Ky. lawmakers finish work highlighted by budget

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers boosted state funding for schools, revamped the juvenile justice system to lock up fewer kids and legalized a medicinal oil derived from marijuana to ease the suffering of children stricken with seizures.

In an election-year session, bourbon makers won long-sought tax relief, teachers and state employees got pay raises and an adult protection registry will be formed to screen caregivers for some of Kentucky's most vulnerable residents.

The 2014 General Assembly session ended at the stroke of midnight after a final day of maneuvering Tuesday. The politically divided legislature accomplished its primary tasks — passing a $20.3 billion, two-year state budget, followed by a $4.1 billion transportation spending plan.

From the session's outset in early January, Gov. Steve Beshear made education spending a priority.

Three months later, the outcome was a success, he said. The new state budget raises per-pupil spending to its highest level ever, increases the number of 4-year-olds in preschool, restores cuts to child care programs and provides more money for school technology, textbooks and school safety, he said.

The budget imposed a new round of spending cuts across many state agencies to free up the extra money for education.

"I took a strong stand in my budget proposal: Rather than cower in the face of financial pressures, Kentucky must act aggressively to make bold investments in our schools, our workforce and our child care programs," the governor said.

"I'm excited that the legislature agreed with my use of strategic borrowing and targeted but harsh cuts to enable us to make those investments."

But for every bill that made it through the twists and turns of legislative review, many more came up short.

Abortion-related bills that stalled in the Democratic-run House would have required doctors to perform ultrasounds prior to abortions and to have a "face-to-face" meeting with women before the procedure.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo's proposal to raise the state's minimum wage died in the GOP-led Senate.

The two chambers never came to terms on a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at restoring the voting rights of some felons.

A proposed statewide smoking ban was snuffed out. The House didn't take up a bill aimed at spreading wireless and high-speed broadband service by allowing telecommunications companies to scale back on landline investments.

"I'm disappointed for the businesses and consumers in Kentucky who are demanding access to new broadband and wireless technologies," said AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris. "It is a loss for the commonwealth."

Two issues that overshadowed the start of the session — expanded gambling and a tax code overhaul — both fizzled.

"It's really hard to convince the public that you need more money when you're doing the kind of construction spending that we did in this budget," said Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee Chairman Bob Leeper. "The governor started that and the House followed up pretty dramatically."

The budget included $418.9 million in General Fund-supported bonds to help finance construction projects at the state's four-year public universities.

The state's two-year schools also are in line for construction projects. The budget includes $145.5 million in agency bonds to support a project at each of the 16 colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Lawmakers provided bourbon distilleries with an income tax credit for the state and local property taxes paid on aging barrels of bourbon. Distilleries are required to invest the tax credit back in their operations, which should lead to more construction, renovations and tourism facilities.

The session produced the biggest changes to the juvenile justice system in decades. Lawmakers agreed to steer more young offenders into community-based treatment as an alternative to locking them up in detention centers.

On the medical front, lawmakers passed a bill that allows doctors at two Kentucky research hospitals to prescribe cannabidiol to treat patients. The oil comes from marijuana or hemp plants. Supporters said cannabidiol has been particularly effective in treating seizures in children.

Lawmakers also expanded a scholarship program for students in the state's coal regions, barred anyone younger than 18 from buying electronic cigarettes and allowed local voters to decide whether to legalize alcohol sales at more state parks and golf courses.

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