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Bills Moving Through The General Assembly

CAMPAIGN FINANCE
Political candidates would file additional campaign finance reports before election day, under a proposal that cleared a House elections committee on Tuesday.

All candidates would have to file reports showing their campaign donors 60 days before the general election under the proposal.

Candidates for statewide office would also have to file a 60-day pre-election financial report in primary elections.

Currently, candidates are required to file reports about one month and two weeks before the election.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson endorsed the proposal, which would also require candidates who raise more than $25,000 to file their reports electronically.

Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, was the only legislator on the panel to vote against the plan. Gray said there was not a problem with current requirements. "I see no necessity for any additional reports to be made," Gray said.

The proposal, which cleared the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs, heads to the full chamber for consideration.

Senate lawmakers have already approved the plan.

The legislation is Senate Bill 159.
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SPEED LIMITS
A Senate-passed bill allowing motorists to drive faster on most stretches of interstates and parkways in Kentucky won approval from a House panel on Tuesday.

The House Transportation Committee revised the bill to specifically list which stretches of interstates and parkways could have a 70 mph speed limit.

The version headed to the full House would specify all rural stretches of interstates as eligible for the higher speed limit.

The exceptions would be urban portions of interstate highways in Jefferson County and northern Kentucky.

Also, rural sections of four-lane parkways could be in line for the 70 mph speed limit if the bill becomes law.

Current speed limits would remain unchanged on the Hal Rogers Parkway and a portion of the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway east of Campton.

Sen. Brett Guthrie, the bill's sponsor, said he supported the changes by the House panel. If the bill passes the House, it would have to return to the Senate for another vote. Guthrie, R-Bowling
Green, said he would urge senators to accept the changes.

Before taking effect, the higher speed limit would need approval from the state transportation secretary following an engineering study looking at safety factors.

Asked later if Gov. Ernie Fletcher supports the measure, his spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said, "We supported an increase in the speed limit last year and we'll look forward to reviewing the final
draft of this bill."
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The legislation is Senate Bill 83.
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KEES MONEY

Students could tap into a scholarship program early to help pay for college courses while still in high school under a bill passed by the Kentucky Senate on Tuesday.

Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville, said his bill is a reflection of the growing number of high school students choosing to get some college courses out of the way early.

The measure cleared the Senate on a 32-0 vote and heads to the House.

The bill would let students use a portion of money they earned under the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship program to help pay tuition for up to six college credit hours.

Rhoads said the proposal wouldn't enlarge the amount of KEES money available to
the students.

KEES scholarships go to Kentucky high school students as a reward for good grades and test scores. Those with higher grade point averages and test scores get more money from the state.
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The legislation is Senate Bill 46.
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AIDS TESTING

A bill aimed at requiring that state prisoners be tested for HIV and AIDS before being released stalled on a technicality in the state Senate on Tuesday.

The measure was ruled out of order before a vote because it would have required state funding, and such proposals must originate in the House.

Sen. Dan Seum, the bill's sponsor, said the total cost would have been about $275,000, and the money could have been found from existing funds.

Seum, R-Louisville, said he would look for another way to get the proposal passed by attaching it to another bill.

He said the proposal was aimed at preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS by requiring the testing at least 30 days before an inmate's release.

Among those receiving a copy of the test results would have been the inmate's spouse.
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The legislation is Senate Bill 201.
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TAX BILL

A tax incentive proposal aimed at securing plans for a mammoth skyscraper and museum project along Louisville's riverfront cleared a House panel Tuesday.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee endorsed a package of various tax breaks, including one designed for the proposed $465 million Museum Plaza project in downtown Louisville.

Other economic development projects across the state - either on vacant land or through the redevelopment of existing areas – could also be eligible for certain tax breaks under the proposal.

Projects that cost at least $25 million to start would be eligible under the plan, although only those involving the redevelopment of areas would be eligible for state participation,
according to the plan.

The legislation would create tax increment financing, or TIF districts throughout the state. Qualified investors could be eligible to recoup money from various taxes to help pay off their
project debt under the proposal.

Opponents disagreed with a portion of the bill that would allow Museum Plaza project developers to recover 80 percent of the "bed tax" to offset what they spend on public infrastructure and
improvements, such as a flood wall and a pedestrian bridge.

Officials estimated that would amount to about $22 million from the bed tax over 30 years.

The planned 61-story skyscraper would be Louisville's tallest building, and would house a contemporary art museum and hotel.

Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and be completed
by 2010.

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved the
measure, which now heads to the full chamber for consideration.
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The legislation is House Bill 549.

FIRE-SAFE CIGARETTES

Cigarette makers could only sell self-extinguishing smokes in the state under a bill the Kentucky House approved Tuesday.

Advocates have said the proposal would cut down on fire-related deaths because cigarettes left unattended would automatically die out.

The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.

A similar proposal has already cleared the Senate and is pending in the House.
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The legislation is House Bill 278 and Senate Bill 134.

Much of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's spending wish list was left out of an approximately $67 million supplemental budget plan endorsed by a House panel Tuesday.

Money was not included for additional projects at the Kentucky Horse Park in preparation for the 2010 World Equestrian Games under the proposal.

But lawmakers included funding for a runway project at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, operating funds for veterans nursing homes and money to shore up the state's retirement funds.

Earlier this year, Fletcher asked the General Assembly to authorize about $250 million for various projects across the state, including state-funded cervical cancer vaccinations and more money for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. He also asked to put about $150 million into the state's "rainy day" fund.

"During this session, which is not supposed to be a budget session, we should be as frugal and restrictive as possible on the money we spend," said Rep. Harry Moberly, chairman of the House
Appropriations and Revenue Committee.

State officials are operating under the assumption that, over the next two years, government coffers will collect about $400 million more than was anticipated when the current budget went into effect.

Kentucky works on a two-year budget, which the legislature approved last year.

Moberly, however, said there is not a "true surplus" and much of that money needs to be available for looming expenses, such as teacher pay raises, which have already been promised.

Still, under the plan, state government would give $9 million to the Blue Grass Airport so it could snag a matching $9 million federal grant for relocating the runway involved in the failed takeoff and crash of Comair Flight 5191 last summer, in which 49 people were killed.

Moberly said the airport had $9 million of its own money and officials requested additional state money for the project to relocate and lengthen the runway.

But the House plan did not include any money for improvements to the Horse Park, which Fletcher administration officials have said are needed in anticipation of the 2010 games - the world's largest equestrian event.

Fletcher asked for $38.2 million to build an outdoor stadium at the Horse Park and make road improvements around the facility.

Moberly said lawmakers were not convinced the upgrades for the equestrian games needed to get done this year. However, Moberly said that could be one area addressed during later negotiations with the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly said legislators needed to ensure the equestrian games' success and consider whether the improvements should be done now rather than later.

"If it's needed, then it's my position we should provide it now and not delay if that would hurt the project," Kelly said. "If it's possible for us to wait until the regular budget session,
that's what we prefer."

Stan Cave, Fletcher's chief of staff, said lawmakers needed to fund the equestrian games this year so that Kentucky could "put our best foot forward." Cave said he thought the House proposal
would be modified along the legislative process.

"The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee did open the door to do some funding. They recognized some of the governor's initiatives that were important enough to provide some funding
for," Cave said. "So we're optimistic that instead of doing half the job, they'll do the full job."

While the bill that cleared Moberly's committee Tuesday did not include all of Fletcher's recommendations, it offered to put $50 million into shoring up the retirement systems for teachers and state employees.

The money was aimed at preventing future financial jams that could jeopardize the systems' health care for retirees.

It also called for about $6 million over the next two years for the state to buy antiviral drugs in case of an outbreak of bird flu, which was what Fletcher had requested from lawmakers.

The proposal would also authorize projects at Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

Missing, though, was Fletcher's proposal to put about $25 million toward a financial aid program for low-income college students, or about $1.2 million for hiring additional staff at the
Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

Among other things, the governor also asked for $520,000 to hire more people at the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, and about $4.1 million to establish an electronic health care network in the state.

"It's a long way from now until the end of the session," Cave
said.

Reading, writing and jumping jacks.

All three could be a daily routine for schoolchildren under a bill to make physical activity a requirement for public elementary and middle schools.

The legislation sailed through the Kentucky Senate on a 31-0 vote Tuesday and heads to the House.

The measure is aimed at creating good health habits at an early age.

Sen. Katie Stine, the bill's lead sponsor, said Kentuckians are spending $1.1 billion a year on medical expenses resulting from obesity.

"We cannot ignore this growing obesity epidemic," she said, noting it is linked to diabetes, asthma, depression, high blood pressure and other ailments.

Under the bill, schools would have to include a half hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, or 150 minutes a week, by the 2008-09 school year. The proposal also would apply to
public preschools.

Schools would have the flexibility to tailor their physical activity programs. The workouts could be broken into 10-minute segments and could be incorporated into recess or classroom
activities, Stine said.

She said no extra time would need to be added to school calendars.

Supporters face a tougher job of getting the proposal through the House.

House Education Committee Chairman Frank Rasche said he sees it as a state mandate encroaching on decisions that should be left up to local site-based school councils.

Rasche said there's no guarantee exercise at school would curb childhood obesity, which he called a cultural problem. "What's to keep kids from going home and having potato chips and playing video games," said Rasche, D-Paducah.

Tonya Chang, director of advocacy for the American Heart Association in Kentucky, said she sees the proposal as a health mandate in which the state has a role.

"The childhood obesity epidemic didn't happen overnight and schools aren't to blame and are an ideal setting to be part of a comprehensive solution," she said.

The proposal follows legislation passed two years ago that put restrictions on the types of food and drinks sold at Kentucky schools to promote healthy eating and curb childhood obesity.

It also required elementary schools to have a wellness plan that includes daily physical activity but gave no time requirement.
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The legislation is Senate Bill 110.

A bill aimed at bolstering the fight against drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs won easy approval from the Kentucky Senate on Tuesday.

The measure would make it easier to convict people who are caught driving with illegal drugs in their system.

It also would lower the blood-alcohol level needed for prosecutors to seek
harsher penalties against drunken drivers.

The proposal cleared the Senate on a 29-1 vote and goes to the
House.

"It's one of the most important pieces of legislation that's going to come out of here this session," Sen. Ray Jones, the bill's sponsor, said afterward.

The bill would create a presumption of guilt if motorists are found with illegal drugs in their system. Currently, prosecutors must prove the drivers were impaired.

Jones, D-Pikeville, said the bill reflects a trend in which a growing number of impaired drivers are under the influence of drugs. "It's a growing epidemic," he said.

Jones said if someone is found with illegal drugs in their pockets, they're charged with felonies. But prosecutors are having difficulty convicting people who have those illicit drugs in their
system, he said.

The bill would apply to illegal and prescription drugs. Motorists found using proper dosages of prescription drugs would have a legal defense.

Another main part of the bill would lower the blood-alcohol level that could lead to enhanced drunken-driving penalties.

The amount would be lowered to 0.15 from 0.18.

That's among several so-called aggravators that can result in tougher DUI penalties. Other aggravators include driving with young children in the vehicle or driving the wrong way on a highway.

Jones said the state could lose some federal highway safety funds unless it imposes the tougher standard for enhanced penalties.
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The legislation is Senate Bill 67.

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