February is upon us, and the Kentucky General Assembly has officially completed one-third of the 60-day Regular Session.
Many of the measures passed by the Senate thus far have met minimal resistance and enjoyed bipartisan support. However, the pace has increased tenfold as members delve into substantial issues, such as the two-year spending plan and potential pension reforms.
During last week’s Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting, State Budget Director John Hicks briefed members on the governor’s proposed two-year spending plan. Hicks is highly qualified and has worked on dozens of budgets under eight different administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
His testimony to the committee was clear. It outlined the need for new revenue so Kentucky can make essential investments in education, maintain vital services that our citizens rely on and meet the state’s pension obligations. The presentation was well-prepared, and backed with evidence, and the director answered each question posed to him thoroughly.
Passage of the budget is constitutionally required of the General Assembly, so both chambers are continuing to review the governor’s spending plan, working on proposals and examining further solutions to our pension problems. My hope is we can come together and develop solutions that benefit our state and our people.
Senate Bill 1, a designation reserved each year for bills deemed a priority of the Senate majority’s leadership, passed out of the Senate last week. SB 1 prohibits law enforcement and other public officials from enforcing any sanctuary policy in the state of Kentucky. It would also require law enforcement and other public agencies to use their best efforts, considering available resources, to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.
Currently, there are no sanctuary cities in Kentucky. This bill will put an extra burden on our local law enforcement and public officials by having to share in the duties of federal law enforcement. This is a major factor in opposition to the measure by the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.
For these reasons, among others, I voted against this legislation. I am hopeful it will be amended in the House, so we have a bill that keeps our communities safe and addresses the concerns of local law enforcement officials. SB 1 passed 28-10 and will now move to the House for further consideration.
The budget and these priority bills will continue to dominate the headlines — and our agenda — but less-polarizing, less-publicized bills that benefit Kentuckians also require our attention. Some of those gained passage in the Senate this week, while others were vetted in committees.
Additional legislation passed in the Senate this week:
• SB 7 strips site based decision councils from the selection and hiring process of principals in the school district, and gives that authority to the superintendent. Many teachers and parents opposed this legislation because it stifles their voice in these processes. After meeting with them, and hearing their concerns, I opposed this measure. However, the bill passed by a vote of 20-15.
• SB 87 removes the automatic transfer of a child from District Court to Circuit Court when a firearm is involved. The bill allows the judge to consider low IQs when deciding whether to transfer a child to Circuit Court. This bipartisan, common-sense measure sets the criteria in the juvenile justice system. Anything that will help Kentucky kids should be a priority for us in the legislature. I was pleased to vote yes on this needed and practical piece of legislation. It passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 36-2.
• SB 42 requires public schools, grades six through post-secondary, to place emergency numbers for suicide prevention, domestic violence and sexual assault when a student is issued an identification badge. Many young people are struggling with these issues, and this measure will provide readily available help. I voted yes, and it passed 36-1.
• SB 63 allows school boards to implement virtual high school programs for dropouts age 21 and older to complete high school graduation requirements through the use of virtual instruction. A high school diploma is key in today’s workforce, and anything that strengthens our workforce will benefit the commonwealth. For these reasons, I voted yes, and the bill passed unanimously.
• SB 40 aligns Kentucky statutes with the federal government in regards to background checks and fingerprinting of staff at child care and child placement facilities. SB 40 passed 35-0.
• SB 45 establishes additional operational standards for nutrition and physical activity for child care centers in Kentucky. It is designed to continue to improve child care across the state. The measure passed unanimously.
• SB 60 adds spinal muscular atrophy to the list of heritable conditions tested at birth. It passed the Senate with unanimous consent.
• SB 99 allows local-option elections for distilleries and microbreweries. The legislation passed 27-7, and I voted yes.