Franklin County

Legislative briefs: House panel OKs increasing teacher's insurance bill

House panel OKs increasing teachers' insurance costs

The House Education Committee approved a bill Thursday that will increase the cost of health insurance for current and retired teachers 65 and younger.

The increased premiums, coupled with payments by school districts to the state's health insurance pool for retired teachers, will help ensure the system's future solvency, advocates have said. As of June 30, the retired teachers' health insurance fund had an unfunded liability of $6.2 billion. Under House Bill 540, that unfunded liability would drop to $3.4 billion over time.

Teachers who were hired before July 1, 2008, now pay 0.75 percent of their salary for retiree health insurance. That would increase to 1.0 percent in the first year. For a teacher with an average salary of $41,000, that's roughly $10 a month. In the final year of the plan, 2015-16, the contribution would be 3.75 percent of a teacher's salary.

Retired teachers who are age 65 and younger would pay $37 in the first year and $81 in the second. By 2016, retirees 65 and younger would pay $166 a year. Retirees older than 65, who are eligible for Medicare, would pay the same rate. The measure now goes to the full House.

Thayer plans aid for horse industry

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, announced Thursday he will offer "a series of proposals to implement a targeted package to assist the horse industry." Thursday was the last day to file legislation in the Senate.

Thayer said the package "will soon be considered" by the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which he chairs. Thayer did not provide details but said in a release that there have been ongoing discussions with horse industry representatives to develop a comprehensive strategy.

Thayer said legislation filed Tuesday by Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, to allow electronic "games of skill" at racetracks was an effort "to politicize attempts to help the horse industry." Patrick Neely, spokesman for the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which has lobbied for expanded gambling at racetracks, said members "look forward to seeing his proposals."

Panel OKs spending disclosure bill

The General Assembly and the state courts would have to disclose details of their spending online, but state universities would be held to a lesser standard under a bill the House State Government Committee approved Thursday.

House Bill 492, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, now proceeds to the full House. The bill would require the legislative and judicial branches of state government to post the sums they spend, including what was purchased, the dates and the names of those who got the money. The executive branch in recent months has been posting such information at www.opendoor.ky.gov. Legislative and judicial branch officials told the committee they do not object to the bill.

The bill would require the state's public universities to post limited financial information online, including their operating and capital budgets for the last two fiscal years. The universities complained that requiring them to post detailed spending data would be an unfunded mandate because they would have to buy software and hire employees to perform the work, Bell said.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said he wants to see the universities' foundations, often used for fund-raising, disclose information about where their money comes from and where it goes. Lawsuits have been necessary to pry financial records from the foundations, Wayne said.

Other committee members said foundations handle privately donated money, not taxpayer funds, so the public has less right to scrutinize them. Rep. Melvin Henley, D-Murray, said he privately funded scholarships at Murray State University and would not want his actions disclosed.

The bill is one of several in this legislative session that would increase transparency in how public funds are spent.

Nurse practitioner bill clears panel

A bill described by a lawmaker as "a turf battle" between the Kentucky Medical Association and advanced registered nurse practitioners emerged from a House committee Thursday with the nurses winning.

House Bill 556, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, would allow practitioners to independently prescribe some medications and perform tasks such as signing immunization certificates for children. KMA representatives told members of the House Health and Welfare Committee that the doctors' group opposed the measure.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, said legislators were being asked to referee "a turf battle" and urged both sides to work out their differences. The committee approved the bill on an 8-3 vote, with three members passing, and sent it to the full House for its consideration.

Funding for social workers approved

The House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill Thursday that would appropriate $4 million to hire additional social workers and improve security for front-line social service employees. Chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said House Bill 328 now will go to the House budget committee to see whether the money can be found.

In 2007, the legislature passed the "Boni Bill," which called for spending $6 million to help increase security and hire more social workers. The bill was named after a social service aide, Boni Frederick, who was killed while taking an infant for a home visit.

However, the legislature appropriated only $2 million. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services was supposed to come up with the remaining $4 million to implement the bill, but it was taken in budget cuts.

Herald-Leader staff reports

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