The second week of April is the last week of the Governor’s ten-day veto period. The 14th and 15th, both chambers return to Frankfort and take up any final action on bills, including the budget bills, if there are disagreements with the Governor’s potential vetoes. During this period, it is quiet around the capitol. This week, several members came to Frankfort to meet about pending legislation and continue to discuss the Road Plan, which has not yet come to the floor for a vote.
The final budget bills that passed March 31 represent responsible borrowing and spending of revenue. We prioritized education and public employees’ wages, and we also tried to keep the cuts at a minimum to higher educational institutions. Many state agencies will receive cuts up to 5 percent, and this is a tough reality, but one that we must endure during the stalled economy.
As the conference committee negotiated the final budget, we were able to reach a compromise on most items. We led the charge in reducing borrowing and spending. We found efficient and responsible ways to fund educational technology. Some of the key items of the final budget bills follow.
The Senate’s input resulted in the final budget borrowing less money and using less one-time money to pay recurring expenses than the proposals from the Governor and House. That means both the debt service ratio and structural imbalance are lower.
In addition to fiscal responsibility, we prioritized giving all Kentucky students the opportunity for quality education. The final budget supports Kentucky’s education efforts from preschool to college. The plan will expand the state’s preschool program in 2016, increase K-12 per-pupil (SEEK) funding, and add nearly $10 million for education technology.
Also, there is additional funding for Career and Technical Education to fill vacant teaching positions at vocational schools throughout the state. Also retained were increased funding for college scholarships through the Kentucky Tuition Grants (KTG) and the College Access Program (CAP).
While some state agencies and programs will face cuts up to 5 percent in the next biennium, critical areas like Medicaid are protected from reductions. Also, funding for child care subsidies for low-income families will be restored.
The budget also includes pay raises for state employees for the first time since 2008, most of whom are taking home less now than several years ago due to increased insurance costs. The final budget includes raises for public school teachers and judicial branch employees as well.
We were also able to avoid requiring libraries and health departments to pay for Property Valuation Administrators to collect taxes, as proposed by the Governor. This would have put a large strain on the budgets of these important public services. This was not implemented due to additional general fund support to PVAs instead of placing the entire burden on special districts.
To assuage speculation about the stability of Kentucky’s retirement systems, this budget also fully funds the Kentucky Employee Retirement System’s Actuarially Recommended Contribution (ARC), and provides $372.3 million in FY15 and $380.5 million in FY16 for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System employer match for qualified local school district employees.
We also made sure to include language provisions to ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly. For example, the budget specifies that no general fund dollars may be used for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, which has been done without legislative approval with the promise it would be paid for by federal funds. Likewise, funds received as a result of the ACA may not be used to permanently expand or create programs.
Besides the focal point of passing these important budget bills, we also acted upon other House and Senate bills. A snapshot of House bills we passed includes House Bill 125 passed the Senate, and will allow patients to request and receive copies of medical laboratory results. The bill also contains Senate Committee Substitutes that cover other medical issues such as creating a way for chronically ill patients to receive all medications needed on one day a month, and increases oversight of the drug Suboxone which is prescribed for opioid addicts.
To encourage outside business to come to our state, we passed House Bill 488, which gives tax breaks to national corporations holding conferences in Kentucky.
House Bill 28, also known as the “no cup of coffee rule,” also passed, and provides more language to the legislative code of ethics. The bill limits how much lobbyists can pay legislators to attend events, prohibits many activities such as paying for transportation for legislators, limits campaign contributions for certain lobbyists and also requires members of the legislature to attend sexual and workplace harassment training at the beginning of each session.
This week, the Governor signed legislation such Senate Bill 98. It will create an adult abuse registry and require agencies that employ adult caregivers to check the registry database before hiring a personal care staff member. The registry would be maintained by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and would also be available for individuals or families seeking to hire a caregiver. Currently, nursing homes, adult care agencies and families have no way of knowing if a potential employee has been fired for confirmed abuse or neglect. An adult abuse registry will help employers hire responsible caregivers, and more importantly, will better protect our vulnerable citizens from harm.
Senate Bill 109 also was signed and will prohibit the sale of “electronic cigarettes” to minors. These e-cigarettes are sometimes marketed and sold as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes because they are smokeless. However, they still emit a vaporized form of nicotine to users that many people feel is still addictive and unsafe for youth.
Senate Bill 124 will allow research and limited medical use of cannabis oil. The measure provides that doctors at the state’s two university research hospitals can prescribe the oil to patients, as well as conduct studies of its effectiveness. The oil has been used as treatment for certain medical conditions, especially pediatric epilepsy.
The budget and many other pieces of legislation are now in the hands of the Governor, who must choose whether to sign or veto the measures. The Governor has the authority on budget bills to line-item veto specific provisions if he chooses to do so. When the General Assembly returns to Frankfort on April 14 for the final two days of the session, any vetoes may be overridden by a majority vote of both the House and Senate.