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The last full week of the 2011 legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly was hectic but productive as major issues were resolved and important legislation pased. Several pieces of legislation were signed into law by the governor this week.

This session may well be remembered for the passage of landmark legislation that will reform Kentucky’s corrections system, hold offenders more accountable, and treat people addicted to drugs in a more understanding and productive manner. House Bill 463 would help cut incarceration costs – Kentucky has about 20,500 inmates and spends $440 million a year on corrections – through community supervision and substance abuse treatment to reduce offenders’ chances of returning to prison.

Incarceration costs are now about $21,700 per inmate but it is expected that House Bill 463 could save $127 million over the next decade. House Bill 463 would offer community supervision and other services, such as substance abuse treatment, to reduce an offender's chances of returning to prison. The bill will still punish violent crimes and drug trafficking but will reduce the punishment for simple drug possession. While remaining a Class D felony, possession of small amounts will result in up to three years in prison, down from the current maximum of five, and repeat offenses will remain Class D felonies rather than being Class C felonies punishable by up to 10 years behind bars. House Bill 463 is hailed as a successful collaborative effort, beginning with meetings months ago with all stakeholders across the Commonwealth. House Bill 463 is now law.

Another bill to receive the governor’s signature this session was Senate Bill 110, a measure that will allow optometrists to perform certain treatments and surgical procedures — including a laser procedure sometimes needed after cataract surgery — that now must be done by ophthalmologists. Senate Bill 110 was designed to provide greater access to necessary eye care for families across the Commonwealth.Optometrists are located in 106 counties throughout Kentucky. In contrast, two-thirds of the state’s counties do not have an ophthalmologist. Patients – especially in rural communities – can now depend on their hometown eye doctor to treat their eye health needs efficiently, effectively and safely.

A bill that would help build carbon dioxide pipelines in Kentucky through state incentives and eminent domain rights passed the House 80-17 and awaits the governor’s signature. Senate Bill 50 would add carbon dioxide pipelines to the short list of pipelines currently built by eminent domain in Kentucky, including natural gas and oil pipelines. Carbon dioxide pipeline projects eligible for incentives under Senate Bill 50 need a minimum investment of $50 million. Carbon dioxide pipelines created under Senate Bill 50 could move carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants to oil recovery sites in-state and elsewhere, among other uses. Pipelines would also allow the gas to be transported for storage in deep underground natural reservoirs.

The House passed Senate Bill 12 which would give Kentucky school superintendents a vote in the election of new principals. Currently, Kentucky superintendents have no voice in principal selection because state law gives site-based decision making councils that authority. Under Senate Bill 12 the superintendent or his designee would serve as chair of the council and have a vote in the new hiring process. Senate Bill 12 passed the House by a vote of 83-16 and now returns to the Senate for approval.

A bill that would legalize fireworks previously prohibited in the state passed the Kentucky House this week. House Bill 333, which passed on a 92-6 vote, would allow the sale and use of fireworks that explode or shoot up into the air. These fireworks have been banned in Kentucky since at least 1982.

Under the House Bill 333, fireworks sellers would have to obtain a $250 license each year, $250 annually for seasonal vendors and $500 for year-round vendors. Fireworks that would be made legal under House Bill 333 include firecrackers, bottle rockets and roman candles. House Bill 333 waits approval in the Senate.

The House approved House Bill 465 which would Kentucky to join an interstate racing compact to oversee rules regarding racing and wagering across state lines. It would allow the governor to join an interstate racing compact that could issue regulations in horse racing states. The compact would not go into effect until at least six states join it. The interstate compact would help develop uniform rules for the industry and the bill also includes language that would ensure the legislature’s administrative regulation committee be made aware of possible changes to Kentucky’s racing laws that the interstate compact is working on.

Senate Bill 30, a plan to fill a multimillion dollar deficit in the state’s Medicaid budget passed by the Senate, would make cuts across state government — including cuts to K-12 education. Under the proposal, most of state government would be cut by 0.525 percent in the remaining months of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and a 2.26 percent cut in fiscal year 2012. Higher education and K-12 would not be cut in the first year, but the funding formula for K-12 schools, would be cut about 1.13 percent in the second year. The House is expected to not concur or agree with Senate Bill 305 which will then be assigned to a conference committee, where consensus will be sought.

The General Assembly now breaks from March 8-18 for the 10-day veto period where we do not meet in session. The governor will consider vetoes to legislation that has passed in the preceding weeks. We will return to the Capitol for two days on March 21 and 22 to adjourn the 2011 Regular Session.

Remember, you can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you this session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.

It is a pleasure and an honor to serve as your state representative.

FRANKFORT — This week, we saw some very good legislation and, unfortunately, some very poor legislation moving through the legislative process.

Legislation I strongly opposed dealt with a proposed measure to balance the Medicaid budget. Medicaid needs to be fixed – no doubt about that -- but it needs to be fixed with Medicaid money and not by sacrificing education as well as other state programs and jobs. I voted against House Bill 305 -- a plan to balance the State Medicaid budget -- as amended by the Senate Committee Substitute for that very reason. I have heard from teachers and school administrators throughout my district and they are all delivering the same message: Education cannot withstand additional cuts.

School personnel and programs have already been cut severely in most districts and additional reductions in funding to schools will significantly impact teaching and learning. School systems are already facing a reduction in funds because of the rising gasoline prices. A 2.26 percent reduction will force schools to release teachers and other staff, which naturally will result in overcrowded classrooms.

When I came to Frankfort, one of my goals was to help make education better – not to hurt school systems. I fear additional cuts will do great damage to education in the Commonwealth. We have already cut all the fat out of the education budget, and now we are cutting into the muscle and bone. It has to stop. This is the eighth budget cut we have seen in the last five years. Those cuts are affecting all of Kentucky.

As legislators, we are aware of the recession and its impact on our state. There are no easy answers, but balancing the budget on the backs of our children – our future – is not the answer. I hope a better solution can be worked out in a conference committee.

Very few truly transformational reforms ever make it through the legislative process. Our two-chamber system was designed by the framers for just that purpose -- to slow down hasty overhauls and focus on incremental changes -- a tweak here and there to fix the current problems, rather than scrapping entire systems.

Over time, however, those small adjustments can lead to a system that does not function as a cohesive whole. That has become the case with our State’s criminal code, which was last comprehensively reviewed in the 1970s. Since then, every new criminal issue, from drugs to abuse of modern technology, has given rise to legislation establishing new crimes with (usually) stiff penalties. Many times the punishment fits the crime, but the State has often reacted just like the public at large -- overestimating the threat and requiring unnecessarily long sentences.

That has especially been true with non-violent drug offenses. Injustice in the disposition of these offenses punishes every taxpayer in Kentucky through expensive prison stays, when outpatient drug treatment or community service would be a cheaper alternative that returns those offenders to a productive society. In fact, corrections spending is now one of the largest growth areas in the State budget, driven largely by jail time for inmates convicted of non-violent drug crimes and other issues caused by their drug use.

We moved in the direction of treatment instead of incarceration in 2009 with Senate Bill 4, which was designed to help identify addicts and get them the help they need to overcome their problems, rather than simply lock them up and — as long prison terms frequently do — turn them into hardened criminals.

This week, we took the next giant step toward restoring rationality to the system and passed the first comprehensive penal-code reform in nearly 40 years. House Bill 463 is the result of a yearlong study by a task force of judges, attorneys, public officials and legal experts, all focused on making the criminal justice system work more effectively, efficiently and rationally.

HB 463 will reduce the penalties for minor drug misdemeanors, such as possession of small amounts, allowing people to seek treatment under community supervision. The real source of the problem — drug dealers and suppliers — would instead be the focus of harsh penalties.

Police will also issue more simple citations for petty drug crimes rather than making an immediate arrest and forcing offenders to waste tax dollars sitting in jail overnight. The theme is the same: cellblocks are only for those who are dangerous to society, because there are other options for less-threatening offenders.

Another step forward in this bill is a new mandate for evidence-based, data-driven programs. In the future, the only diversion programs that use your tax dollars will be those proven by facts that work.

For those who do go to prison, HB 463 would encourage education and drug treatment by giving prisoners sentence credit for work in those areas, getting them back to productive lives and giving them the tools they need to work and support themselves.

Just as important as the bill’s impact on individuals and families is its effect on our budget. Estimates range as high as $147 million in savings over the next decade from reduced jail and court costs alone, even after reinvestments in treatment programs, as well as probation and parole monitoring. That does not include the jobs would-be inmates can obtain following drug treatment, boosting our economy and State tax revenues.

Savings in prison costs through reduced jail population will be accomplished by moving many non-violent drug offenders into addiction treatment programs and community supervision – as they transition back into society, hopefully as productive citizens.

To help insure sure that small criminal code changes do not add up to further problems, HB 463 also mandates that any future legislation affecting the criminal code be analyzed for its impact on the State treasury and identify funding sources to pay for itself.

The final step was that legislators and Governor Steve Beshear worked together across party lines to finalize this piece of legislation. This week, the Governor signed HB 463 into law.

We are down to the last few days of the session now. The details of many complex bills, such as balancing the state Medicaid budget, will be worked out between leaders of both parties in both chambers. Your input is an important as ever. To leave a message for me, your House member, or any other legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at (800) 372-7181. People with hearing impairments may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at (808) 896-0305. Or you can e-mail me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Senator Walter Blevins represents Boyd, Lawrence, Elliott, Rowan and Fleming counties.

U.S. Rep Hal Rogers-GOPU.S. Rep Hal Rogers-GOP

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers today spoke in favor of a temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) that will allow the federal government to continue operations for an additional two weeks when the current funding measure expires on March 4th. The bill (H.J.Res. 44), which also includes $4 billion in spending cuts, is being considered on the House floor today.

The statement by Chairman Rogers follows:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the FY 2011 Further Continuing Appropriations Resolution.  This temporary CR will allow us to avoid a government shutdown that could otherwise occur on March 4th, when the current funding resolution expires.

“This CR contains funding to allow all government agencies and programs to continue operating at the current rate of spending for the next two weeks, until March 18, 2011 – while reducing spending by $4 billion through several spending cuts and program terminations. These cuts reflect this Republican Majority’s continued commitment to significantly reduce spending, rein in the nation’s exploding deficits and debt, and to help our economy continue on the road to recovery.

“Mr. Speaker, a government shutdown would halt critical and necessary services and programs that Americans across the country rely on – and is not reflective of what our constituents expect or demand.

SOMEMRSEP