By Ted Edmonds, 96th District State Representative
As house-senate negotiations to agree on a proposed executive branch budget loom next week (the session’s last full week), we plowed ahead on other critical spending matters by approving a proposed transportation cabinet budget and a state road plan to carry the commonwealth through the end of this fiscal year, and the next two.
The transportation budget found in HB 266, which cleared the house last Friday, March 16, includes an estimated $3.5 billion for Kentucky’s road needs over the next biennium. The road plan—in a separate but related bill, HB 267—would authorize around $2.8 billion in state-supported highway construction and maintenance and federally-supported construction projects through fiscal year 2014.
Projects in the Road Plan are prioritized based on special designations. The highest priority projects are those to be completed with highway bonds authorized by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2010. The bill also spells out how projects would be prioritized should any unanticipated federal highway dollars become available.
Joining HB 266 and HB 267 in the Senate now is House Joint Resolution 77. That legislation includes projects we recommend for funding between fiscal year 2015 through fiscal year 2018, the four “out” years of the Road Plan.
Combined with HB 267, the projects in the resolution make up the six-year plan the General Assembly is required to approve every two years as part of the biennial budget process. HJR 77 cleared the House by a vote of 89-4, also on March 16.
Rebuilding Kentucky communities damaged or destroyed by recent tornadoes and storms is the motivation behind legislation that passed the House on Thursday. HB 165 would offer a refund on sales and use tax paid on materials used to rebuild in storm-ravaged counties that are declared to be federal disaster areas as a result of storms that hit the state between Feb. 29 and March 3. But the legislation goes further than that.
HB 165 also reaches out to school districts and their staff in those disaster areas by allowing the state’s education commissioner to waive up to 10 instructional days missed as a result of the storms. The “disaster” declaration would preserve schools’ state funding, while ensuring that all school personnel receive salary, wages and benefits for those days. School personnel would make up the work, although possibly in areas different from those to which they are regularly assigned.
Senate bills that made their way through the House and to the governor’s desk this week include a measure that would help prevent fatalities involving larger vans by requiring passengers in them to use seat belts.
SB 89, which was sent to the governor after passing the House 61-33 on Tuesday, was filed in response to a 2010 crash on I-65 near Munfordville that killed 10 members of a Mennonite family who were riding in a 15-seat van when it collided with a tractor trailer. Reports indicated that most of the van’s passengers were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. Current state law only requires seat belt use in vans designed to carry 10 or fewer people.
Another Senate bill that cleared the House this week is SB 92, an agricultural bill that would create separate legal definitions for stockyards and buying stations—facilities that offer stockyard services, but are managed as a private livestock market. The bill would also set up new regulatory requirements for both stockyards and buying stations, and would require market agencies to be licensed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. SB 92 passed the House 93-0 and now goes to the governor for his signature.
A Senate measure that would establish a statewide “Blue Alert” system to help law enforcement apprehend someone suspected of killing, wounding or abducting a law enforcement officer cleared the House Transportation Committee this week.
The Blue Alert system envisioned by SB 32 would broadcast identifying information similar to that sent out under the Amber Alert system now in place for missing children. Blue Alerts would be issued only upon request of a law enforcement agency after it is determined that an officer has been killed, injured, or is missing and a Blue Alert is the best response. SB 32 now goes to the full House for consideration.
The 2012 Regular Session is rapidly coming to a close. With only six legislative days left in the session at the close of business on Friday, both the House and Senate are expected to spend late nights at the Capitol all next week hashing out agreements on a proposed $19.5 state budget, the Road Plan, legislation to curb meth abuse, and other key bills that lawmakers feel need consideration before session’s end.
A total of 20 bills had passed both chambers as of Thursday, but that number will likely grow exponentially over the next week. To comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. As always, you can contact me directly at 502-564-8100, ext. 81