Legislative Update – March 4, 2016

The passage of bills that would help children with disabilities, preserve rights of victims in criminal cases, and fight for the rights of the unborn highlighted another busy week in the Senate. As Thursday marked day 40 of our 60-day legislative session in Frankfort, we are still anxiously awaiting a budget bill from our colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Senate Bill 200 passed this week, which would reorganize the Kentucky Horse Park Commission to create better financial planning and accountability within the governing body, while also offering better representation of those who use the park most. This bill was in response to the recent findings of inappropriate spending and improper procurement procedures at the Park.

I reviewed an audit of the Kentucky Horse Park from 2010-2014 that raised several questions about the park’s transparency, but opponents argued that the audit occurred before the current director, Jamie Link, assumed his current role. But a letter I received last week from Finance Cabinet Secretary Bill Landrum said the horse park followed improper procurement practices, identifying more than $500,000 worth of purchases from an unnamed vendor that did not have a contract with the Horse Park.

The improper purchasing practices appeared to continue since Link, the former deputy chief of staff to Governor Beshear, assumed the role of executive director. Secretary Landrum said the park’s non-construction small purchasing authority was reduced from $20,000 to $1,000.

Here is a look at some other significant bills that passed the Senate this week:

  • Senate Bill 152 would require a woman to get an ultrasound prior to obtaining an abortion.
  • Senate Bill 179, known as the “ABLE Act,” would allow parents of disabled children the opportunity to establish a bank account for their child’s disability-related expenses without fear of losing eligibility for federal benefits.
  • Senate Bill 175, also known as “Marsy’s Law,” would ensure that victims of crime have the same co-equal rights as the accused and convicted.
  • Senate Bill 37, would give prosecutors the option to charge a minor younger than 18 giving or receiving a digital nude picture of himself, herself or another minor with strong but smaller penalties than a felony.
  • Senate Bill 168, relating to municipal audits, would keep local governments accountable and provide increased transparency for their financial actions.
  • Senate Bill 106, well-known as the “Charlie Brown Bill,” passed the Senate and protects religious freedoms in school theater productions.
  • Senate Bill 173 would encourage free enterprise by not giving government a leg up on local business when making purchases.
  • Senate Bill 141 would encourage better local representation on municipal utilities boards.
  • Senate Bill 188 is a continuation of efforts to modernize Kentucky oil and gas regulations. It would make test wells subject to current oil and gas permitting, reporting and construction standards.

March 3 was the last day to file bills in the Senate. We will begin hearing House bills in our Senate committees in the coming weeks. As we enter the homestretch of the 2016 session, some tough decisions will need to be made, along with some compromises.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Damon.Thayer@LRC.ky.gov. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

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