COLUMN SENATE WEEK IN REVIEW By Senator Robin L. Webb

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FRANKFORT — February is upon us, and we have officially completed the first third of the 60-day Regular Session. Many of the measures passed by the Senate thus far have met minimal resistance and enjoyed bipartisan support. However, the pace has increased tenfold as members delve into substantial issues, such as the two-year spending plan and potential pension reforms.

It almost felt like spring to begin the week, and now snow flurries surge across the state. On Monday, I had the opportunity to be a guest on the Kentucky Association for Economic Development (KAED) policy call, with Matt Tackett, President and CEO. The policy call for economic developers, utility reps, and local elected officials was moderated by my former colleague and friend, and KAED policy chair, Richie Sanders. We touched on a variety of issues including tax policy, infrastructure, and community-improvement projects. Working alongside KAED and groups such as the Boyd/Ashland strategic planning, we can collaborate on projects that will bring new jobs and renovations to our communities in northeastern Kentucky. I look forward to these conversations as we deep-dive into this budget.

During this week’s Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting, State Budget Director John Hicks briefed members on the governor’s proposed two-year spending plan. Director Hicks is highly qualified and has worked on dozens of budgets under eight different administrations, both Democratic and Republican. His testimony to the committee was clear. It outlined the need for new revenue so Kentucky can make essential investments in education, maintain vital services that our citizens rely on, and meet the state’s pension obligations. The presentation was well-prepared, and backed with evidence, and the director answered each question posed to him thoroughly.

Passage of the budget is constitutionally required of the General Assembly, so both chambers are continuing to review the governor’s spending plan, working on proposals, and examining further solutions to our pension problems. My hope is we can come together and develop solutions that benefit our state and our people.

Senate Bill 1, a designation reserved each year for bills deemed a priority of the Senate majority’s leadership, passed out of the Senate this week. SB 1 prohibits sanctuary policy for immigration, which I support.

Currently, there are no sanctuary cities in Kentucky. This bill goes far beyond a prohibition and would place an extra burden on our local law enforcement, employees of agencies, and public officials by having to share in the duties of federal law enforcement. The state Fraternal Order of Police does not endorse the measure. For these reasons, among others, I voted against this legislation. I am hopeful it will be amended in the House, so we have a bill that keeps our communities safe, and addresses the concerns of local law enforcement officials. SB 1 passed 28-10 and will now move to the House for further consideration.

The budget and these priority bills will continue to dominate the headlines – and our agenda – but less-polarizing, less-publicized bills that benefit Kentuckians also require our attention. Some of those gained passage in the Senate this week, while others were vetted in committees.

Additional legislation passed in the Senate this week

SB 7 strips site based decision councils from the selection and hiring process of principals in the school district, and gives that authority to the superintendent. Many teachers and parents opposed this legislation because it stifles their voice in these processes. After meeting with them, and hearing their concerns, I opposed this measure. However, the bill passed by a vote of 20-15.

SB 87 removes the automatic transfer of a child from District to Circuit Court when a firearm is involved. The bill allows the judge to consider low IQs when deciding whether to transfer a child to Circuit. This bipartisan, common-sense measure sets the criteria in the juvenile justice system. Anything that will help Kentucky kids should be a priority for us in the legislature. I was pleased to vote yes on this needed and practical piece of legislation. It passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 36-2.

SB 42 requires public schools, grades six through post-secondary, to place emergency numbers for suicide prevention, domestic violence, and sexual assault when a student is issued an identification badge. Many young people are struggling with these issues, and this measure will provide readily available help. I voted yes, and it passed 36-1.

SB 63 allows school boards to implement virtual high school programs for dropouts aged 21 and older, to complete high school graduation requirements through the use of virtual instruction. A high school diploma is key in today’s workforce, and anything that strengthens our workforce will benefit the Commonwealth. For these reasons, I voted yes, and the bill passed unanimously.

SB 40 aligns Kentucky statutes with the federal government in regards to background checks and fingerprinting of staff at childcare, and child placement facilities. SB 40 passed by a vote of 35-0.

SB 45 establishes additional operational standards for nutrition and physical activity for child-care centers in Kentucky. It is designed to continue to improve child care across the state. The measure passed unanimously.

SB 60 adds spinal muscular atrophy to the list of heritable conditions tested at birth. It passed the Senate with unanimous consent.

SB 99 allows local-option elections for distilleries and microbreweries.

This is just a quick snapshot of our work this week. It was certainly a busy time and the tempo continues to increase. Many other issues are being discussed in Frankfort, and I encourage you to join in that dialogue. I will always listen to your viewpoints. You have a big say in the laws affecting you.

You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations and other legislative actions throughout the session by logging onto the Kentucky General Assembly website at www.legislature.ky.gov.

As always, you can stay in contact throughout the 2020 Regular Session in the following ways:

To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the Kentucky Relay Service at 711.

You can write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to Capitol Annex, 702 Capital Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601-3448.

You can also email me directly at Robin.Webb@LRC.KY.GOV.

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