts by the state Department of Revenue.
Religious freedom. HB 279 specifies that government shall not burden a person's freedom of religion. The legislation states that an action motivated by a sincerely held religious belief can not be infringed upon without a compelling governmental interest. (HB 279 was vetoed by the governor; the veto was overridden by the House and Senate.)
Scholarships. SB 64 will ensure that students earning Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships aren’t penalized in the amount of scholarship money they receive if they graduate from high school in three years rather than four.
School dropouts. SB 97 will allow school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased compulsory attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it.
Special taxing districts. HB 1 will boost transparency and accountability for the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state. The bill will put education and ethics rules in place for those special-purpose entities and create an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information. The bill will require the taxing districts to submit budget reports to fiscal courts. If a special district wants to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it will need to hold a public hearing in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting.
Student health. HB 172 will encourage schools to possess at least two epinephrine auto-injectors in case one is needed for a student having a life-threatening allergic or anaphylactic reaction.
Suicide prevention. SB 72 will require attendance at suicide prevention training programs at least once every six years for social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, fee-based pastoral counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists
Synthetic Drugs. HB 8 will continue the state’s efforts to update laws regarding synthetic drugs to ensure that newly developed, harmful synthetic drugs are listed as controlled substances.
Teacher evaluations. HB 180 will require the Kentucky Board of Education to establish a statewide evaluation system for all certified personnel. The Department of Education, in consultation with teacher and principal steering committees, will develop the system prior to the 2014-2015 school year.
Tuition waivers. SB 95 will extend the five-year tuition waiver eligibility period for adopted children who serve in the military.
University projects. HB 7 will authorize six state universities to issue agency bonds for 11 specific building construction projects (including some at Northern Kentucky University) at a collective cost of approximately $363 million. The projects will be funded by the universities’ own revenue streams, not state dollars.
Victim protection. HB 222 will establish a crime victim protection program in the Secretary of State’s office to allow domestic violence victims to have personal information, such as addresses, redacted from public voter registration roles. The legislation will also allow victims in the program to vote by mail-in absentee ballot.
Source: Legislative Research Commission
Photo: Kentucky State Capitol/via House Democrats