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House members spent much of this, the second week of February, discussing the daunting task of how to address the $456 million budget shortfall that is adversely affecting our state and studying the merits of a revenue bill that has been proposed as the first step on a long road to economic recovery.
For more than two months, legislative leaders from both chambers have been meeting to find a solution to our state's dire financial situation and crafted this plan as a compromise that they feel lays the groundwork to help us regain our financial footing. On Wednesday, after an hour of intense and emotional floor debate, House Bill 144, the compromised revenue package, was approved by a vote of 66-34.
The two main components of this plan would double the tax on tobacco products and increase the cigarette tax by 30-cents a pack. Additionally, a six percent sales tax would be applied to the purchase of all alcoholic products, which are currently untaxed at the retail level. It has been projected these increases would yield approximately $52 million in revenue for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Passing with a vote of 77-23, House Bill 143, a companion bill to House Bill 144, would re-allocate appropriated money, including $219 million from the state's rainy day fund and $33 million from various government accounts to the state's general fund. Another provision of the legislation would allow the Governor to borrow as much as $50 million from the Public Employees Health Insurance Trust Fund while requiring him to cut $137 million from the executive branch budget and $10 million from the judicial and legislative branch budgets.
As this bill came to a floor vote, my thoughts turned to you, the people who entrusted me to serve as your voice. Many of you have contacted me over the past month and urged me to oppose a tax increase of any kind. Yes, I understand the current financial crisis besetting our state, but I have serious concerns about implementing such far-reaching tax hikes when I believe more could have been done to identify and reduce program spending instead of trying to force tax increases upon the people of the Commonwealth.
Even though the tax revenue bill was the most pressing issue this week, legislative committees continued meeting to debate other pieces of legislation.
Members of the House Transportation Committee gave their seal of approval to House Bill 74. This legislation would allow Kentucky Masons to place a voluntary contribution of $10 on their specialty license plates.
Legislation that would provide high school students with the information and skills needed for their first experience voting sailed through the House Education Committee. House Bill 155 would require that all high school seniors be provided with voting information including how to register to vote, how to vote in an election using a ballot and how to vote using an absentee ballot. House Bill 209 also received approval from this committee and would permit public schools to be closed on the third Monday of February in observance of Presidents' Day.
House Bill 301 gained passage from the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee. Provisions of this bill would prohibit the removal of an animal identification or tracking device without permission from the owner. Those found in violation would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor with exceptions for animal control officers or if removal of the device is needed to treat an injured animal.
Legislative action on the House Floor included the unanimous passage of House Bill 6, which would extend the Homelessness Prevention Pilot Project. This program offers voluntary discharge planning as a way to ensure that incarcerated individuals who have completed their sentence and are set to be released have some type of housing arrangements.
On a vote of 98-0, House Bill 26 gained approval from the full House and would establish a credit for the completion of either an associate's degree or diploma program in electrical technology from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. This credit would be accepted as a replacement for one year of the required work experience necessary to obtain either a "master electrician" or "electrician" license.
House Bill 97, winning passage 97-0, would allow a taxi cab company to pre-arrange fares for the purpose of pick up, permitting a cab from a point of final destination to provide transportation.
As more bills make their way through legislative committees and to the House Floor, I will continue to update legislative action. Please feel free to contact me either at home at (270) 692-6945 or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1 (800) 372-7181. A taped message containing committee meeting schedules is available by calling 1 (800) 633-9650. For those with Internet access, I invite you to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Kentucky Legislature Home Page: http://www.lrc.ky.gov.