As we passed the mid-point in our 60-day session this week, our work to create the state’s next biennial plan continues to be complicated by the lack of details emerging from Gov. Bevin’s administration on just how far, and deeply, they intend to cut critical programs in K-12 education and health and human services.
By custom, the House of Representatives is the first legislative chamber responsible for writing budget bills for all three branches of government after receiving the governor’s recommendations.
While we received the governor’s budget plan more than three weeks ago, our House budget subcommittees have yet to receive detailed information on how his budget, if enacted, would affect statewide programs that benefit school-age children and their families, or the work of agencies that serve some of our most vulnerable citizens affected by domestic violence, mental illness, and child abuse.
We are told, for example, that the governor does not intend to cut Medicaid funding. When pressed for details, however, administration officials in committee testimony this week said they are still determining how they will achieve savings of 4.5 percent this fiscal year ending June 30, and nine percent in each year of the next biennium, in other agencies within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Meanwhile, individuals with advocacy groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Lexington, the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky provided emotional testimonies before the House Human Services Budget Subcommittee on the damaging impact the governor’s cuts would have on Kentuckians who depend on state services.
We heard similar stories of woe from Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, who testified that proposed cuts to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) budget would adversely affect school districts statewide. While Commissioner Pruitt praised the governor for maintaining the main funding formula for K-12 students, he testified that the administration’s requested reductions in the next biennium will not only result in a reduction of programs and services, but will also impact local school district personnel.
These cuts to education threaten progress our public schools have made in several important categories. Last year, 88 percent of Kentucky public school students graduated from high school (which ranks us in the top 10 nationally) and we have the highest graduation rate in the nation for states requiring completion of four years of English and Algebra II. Kentucky students outperform the nation at most levels in reading, math and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Also, more students are taking Advanced Placement tests and are scoring better than ever before.
In principle, I agree we should give the governor the latitude to create priorities for his administration, yet as your elected representative, I also believe I have a duty to ensure we protect these advancements in education and extended school services, professional development and school safety programs. Concerns continue to mount, too, regarding the impact of cuts to health and human services, and the disruption of KyNect services which helped lower the state’s rate of uninsured individuals from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 7.5 percent in 2015.
We’ll continue to invite the governor’s cabinet advisors to provide information that can help us better understand his plans, but time is running out, and our duties as the House Majority require us to move forward to create a spending plan that will be in tune with the overall needs of the Commonwealth.
While budget subcommittees are keeping many of us busy, we saw a number of bills pass this week on the House floor and move on to the Senate for its consideration:
*House Bill 183, which passed Tuesday on a 93-0 vote, would create a certification program for businesses owned by disabled veterans. Under the legislation, the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Contract Compliance would oversee the certification program as a way to encourage growth among businesses owned by disabled veterans. State Rep. Dean Schamore of Hardinsburg, a Navy veteran who sponsored the legislation, said Kentucky does not currently have a program that certifies these businesses and that House Bill 183 will help assist those veterans in competing with states that require certification by a statewide body. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
*House Bill 107, sponsored by state Rep. Rita Smart of Richmond, would provide public school teachers with at least 60 minutes per school day for lesson planning and other “nonteaching” activities. Current law says teachers must have “additional time” for nonteaching activities, like planning and reviewing student work, but allows school councils and school districts to determine how much time the teachers get. Under the legislation, schools would have to set aside 60 minutes per day for full-time teachers, with at least 120 minutes allotted to teachers each week for “self-directed” activities like planning, professional development, and outreach. The legislation was passed 77-17.
*House Bill 265, sponsored by state Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville, would allow state college and university building projects to proceed without state budget authorization. Under the legislation, state postsecondary capital projects funded with restricted funds, agency funds, federal funds or private funds could be exempt from the state budget process as long as the projects are approved by the college’s or university’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), and presented to the state legislative Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee. All of the project costs would be the responsibility of the college or university, not the state. The legislation passed 93-0.
*House Bill 132, sponsored by state Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah, would allow an individual to sue a website or publication that charges a fee to have their mugshot removed. Currently, the practice of posting photos taken from a local jail’s website and charging a fee is legal. Unfortunately, even if the person pays the fee, multiple companies can upload the image, creating an extortion ring. The legislation passed 93-0.
On Thursday night, I attended the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) Awards with Hazard Superintendent Sandy Johnson, Chairman of the Board Butch Asher and KVEC employee Ron Daley.
Your ideas and input continue to be a great resource to me, and I encourage you to contact me by email at [email protected] or by calling the Legislative Research Commission Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. It’s an honor to represent Harlan and Perry counties in the 84th House District and I thank you for this opportunity.