FRANKFORT — A bill that would give $4.7 million to the state's public defenders and an additional $4.7 million to the state's prosecutors this fiscal year was passed by the House Tuesday, but not without more than an hour-long debate.
Without the funds, the Department of Public Advocacy has warned it will run out of money by the end of April and can't fulfill its constitutional obligation to represent poor criminal defendants.
House Bill 433, deemed a "clean-up" measure to correct problems in a budget bill that both chambers passed last month, also contained a list of new projects that many members said didn't belong in the bill.
Others expressed frustration that only a select group of projects made it into the clean-up bill and called for more transparency in the budget process.
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The proposal, which passed 77-18, included money for an airport expansion at the Providence-Webster County Airport, money for Morehead State University's Breathitt Veterinary Clinic and bond money for five new school buildings.
Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, said he understood why the Department of Public Advocacy needed more money, but said it would be unfair to not also offer funds to the sate's prosecutors, which have resorted to furloughs to reduce costs.
Montell sponsored a successful amendment that would give $4.7 million to the state's prosecutors — roughly half to the commonwealth's attorneys and half to the county attorneys.
Much of the debate on the House floor on Tuesday centered on a small provision in the bill concerning funding for school projects — approximately $4 million to $6 million in bond money.
The money could be used to build new schools in some of the poorest areas of the state with the most need, but many representatives expressed dismay that their schools were not included in the list.
Others said they could not vote for the bill because it had become a "pork bill" that was loaded with previously undisclosed projects.
Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said if he knew HB 433 was going to be a "project bill," he would have sponsored an amendment to have money restored to all key social service programs that have been cut or eliminated.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said after Tuesday's debate that he thinks House leaders have been transparent in their dealings with members.
"We're making everything public," Stumbo said. "You saw a good public debate today. The only thing that we are doing differently is that we are trying to be more fair."