Gov. Beshear Calls Legislative Session a Remarkable Success

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NEWS DEMOCRAT LEADER | MARCH 26, 2015

Despite snow days that interrupted legislative action in February and March, Gov. Steve Beshear declared this legislative session a success for producing meaningful legislation for strengthening Kentucky’s families, particularly with bills aimed at heroin abuse, dating violence and use of child booster seats.

He applauded lawmakers for finding consensus and passing several critical pieces of legislation before the end of the 2015 Regular Legislative Session.

“Once again, we put aside our political differences to do the work Kentuckians elected us to do, and we have produced strong bills to protect children and vulnerable adults, attack the devastating heroin problem, promote job creation, and improve health,” said Gov. Beshear. “These bills will build stronger families and communities and accelerate Kentucky’s momentum.”

During his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, the Governor laid out a series of legislative proposals that could help improve the health, education, safety and capability of Kentucky’s workforce, as well as improve Kentucky’s economic infrastructure. Most of those priorities were passed by the General Assembly, including bills on heroin, dating violence, child booster seats and an early childhood care ratings system.

Governor’s Priority: Heroin

In the final hours of the session, legislators passed Senate Bill 192, a multifaceted bill designed to attack heroin’s grip on the Commonwealth.

“This is the legislation Kentuckians have been waiting for – a robust and comprehensive package that attacks the spectrum of heroin abuse, from punishing traffickers to supporting addiction treatment to protecting public health through needle exchanges,” said Gov. Beshear. “Heroin is a multi-dimensional monster and demands an array of tactics to support families, treat addicts and protect our communities. This bill is tough on traffickers who bring these deadly drugs into our communities, but compassionate toward those who report overdoses or who admit they need help for their addiction. I applaud our legislators for putting aside partisan interests for the greater good of all Kentuckians who have been affected by this devastating drug.”

Governor’s Priority: Stabilizing the Road Fund

In one of the session’s final votes, legislators approved resetting the floor for the gas tax, which will preserve about $126 million in the Road Fund over this biennium. By setting a new floor of 26 cents per gallon on the gas tax, House Bill 299 protects the stability and predictability of the fund going forward, preventing dramatic falls or increases. Nearly half of the gas tax is passed on to municipal governments and counties, so the floor will preserve funding for local communities for use in road and bridge maintenance.

Governor’s Priority: Booster seats

Kentucky law had required booster seats for children under 7 years old who are between 40 and 50 inches tall, but House Bill 315 increased that requirement to age 8 and 57 inches tall.

“House Bill 315 draws Kentucky closer to federal highway safety recommendations, as well as aligns us more closely with booster laws in neighboring states,” said Gov. Beshear. “This bill will protect more children from devastating injuries in vehicle crashes.”

Governor’s Priority: Dating Violence

Kentucky is one of the few states not to provide domestic violence protection to dating couples. The dating violence bill, House Bill 8, creates a unified, comprehensive system of emergency protections in Kentucky for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Gov. Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear advocated for this bill for several years.

Governor’s Priority: Early Childhood Rating System

Lawmakers took up the Governor’s request to add accountability and transparency to all of Kentucky’s early child care facilities by implementing the goals of the Accelerating Learning Statewide Through an Advanced Rating System, or All-STARS. House Bill 234 requires early child care and education programs to follow this state quality-based rating system. All-STARS addresses safety, continuing education for staff members, nutrition and age-appropriate curriculum.

Governor’s Priority: SOAR Funding

Gov. Beshear has signed Senate Bill 168, which establishes a fund for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative to receive future appropriations should the General Assembly choose to invest further in eastern Kentucky. Gov. Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers launched the SOAR initiative to address the challenges facing eastern Kentucky and its economy. The measure allows the money to be used to support job creation and retention, entrepreneurship, tourism, broadband deployment, workforce training, leadership development, health and wellness, infrastructure and economic diversity.

Governor’s Priority: Film Incentives

House Bill 340 will make Kentucky more competitive in the film industry. The measure expands the state’s film tax credits in order to create more film production in the Commonwealth.

Public Pension Oversight

In 2013, Gov. Beshear signed historic, bipartisan pension legislation that included the creation of the Public Pension Oversight Board to monitor the Kentucky Retirement Systems. He signed House Bill 47 this session to expand the Board’s authority to review the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, the Judicial Retirement Plan and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System. The measure strengthens and helps ensure the long-term reliability of the public employee pension systems by bringing them all under common review and transparency standards.

UK Research Facility

Gov. Beshear supported and signed House Bill 298, which authorizes construction of a research building at the University of Kentucky. The state-of-the-art facility will house world-class research across health disciplines, focusing on the many health challenges facing the Commonwealth, particularly those which contribute to preventable diseases and deaths.

Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement Protection

Gov. Beshear supported and signed House Bill 512, which helps protect and preserve future Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) payments that support agricultural diversification programs and provide critical health care and early childhood development services. The legislation, effective July 1, 2015, follows the 2014 agreement between Kentucky and tobacco manufacturers negotiated by Jack Conway which ended a long-running legal dispute and restoring certainty to Kentucky’s annual MSA payments from tobacco companies.

Telecom Deregulation

Gov. Beshear supported and signed House Bill 152, which eliminates requirements that telephone companies offer basic landline service in urban areas, allowing companies to use those funds instead to invest in Internet and mobile phone expansion.

The bill strikes a balance between providing consumer protection and creating economic development opportunities that result from robust broadband accessibility in communities all across the Commonwealth.

Colon Cancer

Gov. Beshear signed related bills Senate Bill 61 and House Bill 69, which require health benefit plans to provide complete coverage for colorectal cancer screenings. This means coding colonoscopies as preventive care, instead of diagnostic care, so that patients are not charged for the procedure. Preventive care coverage is an integral part to the Affordable Care Act, supported and implemented by Gov. Beshear through the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange.

Snow Calamity Days

Kentucky experienced extreme, widespread winter weather this year that forced many school districts across the state to accumulate snow days. Gov. Beshear signed Senate Bill 119 to allow school districts to waive some of their mandatory 1,062 instructional hours, so students would not be in school past June 5 to make up missed days.

Bills to be Considered Next Session

  • Some bills made further progress through the legislative process than in years past, which is an encouraging sign for their chances in future sessions.
  • Smoke-free legislation and legislation to expand Kentucky’s public-private partnership (P-3) ability made legislative history this session by passing out of the House for the first time and advancing to the Senate, where both measures stalled.
  • House Bill 145 would have created a statewide smoke-free law, protecting workers, children and others from toxic cigarette smoke in public places.
  • House Bill 443 would have allowed the P-3 financing mechanism for transportation projects. Kentucky already uses public-private partnerships for a variety of projects and services, but P3 agreements can’t be used for highway and bridge projects.
  • House Bill 1 would have created a constitutional amendment vote on local option sales tax, or LIFT, to allow communities to fund specific capital projects for a defined period of time, provided they get local voter support. The Senate declined to debate it.
  • House Bill 4 would have provided a long-term funding plan for Kentucky’s Teachers’ Pension Fund by providing a statutory schedule for phasing into full funding needed by the pension fund. The Governor commends teachers for being successful in raising awareness about the need to stabilize the fund and is hopeful that a solution will be considered next session.

The Governor has a strong record of working with the General Assembly. Since taking office, Gov. Beshear has worked with a divided legislature to successfully pass legislation on handling Kentucky’s prescription drug problem, raising the high school dropout age and putting the state’s public pension system on the path to stability.

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