I am pleased to report that the House’s budget process is on track and on time, with a vote on our proposal for the state’s next two-year spending plan expected early next week.
While final details are still being ironed out, I can assure you that we will present a fiscally responsible plan that will take into account the considerable revenue growth the Commonwealth is experiencing – including more than $716 million available for new spending in the first year of the next budget cycle and $673 million in the next.
We hope to use a portion of these funds to restore many of the cuts to public education programs, including the more than 800 Family Resource and Youth Services Centers across the state that help erase barriers to learning. Several hundred educators, counselors, and staff who help create invaluable programs that extend our schools into our communities came to the capitol this week. Together we celebrated 25 years of successful work through these Family Resource Centers that help thousands of Kentucky’s school children arrive at school better prepared to succeed.
The House budget plan will also include more support for postsecondary education, and I am hopeful next week for the passage of our new “Work Ready Kentucky” scholarship program on the House floor. As proposed under House Bill 626, this program would allow new high school graduates – and those taking the GED before age 19 – to attend up to 6 semesters of community college for free after federal loans and state scholarships. Through this program, the state will step up and be the “last dollar in” to bridge the gap to an affordable college education for our children. Work Ready Kentucky will prepare more job-ready graduates for Kentucky’s employers, as well as encourage students to transfer to our four-year universities and continue their education after a 2-year program. I believe these investments in education are investments in Kentucky’s future. Better schools and better jobs mean more Kentuckians can realize their dreams of raising their families close to home.
As we work to add final details on the budget, I am pleased to report that we’ve also passed several important pieces of legislation on to the Senate for its consideration. On Wednesday, we passed legislation that seeks to clarify when an athlete suspected of having a concussion may return to play. Under House Bill 217, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Denham, any athlete suspected of having a concussion would be prohibited from returning to play if no physician or other licensed medical provider is present at the practice or competition to evaluate them. Additionally, athletes who aren’t evaluated would not be able to play in any future practice or game unless they have written clearance from a physician. The legislation, which passed 96-0, has the support of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
On Thursday, we took steps to silence unwanted marketing calls on your cell phone by approving House Bill 413 on 95-0 vote. Sponsored by Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah, this legislation would make it illegal to market, sell or share a subscriber’s cell phone number for commercial reasons without the person’s written consent. Penalties would be stiff for wireless service providers, directory providers or others who violate the prohibitions, with fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation. This legislation is an important protection for the elderly who are often targeted by unscrupulous telemarketers trying to defraud them.
We also approved House Bill 314 to clarify a state statute that allows law enforcement officers, when they are off-duty or retired, to carry weapons that they’re trained to use and protect themselves, the public, and their family. The legislation was spurred by an incident in Louisville where off-duty officers were not allowed to carry a concealed firearm at a popular music venue. Police officers in Louisville are required to carry their weapons both on and off duty, according to the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Steve Riggs. The legislation passed on an 87-2 vote.
House Bill 366, sponsored by Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, takes aim at roofing fraud and the recent increase in fly-by-night contractors. The legislation seeks to “put teeth” into existing state law so that consumers may pursue a private cause of action for theft relating to fraudulent roofing services. The bill passed on a 96-0 vote Wednesday.
In House committee work this week, we approved legislation that would outlaw the possession, training, breeding, and selling of dogs for the purpose of dog fighting. House Bill 428 would make it a Class D felony to engage in these activities, which are also often tied to drug trafficking and other illegal activities. This measure, sponsored by Rep. Wilson Stone of Scottsville, now goes to the House floor for a vote.
Also, in the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment, we approved legislation that targets the illegal dumping of drilling waste from out-of-state oil and gas operations. I am chairman of this committee and House Bill 563, sponsored by state Rep. Cluster Howard of Jackson, was filed in response to reports of illegal dumping of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) at landfills in Estill and Greenup counties. House Bill 563 would direct the two state agencies with jurisdiction over wastes containing TENORM to enforce existing regulations and statutes and investigate additional rules and standards necessary to stop the out-of-state dumping of radioactive wastes in municipal landfills. The legislation now moves to the House floor for a vote.
We’re coming into the final weeks of the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly, and I’d like to take this moment to say how much I have appreciated all of the phone calls, emails and letters I have received throughout this legislative session. Your opinions help guide the decision-making process and I hope that you will continue to let me know your stand on the issues before us. Please contact me at [email protected] or call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. It’s a privilege to represent Harlan and Perry counties in 84th House District and I hope to hear from you soon.