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Legislative committees active

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This has been a full week in Frankfort. I had three major meetings with the Transportation Committee that I chair, the Joint Committee on Labor and Industry, and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism.

In the Transportation Committee, the Department of Vehicle Regulation provided an overview of the new farm vehicle escort regulations. Overweight and large farm vehicles now have their own regulation separate from the overweight commercial truck regulation. The new regulations were meant to simplify farm vehicle requirements.  House Bill 518, passed during the 2012 legislative session, requires only one escort vehicle when transporting farm vehicles more than 12 feet wide.  The law specifies only a lead vehicle must be present on two-lane highways.  Only a trail vehicle is required on four-lane roads. 

Previously two escort vehicles were needed anytime an over-dimensional vehicle was on the road. These new rules will hopefully make it easier for farmers to go about their business but also make it easier for the other drivers who share the road.

The Joint Committee on Labor and Industry discussed the implementation of House Bill 495. HB 495 established a process to pay the interest on a federal loan taken out to provide state unemployment insurance benefits, without raising taxes.  The General Assembly previously created the financial mechanism to retire the loan principal.  The Senate inserted an important provision in HB 495 that will lower unemployment insurance taxes paid by employers after the unemployment insurance trust fund becomes balanced. The Secretary of Education and Workforce Development reported that the bill has set our unemployment fund on a sounder footing.

A review of Kentucky’s Economic Development Incentive Programs was on the agenda for the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism. The report confirmed that we need to do better recruiting high-tech firms because while we are graduating more people, many of these well-educated students are moving elsewhere for jobs.

Finally, I would like to tell you about another committee meeting that I am not a member of but nonetheless found myself following very closely.

Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee, usually a very low-profile committee charged with overseeing the expenditure of funds budgeted for capital projects, was faced with approving a lease costing $294,540 for a property that the Beshear Administration said would house Kentucky’s healthcare insurance exchange. Remarkably, the executive order to actually implement an exchange was not issued by the Governor until after the committee had already started. Both Democratic and Republican legislators were caught unaware.

The committee learned that the facility would accommodate 210 employees and someone asked the Governor’s representatives if these people would be new hires and if so, would they enter our already strained public pension system. Another senator asked if these planned health insurance proposals would cover abortion services. Someone else asked what the budget was for the administration of the exchange. Many on the committee were stunned that there simply were no answers to these questions. Health cabinet officials told us that they were still developing the plans and couldn’t tell us what they would or would not contain or how much they or the program would cost the state.

In the end, the committee voted down the lease. Unfortunately, the Governor announced late that afternoon that the Secretary of Finance would overrule legislative wishes and continue on with the lease. Let me be clear, there has been no legislative approval of the Governor’s actions regarding Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. Staff is researching what our options are at this point but you can be sure that I will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that your tax-dollars are protected.

Please feel free to contact my office with opinions, concerns, or general thoughts about this or other topics.

Ernie Harris represents the 26th District in the Kentucky Senate, which includes Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble and part of Jefferson County. He serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, the State and Local Government Committee and the Banking and Insurance Committee. Contact him at (800) 372-7181 or TTY (800) 896-0305.