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Capitol Notes: Minimum Wage, Felony Expungement Bills Pass Committees

From the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission:

Minimum wage bill clears House committee

Legislation that would raise the state’s minimum hourly wage of $7.25 to $10.10 by July 2016 has cleared the House Labor and Industry Committee. 

The wage would be increased incrementally to $8.10 an hour this July, $9.15 per hour in July 2015, and $10.10 an hour the following July under House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. The legislation also proposes a prohibition on wage discrimination, specifying that Kentucky workers be paid equal wages for equal work, regardless of sex, race, or national origin, with a few exceptions based on seniority, merit pay, or productivity measures.

Stumbo said approximately 391,000 working Kentuckians earn less than $10.10 an hour—including parents of one in five Kentucky children. He added that the current state minimum wage rate translates roughly to $15,080 in gross annual pay for many full-time Kentucky workers.

HB 1, he explained, would raise that to $16,209 a year for those workers.

“This is about the people who are earning the absolute lowest wage that a citizen…can make,” said Stumbo.

Among the members of the committee with concerns about HB 1 was Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, who said he wants everyone to earn a decent wage but added, “I’m also very concerned about jobs.” He said the impact of federal health care reform combined with Social Security and other costs would significantly increase costs for a small business—a cost equal to that of 2.6 employees in the first year alone, Bechler said.

Kentucky would join 21 states and the District of Columbia that have a minimum wage above the federal minimum wage, also now $7.25 an hour, should HB 1 become law.

While HB 1 includes no proposed increase for wages of tipped employees, an increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees—which includes mostly restaurant employees—is included in HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Will Coursey, D-Benton, which also passed the committee today. That bill would raise the current tipped employee state minimum wage from $2.13 an hour to $3 an hour this year, then incrementally each year until the wage is 70 percent of the state minimum wage for non-tipped employees, now $7.25 an hour.

Both bills now go to the full House for consideration.

Panel approves informed consent bill

A measure that would change the informed consent process for the abortion procedure in Kentucky was approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee today.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would require an ultrasound prior to informed consent being given for an abortion.

Under provisions of the bill, the physician would be required to display the ultrasound images and provide a medical description of the images. A woman would not be required to look at the images if she prefers not to, according to the legislation.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

School finance bill clears House, 58-41

A House bill that would require certification of  Kentucky school finance officers, change annual in-service training requirements for school board members and superintendents, and require both monthly and yearly public financial reports from districts has passed its first major hurdle.

House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, cleared the House by a 58-41 vote today. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

New annual in-service training for school board members required by the bill would be 12 hours for members with up to 8 years of board service and 8 hours for members with more than 8 years’ service.  All board members would be required to have two hours of school finance training, two hours ethics training, and two hours superintendent evaluation training annually. Superintendents would have to complete at least three hours of annual training in school finance and at least three hours of ethics training annually.

Annual district financial reports would be required by the state within six months of the close of the fiscal year, and would be required by local school boards on a monthly basis. Both the monthly reports and yearly reports would be posted online.

The state Department of Education would be required to review each district’s annual financial report and, within two months, respond to the local board of education with a written report on the financial status of that district.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called for what is known as a “fiscal impact statement” to be attached to the bill because of the potential cost of proposed changes, including the increase in annual in-service training for school board members. A fiscal impact statement shows what costs, if any, would be incurred by government by enacting a bill.

Rep. Jim DeCesare said increasing annual training for school board members will cost money, as would paying the cost of certification of school finance officers. “I’m all about transparency, and I believe that we should put our checkbook online and we should let the taxpayers of Kentucky know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “However, by adding the continuing ed part to this bill, you’re basically putting an unfunded mandate on our local school districts. They’re going through a period right now where they’re struggling to make ends meet.”

The motion to require a statement on HB 154 was narrowly defeated. Denham and some other members had said in response to the motion for the statement that review of the legislation by legislative staff showed no need for one.

“We put the minimum requirements in here,” said Denham. “We need this transparency bill. We need this accountability bill.” 

Felony expungement bill clears committee

A bill that would allow low-level one-time Kentucky felons to ask the courts to seal—or “expunge”—their felony record has passed the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 64, sponsored by Rep. Darryl T. Owens, D-Louisville, would apply to “Class D” felons whose conviction was not based on a sex offense, crime against the elderly, or crime against child; who completed their sentence or probation at least five years prior; and who was not convicted of a felony before their conviction and has not been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or violation since. It would also apply to those for whom felony charges did not result in an indictment, and would provide discrimination protection for felons whose records have been expunged. 

The bill would apply to any eligible felon, regardless of how many decades have passed since their conviction. As many as 94,000 individuals could be eligible for expungement under the legislation, according to Owens.

Current Kentucky law only allows expungement in misdemeanor cases.

Among those testifying in favor of HB 64 was Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, who explained how the Information Age has made it impossible for any felon to escape a mistake made as many as 30 or more years ago.

“No matter where you want to go to recreate your self-worth…the information about you and your past will be there before you get there,” said Justice Scott. “Today, because we’re in the Information Age, opportunity (today) for an offender to recreate their self-worth is severely hampered. And when the opportunity is severely hampered, resentment abounds. And when resentment abounds, you attack what you resent—society—and then we’ve gone right back to where we are with that person. 

Those who did not support the bill in committee include House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, the co-sponsor of felony expungement legislation (HB 70) also co-sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington. That bill, which would allow Kentucky voters to approve automatic restoration of felon voting rights in the November election, cleared the House early this session.

“I have always supported the expungement of nonviolent Class D felonies,” said Hoover, but added “…this bill does much, much more than that,” speaking specifically about a new section that would be created regarding discriminatory practices.

HB 64 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate Bill 1 passes Senate committee

A Senate committee today approve legislation that would allow voters to decide on a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow the General Assembly to prohibit the adoption of administrative regulations it finds deficient.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, was approved by members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on a 7-4 vote.

“It is important because it preserves the basic tenants of a democratic form of government— that being a balance of power, a system of checks and balances,” Bowen said of the legislation.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.


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