News Archives – 2010

Op-ed by Sen. Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT –On December 9th and 10th, I joined my Senate Republican Majority Caucus colleagues in Frankfort to discuss the upcoming 2011 Regular Session of the General Assembly and focus on our legislative priorities. According to the Kentucky Constitution the session can only last 30 days, meaning we have a small window to tackle many of the issues important to you. With that in mind, the Senate Majority Caucus announced an Agenda for Prosperity that covers job creation, improvements in education, and protecting Kentucky’s sovereignty.

To improve Kentucky’s economy, we must do what we can to make Kentucky business friendly. Government cannot create private sector jobs, but it can promote job growth by making it easier for businesses to open their doors to customers, and more importantly, employees. Many believe that Kentucky’s tax code is outdated and discourages business from relocating here. That is why the Senate Majority is proposing the creation of a commission of experts including economists, CPAs, and business leaders who will perform an accurate and comprehensive study of the tax structure. The commission will also take into account economic development incentives offered at both the state and local levels and draft a modern tax code geared toward increasing our competitiveness, creating jobs and prosperity for all Kentuckians.

Another hurdle businesses must contend with in Kentucky is the growing list of state and local governmental departments with which they must file daunting paperwork to meet bureaucratic tape. This is why we are proposing a new “Business One-Stop” website that will provide a single web-based portal for Kentucky businesses to incorporate, renew permits, pay taxes, and file reports and so on. This will allow businesses to meet all state requirements at the same place. This will save time and money that can be reinvested into the economy.

On the issue of education, the Senate has made some progress by promoting the following: Advanced Placement testing; ACT testing; early math and reading skills; and eliminating the CATS test in favor of an exam that actually lets parents and teachers know how individual students are learning. Now the Senate Majority is focusing on a new way to improve Kentucky schools. Unfortunately, Kentucky lost out this year on millions of grant dollars because current law does not allow for charter schools. New legislation will create voluntary charter schools that will be under the authority of local school districts and give parents more options when deciding how best to educate their children.

The Senate Majority will also focus on legislation designed to protect our interests here in Kentucky above those in Washington, while also protecting jobs in America. The “21st Century Bill of Rights” would reaffirm Kentuckians’ inalienable rights. It proposes to add several new provisions to our Kentucky Constitution’s Bill of Rights so that everyone is clear that we are a free people, free to worship as we see fit, free to choose our own doctors, and free to work in industries that work for us. In addition, it would ensure transparent and accountable government by directing local and state governments to make public information available through the Internet. This is an important initiative to protect our cherished values that have recently been threatened by actions of our current leadership in Washington.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected]


 

Thayer Prefiles Bill to Create National Racing Compact

FRANKFORT State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) has prefiled legislation, BR 89, to create a National Racing Compact allowing for the adoption of uniform rules and regulations between horse racing states. Thayer’s compact legislation will be considered during the 2011 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly begins on January 4 and with 30 voting days before adjourning on March 22.
“The thought of the federal government and federal bureaucrats running horse racing is not an approach that I support,” Thayer said. “This compact provides a commonsense solution between total deregulation and opening up the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to allow for federal intervention.”

Drafted by the Lexington, KY based Association of Racing Commissioners International, the National Racing Compact was presented to legislators at the 2010 convention of the National Council of State Legislators held in Louisville, KY at a meeting hosted by Kentucky Senate President David L. Williams and Senator Thayer. Many states are expected to introduce legislation in 2011, including Delaware, Indiana, Ney Jersey, New York and Virginia.
Kentucky and the partner states could realize regulatory savings by merging some functions and eliminating redundancies in information systems, testing labs and other areas. Each participating state will have a representative on a compact committee that will review and adopt rules. The compact requires passage in six states to get started.
At the NCSL meeting, Rick Goodell of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board said, “Short of those who don’t get it or have another agenda, the compact is widely supported. We want to build on our existing system and improve it.”

Kentucky is currently a member of the National Racing License compact

“By adopting the Compact in the next Session, Kentucky can become the first state to take a stand on major reforms benefiting horse racing in the entire country,” Thayer said. “It is my hope that we can achieve bipartisan support in 2011, and I look forward to working with the many horse racing groups which have a stake in the passage of the Compact. Lisa Underwood, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, has spent countless hours working with regulators and other groups across the country, and I will look to her for leadership and collaboration to get the Compact passed in Kentucky.”


David Williams and Senate Republicans Announce Agenda for 2011 Session
Serious government, pension & education reform, overhauling KY’s tax code top the list

(Frankfort) Senate President David Williams and the 23 members of the Republican caucus have announced their agenda for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. The legislation deals with a wide range of serious issues, including pension reform, the tax code, government transparency and reform, and state sovereignty.

“This is an agenda rooted in conservative values designed to improve our state. We will move on it quickly and make the upcoming session of the legislature productive on behalf of the people of Kentucky,” Williams said. “I am proud to serve with so many committed conservatives who have serious ideas to move Kentucky forward.”

SENATE REPUBLICAN “AGENDA FOR PROSPERITY”

• Neighborhood Schools and Voluntary Charter Schools. Williams and Sen. Dan Seum will sponsor legislation allowing children to attend neighborhood schools, which is especially important in Jefferson County. The legislation will also create voluntary charter schools in Kentucky to give parents, teachers, and local communities more options when deciding how best to educate students within the public school system. Kentucky lost out on millions of dollars in federal funding in 2010 because Gov. Steve Beshear failed to stand up to the teachers’ union that killed charter school legislation which had already passed the State Senate.

• Reforming Kentucky’s Anti-Growth Tax Code. Senate Republicans seek to get the ball rolling on meaningful tax reform by creating a commission made up of experts (economists, CPA’s, business leaders) who are charged with writing a new tax code that creates jobs and prosperity for Kentuckians. Sen. Williams believes our tax code is anti-growth and that other states have tax systems that make them more competitive. Williams believes Kentucky taxes productivity more than consumption and that such a system restrains job growth. This commission will write a new tax code and send it to the General Assembly by the end of 2011 that must be voted on up-or-down without amendment by legislators in the 2012 session; this will keep special interests from hacking up a plan that should create a level, pro-growth playing field. The goal is to unleash the potential of the people of Kentucky to prosper and create better lives for their families. While Williams and the Senate Republicans have successfully cut Kentucky’s income, property, and small business taxes in recent years, it is past time for a new system that will make restore Kentucky’s competitiveness.

• Improving the Budget Process. Lawmakers won’t pass another budget until 2012, but Senate Republicans believe the system by which the General Assembly passes a budget needs serious reform. The Senate GOP will offer legislation that would require a 48 hour window where legislators and citizens could review any bill that raises or spends tax dollars. The bill would be posted on the internet and given to legislators 48 hours before any vote is taken. The bill will also establish a more orderly timeline for the legislature to write the state budget so citizens have more opportunity to offer input on how their tax dollars are spent.

• Reforming Pensions for State Employees and Legislators. Senate Republicans will offer legislation to move new state employees (with the exception of teachers, who do not participate in Social Security) to a “defined contribution” plan instead of the current “defined benefit” system, which is bankrupting Kentucky. The legislation will also close loopholes in the current pension system that allowed some legislators to use executive branch positions to enrich their retirement packages at taxpayer expense. The legislature began the process of reforming the state pension system in 2008 but more must be done to put Kentucky’s fiscal house in order. Senate Republicans passed a legislative pension reform bill in the 2010 session but Senate Democrats block voted to kill it.

• Making State Government Transparent. State Senator Damon Thayer will offer legislation that requires all three branches of government to make financial information available to the public on the Internet in a user-friendly fashion. Taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent by state government.

• Creating Legislative Accountability. The Senate GOP proposes to move the filing deadline to run for office until after the legislative session so citizens can watch how their legislators perform and then decide whether to run for office. The current system protects legislators from possible opponents who take issue with how the incumbent votes during an even-year session in which the state budget is written. The bill would also move Kentucky’s primary back to August to accommodate the later filing period.

• Clean Elections. The Senate GOP proposes to eliminate all contributions by lobbyists or their spouses to any statewide candidate for office. Currently, there is one set of rules for legislators that restrict lobbyist contributions and a different system for the constitutional offices (Governor, Auditor, etc). The bill would require electronic filing of all campaign finance reports so citizens can better track the flow of money in a particular campaign.

• Fighting Medicaid Fraud. “False Claims” legislation will allow Kentucky to aggressively pursue and penalize health care providers and individuals who attempt to defraud the state’s health care program for low-income residents. Several states have already passed “false claims” legislation, including: California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

• Informed Consent. This pro-life legislation has passed the Senate previously. It would require women seeking an abortion to be given as much information as possible before making the decision, including ultrasound photos. Senate Republicans have a long record of fighting for the unborn.

• 21st Century Bill of Rights. Senate Republicans will again offer this important constitutional amendment. In 2010, Senate Democrats block voted to kill it, but in 2011 Senate Republicans will have enough votes to overcome them and send it to the House. The bill will assert Kentucky’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; prevent citizens from being forced into an “Obamacare” federal health plan; prevent doctors and nurses from being forced to perform abortions; protect hunters’ rights; require any expansion of gambling be done so by a vote of the people; prevent environmental extremists from stopping coal mining in Kentucky; and affirm the freedom to make religious expressions, including posting the 10 Commandments.

• Eliminating Red Tape with Business OneStop. Businesses large and small in Kentucky are forced to interact with a huge number of agencies to renew permits, file paperwork, and pay taxes. This law would create a “one stop” portal for businesses to meet all of their state requirements on a single website. Cutting red tape and eliminating the time it takes to deal with the state bureaucracy will save time and resources for Kentucky’s job creators.

• Arizona-style Immigration Reform. Illegal immigration has placed a heavy burden on state and local governments, and the federal government has failed to enact needed reforms. The Senate GOP applauds Arizona policymakers for creating a strong, anti-illegal immigration law and proposes to do something similar in Kentucky. The proposal would require state law enforcement to make a reasonable attempt to verify the citizenship or immigration status of a person where reasonable suspicion exists that the person might be in Kentucky illegally. The law makes clear that local law enforcement agencies may arrest, detain and turn over to federal authorities people who are in the country illegally.


It’s time for transparency in Frankfort

FRANKFORT – A constant refrain at election time is citizens’ frustration at public officials who won’t answer the simple questions of what they’re doing with taxpayer dollars. That’s understandable, because every dollar wasted by the government is a dollar better used by families for the things they need. Especially in these economic times, with unemployment rates rising and government spending pinched, we must make sure we get maximum bang for minimum bucks.
I introduced legislation last year, Senate Bill 40, that would have made great strides toward government transparency and accountability. It passed the Senate unanimously, but the House of Representatives didn’t even grant the measure so much as a committee hearing. It’s ironic that a transparency bill didn’t even receive an open hearing in the House.
I have pre-filed that same bill for the 2011 Session of the General Assembly, because I truly believe that openness and responsibility are the first duties of our Republic. If the people don’t know what actions the government is taking, how can they make an informed decision at the polls? SB 40 would have given citizens powerful tools to hold public officials accountable, in all branches of government.

Under SB 40, the legislature, the state court system, and the executive branch would have been required to put their checkbooks online, with detailed accounts of their spending in plain language, so that all Kentuckians could see where tax money is going. They could access information on who was paid, what the money was for, and a description, and even links to the invoices in many cases. Most information would be online within a month, but anything in our state’s electronic files could be uploaded on a weekly basis, giving us almost real-time updates on state spending.

As we’ve seen with recent investigations into the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties, tax dollars can easily be misspent when the people with the checkbook think no one’s watching. Even when there is no law broken or ethical guideline breached, decision makers will be more leery where the money goes when they understand someone will be looking over their shoulders. It’s the same principle as stores that use video surveillance. Some people will steal regardless, but at least there’s proof of their guilt. The larger savings comes from would-be thieves who decide the risk isn’t worth it.

Some state agencies have begun online reports like this already, and their leaders deserve credit. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has rated Kentucky as the top state in the nation, and the Center for Study of Responsive Law singled out Kentucky for praise in its openness. We should be proud of those accolades. The problem remains, though, that future state leaders could drop the ball or decide that government transparency isn’t worth the effort. The time to act is now, before the next statewide election, so that incoming officials will be held to the highest standards possible.

Taxpayer savings, by itself, would be a worthy reason to permanently institute an online state checkbook, but it goes further than that. The Mercatus Center, a think tank at George Mason University, has conducted numerous studies on the benefits of government transparency and accountability, and they have found that open governments result in a healthier civic life, increased public morale, and even positive economic results for the private sector and the broader community.

Right now we need every positive step toward economic recovery we can muster. A law that would benefit government ethics, protect taxpayer dollars, and boost the economy is a commonsense solution that should be obvious to our public leaders. Kentucky native and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Let’s hope that 2011 becomes known as the Year of Sunshine in Frankfort.


Thayer prefiles government transparency bill

FRANKFORT — Legislation to require all state government agencies to put their spending online has been prefiled for the 2011 Regular Session of the General Assembly by Sen. Damon Thayer.

The bill, numbered as Bill Request 43 until the Senate convenes in January, mirrors the language in Senate Bill 40 from the 2010 Regular Session. Under the Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2011, all three branches of government — including public colleges and universities — would put their spending records online as a searchable database. The databases would be updated monthly, with information in the state’s electronic accounting system updated weekly. The amount and description of the spending would be listed, and the database would even contain links to the actual documents of individual transactions, to give a fuller explanation of what happened rather than a simple one-sentence description.

“This bill passed the Senate last year 37-0, so this is not a partisan issue,” said Thayer, R-Georgetown. “Yet it didn’t even receive a committee hearing in the House, which is disappointing for advocates of open and efficient government.”

Many state agencies already have websites devoted to spending accountability, and the August 25 meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government heard from several government officials who talked about the benefits of government transparency for both officials and taxpayers.

The sites, however, are currently at the discretion of the officeholder. “We can’t simply close our eyes and hope that future public officials will follow a good example,” Thayer said. “This should be a statutory requirement not subject to the whims of any particular politician, and with statewide elections coming up in 2011, this is the perfect time to put the requirements in place. We’re not punishing any particular official or agency, but upholding a principle.”

Thayer noted that a similar bill that applied to the Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties passed both chambers unanimously and is now the law. “It would be hypocritical of us of hold quasi-governmental agencies to a higher standard than we hold ourselves,” Thayer said. “It shouldn’t take a scandal in the newspaper to merit transparency in state government. I’d rather be proactive in putting Kentucky’s checkbook online and saving the taxpayers money.”


General Assembly Passes Responsible State Budget

FRANKFORT – The 2010 Special Session closed with the passage of a two-year budget and an unemployment insurance bill. After much public pressure, the House of Representatives agreed to a responsible budget without job-killing taxes and significantly decreased state debt. It is a fiscally-conservative budget that reflects the common-sense values of Kentucky families who are struggling in this economy. State government is not, and should not be, immune from the same challenges. In this vein, the General Assembly also put a plan in place to pay back the federal government the money we had borrowed for our depleted unemployment insurance fund. The fund will continue to be solvent and provide a safety net for those still searching for a job. It was a necessary step to avoid greater costs threatened by the federal government.

As many of you are aware, the 2010 General Assembly Session closed without a budget because the House Majority Leadership would not agree to a budget without $1.2 billion in projects, prompting Governor Beshear to call the Legislature back into session this week. He offered to the House a budget proposal that closely mirrored the budget the Senate passed before we adjourned. The budget that was finally passed cut most state government spending by 3.5% in 2010-11 and another 1% in 2011-12. Education and Medicaid were spared. Much like the Senate budget, this budget maintains 177 instructional school days and it requires the Governor to cut $300 million in state contracts, political appointees, and other costs. It does not provide raises for state workers and teachers but it does ensure that their health insurance plan is stabilized. Lastly, there is a process to replace the most dilapidated schools with a mix of local and state funds.

It has been a difficult process but I am confident this budget will help prepare Kentucky for a better day. It is a bare-bones budget package that will fund most state government operations in Kentucky through 2012 with $1.2 billion less than was budgeted in 2009. It does not increase taxes on those that employ Kentuckians and stops our spiral of unsustainable debt and borrowing. Government’s books cannot be balanced by unbalancing the books of its citizens.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected].


Senate Bill 88 Signed Into Law.

Sen. Damon Thayer, (R- Georgetown) (standing, far right) attends the signing of Senate Bill 88, which will require that quasi-governmental public entities such as the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) and the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) conduct their financial operations in the public eye. Thayer helped create the legislation in his role as Chair of the Senate State & Local Government Committee.

“Hopefully, this will help both organizations regain the public trust as well as a legal framework to keep them from getting in the same kind of trouble that they found themselves in last summer,” Thayer said

Also pictured are: (Standing Left to Right) Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington); Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington); Sharon Clark, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Insurance; Sen. Tom Buford (R-Nicholasville); and Thayer. Seated is Gov. Steve Beshear.


Frankfort Week in Review #12 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — This week, the Senate passed its version of the budget and we are now working with the House of Representatives in a budget conference committee. This committee is charged with working out the differences between the House and Senate version of the budget bills.

There are a few variations between the two versions I would like to review with you because those differences outline the difference in priorities between the Senate and our counterparts in the House. For example, the House budget took on the burden of about $2.2 billion worth of public debt for capital projects and it took away a tax exemption from employers that are struggling to keep Kentuckians employed. According to media reports, some representatives have even gone so far as to say that businesses can’t create jobs now and therefore, it is up to government to create jobs.
Thankfully, the Senate’s budget proposal supports job creation through the private sector while providing a level of government services we can afford. It restores tax cuts removed by the House that amount to $280 million, while creating other avenues for the Economic Development Cabinet to recruit businesses to Kentucky. By putting our financial house in order and keeping down our state debt, we are sending a message to Kentucky workers and employers that we can make responsible choices when it comes to managing your tax dollars.

The Senate budget also added the two instructional school days that the House eliminated and we also provided greater local autonomy to school districts so they can better manage their funds. Kentucky’s Education Commissioner has informed us that the two days are very important to our Race to the Top federal grant application and has said that the districts can manage with the tools we are providing such as allowing them to use up to 50% of their capital outlay funds, use parent volunteers as kindergarten aides, and use greater discretion when it comes to classroom size.

I believe this is a budget Kentuckians can live with. Families and businesses across the commonwealth have been making the same difficult choices and state government be any different. The Senate budget prepares Kentucky for a better day. Keeping taxes low, encouraging economic development, emphasizing education, providing local districts more financial flexibility, and funding adult education are ways to create an environment where the private sector can create more jobs.

We hope that the House of Representatives conference members will understand this as we continue our discussions. It is my hope that a consensus budget document will be voted on by both chambers next week.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #11 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — As we enter the closing weeks of the 2010 Regular Session, the Senate passed legislation that will improve job opportunities for career and technical students, regulate methadone treatment centers, and crack down on meth traffickers. We also continued our work on the state budget, and I continued my work on more transparency in campaign finance reporting.

The Senate passed House Bill 288, another piece of campaign finance reform legislation that I was able to improve through my role as chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. HB 288 requires electronic filing of campaign finance reports for statewide political campaigns that spend more than $25,000. The bill also improves the existing regulations to reflect the growing use of electronic transactions for contributions and expenditures in campaigns. HB 288 also authorizes the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance to impose civil penalties on those filing frivolous campaign complaints that cost the state thousands of dollars. It is my hope that these measures will bring about increased transparency and more information as we monitor the financial transactions occurring in state elections.

We also passed a Career Pathways Bill, landmark legislation designed to help develop skilled workforce education among our high school students and pair those skills with existing Kentucky employers. These exciting new options will allow area businesses to get involved with Kentucky vocational schools to ensure that upon graduation, these Kentucky students have the best chance at filling job openings in skilled workforce fields.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 200, a bill that would regulate the licensure of methadone and other narcotic treatment centers in Kentucky. Recent events in Kentucky have uncovered a patchwork of requirements for licensure of these facilities. SB 200 will address the inconsistencies in the current regulations by clarifying what documentation is needed for licensure of a narcotic treatment center. It establishes a 90-day period for a center to declare their intent to operate in a community, and establishes a protocol that includes local governments in the licensure process.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 211, an initiative focusing on convicted drug offenders and curbing the amount of meth in Kentucky communities. The bill would prohibit all convicted meth offenders from purchasing cold medicine containing precursors that could be used in illegal drug production. This bill is aimed at recidivists and “one-pot” cookers, and I believe the measure will be a serious deterrent. SB 211 will not cost the taxpayer as the manufacturers of these cold medicines pay for “MethCheck,” a multi-state program (the National Precursor Log Exchange) administered by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators.

The Senate is continuing our work on the state budget. As we continue our work, I want to remind you all that I understand that times are economically challenging right now and we are continuing to study ways to reduce state government spending.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected]


 

Frankfort Week in Review #10 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — This week in Frankfort, the Senate passed bills that strengthen our educational system and cut down on government waste. We also received the state budget from the House of Representatives and began work on our version of the budget.

Twelve years ago the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation to promote early literacy for our students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, the results of which have made Kentucky a leader in helping these elementary students to learn to read on grade level by the fourth grade. Unfortunately, reading achievement for middle and high school students in Kentucky has seen little improvement in the past decade. This problem led the Senate to pass Senate Bill 163 this week, a bill designed to raise awareness of the adolescent literacy problem and to take the necessary steps to remedy the problem.

SB 163 directs the Kentucky Department of Education to work with educators and subject matter experts to identify the reading skills in each subject area that align with the state content standards to encourage the development of comprehensive middle and high school reading plans to be incorporated into the curricula of each subject area. The bill also directs the Education Professional Standards Board to review and revise the teacher certifications requirements to ensure that all teachers are prepared to improve students’ subject reading skills. SB 163 directs the teacher preparation institutions to ensure that teachers in all subject areas have the necessary skills to help their students develop the needed skills and strategies for reading and comprehending subject matter. Finally, it charges the Collaborative Center for Literacy Development to assist middle and high schools in the development of comprehensive adolescent reading plans. This bill will make adolescent reading an immediate priority in Kentucky, and I am proud to support these needed initiatives.

We also passed Senate Bill 180, which establishes an alternative teacher certification option for Teach for America participants. Teach for America is a non-profit organization that recruits recent college graduates to commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. Teach for America provides the training and support necessary to ensure their success as teachers in low-income communities. This legislation would allow a pilot program to develop in Kentucky to allow Teach for America participants to teach in our classrooms. SB 180 will not only help outlying areas obtain teachers for their schools, but also it will help Kentucky’s standing in obtaining federal education grants.

The Senate also passed House Bill 276, a bill designed to help small, independent occupational or professional boards and commissions to utilize the administrative services of the Division of Occupations and Professions. It would make any new independent occupational or professional boards use the division’s services unless the board or commission can demonstrate to the division that it will regulate more than 100 persons. HB 276 will decrease the bureaucracies of little-used boards and commission and will save taxpayer money in the long run.

The House of Representatives has voted on its budget proposal, and we in the Senate have begun work on our version. As we begin this work, I want to remind you all that I understand that times are economically challenging right now and we are continuing to find ways to reduce state government spending.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #8 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — Over the past week in Frankfort, the Senate continued its work in many areas of government policy as we passed legislation dealing with jails, health care, and education. We also continued to keep a close eye on the budget plan being worked on in the House of Representatives.

We passed House Bill 231, which creates a second level of psychiatric residential treatment facility licensure in Kentucky. This licensure allows for 24-hour inpatient psychiatric residential treatment and habitation to children who do not meet the medical necessity standards for an acute care or psychiatric hospital but that have needs greater than what can be treated in less restrictive environments. The impact on this bill to Kentucky families is important to note as currently, children requiring this kind of care are sent to facilities in other states.

The Senate passed SB 142, which requires the Kentucky Board of Education to provide an elective social studies course on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, the New Testament of the Bible, or a combination of the three. These courses would provide students, if they elect to take such a course, with knowledge on the content, characters, poetry, and narratives of various translations of these texts.

We also passed Senate Bill 114. This school facilities legislation allows a nonprofit school finance entity, such as a school board, to lease land from another government entity in order to build a new school. It is my hope that school districts will be able to use this legislation to help curb costs in their future school building plans.

As I want to keep you updated on the budget process, the House of Representatives is continuing to work on its version of the state budget. I understand that times are economically challenging right now and we are continuing to study ways to reduce state government spending. Both House and Senate Appropriations and Revenue chairmen are in close consultation so that when the House budget proposal is finalized, the Senate can begin work immediately.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


State Senate voices support for Toyota

FRANKFORT — Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky has been a model corporate citizen and is setting an example for others as it deals with its recall, the Kentucky State Senate said today in adopting a resolution honoring TMMK.

“I’m proud to have Toyota in my community,” said Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, who sponsored the resolution. “In fact, many Kentucky communities benefit from Toyota’s presence, even if they don’t realize it” through Toyota’s network of suppliers.

Sen. Thayer noted that Toyota has given sponsorships or donations worth more than $37 million to local charitable groups with missions ranging from education to social services.

Team members from the Georgetown plant were on hand for the legislation’s adoption, and were praised for their efforts and work ethic.


 

Frankfort Week in Review #7 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — This week the 2010 Regular Session of the General Assembly reached its halfway point, and the Senate passed measures to increase transparency in political campaigns, build energy efficient schools, and improve Kentucky’s drunk driving laws.

An important initiative of mine this session has been to bring more transparency to state government. In addition to the bills we have already passed this session to make government spending more available to the public, we are now focusing on how political committees are spending money in state elections. In this spirit, the Senate passed Senate Bill 25, also known as the “527 Campaign Fund Disclosure and Transparency Act of 2010.” The measure, which I sponsored, requires that political organization “527” committees register with and report to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance if more than $5,000 to influence the election of a candidate or slate of candidates for public office in Kentucky or on a ballot question to amend the Constitution of Kentucky. The concept behind this bill is simple, when it comes to elections, voters deserve to know where the money comes from.

We also passed Senate Bill 132 this week, aimed at saving local school districts money while ensuring that our schools are healthy environments. The bill encourages but does not mandate the construction of energy efficient LEED certified school buildings. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and is a rating system developed by the US Green Building Council that considers energy efficiency, indoor air quality and comfort, natural light usage and the general performance of buildings. SB 132 also sets up a fund to receive any appropriations or federal grants that may be available to help construct or renovate these efficient schools.

Finally, we turned our attention to the problem of driving while under the influence of alcohol. Senate Bill 144 passed the Senate this week, a bill that states a person shall not operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle anywhere in Kentucky while the presence of a controlled substance is detected in the blood, as measured by a scientifically reliable test, or tests, taken within two hours of cessation of operation or control of a motor vehicle. SB 144 also reduces the blood alcohol concentration requirement for aggravating circumstances from 0.18 to 0.15. We must continue to do everything we can to discourage “drinking and driving” in Kentucky.

I’d also like to add that in recognition of those who have served and sacrificed for our country, the Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 11, extending the Purple Heart Trail from Louisville down to Fort Campbell and the Tennessee border.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or by emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #6 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — As the 2010 Regular Session of the General Assembly nears its halfway point, the Senate is passing more bills with each passing day. We are dealing with policy issues relating to veterans, education, suicide prevention and more.

Senate Bill 67, passed in a bipartisan vote, provides an early graduation option to high school students who meet course requirements, grade point average, and college readiness standards. A student who completes an early graduation program will receive an “Early Graduation Scholarship Certificate” with the approximate value of 24 credit hours at Kentucky Community and Technical College System. This legislation is an attempt to challenge nontraditional students as they transition from high school to adult life by helping them focus on goals that can build their futures. Another measure aimed at helping students to remain focused also passed the Senate this week, Senate Bill 94. SB 94 establishes summer learning camps for at-risk kids who are identified as needing extra academic help. These camps would provide a blend of core academic learning, hands-on activities, arts, technology, and sports for children from low-income families and children who are behind in grade level work in grades one through five. The bill utilizes existing federal and state resources, local community resources, and other organizations to build a long-term investment in summer programs.

We also passed bills relating to veterans this week, as we continue to honor the men and women of our armed forces. House Bill 75 would expand the state hiring preference honoring military service by adding five or 10 preference points to a military-connected individual’s examination score used for state hiring in classified positions. In addition, it would require state agencies to interview no fewer than five finalists who are eligible for these preference points. Also receiving passage was House Bill 14, which allows disabled Kentucky veterans to stay up to three nights free of charge at our state parks subject to availability. Again, these veterans have sacrificed their own health for our freedoms and providing a stay at one of our beautiful state parks is but a small token of our appreciation.

Finally, many of our families have been touched with teenage suicide. Teenage depression is a difficult topic to discuss, much less identify. Senate Bill 65 would require principals, guidance counselors, and teachers to complete a minimum of two hours of self-directed instruction in suicide prevention each school year. It is our hope that improved education will help our school professionals know what to look for and reach out to students in need.

The House of Representatives will be providing a budget framework to their members next week. I will keep a close eye on these developments as we must use taxpayer dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible. As always, I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #5 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — This week the Senate passed legislation designed to increase transparency across Kentucky government, open the primary election process to more voters, and aid crime victims in their efforts to recover stolen property.

We passed Senate Bill 40, a bill I sponsored, known as the “Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2010.” This important bill requires the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of state government to place spending records into a searchable database available on the internet. The database would be updated monthly. The information would include the amount and description of the spending, along with any documentation available electronically. It is my hope that this will allow you and other citizens to receive greater insight into how state government is spending your tax dollars.

As you might have seen in the news, the Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties have been under heavy criticism for spending funds on many dubious and outrageous expenses. As a result, the Senate passed Senate Bill 87, another bill that I sponsored. This legislation extends public disclosure and transparency requirements to both organizations as they are funded by tax dollars from local governments. The bill also requires an annual audit of each group’s finances. It is my hope that SB 87 will help KACo and KLC operate in the open with more respect shown for their members and the taxpayers.

Shifting to another policy area, the Senate also addressed the electoral process this week with Senate Bill 53. This bill allows independent voters to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Party primaries. To assure integrity in the process, if you are an independent, you must be registered no later than December 31st immediately preceding the primary. This assures that those voters are committed independents, and are not doing something to inappropriately influence the primary of a party in bad faith.

There are a large number of individuals presently registered as either Republican or Democrat who in fact, consider themselves independents. There is no reason that a person should be forced to register with a party whose philosophy they do not concur with just to be allowed to participate in the political process.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 123, designed to help those victimized by crime to recover stolen property. It establishes a central database operated by the Kentucky State Police where pawnbrokers will register all liens and purchases. In 2008, the value of all property stolen in the Commonwealth of Kentucky through larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft, etc. was over $130 million. Of that sum, only $34 million in property was recovered. Hopefully, SB 123 will help to curb this serious loss to Kentucky residents.

I would also like to add that the annual Right to Life “Rally for Life” took place this week and I was heartened and proud to see how many supporters came to the capitol to join me and other legislators in speaking up for the rights of the unborn.

I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #4 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — This week, the Senate focused on legislation that is designed to protect Kentucky’s sovereignty, while also protecting American jobs.

The Senate voted on Senate Bill 3, a bill that would have reaffirmed Kentuckians’ sovereign rights. Senate Bill 3 proposes to add several new provisions to the Kentucky Constitution’s Bill of Rights so that everyone is clear that we are a free people, free to worship as we see fit, free to carry arms, free to choose our own doctors, free to work in industries that work for us. In addition, SB 3 would have helped ensure transparent and accountable government by directing local and state governments to make public information available through the Internet. Due to the heavy-handed policies being promoted by the federal government, several states are considering resolutions and bills like this to send a strong message to Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, SB 3 failed with 21 “yes” votes. As it is a Constitutional Amendment, the measure required 23 “yes” votes to pass. I was proud to vote “yes” on this important initiative to protect our rights that have recently been threatened by actions of the current leadership in Washington, D.C.

On the topic of protecting American jobs and the unborn, the Senate was successful in passing two other important bills this week. Senate Bill 38 was passed, which directs a doctor to make available a sonogram picture of the baby to a woman considering an abortion. Women, as all patients do, deserve to be fully informed of the effects of their medical procedures, and sonograms are already done to gauge the age of the unborn baby. I am pro-life and committed to protecting the unborn, and am a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 38.

We also passed Senate Bill 54, legislation that would require public employers like local governments in the Commonwealth to purchase, or their employees to purchase uniforms, other types of clothing, safety equipment and protective accessories manufactured in the United States of America, unless such items are not manufactured or available for purchase in the United States of America.

With the economy in its current condition, we must do what we can to support American jobs by buying from Main Street in our own communities. By passing SB 54, we will be promoting small business, which is the life blood of America.

I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #3 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — As the Senate continues its work during the 2010 Regular Session, I would like to update you on some of the bills that the Senate has passed in the last few days.

To start, we passed a package of three bills to help support our veterans and armed service members. Senate Bill 29 expands the state hiring preference that honors military service. Senate Bill 30 makes military personnel and their family eligible for military assistance trust grants for up to 180 days after the end of their deployment, extending the current time frame is only 90 days. Senate Bill 31 makes it easier to have medical foster homes here in Kentucky. These bills help make the transition for veterans back into civilian life easier by affording them clearer paths to employment, as well as financial and medical assistance.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 1 unanimously this week. SB 1 is legislation that requires the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to recognize hospitals that have received primary stroke center certification from a nationally-recognized organization that provides disease-specific certification for stroke care. Kentucky is one of 12 states in the “stroke belt;” which contains the nation’s highest rate of strokes and highest mortality rates. It is important that we make sure that Kentucky residents know where the nearest primary stroke center hospital is in case of emergency.

We also passed Senate Bill 26 this week which lifts a prohibition against nuclear power plant construction in Kentucky. This does not mean that a plant will be built in Kentucky soon, but it does allow us to be ready for the future if we need to adjust our energy approach due to economic or national security concerns.

This week Governor Beshear also introduced his proposed state budget for the next two fiscal years. Although the Governor’s initial budget is unrealistic, we will work with the House of Representatives to build a responsible budget for our state in the coming weeks.

I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #2 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT — The Senate is moving forward through the 2010 Regular Session as committee meetings are now in full swing and the Senate has begun debating bills concerning education and state government.

Educating the next generation is one of the most important issues we address in the state legislature and an area in which the Senate has provided leadership in the past sessions. We know that as the economy changes, we must invest in our education programs in order to ready the next generation of Kentuckians to the changing workforce that will come in the 21st century. That starts with making sure that our state’s low performing schools receive appropriate attention from the state to adequately improve their performance over the course of time.

At the same time that we are continuing to look for ways to offer significant initiatives to improve our delivery of education services in Kentucky, we face a financial battle with the current state of our economy. And so we must balance the needs of our struggling schools with our state’s pocketbook by looking for ways to get the biggest bang for our buck.

House Bill 176 (Senate Committee Substitute) is our latest attempt to do just that. It was the first bill passed by the full Senate this session. Kentucky can be eligible for millions of dollars in funding from the federal government through the “Race to the Top” program. This bill is a response to dramatically increase our standing in the eyes of the “Race to the Top” program that could bring Kentucky up to $200 million dollars in federal educational grant funds. These measures are the key to improving our consistently low-performing schools. We are prepared to usher in a cultural change in school district achievement in Kentucky by offering the chance to students at low-performing schools to take part in a better learning environment.

Unfortunately, a committee amendment that would have allowed voluntary charter schools as another option – to replace a low-performing school, not in addition to it; after a referendum of the local school board and affected parents — failed. Education reform is a constant process and we must pay attention to both struggling students as well as those who find it easier to excel in an academic environment. This bill qualifies Kentucky on both counts.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 51, which addresses an unintended consequence of a legislative retirement bill that passed in 2005. Some legislators were retiring from the legislative branch under a clause that allows annual retirement benefits to dramatically increase when they accept new positions in the judicial or executive branches. If the House agrees to this bill, taxpayers will save about $1.4 million this year alone. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law preventing “double-dipping” whereby state and local government officials would retire and then come back to earn multiple pensions. We must adhere to the same principles ourselves.

I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I would urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


Frankfort Week in Review #1 from Senator Damon Thayer

FRANKFORT —On January 5, 2010, the 2010 General Assembly Session began its work. It will be a 60-day session where our first priority will be developing a budget under serious economic constraints. We will also be considering pro-life legislation, legislative retirement reform, government transparency, allowing the people to decide on whether they would like to expand gambling, as well as many other issues. It promises to be a busy session.

At the top of that agenda is a state budget shortfall of about $1 billion. Governor Beshear has recently stated that this figure is more like $1.5 billion. I agree with many Senators and Representatives that his figure is overly pessimistic. The people of Kentucky do not deserve scare tactics but realistic decisions. We must look at the budget soberly, the same way families and businesses do. Now, more than ever, our budget needs to match what our actual revenues are and not what our spending desires might be.

There are many other bills we will be working on this session, including three bills I filed on the first day of session. Senate Bill 21 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow a statewide public referendum in November 2010 on whether or not to allow video-lottery terminals in counties with horse racing, with a local option vote.

For too long, casino gambling has dominated the debate in Frankfort to the detriment of all other issues. The Governor has advocated very little, if anything, beyond the expansion of gambling. We must move forward so that the Governor can focus on working with the General Assembly in a bipartisan manner to address the serious public policy issues facing Kentucky. My amendment would let the people decide if they wish to expand gambling or not.

If passed, either $100 million or 25 percent (whichever is greater) of the proceeds from the slot machines would go to purses, breeders incentives and marketing for horse racing. Half would go to the state to fund capital projects and pay down our capital bonds and the rest would go to the slot operators.

The other two bills are transparency bills designed to make it easier for the average citizen to follow the money in both political campaigns and government programs. Senate Bill 25 would require such “527” political action committees to register with and report to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance if it spends more than $5,000 to influence the selection of a candidate or slate of candidates for public office in Kentucky, other than in a federal election, or if it spends more than $5,000 on a ballot question to amend the Constitution of Kentucky.

Senate Bill 40 is a bill that would put all government spending online where it can easily be searched by the public. Putting Kentucky’s checkbook online is long overdue.

I look forward to hearing from you throughout the upcoming session. I urge you to contact me by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected]


FRANKFORT, KY (WEKU radio article and audio) –

Kentucky citizens would gain better knowledge of state government spending practices under legislation to be considered next month by the 2010 General Assembly.

The late Louis Brandeis, a Louisville native who served on the United States Supreme Court, once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Georgetown Sen. Damon Thayer agrees, and says that’s why he’s sponsoring the Transparency Act of 2010, which would allow citizens Internet access to state financial data.

“The legislature appropriates about $9 billion a year – a little less this year because of the economy,” Thayer tells Kentucky Public Radio. “And I believe that once we appropriate those dollars, that the citizens of Kentucky should be able to track how those dollars are spent.”

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim DeCesare, would cover all three branches of government – the Legislative, Executive and Judicial. If approved, the state’s financial information would be available online by January 1, 2011.

Sen. Thayer says this is an issue whose time has come.

“I think people have lost some confidence in their government, at all levels,” says Thayer. “And as a member of state government in the Senate, I would like to do my part, working with my colleagues to help restore some of that trust.”

Thayer’s still researching project costs, but believes it would be money well spent.

“I’m confident that our current state government workers who specialize in information technology can handle this,” says Thayer. “Many other states have done it across the country. And it’s really a movement – this transparency movement. And it’s time that Kentucky get on the train.”

Thayer says the financial website would be updated at least once a month, but some data would be updated weekly. The information would include an expenditure’s type, amount and description and an electronic link to documents relating to the expenditure.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson’s office is already providing financial data online.

To Listen to Damon Thayer’s comments on the Transparency Act of 2010, please play the audio file below: