2019 General Assembly

GOP Lawmaker, Once Unemployed, Seeks to Reduce Benefits

Feb 21, 2019
LRC Public Affairs

About 20 years ago, a distribution company went out of business and Russell Webber lost his job, forcing him to rely on unemployment benefits until he could find something else.

Now, as a Republican member of the Kentucky legislature, Webber has sponsored a bill to cut those unemployment benefits, reducing the weekly rate and shortening the amount of time people can receive them.

Webber, who says he now works as a state lawmaker full time, said the changes will encourage people to find work faster. People in Kentucky average close to five months of unemployment benefits before they find another job, which is among the longest duration in the region, according to Katie Houghlin, director of the Kentucky Division of Unemployment Insurance.

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On the last day that Kentucky lawmakers could file bills, a freshman Republican filed a bill to move future Kentucky teachers into a new pension system.

The legislation is the latest attempt to address the low funding levels of Kentucky’s retirement systems for public workers by altering benefits.

Rep. Scott Lewis, a Republican from Hartford and sponsor of the bill, says the new proposal would still provide teachers with “defined benefit” pensions that guarantee monthly payments upon retirement, but it wouldn’t be as generous as what current teachers get.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Another abortion restriction has begun its journey through the Kentucky legislature. A state House panel approved a bill Wednesday that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if they feel that the patient is ending the pregnancy because of the fetus’ sex, race or disability.

Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, a Republican from Greenville and sponsor of the bill, argued that the measure addresses a human rights issue.

“Demanding the right to extinguish or eliminate the life of an unborn child because of their gender, race or possible physical or mental disability is reminiscent of the evil social philosophy of eugenics,” Gibbons Prunty said.

Kentucky Legislature Pushes $150 Million Plan for State Parks

Feb 20, 2019
Kentucky State Parks

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky want to borrow $150 million to fix up the state's park system, starting with a $20 million infusion on July 1 amid what is expected to be a contentious race for governor.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved House Bill 268 on Tuesday. It would authorize the Arts, Tourism and Heritage Cabinet to borrow and spend $20 million beginning July 1 to do things like replace roofs and expand campgrounds at state parks.

Brittany Patterson

There are approximately 14,000 “orphaned” oil and gas wells across the state of Kentucky, according to state officials.

Abandoned by the original operators, these wells litter forests and fields, limiting where farmers can grow crops and presenting environmental and human health hazards. Many have been left uncapped to bubble gas and leak oil for decades.

Now, after five years of stakeholder meetings between environmental groups and the oil and gas industry, Kentucky lawmakers have introduced House Bill 199 to plug orphaned oil and gas wells and abandoned storage tanks that threaten health, safety and the environment.

creative commons

Employers in Kentucky would be required to provide pregnant workers with more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth and temporary transfer to less strenuous duties under a bill that passed out of a legislative committee on Thursday.

The “Pregnant Workers Rights Act” would also require employers to provide a private space that is not a bathroom for breast feeding.

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A bill that would create an explicit ban on lawmakers sexually harassing their employees and colleagues is advancing in the Kentucky legislature.

The legislature’s ethics code doesn’t currently prohibit sexual harassment, though lawmakers have been punished for harassing staffers under a rule that forbids misuse of their official positions.

But on Thursday, the House State Government Committee unanimously passed House Bill 60, which would make sexual harassment an offense in the legislative ethics code and create a new reporting process.

UPDATE: Kentucky Senate Passes NRA-Backed Bill

Feb 14, 2019
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The Kentucky Senate has passes a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or training. 

 

The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association.

The vote Thursday coincided with the first anniversary of a Florida shooting that killed 17 students and staff members.

A critic of the bill, Connie Coartney, said Kentucky lawmakers marked the anniversary by advancing "more dangerous gun legislation and doing the bidding" for the NRA.

Creative Commons

State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban most abortions in Kentucky if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark decision that legalized the procedure.

House Bill 148 would become state law if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. v. Wade. The 1973 decision banned states from restricting abortions before the fetus is viable — the point at which it could survive outside of the womb at around the 24th week of pregnancy.

Rep. Joe Fischer, a Republican from Ft. Thomas, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

Kentucky Governor Outlines Support for Medical Marijuana

Feb 12, 2019
J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky's Republican governor says he would be happy to sign a bill to make marijuana legal for medical purposes.

Matt Bevin told a community forum in Stanford on Tuesday his teenage nephew died after battling cancer. He said his nephew suffered near the end of his life, suggesting medical marijuana can provide relief to people experiencing similar pain.

Bevin said his support for a bill legalizing medical marijuana would depend on how the bill is written, adding he would be opposed to a bill written solely to raise money for the state's general fund.

Net Metering Bill Returns To Kentucky Legislature

Feb 12, 2019
Gray Watson/Creative Commons

A Republican state senator has introduced net metering legislation that would require state regulators to set rates for the solar power that customers feed back into the electricity grid.

The measure would likely reduce the rate residential solar customers receive for providing excess power to the grid.

Utilities backing the measure say it ensures costs are kept low for all customers, while opponents, including the state’s burgeoning solar industry, say it would dramatically slow the adoption of solar in the state.

Wikimedia Commons

A new state Senate bill introduced Tuesday would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The bill would create a new system to license medical marijuana growers, dispensaries, health practitioners and create a governmental body to oversee the system.

The Senate bill is a companion bill to House Bill 136, introduced in January. Senate Bill 170 is sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, a Republican from Paris.

The bill would allow health providers to recommend medical marijuana to a patient for ‘therapeutic or palliative’ benefit.  There’s emerging evidence that marijuana is effective in the treatment of conditions including chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, sleep disorders and Tourette syndrome.

Lisa Autry

A leader in the Kentucky Senate wants to limit the number of syringes handed out in local needle exchange programs. 

Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer is sponsoring a bill in this year’s legislative session that would require programs to give only one sterile syringe for every dirty needle that’s turned in at local health departments.

SB 69 is awaiting a vote in Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Kentucky LRC

Former Kentucky Republican State Representative DJ Johnson has withdrawn his challenge for the 13th district state house seat in Owensboro, conceding to Democrat Jim Glenn.

The race was decided on Election Day by a single vote.

 

Johnson previously asked lawmakers to pick a winner by drawing names or flipping a coin. The former representative told the Messenger Inquirer he hasn’t ruled out running again in 2020. Johnson said holding a special election would be a distraction for Daviess County.

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A bill that would ban tobacco products and vaping in Kentucky public schools passed through a state House Committee Thursday.

Republican Rep. Kim Moser from Taylor Mill is sponsor of the measure. She said the ban would send a message to students. 

“I think that it’s very important that we set certain expectations for our students and stop normalizing tobacco use,” Moser said during the hearing.

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