Session Update: Week 6

Last Monday may have been a holiday, but anyone following the proceedings in the Kentucky House of Representatives wouldn’t be able to tell.

After taking Presidents’ Day off, lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Tuesday for day 33 of the legislative session. Bills addressing police and tax reform advanced off the House floor while House committees heard a variety of bills that supporters say will protect Kentuckians from violent criminals.

On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a bipartisan measure that would prohibit anyone convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense from becoming a peace officer.

Kentucky law currently prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from becoming or remaining a peace officer. House Bill 206 would add misdemeanor sexual offenses to the list. The bill would also automatically revoke the certification of a peace officer if he or she is convicted of a misdemeanor sexual offense.

One of the bill’s sponsors said the measure is an extension of Senate Bills 80 and 52 from the 2021 legislative session. Both bills sought to reform what constitutes law enforcement misconduct in an effort to weed out “bad actors.”

HB 206 cleared the House by a 96-0 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers continued to address law enforcement related issues on Wednesday with House Bill 414. Supporters of the bill said it will give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility to address the needs of employees and the communities they serve.

Within the last year, law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth have reported major staffing shortages and issues with retention. The House took up a bill earlier in the session related to Kentucky State Police salaries to help that agency recruit and retain officers. HB 414 would likewise help local law enforcement agencies.

When it comes to staffing concerns, HB 414 would remove the age ceiling for applicants. Under current statute, applicants must be between 18 and 45 years old. The bill would also allow local law enforcement agencies to operate under an 80-hour, 14-day work period instead of a 40-hour, seven-day work period.

Critics of the bill expressed concerns about the 80-hour, 14-day work period and how some officers may end up working more than 10 hours a day, which could lead to mistakes and accidents.

The bill’s sponsor said these provisions should give local law enforcement agencies more flexibility if an incident requires a long investigation.

Another provision of the bill seeks to strengthen the reputation of police and fire departments by amending the disciplinary process to allow more time for complaints against law enforcement officers to be filed.

Under this provision, the window to file a complaint would be extended from three days to 10 days. The bill would then give the mayor, city manager or legislative body 10 days instead of five days to file charges if there is probable cause.

The House approved HB 414 by an 85-12 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

HB 206 and HB 414 were not the only pieces of legislation related to first responders taken up by the House this week.

The Lifeliner’s Act, or House Bill 79, would allow telecommunicators to be eligible participants in the Law Enforcement Professional Development and Wellness Program. This bipartisan measure would also require telecommunicators to undergo basic training on post-traumatic stress disorder and work-induced stress.

Resources for how to receive treatment for PTSD and work-induced stress would also be required under this bill.

HB 79 advanced off the House floor unanimously. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.

Tax reform

When it comes to the topic of tax reform, lawmakers say they’re working on multiple bills that would put more money in the pockets of hard working Kentuckians while diversifying the tax base to give local governments and the state more revenue options.

One way to give local governments more tax options could soon lie in the hands of voters. House Bill 475 cleared the House floor by an 80-17 vote this week.

The bipartisan measure would allow Kentuckians to vote on a constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers the power to allow local governments to implement new types of taxes.

Currently, Section 181 of the Kentucky Constitution limits the types of taxes local governments can charge. Supporters of the bill said most cities, counties and municipalities survive on occupational tax and property tax revenue, which is an issue for many communities.

Changing the constitution would give the General Assembly the power to approve legislation that would allow local governments to implement a 1% local sales tax, for example.

Supporters of the bill say changing the state constitution is essential if the legislature wants to be successful in implementing comprehensive tax reform.

The bill now lies in the hands of the Senate. If HB 475 clears that chamber and gains the governor’s signature, Kentucky voters will decide on the proposed change to the constitution during the November 2022 general election.

If voters approve, supporters of HB 475 have filed another bill— House Bill 476– that would keep the status quo until lawmakers return in January 2023 for the next legislative session.

Critics of HB 475 worry changing the constitution might put a burden on low income individuals and families. Supporters of the bill disagree, adding it would allow local governments to ease off increasing occupational and property taxes and instead implement other types of taxes that would tax other individuals, such as tourists.

HB 476 cleared the House floor by an 86-11 vote. The bill is now before the Senate for consideration.

In committee

House committees addressed a number of issues this week. All of these bills were approved by their respective committees and are now before the full House for consideration.

House Judiciary Committee: House Bill 313 would issue new guidelines for charitable bail organizations.

The bill would prevent charitable bail organizations from posting more than $5,000 in bail for anyone charged with a crime. The bill would also limit the types of individuals the organizations can post bail for. Individuals charged with a domestic violence-related or dating-violence related crimes and individuals held under a civil court order would not be eligible to be bailed out by charitable bail organizations.

Another provision of HB 313 would also require charitable bail organizations to keep track of who is donating to the organization and who the organization helps. This information would be required to be posted publicly and submitted annually to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

If the organization posts bail for an individual who commits another offense, HB 313 would also require the bail to be forfeited to the victim of the new crime.

The House Judiciary Committee also approved House Bill 488 this week. The bill would make a second violation or subsequent violation of an order of protection a Class D felony.

House State Government Committee: As Black History Month comes to a close, lawmakers are considering a plan to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

Last year, the federal government made June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of the last group of enslaved Black Americans who were living in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the end of the Civil War. House Bill 133 would add Juneteenth to the list of federal holidays recognized by the state.

The House State Government Committee also approved House Bill 43 this week. The bill would prohibit a governmental entity from prohibiting religious services during an emergency to a greater extent than imposed on other organizations or businesses that provide essential services.

The Kentucky General Assembly will convene for the 37th day of the 2022 legislative session at 4 p.m. Monday.

Tuesday is the last day for lawmakers to file new bills in the House, and Thursday is the last day to file new bills in the Senate.

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