To beef up security of state government’s computer systems in this age of identity theft and cyber theft, I am pushing through House Concurrent Resolution 89 which would direct the legislative Interim Joint Committee on State Government to study cyber security in connection with the State Auditor’s Office. The study may cover notification to consumers of security breaches of government data, as has happened in various states in the past. The resolution was reported out of the House State Government Committee--which I chair--last Thursday and now goes to the House floor for a vote.
A bill that would balance the law on commercial vehicles that I sponsored passed the House last Wednesday. House Bill 125, which passed the House unanimously, would except commercial vehicles weighing 26,000 pounds or less that work inside Kentucky only (intrastate commerce) and do not haul hazardous materials from specific costly regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Act. The same exceptions would be applied to farm vehicles that meet the same criteria as the original bill. HB 125 now goes to the Senate.
Another one of my bills that cleared the House last week is HB 228, which cleared the House by a vote of 78-16. It is essentially a housekeeping bill to bring the retirement system in line with federal law. Among other things, it would allow the Personnel Cabinet to offer health spending accounts for now ineligible members as well as electronic bank transactions. It is expected to save the pension system around $60,000, and also goes to the Senate for consideration.
The public pension issue, which has been heavily reported on by the media over the past year, was aired before the House State Government Committee last Thursday when Senate legislation addressing the matter (Senate Bill 2) was discussed by the panel. Provisions in that bill, approved by the Senate on Feb. 7, would address a combined shortfall in the pension systems of as much as $30 billion.
The ‘fix’ proposed by SB 2 would, among other things, require that the state pay its full actuarial contribution to the pension system every year beginning in fiscal year 2015; that the pay-back period for state pension debt be stretched from 26 to 30 years; that future employees be enrolled in a “hybrid cash balance plan” (which is a cross between the state’s current defined benefit plan and a defined contribution plan), and that the state do away with annual cost-of-living raises for retirees.
No vote was taken by the House State Government Committee on SB 2, although a committee vote on the issue might be forthcoming in coming days as the House considers options to solving the state’s pension woes.
Pension funding is a worry for Kentucky state government, but so is domestic violence. Kentucky’s spouse-abuse centers receive tens of thousands of domestic-violence related calls each year, and find shelter for thousands to protect them from their abusers. But while state law has domestic-violence protections for couples who have been married, live together or are parents of the same child, it does not offer much protection for those involved or recently involved in an abusive dating relationship.
HB 9, passed by the House last Wednesday 92-5, would change that by amending state law to allow current or former dating partners to seek domestic-violence protective orders. It would also see Kentucky join 48 other states that allow dating couples to seek such protection against a current or former boyfriend or girlfriend. Lawmakers say only Kentucky and South Carolina don’t offer that legal protection now. HB 9 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
Victims of sexual assault are another legislative priority. We lawmakers want to have the strongest protections in place for these victims, many of whom are children under age 18, according to some statistics.
To help these victims, the House last Tuesday voted 96-0 for HB 107, which would require defendants in rape and other sex crime cases to undergo HIV testing within 48 hours after the victim (or their parent or guardian, in the case of minors) requests it. Testing could be requested any time after a finding of probable cause against the defendant. It would be automatically ordered by the court for convicted sex offenders who have not yet been tested. HB 107 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
In other news, a familiar proposal to allow automatic restoration of voting rights for most Kentucky felons who have served their time resurfaced this session and made its way last Wednesday to the House floor, where members voted 75-25 to approve HB 70. The legislation—which has passed the House but stalled in the Senate in past sessions—would allow Kentucky voters to approve or reject a proposed Constitutional amendment for automatic restoration of voting rights for most Kentucky felons who have completed their sentence, or finished probation or parole.
Right now, a Kentucky felon who has served his or her time—regardless of the offense—can have voting rights restored by pardon of the governor only. Should voters approve the proposed amendment, only those felons convicted of intentional murder, sex crimes against a minor, rape, sodomy, treason or bribery in an election would have to seek the governor’s pardon to regain their right to vote, as they do now. HB 70 now goes to the Senate for a vote.
Other legislation of interest that cleared the House or House committees last week includes:
HB 210, which cleared the House on a 97-0 vote last Thursday and now goes to the Senate, would offer scholarships funded with coal severance tax money to students who live and attend a college or university that is physically located in the state’s 34 coal-producing counties, with little exception. Eligible students could be awarded as much as $6,600 per academic year under the bill.