A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly, March 6, 2020

FRANKFORT – A month and a half after Governor Andy Beshear presented his administration’s two-year budget proposal to the General Assembly, the Kentucky House of Representatives made its version public on Thursday afternoon and sent it on to the Senate Friday morning.

In the broadest sense, the difference between the governor’s and House’s spending plans is small.  Both, for example, set aside more than half of every state tax dollar for education and much of the rest for criminal justice and health and human service programs, and both fully fund the state’s pension requirements for state employees. 

However, there are still some significant differences between the two budgets.

Governor Beshear, for example, proposes hiring 350 new social workers, to make caseloads more manageable.  House leaders, however, recommend dropping that to 100 new workers, while raising the salaries of those already on the job.  Whatever is decided, my hope is that these workers receive the resources they need.  Just this past week, a federal report showed that, for the second year in a row, no state has a higher rate of child mistreatment than Kentucky.  We absolutely must do more to ensure every child is not abused and is able to grow up in a loving home.

Another difference between the budgets is that Governor Beshear recommended giving teachers a $2,000 raise, while the House proposed a one-percent annual raise for all school employees.  I support that across-the-board raise, but also believe the increase for teachers is needed to keep pace with what other states are considering.  Just this year alone, governors in Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana have recommended spending tens of millions of dollars in new money for their educators. 

In other areas, both budgets have one-percent raises for state employees, and while there are some differences, both put more money toward per-pupil spending, new textbooks and buying newer buses for schools needing to replace those more than 15 years old.  For our coal counties, both budgets also would return all non-committed coal severance tax dollars to them, which they desperately need and deserve.  Both budgets also set aside $35 million the University of Louisville needs in a partially forgivable loan for its purchase of Jewish Hospital and other medical properties.

On the downside, the House budget provides less money than the governor’s for programs that help those with disabilities; it seriously undercuts the state’s efforts to provide faster broadband service throughout the state; and it doesn’t include the governor’s plan to raise the training stipend that eligible first responders receive.

Another area where there the two budgets diverge is new revenue. Governor Beshear’s budget assumed money from sports wagering, which is not in the House budget since the bill legalizing it remains stalled there.  The House budget did agree with the governor’s plan to raise more money from e-cigarettes, but not to increase the cigarette tax.

Now that the House has put its stamp on the budget, the Senate gets its turn.  Afterward, legislative leaders will come up with a compromise; the governor will accept or reject some or all of it; and the legislature will decide whether to accept or override any of his vetoes.  That process will conclude by mid-April, and the two-year budget will take effect in July.

While this may have been the biggest news of the week, it wasn’t the only issue to draw considerable public interest.

Early in the week, the House spent several hours debating Senate Bill 2, which would, with some limited exceptions, require photo IDs when voting even though current law already requires identification be shown.  Others and I argued that there are many voters who do not have a photo ID, and even though the bill proposes to provide these for free, it still creates an unnecessary barrier and could cost the state millions of tax dollars.  It’s also a lot of effort when state officials say 98 percent of voters already show a photo ID and there has not been a single instance of in-person voting fraud in Kentucky in at least 20 years.  I believe we should be spending more time making voting easier, such as allowing excuse-free early voting, and focusing more on stopping cyberattacks that threaten the security of voting machines.

Speaking of identification, the House voted for another bill on Thursday that will set in motion plans to move the issuance of driver’s licenses from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in each county to regional and mobile centers overseen by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.  This is being done to meet federal requirements for the REAL ID program, which was authorized by Congress as a homeland security measure, but the unfortunate impact is that drivers in many counties will soon have to travel much farther to get their driver’s license.  It is important to emphasize that this process is being rushed in part because former Governor Bevin vetoed legislation in 2016 that would have given us more time to implement changes.

Finally, I want to highlight Governor Beshear’s recent announcement that the 152,000 people with a non-violent felony record who had their voting rights restored by him in December can now quickly check their eligibility.  If you believe you are part of that of that group, or know someone who may be, please visit civilrightsrestoration.ky.gov.  A link there will lead you to another website where you can register to vote.

I’m excited to share that a resolution I filed to consider alternatives to our current high-stakes accountability testing passed out of committee this morning.  If you ask a teacher what their most significant concerns are in the classroom, they would say student behavior and over testing.  House Joint Resolution 82 addresses my concerns with high-stakes standardized testing in our public schools. By establishing a committee to evaluate flexible and innovative ways to satisfy federal accountability requirements, perhaps we can create a testing process that drives meaningful instruction, values student performance beyond standardized testing, and incentivizes rich and diverse learning opportunities.  You can read the full resolution here:  https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/hjr82.html.

As always, if you would like to let me know your views on legislative issues, please email me at Tina.Bojanowski@lrc.ky.gov.  The toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181.

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