Lawmakers returned to Frankfort on Tuesday to reconvene following a constitutionally required break in the 2023 30-day legislative session.
We immediately got back to work, passing House Bill 1, which codifies the income tax reduction from 5 percent to 4.5 percent that went into effect on January 1. The bill lowers the income tax to 4 percent beginning on January 1, 2024. Additional tax reform, moving away from taxing production and more emphasis on consumption, not only keeps more money in wage earners’ pockets but it builds on the record years of economic success in the commonwealth, primarily because of conservative, pro-business policies enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly.
Along with House Bill 1, the Senate passed House Bill 2 on Wednesday, which provides over $16 million to support the construction of a new veterans center in Bowling Green. The center is the fifth in the state and will provide services to veterans in the south-central region. The need for this funding support is, unfortunately, partly because of high inflation, which has greatly increased the cost of construction.
I understand we all still bear the weight of high inflation and gas prices, but I am always happy to support our veterans and the Republican supermajorities’ commitment is to leave more money in your pocket because you know best how to spend your hard-earned income, not the government.
An issue that dominated the media and lawmakers’ attention through the session’s break involved the state Department of Juvenile Justice. I’m confident you have heard about and followed recent disturbing reports from within the DJJ system, including the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old girl in Adair County and the brutal assault of employees in Bowling Green. Much work is left to be done, but I’m happy to say some legislative efforts have prompted the executive branch to take action to better protect our detained youth.
First, in the 2022 interim, the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Statutory Committee and the Interim Judiciary Committee recommended that DJJ separate those inside facilities based on the severity of the offense and by gender. It’s concerning these recommendations were only taken following the terrible story of Adair County’s incident.
Nevertheless, the Senate initiated a DJJ working group which met extensively over the session’s break. The workgroup communicated its recommendations to Governor Andy Beshear. Recommendations that have been met as of this legislative update include:
· Provide 24/7 Kentucky State Police presence at facilities housing the most violent offenders.
· Identify specific immediate, intermediate, and long-term resources needed to address the crisis and gaps in the law that can aid in the department’s efforts.
· Make trauma care available to staff and youth victims in DJJ facilities.
· Develop and maintain a tracking notification system concerning the transportation and status of youth offenders so that parents, legal guardians, and law enforcement entities can be aware.
Still, lawmakers have made recommendations to the Governor that remain unmet, some of which could be the most meaningful. They are:
· Consider replacing department leaders who have failed to create a culture within DJJ where employees and youth can feel safe and begin a nationwide search for qualified replacements. The DJJ workgroup has concluded a toxic culture exists within the department that money alone could never repair.
· Provide unfettered access to cabinet and department officials but, most importantly, the rank and file employees who have indicated fear of retaliation from those above them.
· Allow for an independent inspection of DJJ facilities to determine if health and safety measures are up to expectation and if policies and procedures are being met.
· Explain failures to implement past recommendations.
DJJ workgroup leaders outlined met and unmet recommendations during a press conference on February 2. They also formally requested the state auditor of public accounts to contract with an independent organization for a full audit of DJJ.
In closing, several legislative measures were introduced in week two, including an education-centric bill focused on strengthening parent voices in the school system, a bill ensuring the communist Chinese government cannot access state government information, and another addressing concerns with the state’s power grid. Rest assured, your elected officials remain engaged in light of the rolling blackouts some Kentuckians have experienced this winter.
Senator Stephen West, R-Paris, represents the 27th District, including Bourbon, Fleming, Harrison, Mason, Nicholas, Robertson and Rowan Counties and part of northern Fayette County. He serves as vice-chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, chair of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Education, and co-chair of the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee. West is also a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Appropriations and Revenue; Judiciary; Agriculture; and the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance, and Public Protection. Additionally, he serves as a member of the 2022-2024 Budget Preparation and Submission Subcommittee. For a high-resolution .jpeg of West, please visit: https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate127.jpg