Kentucky State Police to Resume Costly Helicopter Marijuana Eradication Campaign

Thomas H. Clarke | July 1, 2013

OWENSBORO, KY — Kentucky State Police helicopters will return to the skies in search of marijuana fields as part of the agency’s annual marijuana eradication campaign.

Rising fuel costs and a shrinking eradication budget will force the helicopters out of the air sooner than in years past, and the agency plans on reducing blanket flights in search of marijuana fields, instead focusing their attention on areas where marijuana has been found growing in the past.

Police helicopters cost about $200 per hour to fly, making the program an expensive tool in the war against marijuana.

The program, which lasts for about a week in conjunction with the Kentucky State Police and the National Guard will focus on the Eastern part of the state.

Even police officials admit the program barely makes a dent in Kentucky’s underground marijuana growing, which is widespread due partly to the ideal growing conditions in the state.

Kentucky State Trooper Corey King said so much marijuana is grown in eastern Kentucky that most of the plots they find through the program are grown as decoys, while the actual crop is hidden, grown elsewhere.

“They intentionally grow large areas for our suppression team to find,” King said. “It takes the focus off other areas.”

The helicopter program will also investigate suspected marijuana grows as reported by tips from the public.

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“We will be introducing an ordinance for the Louisville Metro Council’s consideration that makes cannabis possession the lowest law enforcement priority of the Louisville (KY) Metro Police Department.”

Tom Rector Jr.

4 hrs ·

It’s official!

We will be introducing an ordinance for the Louisville Metro Council’s consideration that makes cannabis possession the lowest law enforcement priority of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

The Louisville Metro Council meeting is Thursday August 9th at 6 p.m. at 600 West Jefferson in downtown Louisville. This is the next step we need to take at cities across Kentucky. Local councils have oversight authority of their local police departments. The lowest law enforcement priority ordinance (LLEPO) does three things.

1) It directs the Local police to not arrest anyone for cannabis possession or cultivation

2) It creates a process for anyone who does get arrested to have their charges dropped

3) It requires the Metro Council to send a letter annually to Frankfort, Washington and the UN asking them to enact similar legislation.

Cities all over the United States have enacted no fine or decriminalization measures. If anyone wants a copy of the ordinance DM me with your email address and I’ll send you the document. You can modify it for your city. If we can get this passed in Louisville, Lexington, Henderson and other cities it will provide great momentum going into the 2019 legislative session.

The picture was taken the night we got the medical resolution passed in Louisville. Come out and support us on August 9th and let’s get another picture!

Image may contain: 9 people, including Tom Rector Jr., people smiling, people standing

CONTINUE READING…

No automatic alt text available.

THU, AUG 9 AT 6 PM

LLEPO – Louisville Metro Council Meeting

600 W Jefferson St

Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid & Kentucky makes Medicaid copays mandatory ‘under the cover of darkness’

Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid

Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal Published 3:05 p.m. ET July 20, 2018

The federal government, once again, wants to know what people think about Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to overhaul Kentucky’s Medicaid.

Less than a month after a federal judge struck down Bevin’s plan that includes work requirements and premiums for some Kentuckians who get health coverage through Medicaid, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is seeking public comments on the exact same plan, known as a “waiver.”

The public comment period began July 19 and ends Aug. 18.

Health advocates who are concerned about the changes say it’s important that people take advantage of the public comment period, as they did last year when CMS previously reviewed Bevin’s plan before approving it in January.

“It really matters that people speak up,” said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of organizations. “This is the exact same waiver.”

During the previous public comment period, about 3,000 people responded, the majority opposed to the waiver, Beauregard said.

Read more: Bevin official rips Democrats, Courier Journal over his dental care cuts

It’s not clear why CMS is seeking comments on the same plan that was rejected June 29 by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, of Washington D.C. The judge vacated CMS’ previous approval of the plan and sent it back to the agency for further review, finding among deficiencies that the agency did not fully consider previous public comments.

A CMS statement said the agency is seeking more comments “to ensure that interested stakeholders have an opportunity to comment on issues raised in the litigation and the court’s decision.”

Some health advocates have speculated it’s part of an effort by the Trump administration to push through work requirements for people enrolled in Medicaid, following public comments by CMS administrator Seema Verma at a July 17 Politico event.

“We are very committed to this,” Verma said, according to Politico. “We are looking at what the court said. We want to be respectful of the court’s decision while also wanting to push ahead with our policy initiatives and our goals. … We are trying to figure out a path forward.”

Adam Meier, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told a legislative committee Wednesday that Kentucky Medicaid officials are working with CMS to enact the plan.

“Our position is that we’d like to gain re-approval as quickly as possible,” he said.

Health law advocates who successfully challenged Kentucky’s plan in federal court said they intend to argue that, as the judge found, the plan does not conform with the federal Medicaid law, which is to improve access to  health care for vulnerable citizens.

Medicaid is a federal state health plan for low-income and disabled individuals.

“We continue to take the position that work requirements are illegal because they are inconsistent with the Medicaid Act,” said Jane Perkins, legal director of the National Health Law Program in Washington.  “We will certainly be commenting during this re-opened period.”

Perkins’ group has posted additional information about the importance of public comments on its website, www.healthlaw.org.

Kentucky was the first state to win CMS approval of Medicaid work requirements.

They have already been approved in Arkansas, Indiana and New Hampshire, while Arizona, Maine, Wisconsin and Utah are waiting to hear from CMS, Politico reported.

Under Bevin’s plan, “able-bodied adults” among the about a half-million people added to Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would be subject to “community engagement” requirements that they work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week. They also would pay premiums of $1 to $15 per month and could be subject to a “lock-out” of coverage up to six months for failing to meet requirements.

Basic vision and dental benefits would be eliminated for that group though they could earn points to purchase such services through a “My Rewards” account through activities such as volunteering or taking online self-improvement classes.

Kentucky officials said in a statement Thursday that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has “been working with CMS on details of the re-approval process, including the status of dental and vision benefits.”

The abrupt decision of the Bevin administration to cut dental, vision and non-emergency transportation benefits July 1, two days after the judge rejected the plan, sparked an uproar among patients and health care providers across Kentucky.

On Thursday, the state announced it was reinstating the benefits while it works toward federal approval of its plan.

Here is a link to the public comment page on the CMS website: https://public.medicaid.gov/connect.ti/public.comments/viewQuestionnaire?qid=1897699.

Beauregard said Kentucky Voices for Health will also begin collecting comments on its website, https://www.kyvoicesforhealth.org/, starting July 23 that it will forward to state and federal officials.

Deborah Yetter: 502-582-4228; dyetter@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/deborahy.

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Kentucky makes Medicaid copays mandatory ‘under the cover of darkness’

Deborah Yetter, Louisville Courier Journal Published 1:43 p.m. ET July 27, 2018 | Updated 1:48 p.m. ET July 27, 2018

After three weeks of turmoil in Kentucky’s Medicaid program, a new complication — the state’s abrupt enactment of copays ranging from $1 to $50 for medical services — has triggered more confusion among patients, some afraid they can’t afford items such as essential medication for diabetes and asthma.

“It seemed to have been slipped in under the cover of darkness,” said Bill Wagner, CEO of Family Health Centers, a network of community clinics in Louisville. “Even though this went into effect July 1, the instructions have not come out.”

At the University of Louisville medical school, Dr. Barbara Casper, an internist, worries state officials didn’t consider the impact of the new copays on the very poor patients she treats in an outpatient clinic, many of them seriously ill.

“Some of our patients can’t even pay $1,” said Casper, who credits Kentucky’s 2014 expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for providing health coverage for many of the low-income patients U of L sees at its clinics.

“This was a problem before we had the Medicaid expansion,” she said. “We had a $2 copay for our patients to be seen and some of them couldn’t even come up with that.”

The clinic does not turn away patients who can’t pay, she said.

Related: Feds want to know what you think about Bevin plan to overhaul Medicaid

While small copays have long been allowed by Medicaid, Kentucky hasn’t required them in recent years. The sudden announcement that copays were mandatory July 1 caught many health providers and advocates off guard.

“Complete confusion,” is how Sheila Schuster, a longtime mental health advocate described it. “It’s not entirely clear what copays are charged for certain services.”

Adam Meier, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, speaking at a legislative committee meeting July 18, said his agency is “still clarifying” some aspects of the copays. The cabinet did not respond to a request for information for this story.

Health providers say they aren’t sure who has to pay, who is exempt, how to collect the copays and what to do when patients can’t pay.

For example, pregnant women and children generally have been exempt from such requirements. But several health providers say it appears that children covered through Children’s Health Insurance Program, a Medicaid program for children of low-income parents, must now pay copays.

In Kentucky, about 90,000 children are covered by CHIP.

Background: Bevin will reverse cuts to Medicaid dental, vision services, state says

Some health providers are reassuring patients they will still get care if they can’t pay, including Bridgehaven, a day program in Louisville for people with serious, disabling mental illnesses.

“I worry about it causing them additional stress and anxiety when they’re already trying to cope with mental illness and trying to live on an extremely limited income,” Bridgehaven CEO Ramona Johnson said.

The copays come in the midst of upheaval in the Kentucky Medicaid program, which covers about 1.4 million people, including more than 600,000 children.

The state launched the copays on the same day it had planned to launch Gov. Matt Bevin’s sweeping plan to overhaul Medicaid, adding work requirements, premiums and other new rules aimed at “able-bodied” adults.

But a federal judge struck down the plan June 29, forcing the state to abruptly halt the changes that could affect nearly half a million Kentuckians.

Meanwhile, in a separate move effective July 1, the Bevin administration abruptly announced it had eliminated basic dental and vision coverage for up to 460,000 Kentuckians, creating an uproar particularly among patients who arrived at dentists’ offices only to discover they had no Medicaid coverage.

The administration quickly backtracked and on July 19 said it was rescinding the cuts to dental and vision benefits for now.

But the copays remain in place, leaving bewildered health providers trying to figure out with little guidance how to apply them. If the patient can’t pay, it comes out of the Medicaid reimbursement and the provider takes the loss.

“It could become a big issue for providers that operate with a very slim margin,” Johnson said.

Read this: ‘I want to have my teeth’: Bevin’s Medicaid cuts leave Kentuckians in pain

She said that includes her organization, Bridgehaven, whose clients typically visit the center three times a week and may receive three or more services per day, such as a visit with a therapist, a support group and a peer counseling session.

The state says providers must charge $3 per office visit for a service, so that means clients could end up owing $9 a day, Johnson said.

“Three times a day, three times a week, that’s $27 a week,” Johnson said. In addition, Bridgehaven clients will have to pay $3 for visits to a primary care physician or psychiatrist and copays for medication of up to $8 per prescription — medication she said is essential for people with mental illness to remain stable.

“Of course they don’t have that kind of money,” she said. “They struggle to pay their rent, their utilities, buy their groceries.”

Johnson said Bridgehaven will still provide services for clients for now regardless of ability to pay the copay, but the organization could lose up to $100,000 a year from an already tight budget by doing so.

She’s also worried copays will discourage people from seeking treatment.

And in the mental health area, if people don’t get regular services, they wind up homeless, in jail or in far more costly psychiatric hospitals — at state expense, according to mental health advocates.

Casper, the U of L physician, said that also holds true for patients she sees with serious conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, asthma and emphysema.

She worries the patients will wind up in the emergency room or hospital if they skip office visits or cut back on medication because they can’t afford a copay. Copays for Medicaid range from $1 for generics to $4 or $8 for some name brand drugs.

Watch: ‘It’s just wrong:’ Susan Wells talks about how Medicaid cuts affected her

And while physicians try to prescribe generic drugs, some medications — such as insulin for diabetes and inhalers for asthma or other breathing disorders — mostly are available only as name brand drugs, she said.

“It’s not uncommon for some of our patients to be on 10 different medications,” Casper said. “They’re going to be back in the circumstances they were in previously. Do they eat, pay rent, their electric bill, take care of children or get their medicine?”

Casper said the new copays are especially frustrating because they come as patients now receiving regular care through Medicaid are beginning to make important changes in their lifestyles, losing weight, monitoring blood pressure and getting treatment for chronic illnesses.

“It kind of breaks my heart,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot more engagement in their health care by our patients. They’re doing all we want them to to stay healthy.”

Health providers said they are trying to explain the changes to patients and let them know what to expect but are having a hard time doing so absent clear guidance from state Medicaid officials.

“There’s no rhyme or reason as to how co-pays are coming through,” said Michael Lin, pharmacy director for Family Health Centers. “They’re so inconsistent.”

The state has sent out information to people on Medicaid but several providers say patients have brought it to them, unable to understand the complicated, bureaucratic language.

At the Family Health Centers pharmacy in Portland, patients are worried about whether they can afford new Medicaid copays, especially if they have multiple prescriptions for essential medications such as inhalers for asthma or insulin for diabetes.

“They worry about what’s going to happen if they don’t have the money,” Lin said.

The latest: Bevin shrugs off questions about his plans, draws comparison to Trump

Lin and Wagner said the Family Health Centers won’t turn away people who can’t pay, because as a federally recognized “safety net”  health service, their agency is able to get other funding to try to defray the costs.

But they said health care providers in private practice don’t have the ability to sustain losses from patients who can’t pay the copay.

And Wagner said making up the difference will still be a hit to the budget at Family Health Centers and other health care providers.

“It’s going to come off the bottom line,” he said.

Deborah Yetter: 502-582-4228; dyetter@courierjournal.com; Twitter: @d_yetter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/deborahy.

Medicaid copays

Here are some of the new copays some people covered by Medicaid are being charged, effective July 1.

>> Office visits for physician, dentist, vision care, behavioral health or other health provider:  $3

>> Prescription drugs: $1 for generic drugs, $4 to $8 for name-brand medication.

>> Outpatient hospital service: $4

>> Emergency room visit for non-emergency: $8

>> Hospital admission: $50

>> Durable medical equipment: $4

>> Laboratory or X-ray services: $3

>> Physical, speech or occupational therapy: $3

>> Chiropractor: $3

>> Podiatrist: $3

Source: Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services

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Kentucky drug overdose deaths jump 11.5 percent in 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky are increasing despite a drop in opioid prescriptions and heroin use.

A new report from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy says 1,565 people died from drug overdoses in 2017. That’s an 11.5 percent increase from 2016. Kentucky overdose deaths have increased by more than 40 percent since 2013.

Opioids are the main culprit in most deaths. Deaths attributed to heroin have declined. But more than half of the overdose deaths in 2017 were caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

Every year, Kentucky lawmakers have been passing more laws designed to address the epidemic. Anti-drug advocates celebrate those changes, but their celebration is tempered once a year when the new numbers come out detailing how many more have died.

Nationally, opioids accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016.

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RELATED:

One could theorize that the passage of HB50 which included a provision to “provide funding for the purchase and administration of naltrexone for extended-release injectable suspension”,   for Heroin overdoses was a calculated response to what they knew was going to happen when they discontinued “narcotics” at the Doctor’s office…more Heroin deaths.   Per the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary on July 27, 2015…  LINK

All roads in Kentucky lead you through Hell

Anti-poverty protest gets constrained at Capitol

Untitled

For the second week in a row, a group of protesters with the Poor People’s Campaign were denied entry to the State Capitol in large numbers. Only two at a time were allowed to enter the Capitol.

By Charles Bertram

Anti-poverty protest gets constrained at Capitol. State police say why.

By Jack Brammer

Updated June 11, 2018 08:35 PM

FRANKFORT

Crying out this is “our house,” about 100 members of an anti-poverty group were stopped at the front doors of the Kentucky Capitol Monday afternoon for the second time this month and were told by police only two at a time could enter.

Two leaders of The Poor People’s Campaign who did enter the august seat of state government made it to the front door of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s office but found its entrance cordoned off with a blue rope and a state trooper. After a few minutes, the door was shut.

Pam McMichael of Louisville and Tayna Fogle of Lexington protested the lack of access and left after giving office staff a lengthy petition of grievances involving wages, union rights, public housing and affordable education. “We will be back,” said Fogle.

For five straight Mondays, the Poor People’s Campaign has been at the state Capitol to address what it says is inequality for poor people. Its efforts seem to be growing in intensity as the standoffs with police remain peaceful.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders, in a June 8 reply to Democratic state Reps. George Brown Jr. of Lexington and Attica Scott of Louisville on why the protesters were blocked from entering the Capitol, said the policy was based on “prior unlawful acts” by members of the group and not the group’s message.

Brown said Monday night he has not seen the commissioner’s letter reported by Louisville’s WDRB-TV. Scott could not be reached for comment.

In his letter, Sanders mentioned the group’s blocking the roadway behind the Capitol last month and entering the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion and leaving chalk messages.

McMichael said Monday night that the group has used “several methods to bring attention to our issues.” She acknowledge that some of the group blocked the Capitol street for 45 to 60 minutes and conducted a “die-in” on the Mansion grounds where members lay down and drew chalk lines around the bodies and left messages.

Sanders also said in his letter that some members of the campaign wore white armbands with attorney’s names on them in a quest to be arrested.

Of that, McMichael said, “None of us want to be arrested. The armbands show we are willing to be arrested.”

Sanders also said the group got approval to meet on the porch behind the Capitol but did not ask to meet inside.

He said the limited-access policy “was enacted for such a group that has advertised, planned and trained to compel law-enforcement to arrest them.”

Sanders said this protocol “would not be applicable to guests or other demonstrators who plan to make their voices heard at the Capitol and then leave after following all laws and regulations.”

On June 4, the Rev. William J. Barber II of North Carolina, national co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, spoke to about 400 in front of the statehouse and tried unsuccessfully to lead many of them into the Capitol.

Kentucky State Police spokesman Josh Lawson then said access was limited to the demonstrators because the group did not seek approval to protest inside the building. He also said the policy of two demonstrators at a time into the building stemmed from some protesters who spent the night in the Capitol a few weeks ago.

Asked Monday why the Poor People’s Campaign has not sought approval to protest inside the Capitol, Fogle said that should not be the case and she believed her group was being targeted by the government. She noted that other people were being allowed into the Capitol in groups larger than two.

McMichael said Barber is tentatively scheduled to hold a news conference 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Capitol and the group is considering a possible lawsuit.

Before the group tried to enter the Capitol Monday, it held a rally in front of the Capitol led by the Rev. Megan Huston of Bowling Green’s First Christian Church that featured speeches, songs and signs. In the rally was Bill Londrigan, head of the state AFL-CIO who held a sign that read, “Stop the War on Working Families.”

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor next year, delivered bottled water to the group and said its members are “always welcome to my office in the Capitol.”

The speakers included Carlos Santacruz of the national campaign in New York, who urged the crowed to “take back your house” and Hunter Malone, who identified himself as “a proud, gay man” from Berea and pledged, “We will not let them get by with this.” The singers included Charles “Chuck” Neblett of Russellville, a civil rights activist who helped found The Freedom Singers in 1962.

The group tried to enter the Capitol at 3 p.m. and was met by six Capitol security guards. Several state police troopers were in the background. The crowd was told only two could enter at one time and the others could go no farther than two metal detectors a few feet from the front door.

A large crowd stood in front of the machines and eventually knelt in prayer. Fogle told the officers the Poor People’s Campaign knew they didn’t make much money and the group might stay awhile so the police could get overtime.

Several members of the group remained inside the front door of the Capitol into the evening Monday. All of the protesters had had left the Capitol by 8:30 p.m.

A Kentucky State Police sergeant stood guard in the governor's office as Tayna Fogle, middle, and Pam McMichael, right, attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the office to deliver a petition Monday afternoon.

A Kentucky State Police sergeant stood guard in the governor’s office as Tayna Fogle, middle, and Pam McMichael, right, attempted, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the office to deliver a petition Monday afternoon. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

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(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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(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.