The clock is ticking down the last moments of the 2013 General Assembly Session. We had two intense days in which we worked close to midnight as the Senate and the House tried to achieve compromise on legislation.
After much negotiation, House Bill 1 brings transparency and accountability to the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state. Most of these public library boards, fire departments, and other local taxing districts provide outstanding services to their communities, but taxpayers are sometimes left in the dark on how their money is being spent. The bill would put education and ethics rules in place for these special-purpose entities and would require them to publish their financial statements online and conduct regular audits.
As agreed upon in a free conference committee made up of Senate and House members of both parties, the bill would also require all special taxing districts to submit a budget report to their local fiscal court. If a special district wanted to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it would be required to hold a public meeting prior to the change. While this doesn’t provide the direct oversight many of us advocated, it is an important step in keeping taxpayers informed and government entities accountable.
Another bill that received final passage was House Bill 290 that creates a 20-person review panel for cases of child abuse and neglect-related fatalities and near-fatalities. The panel would be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the case. Studying these cases will help us prevent child abuse in the future and ensure we are providing the best services possible to our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
The General Assembly is now recessed for a ten-day veto period. During this time, we’ll continue to discuss issues still unresolved. While consensus hasn’t been reached on important bills like Senate Bill 2, public pension reform, Senate Bill 50, industrial hemp cultivation, and Senate Bill 1, military overseas absentee voting, we are still working diligently toward final agreement on these and many other measures. I maintain hope that the House will negotiate with us in good faith on these measures that are so important to the future of our Commonwealth. There is still time.
Finally, I wanted to let you know that the Governor is receiving pressure to veto House Bill 279, the Religious Freedom Act that protects religious liberty from government overstepping its bounds. If the Governor rejects this bill that passed with such overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers, the Senate will move to override the veto. This critical legislation does nothing more than put Kentucky back on the same legal footing it was on just last fall, and mirrors federal legislation introduced for the same reason in 1993 that similarly passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. I have urged the Governor to honor the will of the General Assembly and sign House Bill 279 into law.
We return to Frankfort on March 25 to complete the final two working days of the legislative session. We’ll consider any vetoes the Governor might enact on any of the various bills we have passed so far, as well as put a final stamp of approval on any last-minute bills still being considered. In the meantime, you can review the work of the Kentucky General Assembly by visiting our website at www.lrc.ky.gov. Archived meetings and proceedings from the session can be viewed at www.ket.org. To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835.
And there’s still time to weigh in on matters important to you. If you would like to share your thoughts on any legislation, you may call my office directly at 502-564-8100. To leave a message for me, or any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181.
Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville) represents the 3rd District including Christian, Logan, and Todd counties.