Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Thursday a broad overhaul of Kentucky's criminal code, saying House Bill 463 "helps us be tough on crime while being smart on crime."
The legislation changes Kentucky drug laws by reducing prison time for low-risk, non- violent drug offenders who possess small amounts of illegal drugs. It then reinvests the savings from the reduced prison costs into drug treatment opportunities for offenders who need help.
At the bill-signing ceremony in the Capitol, Beshear was joined by legislative and judicial leaders and members of the task force that produced the bill. When Senate President David Williams, who wants to replace Beshear as governor, spoke, the sound system went awry and produced loud feedback. Williams, R-Burkesville, turned to the Democratic governor and asked, "You are not doing that, governor?"
Beshear smiled and shook his head no.
20 House bills sent to committee to die
The Kentucky House late Thursday sent 20 of its own bills and a resolution from the House floor to the appropriations committee, essentially killing them for the 2011 legislative session.
The bills ran out of time on the 26th day of the 30-day session, House leaders said.
"May they rest in peace," House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, quipped.
The bills included:
■ House Bill 370, which sought to protect children from being bullied because of their sexual orientation, race or religion. The legislature approved an anti-bullying measure in 2008. But students this year told lawmakers they felt their complaints about bullying were ignored in some schools because they were gay.
■ HB 414, which would have allowed the state board that oversees nursing home administrators to give out private reprimands that would not be disclosed to the public.
■ HB 441, which would have created a panel of experts to review fatalities and near-fatalities of children neglected or abused while under the supervision of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The bill would have exempted the panel from disclosing information to the public about neglected and abused children.
All three bills, and some of the others, were stalled at least in part by floor amendments attached by House Republicans. Those amendments dealt with abortion, guns and other controversial subjects that House Democratic leaders preferred to avoid.
Senate revives ending guaranteed public pensions
The Senate revived a controversial measure Thursday night to resolve the public pension funds' growing liability by ending guaranteed pensions for new state and local government employees.
The Republican-controlled Senate, in 23-12 along party lines, sent House Bill 480 to the Democratic-led House, where it will face stiff opposition.
The Senate last month approved the measure in Senate Bill 2, but it has stalled in the House State Government Committee.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee on Thursday attached SB 2 to HB 480, which would ban any state government pension fund from paying middlemen known as "placement agents."
Under the Senate plan, the current Kentucky Retirement Systems would be closed to new state and local government employees on June 30, 2012.
Instead of getting a pension from retirement to death, new employees could join a defined-contributions plan similar to a private-sector 401(k). The governments would offer matching funds to participants, but the responsibility for having adequate retirement accounts would fall on employees, not taxpayers.
House Democratic leaders have said they don't expect to address the pension issue this legislative session, which is scheduled to end March 22.
Lawmakers passed some pension reforms in 2008 that should be given more time to work, such as requiring new state employees to work longer and contribute more to their pensions, they said.
Effort to license wagering operators advances
The Kentucky Senate has passed legislation calling for state licensing of companies that allow people to place phone or online bets on horse races in the state.
The measure cleared the Senate on a 36-0 vote Thursday. It heads back to the House, which will consider Senate changes.
The bill would require that advance deposit wagering operators be licensed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Another key section would require wagering providers to submit quarterly reports on all wagers made on Kentucky races.
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said the betting done through advance deposit wagering providers has become the only growth segment in parimutuel horse wagering. He said the bill would help lawmakers get a handle on where those wagers are coming from and the amounts wagered.
Staff, Wire Reports