FRANKFORT — As we welcome March at the Capitol, we anticipate some of the legislature’s biggest challenges – such as the state’s biennial budget and priority legislation – will come to the forefront. For us, March brings late nights and tough decisions.
While members work to reach a consensus on the most fiscally responsible way to move the state forward, the Senate continues following the House of Representatives’ work on the budget, meeting with state budget officials, and preparing for the delivery of the two-year spending plan to our chamber.
Numerous constitutional amendments are making their way through the General Assembly this session. The Senate this week voted on three proposed bills that would alter the state’s basic governing document and allow voters to decide the proposals’ fate at the ballot box. A maximum of four can be put on a ballot during an election cycle. Typically the “unwritten rule” is that the Senate and House each may choose two.
The first of those, Senate Bill 15, known as Marsy’s Law, grants victims the right to be notified of all criminal court proceedings involving the accused, reasonable protection from the accused, timely notice of the release or escape of the accused, and the right to full restitution to be paid by the convicted. A similar proposal passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was subsequently approved by voters, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the law was invalid due to its vague language on the ballot.
The only significant change in Marsy’s Law from the 2018 legislation is that it would also ensure victims have the right to be heard and notified in the consideration of any pardon, commutation of sentence, or granting of a reprieve. That provision was added after concerns were raised when Governor Matt Bevin granted hundreds of pardons in the final days of his administration, which ties into the other proposed constitutional amendment we heard on the floor this week.
I feel this law is not needed. We have many advocates, programs, and agency procedures in place, and I am all for strengthening what we have in place now to protect victims. We already have duly elected prosecutors and judges we elect to make these decisions, and they are held accountable at the ballot box. SB 15 passed in the Senate 31-6 with one pass vote and will now go to the House for further consideration.
The second proposed constitutional amendment passed in the Senate would allow voters to decide if the Governor’s pardoning power should be limited. SB 58 would curb the Governor’s ability to grant pardons from 30 days prior to a gubernatorial election through the beginning of the next gubernatorial term. The measure was filed following the numerous controversial pardons granted by Gov. Bevin in the last days of his term. The measure passed 33-4.
Shortly after being sworn in, Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order that restored rights to more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who served their time and paid their debt to society. The third proposal that includes a constitutional amendment taken up in the Senate this week would allow voters to place a similar proposal in the constitution. SB 62 restores voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies. The measure would allow the General Assembly to establish how voting rights would be restored, including a possible waiting period after people have completed their sentences. The bill passed 29-7.
As we review the various constitutional amendments moving through the process, leadership will likely deliberate on which initiatives ultimately make it on the ballot. With 2020 being a presidential election year, it’s shaping up to be a loaded ballot. As the General Assembly moves forward, we expect large quantities of bills to soon make their way to the floor for a vote.
Additional legislation passed in the Senate this week includes:
SB 55 creates a six-member Blockchain Technology Working Group that will report back to the legislature. Blockchain technology allows secure peer-to-peer sharing of valuable data, without it being compromised. The legislation passed overwhelmingly.
SB 132 adds holders of personal identification cards issued within a county to the master list of potential jurors for that county. The measure passed unanimously.
SB 156 directs the Kentucky Department of Education to develop a plan to transition all state-operated secondary vocational education centers to local school districts by July 2024. The bill passed 30-7.
SB 160 is a reorganization bill that adds the Office of Administrative Services to the Department of Law in the Attorney General’s office, among other measures. It also grants the Attorney General power to appoint the solicitor general. The legislation passed 35-1.
HB 24 appropriates funding to the Bowling Green Veterans Center. It passed overwhelmingly.
HB 214 establishes the Veterinary Contract Spaces Program, and sets the framework for continued funding of the program. The measure passed unanimously.
Senate bills that passed in the Senate this week will now go to the House for further consideration. House bills approved by the Senate without change will be sent to the Governor, at which point he can veto or sign the legislation into law. House bills with Senate changes must go back to the House for concurrence.
The work of the legislative session will only intensify in the weeks ahead as we address our toughest issues, namely the biennial budget. I welcome your input, especially during the final leg of the legislative session. You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations and other legislative actions throughout the session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at https://legislature.ky.gov/Pages/index.aspx.
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.