The week in the Kentucky Senate

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While we passed several important bills this week, my time was dominated with review of the House’s proposal, House Bill 265, for the state’s two-year budget. The plan will be roughly $9 billion per year or $18 billion total. In that, the Senate proposal carries about 6.58 percent authorized debt which is lower than the House’s proposal of 6.8 percent and even lower than the Governor’s proposal of 7.1 percent.

The Senate’s budget puts more money into the Rainy Day Fund and significantly lowers the state’s structural imbalance. Unlike the Governor’s proposal, we recognize that it is bad public policy to bond or restructure or borrow money to pay for current expenses. The Senate crafted a financially responsible budget that reflects what every family in the Commonwealth has had to face during the last several years – less money.

We needed to decide what was necessary as opposed to what would be nice to have. People decide between paying their mortgage or going on vacation, paying their utility bill or going to the movies. While the Senate budget provides for social services, education, public safety, and necessary infrastructure, we are mindful that we cannot afford some things that, while nice or even beneficial to have, are not ultimately critical. Of course, as the nation’s and our economies improve, we will continue to evaluate and review our revenues as compared to our needs.

The Senate passed Senate Bill 134 which would facilitate returning military who have a HVAC specialty to obtain certification in Kentucky. SB 134 allows a current or former member of the United States Armed Forces to qualify for a journeyman license if he or she has been trained as a journeyman by the military and actively served in that occupation during his or her military service. We are grateful to the men and women who serve and it is not just to make their transition back to civilian life more difficult.

The Senate also passed several other bills to lay the groundwork for a prosperous future. If you ask business-owners what kinds of things the government can do to help them, one of their top answers will be to tell government to get out of the way.  Senate Bill 4 applies a moratorium on administrative regulations as the Governor determines which regulations to keep in place, amended, or repealed altogether. The Governor can then reissue the regulations he deems important and these will go through the usual legislative review. The purpose of SB 4 is to rein in what many feel is out-of-control red-tape. We need to look at these regulations with fresh eyes and make sure they still have a constructive purpose.

By now, it is common knowledge that math and science skills are important to students as they prepare for either a vocational track or college and future jobs. Senate Bill 11 will provide financial incentives to teachers, based on student achievement on Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests in advanced science and mathematics. AdvanceKentucky, a private-public educational partnership, has similar programs in many of our public high schools and has experienced wild success as students score well enough to obtain college credit, saving both them and their parents’ money. In 2010, AdvanceKentucky high schools represented a 53 percent increase in math/science/English AP qualifying scores (3 or above) above 2009. Qualifying scores among low-income students went up 109 percent. This is an investment in our future.

We also must continue to be conservative and frugal with the state funds (your tax-dollars) we do have. Senate Bill 118 will require all applicants for public benefits to either present a legitimate document verifying United States citizenship or submitting an affidavit verifying legal residency here. These are your tax funds, and you should have the assurance that they benefit U.S. citizens.

Finally, the Senate passed Senate Bill 213 which provides transitional living support for young people who have aged out of the foster care system but still feel that they need a support system.  A youth may choose, before they are 19, to extend or reinstate his or her commitment to the Cabinet of Health and Family Services to the age of 21. This means that the children will continue to be eligible for educational, residential, and psychological support to help ensure they will grow into productive members of society.

Next week, we will be entering in a conference committee with the House to hammer out differences in our budget proposals. As Chairman of the Transportation Committee, I have been working for several weeks on the state’s road plan. The Senate will be voting on the plan next week.

There is still time to call me with any questions or concerns about pending legislation. I can be reached toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. We are on the World Wide Web at www.lrc.ky.gov.  

Senator Ernie Harris (R-Crestwood) is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee.  He also serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.  He represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, and Trimble counties as well as a portion of Jefferson County.  For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Harris, please log onto www.lrc.state.ky.us/pubinfo/ephoto.htm.