Legislative Update Feb15, 2019
There’s a saying in sports that championships are won in the off-season. In the General Assembly, however, new laws are won in committee, since that’s where most of the substantive work to pass them takes place.
The Kentucky House has 16 committees that consider legislation, and while they may have many bills referred to them, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of these proposals will be heard, much less approved.
The committees generally meet once per week during this time of year, and most bills are voted on with little fanfare. A handful, however, generate a considerable amount of interest among supporters and opponents alike.
We saw a great example of that in action on Thursday, when one of our House committees voted on a bill that would have a significant impact on the solar industry, especially those looking to buy these panels for their homes.
Currently, these customers – there are about 1,000 in Kentucky – are given credit for whatever excess electricity they generate, and these credits allow them to lower their electric bills when solar energy is not enough.
The bill’s supporters say these credits are too high and don’t take into account the cost to build and maintain the infrastructure the electric companies use to serve their customers. Opponents, meanwhile, say lowering the value of the credits would make the systems much less attractive financially to potential customers. Fewer panels would mean fewer solar jobs, from production to installation.
This bill has failed to clear the legislature over the last couple of years, but a more moderate version was approved by the House on Friday, and I voted for it after talking with advocates for solar energy.
It will now be up to House and Senate leaders to see if a compromise can be reached. The goal is to make sure it does not hurt a growing industry that also eases stress on our electrical grid.
Another bill to come out of committee on Thursday is actually on track to be the first sent to the governor for his signature.
It would require electronic filing of all campaign finance reports, which would greatly speed up the process to get this information online and before voters. Most of these reports are now filed on paper, which takes time for election officials to enter manually. If this bill becomes law, it will take effect during the 2020 primary.
On Friday, the House voted for legislation that would “trigger” action if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade and returns decisions on abortion to the states. Should that occur, these services would no longer be performed in the commonwealth. In the final vote, legislators from 116 of Kentucky’s 120 counties supported this bill.
Although debate from opposing sides is built into the legislative process, there are other moments where there is broad consensus. We saw an ideal example of that on Tuesday, when House and Senate members from both parties came together to announce the formation of the Engage & Empower Caucus.
This caucus is designed to serve as a focal point for legislation that would help the estimated 874,000 Kentuckians with a disability. It will search for ways to increase their independence and better help them achieve their full potential, and I’m proud to support its work.
Some of the bills the Engage & Empower Caucus will promote this year would do such things as broaden the Golden Alert system so it could be used to help find missing citizens who have a more broadly defined impairment or who may be an at-risk veteran. Other bills will help those with disabilities retrofit their homes and extend better health insurance coverage for amputees in need of a prosthetic.
One of the best aspects of legislative sessions is the sheer number of people who visit the Capitol. There have already been thousands who have come to support or oppose a bill or just to make legislators more aware of causes important to them.
On Wednesday, for example, we had the 15th annual Children’s Advocacy Day, which focuses on improving the overall well-being of our youngest generation. Some of the proposals highlighted include limiting the skyrocketing use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and young adults; providing more mental-health professionals in our schools who can recognize and treat behavioral issues early on; and doing more to help young adults transitioning out of foster care.
Last Thursday, there was a rally in the Capitol Rotunda in support of affordable housing. Kentucky has a much higher percentage of people who struggle to find a place to live within their budget, but such organizations as Habitat for Humanity and the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky are making a profound difference when it comes to improving those numbers.
This week, the 30-day legislative session reaches the halfway point, so the pace to approve bills is set to quicken. We will wrap up much of our work by mid-March and complete the session by the end of that month.
I encourage you to keep letting me know your views and concerns. You can email me at Joe.Graviss@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305.
The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.