Medicaid budget, immigration laws headline legislative action this week

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From the House: Rep. Dwight Butler

House members spent much of this second week of February discussing two of the highest-profile bills from this short session: balancing the state’s Medicaid budget and strengthening Kentucky’s immigration laws. Weighing the merits of both pieces of legislation proved to be a daunting task, as there is no clear-cut, easy solution to either problem.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee gave initial approval to the Medicaid proposal, House Bill 305. To fill the state’s Medicaid hole, $166.6 million would be taken from next year’s budget and placed in this year’s. If this shortfall, which was caused by Kentucky receiving a lower federal match than expected, is not addressed, $600 million would be cut from the program, and thousands of enrollees could lose their means of obtaining health care. 

State officials have estimated that the $166.6 million should be recouped through various cost-saving measures that include a managed health care plan program. My colleagues and I are left with the job of deciding if this estimated revenue will materialize or if we will be facing another Medicaid shortfall in the next budget year.  Later in the week, the full House approved this measure on a vote of 80-19.

On Wednesday, with interested groups rallying on the steps of the Capitol building, the House Local Government Committee meeting set the scene for round two of the immigration debate. Senate Bill 6, a controversial measure that would allow state and local police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone stopped in the normal course of law enforcement, received its second committee hearing.  Over an hour of heated discussions ensued from proponents on both sides of the issue. While Senate Bill 6 remains up for debate in the committee, its chance of passage is still uncertain.

A less invasive immigration measure, House Bill 3, has already received full House approval and is headed to the Senate. This legislation would require contractors and government agencies to check their employees’ documentation using E-Verify or another federal internet database. Supporters of that bill believe that, by eliminating jobs, they will lessen the incentive to cross the border illegally.

Even though these two bills garnered the majority of interest this week, other legislative committees continued meeting to debate other pieces of legislation.

County coroners would be permitted to use emergency lights and a siren while traveling to a traffic fatality under legislation that sailed through the House Transportation Committee.  Before the provision in House Bill 34 permitting this use could be instituted, communities’ local governments would also be required to approve the use of lights and sirens.  Coroners around the state support this measure, citing it as a means to avoid traffic congestion, safety hazards, and potential injuries.

House Bill 67, passing the House Education Committee, addresses the relatively new idea of allowing school boards to sell advertising space on school buses, with the revenue reverting to the board to be used at its discretion. Each school board would have discretion over which advertisements are selected, and any for tobacco, alcohol, or politics would not be eligible for display on a school bus.  Similar legislation, House Bill 62, was filed prior to House Bill 67.  The major difference is that House Bill 62 requires that all revenue accrued be allocated for use in the classroom.

Most legislative action this week occurred in the committee rooms, but the House did move to pass House Bill 200, which would authorize the creation of a plaque to honor Kentucky Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Additionally, all medal recipients would be provided admission to Kentucky state veterans' nursing homes at no cost.

House Bill 58 gained approval from the House and would require an individual convicted of a DUI to purchase an interlock breathalyzer device.  This would attach to the vehicle’s ignition and, if alcohol were detected on the driver’s breath, the vehicle could not be started. Currently, seven companies in Kentucky sell this device. The violator would be responsible for the purchase cost.

The House voted to send House Bill 225 to the Senate. Commonly known as the graduation bill, this legislation aims to increase retention and the graduation rate of Kentucky’s high schools. A phase-in system would be instituted for raising the age at which students are allowed to drop out of school.  The age would be adjusted from 16 to 17 by July 1, 2015 and from 17 to 18 by July 1, 2016. 

Also approved on the chamber floor was House Bill 1, a constitutional amendment to protect the hunting and fishing rights of outdoor gamesmen.  If this legislation receives passage from the Senate, the amendment would be placed on the ballot for voters’ approval in 2012.

As more bills make their way through legislative committees and to the House Floor, I will continue to update you on legislative action.  Please feel free to contact me either at home or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Those with Internet access may e-mail me at dwight.butler@lrc.ky.gov or visit the Kentucky Legislature Home Page athttp://www.lrc.ky.gov.