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Legislators discuss issues with constituents

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"I think everybody is dedicated to finding some source of more funding for education."

By Calen McKinney

 

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Abortion, voting, tax reform, minimum wage, gaming, education and the state's budget are the topics Taylor County's senator and representative say will dominate this year's 60-day legislative session.

The 60-day session began last month and is slated to end in March, with the last few veto days of the session in early April.

State Rep. John "Bam" Carney, R-Campbellsville, and State Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, spoke to about 30 constituents on Monday during a legislative forum they hosted to update Taylor County residents about what they expect to happen in Frankfort this session.

"This is gonna be a tough session," Carney told the crowd.

Gregory said the No. 1 priority this session will be creating a state budget. State revenue is up, Carney said, but so are expenses. Coming up with a balanced budget that will please everyone will be a tough task, he said.

"I think everybody is dedicated to finding some source of more funding for education," Carney said. "I'm really hopeful we can do that."

Carney said education funding hasn't been cut per se in the last few years, but when schools get less and less each year, that's effectively what's happening.

In the Senate, Gregory said, several bills have been filed that will impact residents and the way government operates.

Senate Bill 1, she said, which she has co-sponsored, will limit the state's executive branch's power to implement policy without approval from senators and representatives.

She said she serves on a committee to discuss the implementation of state policy. But if the committee members believe the way state officials will do so isn't correct, state law says the group has no power to stop it. Gregory said SB 1 calls for a constitutional amendment that will allow the General Assembly to stop the process when legislators find problems with certain regulations.

The bill is currently at the State & Local Government Committee for consideration.

Another bill that will garner some attention this session, she said, is SB 3, which calls for a face-to-face meeting between a woman and a doctor at least a day before she has an abortion.

"Something that I'm proud to sponsor," Gregory said.

The measure has been approved by the Senate and will now move to the House for representatives' consideration.

Another important topic this session, she said, is legislation geared toward addressing the state's growing heroin problem. She said there were more than 100 people who died after overdosing on the drug in 2012, up exponentially from 2011.

SB 5 would increase the penalties for those caught selling the drug and require them to serve more of their prison sentences. The bill has been approved by the Senate and now goes to representatives for discussion.

Expanded gaming bills have been filed in the House and Senate, Gregory said, and residents can expect to hear much more about the issue this session.

"It's something I'm not in favor of," she said.

Carney said he, like Gregory, is opposed to allowing expanded gaming in Kentucky.

"I have every intention to vote against it," he said.

About 2,000 constituents in Carney's district received surveys from him, he said, asking their thoughts on several issues. And even though he opposes gaming, Carney said he would be willing to give that a second thought if most of his constituents want to vote on the issue.

"I've seen what gaming does to families," he said. "The social costs are far greater than any revenue the state may gain."

Carney said he is afraid that voters will approve the issue if it gets to the ballot, however.

"My opinion is, it's gonna pass," he said.

In the House of Representative, House Bill 1, Carney said, calls for a raise in minimum wage, to cap at $10.10 an hour by July 1, 2016.

"I wish everyone could make more money in their job," he said. "But I'm opposed to mandating it ... "

Carney said there are a lot of small businesses in the state and the majority that pay minimum wage pay it to high school and college students.

"It's not intended to be a living wage," he said. "It's intended to be a support."

If minimum wage is increased, Carney said, he believes businesses will increase the cost of their services or have to get rid of jobs.

HB 1 is at the house's Labor & Industry committee for discussion.

An issue Carney said he was at first against is restoring voting rights for those who have been convicted of a felony, if they have served their sentence, paid their fines and haven't been convicted of murder or a sex crime.

"If the good Lord can forgive me for what I've done ... I've kind of moved on that issue," he said.

Carney said the bill, House Bill 70, passed 82-12 in the House, which shows him that it has bi-partisan support. If approved, the issue will go to voters for their decision.

Another bill that he believes will be talked about this session is House Bill 64, which will allow certain Class D felony offenses to be expunged from a person's criminal record. Carney said he was once against this, but has changed his mind.

"I've had people in this community call me and say, 'Bam, I can't get a job.'"

And if people can't get jobs, he said, they will either rely on the government for support or resort to crime.

The bill is currently at the state's Judiciary Committee for discussion.

Carney said he is co-sponsoring an abortion bill, which complements SB 3, which will require a face-to-face visit before a woman can have an abortion and the woman being told that she can have an ultrasound to see her baby.

The bill has been given to the state Health & Welfare committee, which Carney said is made up of liberal members who will likely kill its chances of becoming law. Nevertheless, Carney said, many Democrats, in addition to several Republicans, are supporting the bill.

"It's time for that to happen," he said.

In response to a question, Carney and Gregory said they support the state becoming a right to work state. They said doing so will help recruit industry.

After being asked, Carney and Gregory said they are supportive of allowing local communities to approve smoking bans instead of legislators mandating them. Carney said surveys show that most residents want the bans. He said Campbellsville's smoking ban in public buildings has been received well.

Carney said there has been some discussion about a recent decision to make the proposed Heartland Parkway a three-lane instead of a four-lane highway. He said the decision will save money and speed up construction.

Gregory and Carney said they expect the change to mean construction could take two years, if money for the parkway is included in the state's road plan.

Carney and Gregory said they hope to see tax reform in the state's future as a way to create jobs for residents.

While the session is ongoing, Carney and Gregory said they are happy to talk with residents.

"It makes it easier for us to do our job if we hear from the people we represent," Gregory said.

For updates about this year's legislative session, visit www.lrc.ky.gov.

Carney can be reached at 465-5400 or john.carney@lrc.ky.gov. To contact Gregory, call (800) 372-7181 or email sara.gregory@lrc.ky.gov.