The 2014 Budget Session was a success for a number of reasons. We passed a fiscally responsible budget that helps meet the needs of state agencies while being good stewards of tax dollars. We passed a number of pieces of legislation aimed at improving the health and well-being of Kentuckians of all ages. And, we passed through our chamber a number of measures that would have saved millions of taxpayer dollars – measures that, unfortunately, our counterparts in the House of Representatives did not approve.
In the last moments of the final sine die day, I was able to pass the AK Steel Bill that will save hundreds of jobs in eastern Kentucky and large supplies of coal produced across state.
The budget was the focal point of this session, and after much negotiation, a fiscally responsible budget was passed that contained a debt ratio and structural imbalance lower than those proposed by the House and the governor. The budget is education-friendly, providing close to $6 billion for SEEK appropriation, salary increases for public school teachers and staff, and an additional $18.7 million in the second year for preschool children services for 4-year-olds whose family income is within 160 percent of the federal poverty level. The budget reduced funding to postsecondary education to only 1.5 percent – less than the 2.5 percent originally proposed by the governor and the House. The final budget also prohibits state funds from being used to implement Obamacare and approves the first pay raise for state employees since 2008. Funding was also restored for FRYSCS, the Robinson Scholars and to the UK College of Mining Engineering and to Operation Unite.
Regarding health-related legislation, we sought to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens, passing Senate Bill 98 to expand the current background check process for adult service providers. Background checks will now go through the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) to determine if a prospective employee or volunteer is the perpetrator of a substantiated finding of adult abuse, neglect, or exploitation. CHFS maintains the registry, which can only be accessed by those legitimately looking for a caregiver.
We also took a number of steps to help to protect the health and well-being of our children. For children who suffer from sometimes debilitating seizure disorders, we passed Senate Bill 124, allowing doctors at Kentucky’s two university research hospitals to prescribe cannabidiol to patients who suffer from seizure disorders. This treatment is designed to be one more tool in the toolbox for children with epilepsy to help enhance their quality of life.
Another step to protect our children came with the passage of Senate Bill 109, which prohibits minors from purchasing or using e-cigarettes, also known as “alternative tobacco products” or “vapor products.” For school-aged children and their families, we passed House Bill 98, requiring schools to have at least one trained staff member to administer medications to students for diabetes, epilepsy, and other conditions. The staff member must successfully complete the American Diabetes Association Training Program. This will allow a child to receive necessary medications without a parent or caregiver taking time away from work to administer these medications. In addition, Senate Bill 118 allows for one additional prescription for eye drops to be filled every three months, allowing children to have these drops available at school at all times. This also allows for drops that are often wasted when administering them to children. These drops are critical to those suffering from glaucoma, which can become sight-threatening if the medication is not administered as directed. And for our school children, we passed Senate Bill 159, which allows primary care centers to provide Medicaid managed care reimbursement for school-located and Head Start-based dental care programs.
Additionally, we took steps toward easing the shortage of physicians our state is currently facing by passing legislation to expand services provided by nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants. Under Senate Bill 7, experienced, advanced-practice nurse practitioners can prescribe non-narcotic drugs without having an agreement with a physician. This legislation is critical with the influx of people into the federal health reform and Medicaid expansion. In addition, Senate Bill 41 allows a physician assistant to execute a medical order without a supervising physician’s countersignature. Ten percent of the medical notes written by a physician assistant will be countersigned every 30 days.
Several pieces of legislation supporting our Second Amendment rights were passed this session. Senate Bill 100 streamlines the Carry of Concealed Deadly Weapons (CCDW) process by allowing applicants to submit forms electronically. Senate Bill 125 allows honorably discharged service members to waive the training requirement for a CCDW with proper documentation. Senate Bill 106 allows an individual who has sought a court-issued Emergency Protection Order (EPO) the ability to expedite the CCDW permitting process after a background check.
After a two-year task-force review and thousands of hours of stakeholder meetings and draft revisions, we passed Senate Bill 200, an effort to reform the state’s juvenile code. Simply put, this bill (1) achieves better outcomes for Kentucky’s youth by involving families and reducing recidivism with earlier intervention, and (2) does so at a far lower cost to the taxpayer, greatly improving our return on that investment.
And finally, for the 10th straight session, the Senate passed legislation solidifying our commitment to the unborn, but unfortunately the legislation did not make it to the governor’s desk. I will continue my commitment to protect the unborn by voting for these measures and protecting the unborn.
Since the Kentucky General Assembly has completed its formal work for 2014, the remainder of my trips to Frankfort this year will be to represent my constituents in interim committee meetings and to fulfill my leadership duties as the Senate Majority Whip. If you have any thoughts about the work we accomplished here for the past few months or want to voice your opinion about next session, please call me toll-free at 800-372-7181. Also, you can follow the work of the General Assembly at www.lrc.ky.gov. In addition, you can see activity of our caucus via twitter at @kysenategop.
Sen. Brandon Smith (R-Hazard) represents the 30th District including Bell, Breathitt, Johnson, Leslie, Magoffin, and Perry Counties. He is the Majority Whip; the Vice-Chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee; and a member of the Banking and Insurance Committee, the Committee on Committees, the Legislative Research Commission, the Rules Committee, and the Transportation Committee.