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Budget Coasts Through Both Chambers, Heads To Governor

Josh James

The Kentucky House of Representatives has approved a two-year operating budget on the last day of the legislative session.

9:45 p.m.

The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives reached a compromise with the Republican majority in the state Senate earlier this week. The Senate approved the budget earlier in the day. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's desk for his review. He can veto portions of the budget. Lawmakers cannot override his vetoes because they passed the bill on the last day of the legislative session.

House budget chairman Rick Rand, a Democrat, said the budget spends more money to increase the eligibility for public preschool programs. It cuts spending for the state constitutional officers, including the attorney general and the secretary of state, by a little more than 3 percent.


7 p.m.

Hotel guests in Kentucky's second-largest city will likely pay higher taxes to help support a $250 million expansion of the Lexington Convention Center under a bill that has passed the Kentucky legislature.

The House and Senate approved a bill Friday that will allow the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to increase the transient room tax to 8.5 percent from 6 percent. The money will pay for a $250 million expansion of the Lexington Convention Center.

Republicans, who control the state Senate, had killed the deal. But they revived it as part of a compromise on the state's two-year operating budget legislative leaders agreed to earlier this week.

The convention center complex includes Rupp Arena, the famed host of the University of Kentucky's men's basketball team, but the renovations will not affect it.

Gov. Matt Bevin has indicated he will sign the bill.


6:45 p.m.

Kentucky lawmakers have completed work on a bill that would change the state's driver's licenses so residents can meet federal requirements for boarding domestic flights.

The measure updates driver's license procedures to comply with the federal Real ID Act. It won final passage in the House on Friday, the final day of this year's legislative session.

The bill now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin's desk.

The new driver's licenses would be optional. But anyone who does not have a new license by Oct. 1, 2020, would have to use a U.S. passport, a passport card or some other acceptable form of identification to board a domestic flight. It costs $135 to get a passport and takes about six weeks to get one. A passport card costs $55 and cannot be used for international travel.


5 p.m.

The Kentucky Senate has approved a two-year operating budget that spends an additional $1.28 billion toward the state's public pension debt.

The state Senate unanimously approved the spending plan on the final day of the legislative session. Legislative leaders worked for weeks to reach an agreement after initial talks stalled and it appeared the state could be heading to a special session or a shutdown of state government services.

Kentucky's public pension debt is estimated at more than $30 billion, making it one of the worst funded systems in the nation. The spending plan also sets aside $125 million in a "permanent fund" that cannot be spent on the pension system until after the completion of a state audit.

The spending plan includes raises for state troopers and spending cuts of 4.5 percent for colleges and universities.


4:30 p.m.

Kentucky high school graduates who qualify for free community college tuition would have to repay some of that money if they drop out or their grades aren't high enough.

A tentative two-year operating budget proposal includes $25 million to give free community college tuition to all Kentucky high school graduates, as long as the state has enough money to pay it. Students must take at least 15 credit hours each semester and maintain a 2.5 grade point average to be eligible. The plan also includes private schools and two-year degree programs at four-year institutions.

Lawmakers announced Friday students would have to pay back the money for any semester they do not finish except for an emergency. Students would also have to pay the money back if their cumulative grade point average falls below 2.5.


3:50 p.m.

Retiring state Rep. Leslie Combs had a parting gift for her colleagues in the Kentucky House — a card that included a bullet and a Kentucky-shaped pin.

The bullet was a reference to an incident two years ago that drew widespread attention when Combs accidentally fired a gun in her Capitol Annex office. No one was hurt. The Pikeville Democrat said Friday the gift was a good-natured gesture to put the incident behind her.

Before her gift was handed out, Combs says she checked with the legislature's state police security unit and Legislative Research Commission officials to make sure it was OK.

Combs capped her legislative career this year by winning passage of legislation authorizing the use of public-private partnerships for big-ticket transportation work and other projects.


2:15 p.m.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo is calling this year's legislative session a success as lawmakers prepare for a last round of action before final adjournment.

Stumbo told reporters Friday he judges a legislative session based on the two-year budget that lawmakers pass. He says the budget agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators this week is "one of the better budgets" he has seen.

Lawmakers are poised to take final action on the state's operating budget on the final day of the 2016 session.

Stumbo also pointed to a bill passed by lawmakers that will let some convicted felons erase their criminal records and another measure that updates the state's informed consent law.


1 p.m.

The Kentucky legislature has convened for the final day of the 2016 session to consider dozens of important bills before a midnight deadline.

Lawmakers will consider a two-year operating budget, a two-year road construction plan and other bills ranging from campaign finance reform to changing Kentucky driver's licenses so residents can meet federal requirements for boarding domestic flights.

The state budget is likely to consume much of the debate, as House and Senate leaders finally agreed to a compromise just before 3 a.m. Thursday that includes budget cuts for colleges and universities but promises to pay the community college tuition for all Kentucky high school graduates who can meet certain requirements.

Lawmakers must conclude their work by midnight. The state constitution does not allow the legislature to meet past April 15.

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