Friday, March 3
If you're my age, or have young children, chances are you know Princess Leia's prayer: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.”
I don't think Obi-Wan would be of much assistance in Frankfort. Even a light saber can't cut through the kind of impasse that sometimes develops up here.
For lawmakers who need to pray, there's a chapel on the second floor of the Capitol. I used it this week. More on that later.
I'm not sure whether it was prayer, good timing or a good bit of work that helped me move two bills through the Senate this week.
The first, SB 62, will prevent garnishment of health savings accounts, which more and more citizens will be relying upon to meet medical needs. I hope this bill will make it through the House, so Kentucky can join a diverse group of states (Washington, Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi) that already provide this protection.
My other bill, SB 235, is a bit complicated, but Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes called it “another step to streamline and update Kentucky's business statutes to make it easier for everyone to do business in the Commonwealth.” It borrows from the proposals offered by the Uniform Law Commission that add certainty to the rules for forming and dissolving business entities. I can provide additional details if you have trouble sleeping and aren’t responding to heavy narcotics. The President of the Senate quizzically asked the members if there were any questions when I finished presenting the bill on the floor. The brief moment of complete silence was followed by a chuckle from the Senate President before he slyly said “I didn’t think so.” It passed unanimously.
Passing a bill is not the only measure of success. It's just as important, sometimes, to slow down a proposal that needs more work, like Senate Bill 214 - so-called “net metering” legislation, on behalf of which I've spent a couple of years trying to bring solar energy advocates and electric utilities to the table. This session's version is sponsored by my Republican colleague Jared Carpenter.
In the past we've come close to an agreement that would raise the cap on solar power generated by individuals, schools and businesses, but the stumbling block always has been consensus on how much those private solar generators should pay for the utilities' construction and maintenance of the electric grid on which power is distributed to all of us.
Utilities argue that (1) they want fair rates to charge customers and (2) non-solar users should not have to subsidize those who want to put solar panels on their roofs. Solar advocates noted that SB 214 would send 23 different utilities to the Public Service Commission for 23 separate rate case decisions, making it difficult for those who want to install solar to count on a stable, certain rate with which to calculate potential costs and benefits. This, they say, “would kill residential solar” in Kentucky.
My job has been doing everything I can to bring these groups together and help them reach a compromise. It hasn’t been easy. At times, I'm not sure even prayer would have helped. There is a great scene in the first season of “The Wire” in which a cop goes to the psychic “Madame Larue,” in a last ditch effort to crack a cold case. Maybe we should have tried that.
Net metering seems simple but is quite complicated. The two most-interested parties were again at loggerheads and, after a long meeting one night this week, the bill’s sponsor wisely decided to slow SB 214 down to allow for more work. For the moment, that’s a prayer answered.
A legislative committee is where these difficult bills can be most easily negotiated. Take, for example, House Bill 72, which supporters say will reduce the “frivolous” lawsuits that slow down developers' efforts to build major projects and add needless expense. Opponents say the bill as written violates the Kentucky Constitution and denies due process to those who object to projects.
This is not arcane legalese or legislative abstraction. It's the kind of thing that stopped the $30 million plan to build a Walmart Supercenter at 18th and Broadway, which would have added major investment and 300 new jobs where they are badly needed. It’s also the type of litigation that provides for adequate storm drainage, ingress and egress, and plans that fit with the neighborhood.
All the advocates are passionate about this. I understand the pleas of both developers and their antagonists. Both sides might remember what St. Teresa of Avila said: “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” It doesn't have to be about one side or the other winning or losing. We can work, at the committee level, toward a bill that will address the concerns of everybody involved.
When we adopt that approach, we get things done. Just this week we easily approved several proposals to protect children, all of which I supported.
- SB 190 encourages placing a child in foster care in the district where he or she already goes to school. When placement must be out of that district, transportation to the home school would be provided.
- SB 180 says those who are taken from their homes on an emergency basis by the state may be placed with individuals whom they already know well, and with whom they have a strong relationship – sometimes called “fictive kin.”
- SB 236 helps assure that children are safe by allowing a parent or guardian to request a background check when employing someone to provide child care.
- House Bill 192 would allow a foster parent to sign an application for a teenager's driving permit.
- SB 195 would permit the expunging of a juvenile's conviction after two years, in cases that do not involve a sex crime or violent offense.
- SB 224 extends from five years to ten the statute of limitations in civil cases resulting from such things as child sexual abuse and child sexual assault.
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 78 calls for prohibiting the use of tobacco products by students, school personnel, and visitors in schools, school vehicles, properties, and activities, with policies to be in place by the 2018-2019 school year.
We legislators aren't always going to agree as easily as we did on child-protection, but we need keep the lines of communication open. Lawmaking is a uniquely human enterprise. Which reminds me, I want to get back to something I mentioned at the beginning.
One day this week I saw my Republican seatmate, Sen. Albert Robinson, from London, Ky., hobbling to the stairs outside our chamber. A recently pulled leg muscle was causing him to have some difficulty walking, and he asked for my help. We negotiated some steps that way, while he explained he was headed to the chapel on the second floor. I told him I didn't know we had one in the Capitol, and he asked me join him.
On the way he inquired whether I was a person of faith, and I explained that we’re Presbyterian. He wanted to know whether I am active in my faith, and I explained that we teach Sunday School to the kindergartners at Highland Pres. Then he asked if I would pray with him in the chapel, and we went in together.
Albert and I probably disagree 95 percent of the time. Ironically, our most recent disagreement was over his legislation to expand (in my view, impermissibly) so-called religious freedom in public schools. But there we sat in the small, non-denominational chapel near the Supreme Court chambers on the second floor of the Capitol.
At the front, engraved in stone, is the preamble to Kentucky’s Constitution: “We, the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy, and invoking the continuance of these blessings . . . .”
No taxpayer money was used in outfitting of the chapel, but maybe it is a good thing to have in the Capitol. As Mark Twain put it, “You can't pray a lie.” I wonder if they considered engraving that quote when the chapel underwent renovations in 2011.
Regardless, there are 8 legislative days left . . . we’ll need something to get us through.
For those few of you who have made it this far because you just can't get enough legislative detail, I'll pray for you. Or, you can keep reading about the other measures the Senate passed this week:
- Senate Bill 13 – to authorize state funding to help build the Bowling Green Veterans Center nursing home facility.
- Senate Bill 81- to require that the Department of Military Affairs promulgate administrative regulations establishing the criteria and procedures applicable to death-in-the-line of duty benefits for categories of National Guard or Reserve component members. 37-0
- Senate Bill 9 – to approve a plan for redrawing and re-assigning court jurisdictions in Kentucky. 23-13
- Senate Bill 91 - to require that an attorney be present for a patient agreed order and allow a peer support specialist to be present; require the court to appoint an outpatient provider agency recognized by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to assemble a multi-disciplinary team to develop a treatment plan, monitor treatment adherence, and report to the court. 34-3.
- Senate Bill 126 - to define final compensation to allow state and county employees, who entered the retirement systems on or after September 1, 2008, but prior to January 1, 2014, to use partial fiscal years, which may contain less than 12 months of service credit, to reach a final compensation calculation that is at least 60 months for non-hazardous employees and at least 36 months for hazardous employees. 37-0
- Senate Bill 165 - to re-establish the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission; make designated cabinet secretaries or their designates voting members of the commission; change the term of office for commissioners from three to four years; stagger terms for initial appointees; and, delete per idem amounts for commissioners. 36-0
- Senate Bill 112 – to strengthen funding for State Police Retirement System, making an appropriation. 37-0
- Senate Bill 2 – to concur in House amendments to a bill outlining a judicial retirement system reform and approve final passage. 37-0
- Senate Bill 39 - to require fiscal courts to detail the duties and compensation of the jailer for the upcoming year and require a quarterly report by the jailer of the duties performed. 37-0
- Senate Bill 108 – to establish the Palliative Care Interdisciplinary Advisory Council within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and create provisions and requirements; establish the Palliative Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program within the cabinet and create provisions and requirements; permit health facilities to establish systems for identifying patients or residents who could benefit from palliative care and provide information. 37-0
- Senate Bill 110 - to allow prisoners released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons or under the supervision of the United States Probation Office to obtain operator's license and personal identification cards in the same manner as individuals released from the custody of the Department of Corrections or under the supervision of the Division of Probation and Parole. 37-0
- Senate Bill 111 - to include "outsourcing facility" as a new definition for pharmacies; to establish permit requirements for individuals who operate an outsourcing facility; to establish permit requirements for out-of-state outsourcing facilities. 37-0
- Senate Bill 136 - to require any active member of the Kentucky National Guard to be treated as a Kentucky resident for tuition purposes when enrolling in a Kentucky public post-secondary institution. 37-0
- Senate Bill 177 - to add the Division of Technology Services, Division of Human Resources and Division of Financial Services to the Office of Administrative Services in the Office of the Secretary of the Personnel Cabinet; rename the Office of Diversity and Equality the Office of Diversity, Equality, and Training; rename the Center for Strategic Innovation the Office of Public Affairs; abolish the Division of Technology Services in the Department of Human Resources Administration. 37-0
- Senate Bill 183 - Confirm Executive Order 2016-832, relating to the reorganization of the Public Service Commission, which is administratively attached to the Energy and Environment Cabinet. 37-0
- Senate Bill 248 - to amend the definition of naturally-occurring radioactive material (NORM); add the definition of technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material (TENORM). 37-0
- Senate Bill 249 - to remove the Environmental Quality Commission and Kentucky Mining Board from under the Energy and Environment Cabinet and attach the Center for Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Stewardship to other departments. 36-1. I voted yes.
- Senate Bill 32 - to require Administrative Office of the Courts to forward drug conviction data to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for inclusion in the KASPER electronic monitoring system.34-2. I voted yes.
- Senate Bill 197 - to transfer certain contract staff providing services to the Department of Criminal Justice Training. 37-0
- Senate Bill 176 - to allow the titling of military surplus vehicles. 37-0
- Senate Bill 156 - to require the Department of Aviation to inspect and license only those airports that fall under the definition of a general aviation airport. 36-0
- Senate Bill 188 - to prohibit the General Assembly from imposing requirements on cities that require city expenditures or tax levies without fully funding the requirement or making the requirements contingent on city legislative body approval. 36-0
- Senate Bill 238 – to provide authorization for the renewal of the Capital Plaza in downtown Frankfort. 36-0
- Senate Bill 11 – to address nuclear power facilities. 27-8. I have voted against this proposal in the past, because I believe we need more answers and assurances about nuclear safety before approving a bill like this. The legislation has been improved, but still needs some work.
- Senate Joint Resolution 57 – to direct the Transportation Cabinet to designate names chosen for various bridges and roads. 36-0.
For those that have made it this far, congrats. Prizes will be available for pickup at a later date.