LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: By State Representative C.B. Embry, Jr.
Budget Agreement, War against Drugs Top Work in Last Full Week of 2012 Session: The 2012 Legislation Session is down to the final days, and the good news from this week is for the first time in three sessions we will leave Frankfort with a budget agreement.
Leadership from both the House and Senate worked into the night Wednesday before finally agreeing on a biennial budget in the early hours on Thursday morning. Among some of the items in the agreement is funding to renovate Rupp Arena, funds for the University of Louisville Hospital, and a reduction in the amount of the Commonwealth’s bonded debt.
It also expands a proposal to create scholarships for students living in coal producing counties to include coal counties in west Kentucky. Originally the plan was aimed at helping students in 14 counties in eastern Kentucky cover the cost to attend colleges and universities within the area. The new proposal expands the program to 38 coal producing counties in the western and eastern coalfields.
While some things were left in, other items were taken out including $7.5 million proposed by the Governor to expand Kentucky’s preschool program. It also includes cuts of 8.4 percent in funding for many state agencies and programs. It is our hope that as the economy improves, and we take real steps to reduce our debt that money will become available to fund needed programs in the Commonwealth.
The budget wasn’t the only focus this week. The House and Senate passed bills dealing with combating the abuse of drugs in Kentucky. Senate Bill 3, which was approved by a vote of 60-36, attempts to solve the methamphetamine problem gripping many rural parts of the state. This bill places monthly and yearly limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine, which is a major ingredient of meth that someone can purchase. If an individual exceeds that amount they could only purchase pseudoephedrine with a prescription.
While I understand that meth is a problem in the Commonwealth, my concern is that Senate Bill 3 takes away more of our individual freedoms and moves us closer to making pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medication. Some of us are also concerned that this bill will force meth makers to move to border counties where regulations to purchase meth aren’t as stringent as Kentucky. In addition Senate Bill 3 doesn’t address the problem with so-called ‘smurfing,’ which is when makers pay others to travel from store to store buying pseudoephedrine to skirt the law we passed in 2005.
As the final hours tick away for this session, we expect to give final approval on numerous bills. I will update you on what passed and what didn’t in next week’s colunm.
As always, I welcome your comments and concerns for the upcoming session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. A taped message containing information on legislative committee meeting schedules is available by calling 1-800-633-9650, and information on the status of each bill is available by calling 1-866-840-2835. If you have Internet access, I can be reached at [email protected], or you may keep track of legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.