(KY) Judge Weighs Whether Lawmakers Can Revive Dead Legislation

A Kentucky judge is questioning how the state legislature passed a pension overhaul bill that prompted thousands of teachers to protest.

June 7, 2018, at 4:13 p.m.

By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP)Kentucky has lots of abandoned private sewer systems causing problems for homeowners. To fix this, a state lawmaker sponsored a bill to let local governments buy these systems, even if they are outside the government’s boundaries.

But when lawmakers gutted the 11-page sewer bill and replaced it with a 291-page overhaul of the state pension system, howls of protest echoed through the Capitol. Because the bill had technically already passed the Senate, lawmakers were able to send it to the governor’s desk in about six hours instead of the minimum five days the state Constitution requires to pass new legislation. The bill was not available for the public to read until the day after lawmakers passed it.

Lawmakers in Kentucky and state Capitols across the country routinely use this process to pass bills in the waning days of a legislative session, arguing it is sometimes the only way to pass complex and contentious legislation within the tight deadlines imposed by their state constitutions. But Thursday, a state judge questioned whether it was legal during a hearing on a lawsuit seeking to block the pension bill.

“We have a Lazarus problem here. How can you raise a bill from the dead without starting over?” Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said.

Thursday’s hearing in the case to nullify the pension law was the first step in a legal process that will likely end at the state Supreme Court. The question of how lawmakers pass legislation could be the main issue. Shepherd indicated as much Thursday as he spent most of his time asking questions about the process and saying he had concerns about its effects on “open and transparent legislation.”

Lawmakers have been using this process for decades. In 2015, they turned a bill about prison health care into an anti-drug bill that increased penalties for heroin dealers and directed more money toward substance abuse treatment. In 2017, lawmakers turned a bill about dog bites into one that overhauled the University of Louisville’s broad of trustees as it was in a crisis over its accreditation.

David Fleenor, an attorney for Kentucky’s legislative leaders, noted lawmakers did not pull the pension bill out of thin air. The bill had previously been Senate bill 1, which had gone through the legislative process with public hearings but had gotten bogged down in the Senate. When lawmakers finally reached agreement to pass it, they did not have enough time left to do it the usual way.

“This is a citizen legislature that is there for a very finite period of time,” said David Fleenor, an attorney for Senate President Robert Stivers. “You need a mechanism to be able to do that.”

Stephen Pitt, an attorney for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, warned if the court ruled this process was illegal it would open the door for countless other bills to be challenged. But Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear dismissed that as a “scare tactic.” He noted the same argument was used a few years ago in a lawsuit challenging the legislative practice of stopping the clock on the last day of the session to give lawmakers more time to pass bills. The court ruled that was illegal, and it did not result in a cascade of nullified laws.

Beshear argued the practice of gutting and replacing bills shuts out the public because the legislature moves so fast it does not give them a chance to participate.

“You call it a Lazarus situation, this is like a Walking Dead bill,” Beshear said. “You have to kill it twice.”

Teachers and other state workers packed the courtroom for Thursday’s hearing, some wearing red t-shirts that read “a pension is a promise.” Erin Grace, a 37-year-old teacher at Rockcastle County High School, said one way or another, the bill will be overturned.

“If it’s not overturned in court, we’re going to elect people that are going to reverse it as quickly as it was enacted,” she said.

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Kentucky State police, coroner accused of smuggling eyeballs

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky State Police trooper, a retired State Police colonel and a county coroner have been accused of several crimes including transporting moonshine and eyeballs.

News outlets report Scott County Coroner John Goble and retired State Police Lt. Col. Mike Crawford were indicted Thursday on multiple counts of receiving stolen property. The charges stem from the theft of $40,000 worth of ammunition and weapons.

State Police began investigating the theft in December and placed Master Trooper Robert M. Harris on unpaid leave. He’s accused of providing stolen items to Goble and Crawford. Harris has been indicted of unlawful taking and second-degree forgery.

Goble also is accused of transporting a pair of donor eyes and moonshine, as well as possessing 90 Oxycodone tablets.

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Ammo, moonshine and eyeballs: Kentucky cops and coroner indicted

Poor People’s Campaign kicks off in Frankfort

Poor People's Campaign Logo

By Forward Kentucky – May 15, 2018

The Poor People’s Campaign, a “national call for moral revival,” on Monday launched six weeks of non-violent direct action in state capitols across the country, including in Frankfort.

The Poor People’s Campaign

A movement started by Martin Luther King over 50 years ago, just before he was assassinated, this modern-day reincarnation  is led by the Reverend William Barber and the Reverend Liz Theoharis. The Reverend Dr. Barber is well known for his leadership of “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina. The Reverend Dr. Theoharis is the Co-Director of the Kairos Center and a Founder and the Coordinator of the Poverty Initiative.

The overall goals of the movement are “a moral agenda based on fundamental rights.” The list of specific demands can be found on their website, but are gathered into five overall groupings:

  • Systemic racism
  • Poverty and inequality
  • Ecological devastation
  • War economy and militairism
  • National morality

The Frankfort event

PPC Frankfort Speak Out

Above:  Rev. Dr. Gillette of the KY Council of Churches leads the Frankfort Speak Out of the Poor People’s Campaign

On Monday morning, a number of activists were trained by the Poor People’s Campaign leaders on non-violent actions and protests. Then, at 2 PM, approximately 100 people gathered in a room in the Capitol Annex to hear various speakers address the issues listed above, with a focus on Kentucky. The “Speak Out” was emceed by the Rev. Dr. Donald K. Gillett, head of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

The Speak Out also became a Sing-Out, as Paul Whiteley and other activist musicians led the group in a number of choruses, with the main one being the apparent theme song of the movement, “Someone’s hurting our people, and it’s gone on far too long, and we won’t be silent any more.”

PPC Blocking Street

Above: Members of the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign block the street between the Annex and the Capitol.

Once the speakers had concluded, the group adjourned to the steps of the Annex and began walking toward the Capitol. Some of the group put on armbands to indicate that they were willing to be arrested. That group proceeded into the street that runs between the Annex and the Capitol, and stood in the crosswalk to stop traffic.

PPC Truck Stopped

Above:  A truck is stopped due to the protestors from the Poor People’s Campaign blocking the street.

Unfortunately for the group’s plans, traffic was very light, since General Assembly ended a few weeks ago. Only a few trucks and cars came down the street, and most decided to back out and go a different way. One truck sat there facing the protesters for a long time, and was still there when we left.

Next steps for the Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign

Monday’s event was the first of six weeks of “nonviolent direct action and voter mobilization,” culminating in a mass mobilization in Washington D.C. on June 23.

The Kentucky chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign is co-led by Tayna Fogle, an organizing apprentice with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth; Reverend Megan Huston of First Christian Church of Bowling Green; and Pam McMichael, an activist and author.

The Kentucky group is planning various protests and activities throughout this time. According to their press release: “Protests and other activities during this first week will focus on child poverty, women in poverty and people with disabilities. Subsequent weeks will focus on systemic racism, veterans and the war economy, ecological devastation, inequality, and our nation’s distorted moral narrative.”

–30–

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(KY) SENATOR DAVID GIVENS’ LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

For Immediate Release

April 6, 2018

SENATOR DAVID GIVENS’ LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

After a productive 58th day of the 2018 Legislative Session that saw the passing of several significant bills to benefit the Commonwealth, we have now entered a 10-day “veto recess” where Governor Matt Bevin will have the opportunity to sign and veto bills passed by the Kentucky General Assembly. The most significant measures to pass on Monday, April 2, were a budget and a revenue bill that will dictate how our state collects and appropriates funding for the next two years.

Some of the budget highlights included historical funding levels for state education, including record-high SEEK per-pupil funding, in addition to funding SEEK transportation at historic levels. All the charter school funding language was also removed from the budget. We fully funded the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State Police and shored up our state’s pension systems, including the Teachers’ Retirement System, by fully funding them. This bill also ensures that retired teachers will see no health care premium increases or coverage decreases. Lastly, there are raises for our social workers who are on the front lines of taking care of our state’s most vulnerable.

Kentucky’s ailing pension systems have commanded significant funding increases in recent years and in order to honor our commitment to our retirement systems, we needed to come up with some added revenue to protect other vital government entities from funding reductions. Our approach decreased Kentucky’s tax income rate while broadening the tax base, a shift to a more consumption-based tax system which relies more on spending habits. This allows Kentuckians to keep more of their hard-earned income.

People have expressed concern to me that HB 366, the state’s revenue bill that also includes tax reform, raises the income tax on Kentucky’s most vulnerable. This is simply not the case. This proposal creates a flat income tax of five percent. If you make less than 133 percent of the poverty level (roughly around $18,000 or less) you are exempt from paying income taxes. If you make between $18,000-$75,000, your tax income tax rate will be lowered from 5.8 percent to five percent, keeping more money in the pockets of hard-working Kentuckians.

These are just a few of the biennium budget highlights, but ultimately our focus remained on fully funding education, providing for our public protectors, and ensuring our pension systems are fully funded. In our budget bill, we dedicated approximately $3.3 billion in funding, nearly 14 percent of the total budget, to help fund these ailing pension systems. We made a promise to our state employees, and these two bills help us keep that promise.

In addition to passing the Commonwealth’s budget and revenue bills, we passed a number of other measures this week. House Bill 1 is a comprehensive overhaul of Kentucky’s foster care and adoption system. More than 8,600 Kentucky children are now in foster care and awaiting permanent homes, and the need for such reform has been obvious for a long time. House Bill 1 includes major provisions that would expand the definition of blood relative for child placement.

The legislation would also require more case reviews for each child in foster care, create a “putative father registry” so that a child’s possible (but not verified) biological father can be notified of the child’s prospective adoption, and allow the state to seek termination of parental rights for new mothers who will not seek drug treatment after giving birth to a drug-addicted baby.

Senate changes to HB 1 that made it into the final bill include provisions that would protect a mother from losing her parental rights if she was properly prescribed and using medication that could have caused her newborn’s addiction. The amended bill would also clarify that foster parents and child placement agencies be given a 10-day notice before a foster child is reunited with his or her birth parents or placed in a new home.

Senate Bill 5 was also given final passage this week. This bill levels the playing field for small-town, locally-owned pharmacies. Senate Bill 5, as amended by the House, would make the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services in charge of setting the reimbursement rates for a pharmacist. The rate is currently set by pharmacy-benefit managers (PBMs) hired by the state’s Medicaid managed-care organizations (MCOs). Kentucky Medicaid spends $1.7 billion annually on prescriptions and SB 5 would help authorities track that money and determine whether locally-owned pharmacies were being reimbursed fairly.

We also passed House Bill 362, which allows for the phase-in of increased pension costs for local governments. Recently, the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board adjusted their assumptions to require cities, counties, and other quasi-governmental entities to increase their pension contributions. If those increased pension contribution costs were not phased in over time, several of these local governments would be at risk of bankruptcy.

Passage of major pension reform legislation in recent weeks allowed us to justify the decision to allow counties and cities to phase-in these costly pension contributions, which was the language passed in House Bill 362. While this measure represented a win for local governments and quasi-governmental entities, it reiterated the need for raising revenue through tax reform, as we did in House Bill 366.

There are only two days left in the 2018 Regular Session. We will reconvene for those final two days on Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14. Kentucky’s constitution requires the General Assembly to be adjourned by April 15, and since April 15 is a Sunday and we cannot constitutionally meet that day, we must finish the state’s business by midnight on April 14. It has been an honor to represent you and our district in Frankfort, and I thank you for engaging in the legislative process.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

# # #

Note:  Senator David Givens (R-Greensburg) represents the 9th District including Allen, Barren, Green, Metcalfe, Monroe and Simpson Counties.  He serves as a member of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Agriculture Committee, the Education Committee, the Enrollment Committee, and the Health and Welfare Committee. For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Givens, please log onto http://www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/portraits/senate09.jpg.

(KY) Bourbon by mail: Bill would make it possible

For Immediate Release

April 2, 2018

Bourbon by mail: Bill would make it possible

FRANKFORT – A measure that would allow direct shipment of alcoholic beverages received final passage today in the state Senate and is on its way to the governor to be signed into law.

The measure, known as House Bill 400, is an economic development and tourism bill, said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, who presented the measure in the Senate today.

“As our Kentucky bourbon industry experience continues to grow and become more of a Napa Valley-type experience with more than 1.2 million visitors last year alone, the No. 1 question asked by visitors that come to our commonwealth is why can’t they have these items shipped directly home?” he said.

HB 400 would address this by allowing visitors at bourbon distilleries to ship limited amounts of spirits home as well as join bourbon of the month clubs, Schickel said. HB 400 would also permit vineyards to ship specific amounts of wine out of state.

Another provision would allow liquor stores to ship a limited amount of spirits purchased from their shops. In addition, it would also require the shippers of the spirits to verify the delivery is made to someone at least 21 years old living in a “wet” area.

House Bill 400 is another important step on removing artificial barriers to free enterprise,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. “It is another step in unraveling the overly obtrusive post-Prohibition alcohol laws that have been in place in Kentucky for over a half-century.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, passed the Senate on a 33-5 vote.

HB 400 contains an emergency clause, meaning it would become law upon the governor’s signature.

— END –

http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/18RS/HB400.htm

Those who overdose on heroin or other opioid drugs in Kentucky’s largest population areas would be immediately detained by first responders and taken to a hospital under a bill that has passed the House.

For Immediate Release

March 20, 2018

Opioid overdose bill goes to Senate

FRANKFORT—Those who overdose on heroin or other opioid drugs in Kentucky’s largest population areas would be immediately detained by first responders and taken to a hospital under a bill that has passed the House.

House Bill 428, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would specifically apply to overdose victims in Lexington, Louisville, or areas like Northern Kentucky where adjoining counties each have populations over 90,000.

Moser, who is the director of the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the need for the bill was brought to her attention by first responders who she said are often called to resuscitate the same person for opioid overdose multiple times. Moser said there were over 15,100 emergency medical runs requiring resuscitation due to opioid overdoses in Kentucky last year, not counting more than 2,000 runs in Jefferson County alone.

First responders “brought this issue to me because they are unable to get the folks into treatment when they are resuscitated,” said Moser. “These folks wake up and they are able to just get up and walk away and refuse treatment” even though she said they may still be under the influence of drugs.

“They need to get to a hospital for stabilization, referral to treatment and further treatment and this is what this bill seeks to do,” said Moser.

Failure to receive appropriate treatment for opioid overdose often leads to death, with 1,404 deaths from opioid overdose reported in Kentucky in 2016 alone, said Moser.

“Death is a distinct possibility with opioid overdoses,” she said.

HB 428 passed the House on a 92-3 vote. It now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

–END–

Additionally,

For Immediate Release

March 21, 2018

Standards-for-treatment disorders bill goes to governor

FRANKFORT— A bill that would attack Kentucky’s opioid crisis through better state substance use disorder treatment and recovery program standards has received final passage in the Kentucky House.

House Bill 124, sponsored by House Health and Family Services Committee Chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, and Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, would require enhanced licensure and quality standards for substance use disorder treatment and recovery after a state review of current statewide standards, subject to available funding. Enhanced standards would cover residential, outpatient and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) services, according to the bill.

Wuchner said she has traveled the state visiting treatment and recovery centers and found that some programs have “a lot of dynamics and a lot of differences.”

“That doesn’t mean that every program has to be the same, but there should be components of that program that are consistent with best practices,” said Wuchner.

HB 124 was amended in the Senate on a 36-0 vote late last week to include FDA-approved MAT treatment for inmates who are opioid-dependent or who have other substance abuse disorders.

“As some of those products that are used for medically-assisted treatment come to market and come to bear, there are more products now that could be used in the corrections environment that minimize diversion, and that’s why this piece was added,” said Wuchner.

HB 124 received final passage in the House today on a vote of 93-0. The bill was initially passed in the House on an 85-2 vote in January. 

–END–

Proposal for legal medical marijuana held hostage by Kentucky House GOP leadership

Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal Published 3:20 p.m. ET March 20, 2018

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes says legislation that would legalize medical marijuana is being held hostage by the state House of Representatives’ Republican leadership.

House Bill 166, which is sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would let qualifying patients diagnosed with certain health conditions use medical marijuana, although limits would apply to patients and to the people and businesses growing and selling the drug.

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on HB 166 earlier this month but decided to pass over the proposal – a move that allows it to reconsider and rule on the matter later on in the 2018 session, which ends in mid-April. But the number of days during which the legislature can pass laws is dwindling.

“House Bill 166 continues to gain bipartisan support. One in four members of the House are now sponsors,” Grimes, a Democrat, wrote Tuesday afternoon in a post on her official Facebook page. “These legislators realize medical cannabis can help save lives and provide new funding to Kentucky so we don’t have to balance budgets on the backs of our teachers and public employees. Yet, GOP House Leadership is holding the bill hostage in the Judiciary Committee.”

Grimes wrote that the bill’s sponsors shouldn’t have to rely on a discharge petition – which can be filed in advance of an attempt to take a bill from a committee – in order to a force a vote on “something an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support.”

“If the GOP House Leadership refuses to call a vote, constituents are only left to wonder what motivates them to ignore the will of the people,” she wrote.

State Rep. Joe Fischer, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told Courier Journal the committee’s members already voted on HB 166 when they decided to pass over it.

Fischer said he would talk to committee members but noted that he hasn’t seen any amendments to the original bill, which did not have enough support to get a ‘yes’ vote from the group. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, HB 166 wasn’t on the agenda for the committee’s Wednesday meeting, according to Fischer.

“I’ve been accused of holding it hostage, but there was a vote on it,” said Fischer, R-Fort Thomas. “Right now … it was to pass over the bill.”

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, made the motion to pass over HB 166 on March 7. At the time, he said he wanted to help improve the measure and bring it back for consideration before the session ends. Since then, he has become a sponsor of the bill.

Grimes issued a separate statement last week that said the medical marijuana legislation had been revised. Jaime Montalvo, of the nonprofit organization Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, said he has been working with sponsors of HB 166 and a substitute version of the bill is ready.

Rep. John Sims Jr., D-Flemingsburg, said he did file a discharge petition Tuesday, which was signed by 27 representatives.

“It’s an important bill that has lots of momentum throughout the whole state,” Sims said.

Discharge petitions can prompt the full chamber to vote on whether a committee has held a particular bill “for an unreasonable time,” according to the House’s procedural rules. (HB 166 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for review in mid-January.)

If a majority of the House agrees a bill has been held too long, the legislation then can be released from that committee. That doesn’t guarantee it will be debated and voted upon by the full House, though.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Grimes’ assertion that House leaders are holding medical marijuana legislation hostage is “absolutely not true” and suggested Grimes study up on the legislative process.

When asked if House leadership would be interested in bringing the medical marijuana bill to the floor of the chamber for a vote, Osborne said he’s sure they would take appropriate action if it were discharged from the committee.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, Sims — a key sponsor of the bill — said it’s highly likely HB 166 will die when the 2018 session officially ends next month.

“There’s not enough time left to get it through both chambers,” Sims said.

If the bill stalls out as Sims expects, he said legislation to legalize medical marijuana will be reintroduced when the legislature reconvenes next January for the 2019 session.

“We’re not giving up, and the fight will continue,” he said, noting the need to maintain the momentum that has built behind the push for medical marijuana in Kentucky.

Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; mwatkins@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @MorganWatkins. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/morganw

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RELATED INFORMATION:

Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana

https://www.facebook.com/KY4MM/videos/1619057418129468/

https://www.facebook.com/KY4MM/videos/1617957748239435/

More information as it becomes available…