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Kentucky Lawmakers Evaluate 2014 Session

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February 19 marks the midway point for the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly.  Typically, much of the heavy lifting regarding legislation occurs during the second half of the 60-day session.  This winter’s law making exercise seems to be following in that tradition.

As the two bodies work separately toward the common goal of serving the people of Kentucky, they review dozens of proposed bills, some headline grabbing and others not so well known.

One of the not-so-high profile agenda items in the first half of the session has been the nurse practitioner bill.  The measure, which gives eligible Kentucky nurse practitioners authority to write prescriptions for non-controlled drugs, sailed through both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature. 

Kathy Wheeler is a nurse practitioner who’s celebrating passage. 

“We struggle with barriers and barriers keep us from providing care to patients, so the benefit will be to patients.  It’s the access to care issue and we’ve got a big need and it’s getting bigger,” said Wheeler.

Implementation of federal health care reforms puts more Kentuckians in a position to receive health care services.  In previous sessions, the nurse practitioner bill faced much opposition from the Kentucky Medical Association. 

The compromise bill approved this session requires a four year collaboration between nurse practitioners and physicians before the nurse achieve prescriptive authority. 

Long-time health advocate Sheila Shuster says many of the three thousand nurse practitioners have already met that standard.  With some doctors refusing to accept Medicaid, Shuster says the timing of this measure is crucial. 

“The nurse practitioners have been willing and are continuing to be willing to open their practices to Medicaid patients, so we really see this as coming at a time that was absolutely critical for Kentucky,” said Shuster.

Governor Beshear is expected to sign the bill into law.

Early in the session, the governor made his views on education funding.  He promised lawmakers he would propose more money for elementary through high school education, even at the cost of other state agencies. 

Kentucky Education Association Director Mary Ann Blankenship says it’s a positive step forward. 

“We’re very hopeful and particularly appreciative of the governor’s proposal to fund education slightly higher, but not sufficiently to catch us up to five years ago and we are hopeful that most members of the general assembly will support the governor’s proposals,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship realizes the final verdict on education funding awaits action near the end of the session.

One of Kentucky’s signature industries, the equine business is also keeping an eye on legislative activities.  Expanded gambling is traditionally right up near the top of horse industry issues. Kentucky Thoroughbred Association Director David Switzer isn’t optimistic about its passage. 

Another long-standing item for the equine profession is the elimination of the sales tax on feed, fencing, equipment, and veterinary pharmaceuticals for horses. Such an exemption already exists for other livestock. 

Switzer says it’s important to remember such a tax break would not be for just thoroughbred breeders. 

“The folks down in western Kentucky are not in the Thoroughbred business, they’re in the quarter horse business and people up in Floyd County are in the trail riding business and they have horses and they pay that six percent sales tax too.  So, it just not the thoroughbred industry in central Kentucky that gets all the publicity,” explained Switzer.

The equine feed and equipment tax exemption has also been before lawmakers for years.  A part of it is included this year in the Governor’s tax reform proposal. Legislative leaders in both chambers are giving good marks for progress in the current session.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says success in a general assembly session is not based on the final bill passage tally. 

“I’m not one of these people who is going to judge a legislative session by the number of bills passed.  I judge it by the quality of the bills passed, the number of bad bills that don’t see the light of day, and hopefully the successful passage of the budget and the road plan,” said Thayer.

The successful passage of a two year budget has not always been a given in Frankfort.  Over the past decade, lawmakers have had to come back in special sessions more than once to approve a state spending plan. 

But, House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins doesn’t think this will be one of those years. 

“I’m confident that we’ll get a budget when we leave at the end of session.  I’m very confident in that.  There’s no reason why we can’t reach middle ground.  There’s no reason we can’t reach compromise.  That’s what people expect us to do across Kentucky to do that,” said Adkins.

Action on a state budget will have to wait for several more weeks.  The session calendar would likely put a conference committee meeting on the budget near the end of March. As we near the mid-point of this year's General Assembly, there is still plenty of time for more items to come before both the House and the Senate before the final gavel in mid-April.

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