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2012 Session Enters Final Week24 Mar

Capitol DomeWith just a few days left, legislators will need constituent input to focus their energies on bills of importance to the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. The following report highlights bills we have followed in three categories:

  • Bills with a chance of passage
  • Bills requiring a miracle to pass
  • Bills with no chance of passage

The Conference asks you to take action early in the week of March 25 by calling the toll free number – 1 800 372 7181 – and leaving the messages suggested below for your State Senator, State Representative or both. You can leave all three messages during one phone call.

Click on the Bill title to read its full text.

BILLS WITH A CHANCE OF PASSAGE:

Senate Bill 75 – This bill does two things: a) it respects the practice of their faith by the Schwartzentruber Amish and b) provides an alternative way to mark their non-motorized buggies so that Kentucky drivers can see them on the highway, thus keeping our road safe. It passed the Senate and the House Transportation Committee. It is on the list of bills scheduled for a vote on the House floor. Bills can be lost in the last few days of  the session unless legislators are reminded of their importance.

TAKE ACTION: call 1 800 372 7181 and leave this message for your State Representative and for Floor Leader Rocky Adkins: Please support SB 75 to allow the Amish to use an alternative way of marking their buggies that is in accordance with their religious beliefs.

House Concurrent Resolution 173 – The purpose of this legislation is to create a Kentucky Death Penalty Reform Implementation Task Force to develop a strategy to implement the reforms recommended by the American Bar Association’s Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report.

The strongly bi-partisan measure cleared the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and was passed by the House with a 73 – 18 vote, 9 members not voting. It is now in the Senate and needs immediate action if it is to become law. Their is some sentiment in the Senate to pass HCR 173, but your immediate help is  needed.

TAKE ACTION: call 1 800 372 7181 and leave this message for your State Senator and for Senator Williams, the President of the Senate: Please support HCR 173 and set up a group to study the recent ABA Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report. If Kentucky is going to keep the death penalty, it must reform the current flaws in this system. HCR 173 passed the House 73 – 18 with strong bi-partisan support. Please support and vote for HCR 173.

House Bill 350 – This bill will strengthen Kentucky’s human-trafficking law. It received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee but a quorum of members was not present so the bill still needs a Committee vote. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported

The bill would increase training for police officers on human trafficking, create a special Kentucky State Police unit to investigate human trafficking, and strengthen laws to help prosecutors convict human traffickers.

For this bill to pass it needs a vote in committee on Monday and there is a committee meeting scheduled.

TAKE ACTION: Call 1 800 372 7181 and leave this message for your State Senator: Please do all you can to support passage of HB 350, to strengthen Kentucky’s human-trafficking law. Please ask Senator Jensen to give it a vote in his committee so it can come to the Senate floor.

House Bill 388 – This bill will help seniors living in Continuing Care Retirement Communities, several of which are operated by Catholic health care providers. It has passed the House and a Senate committee and is now on the Consent Calendar for a vote soon. There is no action needed and it is expected to pass overwhelmingly. Since Conference staff did do some work to help this bill along, we report it here because this is good news.

BILLS REQUIRING A MIRACLE TO PASS

There are two bills which require a miracle to pass. Both are Constitutional amendments and require a 3/5 vote of the members in order to pass.

For a bill to get a vote it must first be voted out of committee and then receive 3 readings on three separate days.

Senate Bill 158, regarding the strengthening of religious freedom, is currently in the House Committee. To get to the House floor in time for its 3 readings it would have to come out of committee on March 25, and there is no committee meeting scheduled to hear this bill.

House Bill 70, to change the Constitution and allow voting rights to be restored automatically to most former felons, must also clear a committee on Monday in time to receive its 3 readings for passage on the Senate floor. It is not scheduled for a hearing  in committee at this time.

Because of the unlikelihood of any movement of these two bills, we do not recommend any action be taken, other than to pray for a miracle.

BILLS WITH NO CHANCE OF PASSAGE:

Senate Bill 102 and Senate Bill 103 – The House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman, Rep. Tom Burch, gave both these bills a hearing in the committee last week. You can watch the hearing and judge for yourself its fairness. Having watched the General Assembly since 1988, this is the first instance the Conference is aware of where the Committee Chair took a vote on the bill, making sure it failed, and then allowed witnesses to speak. A fair hearing would require witnesses speaking before the vote. SB 102 lost on a vote of 6 Yes – 8 No and two members absent; SB 103 lost on a vote of 5 Yes – 9 No and two members absent.

It requires 9 Yes votes to bring a bill out of this pro-choice committee. House leadership knows how the vote will turn out when they assign bills to this committee. Requests from the Conference and others to place bills dealing with unborn human life in another committee where they could receive a fair hearing have been rejected by House leadership.

House Bill 332This bill would have placed a cap on the amount of charges a Payday loan company could impose on a loan: 36%. Currently these companies exact rates of more than 400% from those who are financially vulnerable and in need of short term loans. The business model entraps people into a continuing pattern of borrowing and paying exorbitant fees for their loans.

Rep. Jeff Greer ended the life of this bill early in the session. He said he would not give the bill a hearing in his committee because he had done so last year and it as overwhelmingly defeated in committee. Actually the vote was 13 No and 10 Yes votes, with several members passing and others not present. One of those voting NO last year was Rep. Ron Crimm, who this year co-sponsored the bill.

After about one month into this session, Rep. Greer also told Conference staff that the bill should start in the Senate. His refusal to hear the bill and his ordering us to start in the Senate, something he failed to tell us before the session began, is disconcerting. Last year he remarked that he heard the bill because of his constituents request for him to do so. They might want to ask him why he chose to let them down this year.

House Bill 463 – This bill created a Business Tax Credit that would benefit both public and non-public school students. It had the support of many in the business community and would have meant that and additional $20 million would be available to support public education and other money available for the granting of needs-based scholarships to students whose parents placed them in non-public schools.

The only consistent message given regarding why this bill was not advanced is that we should take this idea to the newly created Governor’s Tax Reform commission which is preparing a plan to reform Kentucky’s inadequate tax structure. We have begun working to follow through on this message.

Choose LifeSenate Bill 63, to abolish the death penalty, Senate Concurrent Resolution 190, to do a thorough study of the costs to Kentucky of maintain capital punishment, and House Bill 145, to abolish the death penalty for severely mentally ill persons, stirred up interest and discussion of the use of the death penalty in Kentucky.

Though the two Senate measures failed to pass, SB 63 received an hour long hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Tom Jensen. This is the first time that a bill to replace the death penalty with lengthy prison sentences, including life without parole, has received a hearing in a judiciary committee. SCR 190 did not receive a hearing, but served a useful reminder of the overwhelming burden the costs of the death penalty impose on Kentucky taxpayers, at the expense of being able to pay for other needs Kentucky residents have.

In the House, the lobbyist for the Commonwealth Attorneys Association worked behind closed doors to kill HB 145. Asked by the sponsor what the Commonwealth Attorneys’ objections were to the bill, he said that the definition of severely mentally ill was not acceptable, but REFUSED to provide a definition they could accept. As a result they succeeded in keeping a system in place where they can seek to kill severely mentally ill person.

This is standard behavior for this Association regarding death penalty issues. As reported in Chapter 5 of the American Bar Association Report – EVALUATING FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY IN STATE DEATH PENALTY SYSTEMS: The Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report, An Analysis of Kentucky’s Death Penalty Laws, Procedures, and Practices – the Commonwealth Attorneys Association also failed to cooperate with Kentucky’s team of legal experts doing the study.

The fact that another group of prosecutors, whose op-ed calling for implementing the reforms suggested in the ABA report, including banning the killing of severely mentally ill persons by the state, was not enough to move the House Judiciary Chairperson to give the bill a hearing.

If you read this far, thank you so much. And thank you for all you do to be Faithful Citizens and bring a faithful voice to the public square so the message of Jesus Christ can be offered to those who set public policy.

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