Legislative update


By Fitz Steele



Courtesy photo | Representative Fitz Steele


FRANKFORT — Keeping our communities safe and increasing cooperation among law enforcement agencies was a key focus for us this week in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

In the House Local Government Committee, we heard House Bill 189, sponsored by Rep. Tom McKee, which would make it easier for sheriffs, police and other local agencies to share services and information through contracts called interlocal agreements. These partnerships create efficiencies and dialogue that mean our streets are safer, vulnerable citizens are given prompt attention, and lives are saved.

Currently, approval to join an existing agreement must be signed off at the state level by either the Attorney General or the Department of Local Government. This rule slows progress and places a burden on local agencies seeking to improve services for their communities. It’s a costly, lengthy and complicated process, and one that House Bill 189 seeks to streamline.

Such agreements are backed by dozens of law enforcement agencies, including 26 police and sheriffs’ departments throughout Central Kentucky that share jurisdiction. The success of their combined efforts is something that can be mirrored more effectively in other communities throughout the Commonwealth through the passage of this legislation. House Bill 189 was approved in committee and will be heard next week by the full House.

Finding more effective ways to allow law enforcement to work together is crucial to combatting Kentucky’s synthetic drug trade, which is exploding in some parts of the state. House Bill 4, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, provides another set of tools to fight drugs wherever they are found and send a clear message to those who push these drugs that they will be brought to justice.

The legislation, which received bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee this week, specifically targets the spread of “Flakka” and other dangerous synthetic drugs by increasing penalties for trafficking and possession with a special emphasis on the selling of controlled substances to minors.

Dubbed the “devil’s drug” for the nightmarish behavior it can cause — including paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and heart failure — the drug has appeared in all six state crime labs across the state, while being particularly widespread in northeast Kentucky. A cousin of “bath salts,” Flakka is highly addictive and is usually produced in labs in China and sold over the Internet.

While House Bill 4 increases jail time for those caught producing and selling the drug, it also provides latitude for prosecutors and judges to recommend treatment options for those individuals who find themselves falling into the downward spiral of addiction. The bill now moves to the House floor for a vote.

As the number of bills heard in committee grows, so, too, does our examination of Gov. Bevins’s budget proposal offered early last week. My colleagues on the seven different budget subcommittees that review and revise the budget in the House are going through the governor’s suggestions, line by line, to find more details regarding the more than $650 million in cuts he proposed.

What we are finding in our review of the governor’s plan is that there simply aren’t many specifics regarding how, when and where these cuts would be made. Even where he proposes new spending, there’s a lack of information on how the money would be spent. To do our work, we will have to make sure the governor and his staff are accountable to the people and make it clear what their spending priorities are. For example, while the state’s main funding formula for K-12 education would get an increase under Gov. Bevin’s budget, several key programs — including pre-school services, student transportation, family resource and youth service centers – would receive significant cuts.

There is also concern about the true cost of the governor’s plan to do away with Kynect, the gold standard in access to affordable health care which resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of Kentuckians who are uninsured. Today that number stands at seven percent, down from nearly 25 percent only a few years ago. Additionally, there are questions on the impact of the governor’s cuts to such vital programs as Medicaid, social services, mental health services and programs like “Meals on Wheels” and home health care.

I remain committed to working with the new governor and his staff to address the many future budgetary obligations our Commonwealth faces and agree that where we can save money and trim the fat, we should. At the same time, thanks to prudent and necessary decisions during and after the Great Recession, our state is experiencing revenue growth after many years of economic hardship. It is imperative that we do not stop the progress and forward momentum we have been able to achieve in economic development, health care and education, even during some of our most lean years.

Also this week, the House voted 82-9 today in support of letting the state’s voters decide whether to automatically restore voting rights of convicted felons. Currently, in Kentucky, a felon’s voting rights can only be restored by a pardon of the governor. House Bill 70, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Darryl Owens and Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would allow most felons to have their voting rights restored once their sentence or probation is served. Voting rights would not be restored under the proposal for felons convicted of treason, intentional homicide and specific sex crimes. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently allow automatic restoration of felon voting rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

This past Thursday marked the 20th day of our 60-day session, and your opinions and comments continue to be heard and appreciated. Please contact me with your questions and concerns at fitz.steele@lrc.ky.gov or by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. I truly appreciate the opportunity to represent the people of Harlan and Perry counties in the 84th House District.

Please be aware of robo calls that are not true! For information, call.

Courtesy photo | Representative Fitz Steele
http://hazard-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_Fitz-Steele2.jpgCourtesy photo | Representative Fitz Steele

By Fitz Steele

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