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Stivers, Osborne provide legislative update during KCJEA conference

Harlan County Judge/Executive Dan Mosley interviewed the Senate President and House Speaker

With the General Assembly continuing its work during the 2024 legislative session, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne spoke Thursday during the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association’s winter conference about a variety of proposals and issues being considered.

The following is an excerpt of their interview with Judge/Executive Dan Mosley of Harlan County.

Jails

Speaker Osborne: It's a really complex issue that we continue to wrestle with to try to find some solutions. And I think that we will look at another per diem increase at some point during this budget process. There was nothing contemplated in this current version of the budget. But the thing that we continue to wrestle with is that it costs counties different amounts to actually run their jails. 

And trying to figure out a way to make it a more efficient system, short of a state assuming the entire jail system -- which there's some pros and cons to that -- but short of that, trying to make it a more efficient system. Logically, at some point in time, we're going to go to a more regionalized jail system to try to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and quite frankly, to increase professionalism and reduce recidivism. But I do think that during this budget process, there will be additional per diem considerations. 

HB 5 – “Safer Kentucky Act”

Speaker Osborne: This is all discretionary. Discretionary imprisonment, rather than arrest. Obviously, our police officers do a great job and they use discretion every day. There's no mandatory arrest in these situations, no mandatory incarceration. I think we're continuing to try to look for ways to tighten up some definitions to kind of ease [some] concerns.

And I think by the time the Senate gets through perfecting it, as they normally are prone to do, I think that it will probably be in a form that you’ll be comfortable with. Crime is becoming an increasingly important issue all across Kentucky, urban and rural. And I really think that this is a tool that will truly impact the safety of Kentuckians from one end to the other.

President Stivers: One of the things I think maybe we want to look more at is a front end assessment. We may want to spend money to save money in the long run, [by] mandating some mental assessments; Substance use disorder, some type of co-occurring issues with mental health, because a lot of the individuals I think that we're targeting probably have either a SUDs problem or a mental health problem, or, as we say, a co-occurring problem.

Annexation

Speaker Osborne: We had the annexation task force that met throughout the year, and there was quite a bit of progress made. There was some good dialogue, some productive dialogue, some dialogue that was not very productive, quite frankly. I'm a little less than satisfied with where we've ended up, quite frankly. Robert and I told all sides of this issue last year during the session, before we put the moratorium on, that if the two of us have come up with a solution, it's probably not going to be something that anybody's going to like. So, we continue to encourage that dialogue. I am hopeful that the two entities will reach an agreement sometime before [the end of] session. If not, then then I think you will see, at least from my perspective, you'll see us get a little more aggressive and heavily involved in those conversations.

President Stivers: David and I met with the two co-chairs of the task force the other day. You know, it would be great if this could be resolved, but it doesn't look like it's gonna be. So, if the two groups don't want to come up with something, we'll come up with something for them. But I think it'll be more fair and equitable than what has happened. 

Budget Priorities

Speaker Osborne: It is a good budget. It's a good budget for local governments. We really have approached this budget from a standpoint of we address our needs and not our wants, and [House Appropriations and Revenue Committee] Chairman Petrie has done a phenomenal job. 

We wrote three consecutive budgets that did not spend all the money we took in -- that's unheard of. And because of that, we found ourselves with record reserves. We've taken the approach, those reserves are one-time dollars. Those are not recurring dollars; we cannot count on those [in the future].

In [the House] budget proposal, we've drawn down about $1.9 billion dollars -- one-time monies for one-time expenditures -- made nearly $1 billion in additional contributions to the pension funds to pay down that unfunded liability, several hundred million dollars in infrastructure, whether it be water, sewer, additional broadband, river ports, rail, airports, those things that truly will pay dividends in the future going forward.

And then we have $475 million as a match for the House Bill 9 [GRANT program]. I think the commitment of us putting nearly a half billion dollars in matching dollars for that shows our belief that the program is going to make some real difference in Kentucky.

President Stivers: I think we're in conformity in general concept and direction about where this budget needs to go. We don't want to increase a lot of recurring spending, because that's the other part of our [income tax reduction] triggers to make sure we don't get into a Kansas situation that we cut so fast and we actually start operating at it deficit. So from the process and theories, we are very much aligned in where we want to wind up in this budget process.

And I’ll say this, with all due respect to everybody in the process: understand the Constitution. In the Constitution, the power of the purse lays with the legislature. That's us. The Governor makes a recommendation, but the budget will be passed by us, and the influence of the administration will be little or non-existent. 

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