Lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Tuesday to reconvene following a constitutionally required break in the 2023 30-day legislative session.
We immediately got back to work, passing House Bill 1, which codifies the income tax reduction from 5% to 4.5% that went into effect on January 1. The bill lowers the income tax to 4% beginning on January 1, 2024. Additional tax reform, moving away from taxing production and more emphasis on consumption, not only keeps more money in wage earners’ pockets but it builds on the record years of economic success in the commonwealth, primarily because of conservative, pro-business policies enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly.
Along with House Bill 1, the Senate passed House Bill 2 on Wednesday, which provides over $16 million to support the construction of a new veterans center in Bowling Green. The center is the fifth in the state and will provide services to veterans in the south-central region. The need for this funding support is, unfortunately, partly because of high inflation, which has dramatically increased the cost of construction.
We all bear the weight of high inflation and gas prices, but I’m glad to support our veterans. I believe the General Assembly has committed to leaving more money in your pocket because you know best how to spend your hard-earned income, not the government.
The state Department of Juvenile Justice is an issue the media and lawmakers have paid much attention to throughout the session’s break. I’m confident you have heard about and followed recent disturbing stories, including the sexual abuse in Adair County and the assault of employees in Bowling Green. There is still a lot of work left to be done, but I’m happy to say some legislative efforts have helped the executive branch take action to protect staff and detained youth better.
First, in the 2022 interim, the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Statutory Committee and the Interim Judiciary Committee recommended that DJJ separate those inside facilities based on the severity of the offense and by gender. It’s concerning these recommendations were only taken following the terrible story of Adair County’s incident.
The Senate initiated a DJJ working group which met extensively over the session’s break. The workgroup communicated its recommendations to DJJ. Proposals that have been met as of this legislative update include:
• Provide 24/7 Kentucky State Police presence at facilities housing the most violent offenders.
• Identify specific immediate, intermediate, and long-term resources needed to address the crisis and gaps in the law that can aid in the department’s efforts.
• Make trauma care available to staff and youth victims in DJJ facilities.
• Develop and maintain a tracking notification system concerning the transportation and status of youth offenders so that parents, legal guardians, and law enforcement entities can be aware.
Still, lawmakers have made other recommendations to DJJ. They are:
• Consider replacing department leaders who have failed to create a culture within DJJ where employees and youth can feel safe and begin a nationwide search for qualified replacements. The DJJ workgroup has concluded a toxic culture exists within the department that money alone could never repair.
• Provide unfettered access to cabinet and department officials but, most importantly, the rank and file employees who have indicated fear of retaliation from those above them.
• Allow for an independent inspection of DJJ facilities to determine if health and safety measures are up to expectation and if policies and procedures are being met.
• Explain failures to implement past recommendations.
DJJ workgroup leaders outlined met and unmet recommendations during a press conference on February 2. They also formally requested the state auditor of public accounts to contract with an independent organization for a full audit of DJJ.
The final bill passing the Senate this week was Senate Bill 20, prohibiting the application known as ‘Tik Tok’ on all state government devices. This bill ensures Kentucky is doing its part to prevent the communist Chinese government from accessing state government information. The bill will now head to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
Several legislative measures were introduced in week two, including education bills focused on strengthening parent voices in the school system, allowing homeschool students to access KEES money, and addressing concerns with the state’s power grid. Your elected officials are engaged after the rolling blackouts some Kentuckians experienced this winter.
I want to express how happy I was to welcome Miss Kentucky, Hannah Edelen from Washington County, as a guest of mine in the Senate during week two. I also welcomed very special guests, the Marion County JROTC, who had the honor of presenting our nation’s colors to kick off day six of the session on Wednesday.
In closing, I want to provide you the final results for my 2023 legislative survey. I am grateful for your participation.
• 86% of responses indicated concern about rising and persistent inflation impacting gas, food and energy prices.
• 60% of responses said they would support a constitutional amendment proposed to Kentucky voters, which would legalize sports betting if supported by a plurality of voters. Nearly 28% responded they were undecided and about 12% opposed.
• 44% of respondents said they support medical and recreational use of marijuana for people 21 or older and 39% said they support medical marijuana only under the supervision of a physician. In comparison, 16% of respondents said they want no change in current Kentucky law.
• 86% indicated access to reliable high-speed internet is ‘very important’ to them.
• Almost 76% of responses said they support making daylight savings time permanent if allowed by the U.S. Congress.
• 57% of respondents said they are undecided on if they think gubernatorial elections should be moved to even-numbered years to line up with Presidential elections. Almost 26% responded they opposed the change, while about 17% said they would support it.
• Almost 48% of responses said they support a change in the gas tax formula to allow for yearly adjustments for inflation to allow for better maintenance and improvements to our roads, bridges and highways. Twenty-nine% said no, while just over 22% were undecided.
• Over 73% of responses support body cameras for law enforcement officers.
• 60% of responses indicated support of a statewide smoking/vaping ban in public places, while 33% opposed and the remaining were undecided.