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Kentucky wraps up session

BY BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT - 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. And two issues that overshadowed the start of the session - expanded gambling and a tax code overhaul - both fizzled.

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