Veto period provides legislators time to reach agreements on unresolved issues

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By Jimmy Higdon

As my colleagues and I left Frankfort on March 13 for constitutionally designated veto days, a common sense of relief was felt knowing we had approved some key pieces of legislation that are awaiting the Governor's signature into law and will have far reaching effects on a number of our citizens. In last week's column, I shared with you the highly anticipated passage of Senate Bill 1, which eliminates the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System through a phase out process. The approval of this legislation heralds a new chapter in our public school systems' assessment and in the education of our children.

Even though spring has arrived, we did not forget the devastating ice storm that wreaked havoc on the lives of many throughout our state. In order to ensure that our students receive some type of summer vacation and are not in school during the sweltering days of July, we also gave final approval to House Bill 322.  School districts located in areas noted as federally declared disaster zones will be allowed to request a waiver of up to 10 disaster days, providing all their allocated makeup days have been exhausted. Another provision will grant schools the ability to extend the school day to make-up for instructional time missed during the storm.

Senate Bill 4 is another measure awaiting the Governor's pen. Under this legislation, a pretrial drug screening process will be completed regarding individuals charged with a felony offense. Those identified as suffering from a drug addiction could be entered into a court ordered outpatient recovery program and if they complete the pretrial diversion program without committing additional crimes, could have their felony charges eventually dropped and their record cleared.

Although the work we have accomplished marks this year as one of the most effective 30-day sessions, we acknowledge there are still some key issues awaiting resolution. While veto days are expressly known as the 10-day period in which the Governor can strike any measure sent to him, this break in legislative action also provides legislators the opportunity to reach a compromise to be voted on by both chambers on the last two days. 

One bill left hanging in the balance is House Bill 102. As originally written, this legislation would create the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority to determine the financing mechanism for high price road projects. In the Senate amended version, the Kentucky Turnpike Authority would be granted this oversight. With this one point being the only division, a conference committee has been appointed to work out a compromise. Conference committees are comprised of legislators from both parties and both chambers who are well versed on the issue at hand.

Another bill with a questionable fate is House Bill 229. This legislation, awaiting concurrence from the House, was intended to provide tax credits and incentives for Kentucky businesses, historic preservation and tourism along with promoting the state's film industry. Once in possession of the Senate, amendments were added that would turn this bill into  piggyback legislation, which occurs when the provisions of other legislation that failed to receive passage are tacked on to active bills either through a committee substitute or a floor amendment. 

Joining House Bill 229 in the piggyback category is House Bill 241. Although this legislation was intended to require individuals who practice tattooing or body piercing to obtain a license, it was returned to the House with those original provisions, along with the language from Senate Bill 79. This legislation, which failed to pass a House Committee, would require doctors to provide women considering abortion with the opportunity to see an ultrasound of their unborn child prior to performing the procedure.

A very simple bill that was shroud in controversy last year has been caught in the web once again. House Bill 24 would establish an "In God We Trust" license plate. Even though the Senate concurred with the creation of that plate, they added a committee substitute that would also establish a special "One Nation Under God" license plate. With the House refusing to concur with this change, a conference committee has been appointed in the House and we are awaiting a similar appointment in the Senate.

The Governor has issued a line-item veto message on the highly contentious road funding measure, which spurred a spirited debate in both committee meetings and the chamber floor. House Bill 330 contains the state's biennial infrastructure plan for transportation and would ensure that more than $1 billion worth of "shovel-ready" road and bridge projects slated for construction are carried forth.  The vetoed provision will affect projects in six counties that are under construction, but a long way from completion. This language was removed because it would have, according to the Governor, placed the Transportation Cabinet on a stringent, inflexible timetable. 

There are only two days remaining in the 2009 Legislative Session. Whether the General Assembly is in session or in the interim, I encourage you to contact me with any questions about my work in Frankfort. By knowing your comments, ideas and opinions, I can most effectively serve as your voice.  Feel free to contact me anytime at home at (270) 692-6945 or when I am in Frankfort by calling 1 (800) 372-7181. I may also be reached at jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of the legislature at www.lrc.ky.gov.