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Legislative Updates

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

Over the course of the 2017 interim period a bipartisan working group of House members met several times to hear from stakeholder groups about issues related to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care processes.  I was fortunate to “audit” some of those meetings as an interested member of the Senate.  When the 2018 session began the working group’s end product became House Bill 1, which ultimately passed one vote short of unanimously.

HB1 contained a number of critical changes to the child welfare process for foster care and adoption, including imposing new timelines and restrictions to prevent cases from lingering overlong on court dockets and getting stranded in the inboxes of the state’s bureaucracy.  The bill also creates a new Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee and I am honored to be named as a member by the Senate President:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Office of Senator Whitney Westerfield

For Immediate ReleaseJune 8, 2018

Contact: John Cox

John.Cox@LRC.KY.GOV

Senate President Stivers appoints Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield to the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 8, 2018) – Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers announced Thursday the appointment of Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) to the  Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee. The newly-formed committee was created in statute with the recent passage of House Bill 1 from the 2018 Legislative Session.

House Bill (HB) 1 gives more rights to foster parents by cutting red tape and reducing regulatory burdens associated with adopting a child in Kentucky. The Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee was created by HB 1 to review, analyze, and provide oversight on child welfare, including but not limited to foster care, adoption, and child abuse, neglect, and dependency.

“As an adoptive parent, I understand the challenges and anxieties associated with Kentucky’s adoption process,” Senator Westerfield said. “I look forward to applying my experience in the courtroom and as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to the child welfare process where too often children fall through the cracks. I was proud to carry House Bill 1 in the Senate, I am proud to serve on this committee, and I am anxious to get to work to further improve our adoption and foster care programs in the Commonwealth.”

A meeting schedule for the Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee is expected to be announced in the near future. For more information on the committee, please visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/committee/statutory/SWOAC/home.htm. For the full text of HB 1, please visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/18RS/HB1.htm.

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Veto Recess

Veto Recess

One of the critical functions of government at the state and federal level is the system of "checks and balances" on power held by any one branch.  The General Assembly passes legislation but the Governor has the authority to either sign the legislation into law or veto the bill.  In the event of a gubernatorial veto, the legislature has the authority to override that decision.

The GA has exercised this authority in the past, overriding Governors' vetoes.  (I have seen a split legislature overturn a Democratic Governor's veto, and a Republican-controlled legislature overturn a Republican Governor's vetoes.)  This year the General Assembly preserved its authority to override a veto on a number of the most critical (and contentious bills) by passing them prior to the start of the veto recess.  By doing this, the legislature has reserved the final two days of session, after the veto period has expired for bills passed to date, to consider any vetoes for a possible override vote.

Earlier today, Governor Bevin issued two veto letters; one for the biennial budget and one for the tax/revenue bill passed alongside it.  You can view the Governor's veto letter for each bill linked below.  The General Assembly returns to session for its final two days on Friday and Saturday of this week.  Stay tuned for updates on if or when we consider overriding the vetoes.

This Governor held a press conference explaining the veto on both bills, and sometime later in the day the Senate President and Speaker Pro Tempore of the House issued the following joint statement:


Commonwealth of Kentucky
Senate President Robert Stivers
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne
 
For Immediate Release
April 5, 2018

Contact: John Cox
John.Cox@LRC.KY.GOV
 
Contact: Daisy Olivo
Daisy.Olivo@LRC.KY.GOV


SENATE PRESIDENT, SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE RELEASE JOINT STATEMENT RESPONDING TO GOVERNOR BEVIN’S VETOES
 
FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 9, 2018) – The following is a joint statement from Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne (R-Prospect) reacting to Governor Matt Bevin’s announcement to veto House Bill 200 and House Bill 366:
 
“We believe Governor Bevin is misguided in his interpretation of the budget and the revenue bills, as we are comfortable with LRC staff revenue projections. To our knowledge, the Governor has had no discussions with any legislators on the details of this budget and what he might consider to be a shortfall. We believe Governor Bevin would be best served to meet with legislators to understand their thoughts and rationale before making a final decision on vetoing the revenue and/or budget bills.”
 
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NOTE: You can find links to each of the Governor's 2018 veto letters here, which is updated as new vetoes are issued.

Budget & Revenue Bills

Budget & Revenue Bills

(Update – 4/3/18 – 1:12pm CST: Replaced incorrect revenue bill summary document)

Linked below are the Free Conference Committee Reports for both House Bill 366 (revenue) and House Bill 200 (executive branch budget).  Both bills have passed through the legislative process and the veto recess has begun.  Because the bills passed before midnight on Monday, before the veto period started, the legislature has retained is ability to override any vetos.

Both bills represent a compromise for me in a number of ways, but ultimately, I am willing to support both because I do not believe we can cut enough from state spending in other places to make ends meet on many critical government services affecting public safety, public education, infrastructure and social services to name a few.  Passing this tax overhaul lowers personal and corporate tax rates, and begins taking steps toward a consumption-based tax system (that still preserves exemptions vital for low income earners).  Again, I do not agree with everything in the tax reform bill (HB366) but I was willing to support the proposal as a whole.  As a result of the compromise tax plan we have been able to pass the first structurally balanced budget in more than 20 years.  In other words, we have not used any one-time funds for recurring expenses.

Some of the highlights of the budget and revenue bills:

  • The budget lowers the personal income tax for all Kentuckians to a five percent flat rate, it does NOT raise income taxes.
  • This budget does NOT raid the employee health fund for outside purposes, and will instead use some of those funds for the benefit of state employees by shoring up pensions.
  • We fully fund KTRS, KERS, and SPRS pensions as required by actuaries—over $3.4 BILLION over the biennium from General Funds.
  • There will be NO funding for legislators’ retirement systems and those funds will be redirected to the unfunded liability in the SPRS.
  • Budget Reserve Trust Fund (Kentucky's "rainy day" fund) at $304 million
  • Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky State Police will have no funding reductions.
  • KSP will receive authorization for lab updates and vehicle purchase funding.
  • Provides an additional $1 million/year for KSP forensic lab tech salary increases
  • Provides record SEEK per pupil funding levels & restores SEEK transportation funding
  • Approximately $11.5 million per year will be allocated for cancer screening and research
  • Approximately $7 million/year research and screening to be shared equally by UK and UofL
  • $500,000 per year for both ovarian and colon cancer screening
  • $2.5 million/year will be allocated for pediatric cancer research
  • Smoking cessation will be allocated $7 million
  • Funds the KY Mathematics Center, the WKU Mesonet, and provides an additional $31 million each year for performance-based funding for colleges and universities
  • Appropriates approximately $56 million in Tobacco dollars over the biennium to the Early Childhood Development Fund with funds designated for foster care, adoption, and public health
  • Adds approximately $28 million in support per year to increase reimbursement rates for private child caring agencies
  • Allocates an additional $11 million each year to increase social workers’ salaries
  • KCHIP will be fully funded with an additional $12 million allocation
  • FRYSCS funding is fully restored
  • Restores $7.5 in funding for the Preschool Partnership Grant Program

Both of those bills are lengthy so I have included summaries of the bills here below.

We Should Ban Child Marriage

We Should Ban Child Marriage

A bill proposed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams that would provide court oversight on petitions for a marriage license for 17 year-olds (SB48), is set for a second hearing in my committee tomorrow morning, and I plan to call the bill for a vote.

After working with Donna Pollard (Survivors' Corner) and the Family Foundation we have arrived at an amendment to the bill the requires parental consent, but critically requires a court to review the petition to prevent the same kind of abuse that Donna Pollard experienced as a child.

Contrary to what was believed by so many on social media, the bill sponsor and I worked together on this amendment and the bill was never not going to be heard.  I said as much after our first hearing on the bill back in February.  I’m looking forward to seeing it pass committee in the morning and then hopefully be voted on the Senate floor soon thereafter.

For those asking, the amendment (known as a “proposed senate substitute”) is attached below.

Senate Bill 1 - Funding Our Future

Senate Bill 1 - Funding Our Future

Earlier this evening, Senator Joe Bowen (R, Owensboro) filed Senate Bill 1, the much anticipated pension reform bill that seeks to put Kentucky on a path to fiscal solvency and benefit sustainability.  The following press release was issued (the links to the bill and a section-by-section summary is at the bottom):

SENATOR JOE BOWEN FILES PENSION REFORM MEASURE AS SENATE BILL 1

FRANKFORT, Ky. (February 20, 2018) – State Senator Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill (SB) 1, representing the highly anticipated pension reform proposal from the Senate Majority Caucus. SB 1 contains significant changes from the initial pension reform proposal released in October of 2017.

Senate Bill 1 would not force any current or future state employees or teachers into a defined contribution (401(k)-style) retirement plan. It also would not require all employees and teachers to pay an extra three percent of their salary for a retiree health benefit. And, the bill does not create an incentive for employees and teachers to retire at their earliest possible eligibility by ending the ability to accrue more service credit in their current defined benefit plan.
“We are committed to funding our plan, meeting our obligations to state employees, and to making systemic reforms to ensure these systems will be financially sound for current and future employees,” Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said. “When this bill passes, we will over time eliminate the unfunded liability that has been estimated to be as much as $60 billion.”

“When a pension reform proposal was first released in the fall of 2017, there were several issues raised by teacher groups, state employees, retirees, and taxpayers,” House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne (R-Prospect) said. “This plan is our attempt to address many of those issues brought to us. We listened to the concerns, and this bill represents a compromise that will bring our pension systems to the appropriate funding levels over a 30-year period.”

“This bill represents countless hours of work by countless individuals that will directly address the unfunded liability in Kentucky’s ailing pension systems,” Bowen said. “We listened to key stakeholders, experts, and taxpayers, and we are confident our new plan balances the need to stabilize the system while honoring the commitments we have made.”
To access Senate Bill 1 in full, please visit www.lrc.ky.gov.

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