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This has been perhaps the busiest week of the 2011 session and many pieces of important legislation addressing education, Kentucky’s criminal justice system, and government have been passed out of the House of Representatives.
One of the most highly publicized bills that cleared the House this week is the result of six months of work, research, and collaboration between legislators, judges, substance abuse counselors, hospitals, jailers, administration officials and others.
Over the past decade, Kentucky prison population has grown even though the state’s crime rate has been well below the national average for 50 years. The 45-percent increase since 2000, compared to 13 percent for the U.S. state prison system as a whole, has driven the state’s corrections spending to $440 million a year. House Bill 463, based on recommendations by the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act, would improve public safety, hold offenders accountable and contain corrections costs.
Specifically the bill would strengthen probation and parole by basing decisions on the risk posed by offenders, linking offenders to appropriate community resources and improving parole and probation supervision. House Bill 463 would also modernize drug laws by reducing prison time for low-risk, non-violent drug offenders; support and restore victims by improving restitution and creating web-based tools to provide key information on offenders; and improve government performance with better ways to measure and encourage reduction in recidivism and criminal behavior.
The measures outlined in House Bill 463 would result in a $147 million savings and modernize Kentucky’s penal code system in a smart, productive and economically feasible manner. House Bill 463 passed with a vote of 97-2.
The House of Representatives passed House Bill 308 this week which is a measure intended to help prohibit gun purchases to those who have been deemed by the courts as mentally defective or were involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The bill passed the House by a vote of 97-1. This legislation would require courts to submit rulings to the Kentucky State Police to share with the FBI for immediate inclusion in the national database used to conduct background checks.
House Bill 4 passed this week by a vote of 98-0. Called “The Kentucky False Claims Act,” this legislation would empower people to report instances of fraud against the government. People expect their tax dollars to be spent honestly and efficiently and this provides a tool to help cut down on improper spending while rewarding those who report such abuses and adding money to state coffers.
Under House bill 265, which passed 100-0, the Department for Medicaid Services would be required to have staff with expert knowledge to perform contract oversight. This is important as Medicaid branches out to more managed care contractors.
In an effort to help generate revenue for Kentucky schools, House Bill 67 would give school districts the option of allowing bus advertising to be placed on the sides of school busses. No political advertising or ads promoting alcohol or tobacco products would be allowed and allocation of the revenues would be at the discretion of each school board.
Another education bill would allow public universities to develop tuition policies that set maximum tuition rates for veterans at the rate at which the GI Bill pays. House Bill 336 passed by a vote of 99-0.
House Bill 340, which passed by a vote of 96-0 would provide incentives to encourage the manufacturing of energy production components such as solar panels, wind turbines, smart meters, and advanced auto batteries. Under this legislation manufacturing facilities that produce these products — which could be sold throughout the world — would be eligible for tax credits.
With only a few days left to consider legislation, I expect more late nights and lengthy discussions to gain consensus on bills still left for consideration.
You can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at (866) 840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at (800) 633-9650.
It is an honor to represent you in Frankfort.