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Opinion: House preparing to tackle budget after Beshear’s address

By DANIEL ELLIOTT

Guest columnist

People from all over Kentucky and beyond come to our 110-year-old State Capitol to have their voices heard.

Some are Kentucky educators seeking changes in curriculum, accountability, class size, or more equitable funding for school districts — an issue that was at the heart of the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act or KERA, now in its 30th year. Some are coal miners engaged in worker’s comp or other labor issues, or nurses, or electricians, or cosmetologists, or other citizens seeking policy change.

No matter how different the goal, the process for getting a legislative proposal through the Kentucky General Assembly is the same. And in a budget session like the one taking place now in Frankfort, extensive work is done to get a proposal through committee and through the House and Senate so that it can ultimately become law.

The House budget committee is the constitutional starting line for any bills raising revenue and, last week, budget subcommittees met to begin legwork on the state’s education funding needs. Subcommittees were keyed in on postsecondary and public school funding issues that may need to be addressed in the next $20 billion-plus biennial state budget. Lawmakers will hear more testimony in the days ahead as budget work ramps up following Gov. Andy Beshear’s scheduled budget address today.

Committees continued their work while the full House passed its first bills of the session, sending them on to the Senate for its consideration. One of those bills is House Bill 236, a measure that would expand options for testing of Kentucky hemp while simultaneously allowing the state to continue meeting federal hemp requirements.

The House voted 70-17 on Tuesday to send the legislation to the Senate, after some discussion about the current 0.3% statutory limit on THC (a psychoactive component) in hemp under Kentucky law — the same limit imposed by the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which removed hemp from a list of federally controlled substances. Some discussion is taking place at the federal level about raising that limit to 1.0%, but HB 236 sponsors said Kentucky is waiting for the feds to act before any state changes to the limit are made.

The bill passed the House the same day that state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles announced that the state’s industrial hemp research pilot program — which had been scheduled to end in 2019 — will continue for 2020, under a federal rule published last fall in order to allow Kentucky to transition into commercial hemp production. As for the Kentucky General Assembly, the legislative outcome of hemp legislation filed this session remains to be seen.

Foster children were the focus of the House on Wednesday, as legislation to provide more confidentiality to foster parents involved in specific parental rights’ cases received House approval.

HB 167, which moved to the Senate on a vote of 92-0, would allow foster parents to use their initials, instead of their names, when choosing to participate in involuntary termination of parental rights’ cases involving the foster children in their care. Their participation in such cases would be voluntary, instead of a requirement as it is under current law. The legislation is the latest in a series of foster care and adoption bills that became priorities of the Kentucky General Assembly in recent years.

Other House bills that took another step toward final passage this week are:

 

  • HB 153. This bill, which passed the House by a vote of 93-0 on Thursday, would establish a Kentucky Mental Health First Aid Training Program under the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Training would be funded through grants paid for with public and private appropriations deposited in a state fund. HB 153 now goes the Senate for consideration.
  • HB 204. Approved by the House Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee on Wednesday, HB 204 would add publicly-leased playgrounds to the list of locations off-limits to registered sex offenders under state laws. The legislation — now headed to the full House for a vote — would specifically ban future registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of such play areas and from entering such areas without advance written permission.

This 60-day budget session will be over in 47 days or less – a fairly short period of time for the tasks ahead. Needless to say, there will be much to report in coming days as lawmakers act on budget bills and other critical legislation in committee and in chambers.

 

Daniel Elliott is the state representative in the Kentucky House of Representatives for Boyle and Casey counties. To comment on a bill, call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181.