by Senator Steve Meredith:
We began the week by remembering our founding fathers and the noble leaders who helped shape our great nation. On Presidents Day, we salute all U.S. Presidents, past and present, especially Kentucky’s son, Abraham Lincoln.
If you’ve visited the Capitol, you may remember the grand statue of President Lincoln in the rotunda. There is a century-old tradition of rubbing his left boot for good luck. Especially popular during the session months, lawmakers and visitors frequently touch the statue as they pass through the rotunda. While the hustle and bustle of the session could always use a little more positivity and luck, the statue serves as a daily reminder of Lincoln’s remarkable leadership and moral courage he displayed as a lawmaker, the type of Kentuckian we should all aspire to be.
Week seven marks the halfway point of the 2020 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. For the past couple of months, I, along with my colleagues in the Senate and House, have been working diligently to pass legislation on a wide variety of issues facing Kentuckians and our Commonwealth. With a little fewer than 30 days left in the session, we want to make sure that we are maximizing our time here in Frankfort.
There was no shortage of bill movement in Senate committees and the chamber this week. The State & Local Government Committee heard testimony and passed several constitutional amendments including Senate Bill (SB) 58, which would limit the Governor’s ability to grant pardons beginning 30 days prior to a gubernatorial election and ending at that gubernatorial inauguration. SB 62 would grant persons convicted of a felony other than a sex offense, a violent offense, or an offense against a child, the right to vote five years after completion of sentence.
Also passing through the Senate State & Local Government Committee was SB 15, also known as “Marsy’s Law.” This constitutional amendment and national effort is no stranger to the Kentucky General Assembly, having been passed in 2018 with bipartisan support. Similar to the previous bill, SB 15 would require victims of crime to be notified throughout the judicial process. This year’s bill adds in the requirement that victims must be notified in advance of any pardon or commutation of a sentence, which is not currently required by law.
The Senate passed another priority measure this week. SB 4 is a bill that serves to depoliticize the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC). Governors in the past have utilized KYTC as leverage when allocating funding for road projects. SB 4 would codify into law the previous administration's Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow (SHIFT) initiative, a data-driven, objective approach to compare capital improvement projects and prioritize limited transportation funds. SB 4 would establish a diverse Transportation Board which would be responsible for recommending the state road plan to the Kentucky General Assembly. However, legislators would still make the ultimate decision on the state's six-year road budget. SB 4 would also provide necessary oversight over the appointment of the Cabinet Secretary. Board members, in coordination with various organizations such as the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Kentucky League of Cities, would nominate three well-qualified Secretary Candidates for the Governor to choose from.
So as to avoid any concerns that the bill was politically motivated, SB 4 was filed last year prior to the 2019 Governor’s election. Any concerns about the bill and proposed changes can and should be discussed in the House. We are all very blessed to be in such a position that we can debate and develop good policy on behalf of the people of Kentucky. It’s a responsibility that I do not take for granted and I know the same is true for my fellow lawmakers.
Passing in the Senate with bipartisan support was SB 50. This is a technical measure regarding pharmacy benefits and seeks to remedy unfair practices by Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) within the Medicaid program. SB 50 tackles many issues including preferred drug lists, reimbursement methodology, and dispensing fees within Medicaid managed care. SB 50 would provide transparency by requiring the contracted PBM to disclose any potential conflict-of-interest with the state Medicaid department, managed care organizations, pharmacies and other groups involved in the pharmaceutical industry. Also, the PBM would have to disclose any fees it imposes on pharmacies.
The amended version of SB 50 would protect a nearly 30-year-old federal arrangement, titled the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide drugs to some health care organizations, such as Kentucky’s rural hospitals, at significantly reduced prices.
Other bills moving to the House for consideration are:
SB 91 protects patients and healthcare providers from harmful surgical smoke by requiring licensed health facilities that use energy generating devices (tools using heat, laser, or electricity) to use a smoke evacuation system during any surgical procedure that produces surgical smoke.
SB 103 would exempt some agricultural buildings on farms of five acres or more from certain sewage disposal and plumbing requirements. This would not include residential buildings or structures within a city’s limits. Currently, the farm has to be at least 10 acres or more to qualify for the exemption.
SB 111 would require, upon the family’s approval, the American flag to be draped over the casket of a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical services provider or coroner killed in the line of duty. SB 111 would apply when the first-responder’s body is returned from the medical examiner’s office. The bill also states a coroner should professionally transport the remains according to the family’s wishes.
SB 134 would establish the Optometry Scholarship Program to provide students the opportunity to attend an optometry school and become a certified practitioner in Kentucky. A minimum of one-third of the amount spent on scholarships would be awarded to students attending the Kentucky College of Optometry at the University of Pikeville. The remaining amount could be spent on scholarships to out-of-state institutions. SB 134 would also create a trust fund for the program.
Thank you for your calls, emails, and visits to the Capitol. With more than 30 days of the legislative session behind us, our main focus will continue to be the state budget and road plan as we lay out the Commonwealth’s financial path for the next two years.
If you know a student who would enjoy a day in Frankfort learning about state government and the legislative process, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Stephen.Meredith@LRC.ky.gov. I invite you to reach out to me on any other matter of importance to you as well. Don’t forget; you can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.legislature.ky.gov.