FRANKFORT – Most legislative sessions are usually remembered for just a handful of major laws, and this year’s, which ended April 15th, will be no different.
The budget will be at the top of that list, because of the significant new money the General Assembly provided our public retirement systems.
Other major bills set to become law will increase the look-back period for repeat DUI offenders, reduce the backlog of untested rape kits, enable thousands of Kentuckians to expunge a qualified Class D felony from their record and make it possible for graduating high school students to pursue a two-year college degree with no tuition costs. I was proud to sponsor this Work Ready Scholarship Program, which will hopefully be signed into law this week. The governor has until Wednesday to decide whether to accept or reject it, but I can’t imagine why he would oppose it, because of what it could mean for Kentucky’s future.
While most of the public’s attention was focused on these major pieces of legislation, there were many others to pass that also deserve mention – and a few more that cleared the House and will hopefully become law next year.
Some of the new laws will benefit our children. One makes it possible for child-care centers and certified family child-care homes to store EPI-pens for emergency use, should a child in their care have a severe allergic reaction. That same law will also extend the safe-haven period in which overwhelmed parents can leave their newborn with authorities without penalty. The current limit of 72 hours will soon be 30 days, and churches will also be acceptable drop-off sites if the places of worship choose to voluntarily join hospitals, police departments and fire stations as qualified locations.
Another potential life-saving measure will have students receive basic CPR training at least once between grades seven and 12. This could be part of the students’ health/PE classes, and while it does not require the students to be certified, it’s a lesson that nonetheless could make a world of difference when seconds count.
For our first responders, two new laws will extend eligibility for lump-sum death benefits the state pays to the families of those killed in the line of duty. The first will add emergency medical workers to this group, which currently includes firefighters and law enforcement; and the second will have the state pay the benefit if a firefighter contracts certain types of cancer and meets such other criteria as being exposed to known cancer-causing carcinogens and having worked in the field for at least five years.
Under criminal justice, one major new law this year will toughen penalties for possession and trafficking of synthetic drugs, which have unfortunately become much more prevalent and even more dangerous. According to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the number of convictions for possession has sky-rocketed from eight in 2012 to 760 last year. Trafficking convictions, meanwhile, went from just one to 205 over the same timeframe.
In another legal matter, Kentucky is now set to offer a more secure driver’s license/personal identification card that will bring us into compliance with the Real ID Act, a federal law passed in 2005. This homeland security measure will require applicants to present more identifying documents when applying for and renewing licenses or ID cards, but will eliminate the need for cardholders to obtain a passport to board flights within the United States. This will also double the time before a license is renewed, from the current four years to eight, and costs will rise accordingly. Drivers can still choose to get the traditional license, which will also have an eight-year renewal period, but they need to be aware of the impact this could have when boarding a plane.
Several new laws call on the state to take further action. One sets up a “prompt pay” system to help healthcare providers resolve disputes with Medicaid managed care organizations, a move I have been championing for several years. Another will establish regulations for zip lines and canopy tours, while a third will lead to a covered bridge trail that tourism officials will use to highlight these irreplaceable structures.
For our veterans and those still serving, one new law will establish a program so the public will better know which businesses are run by disabled veterans; and another will make it easier for military spouses to qualify for unemployment insurance if their spouses are transferred to another base or station more than 100 miles away.
Some of the bills to make it through the House, but not the Senate, will undoubtedly be back when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol in January. Two are constitutional amendments that drew wide, bipartisan support in our chamber. One that I sponsored would let voters decide whether cities and counties should be able to implement a temporary local-option sales tax that would pay for projects the community chooses. This could range from an arena to a recreational facility.
The other amendment would automatically restore voting rights to most felons after they complete all aspects of their sentence. Compared to other states, Kentucky has some of the strictest requirements, since voting rights can only be granted by the governor.
Other bills clearing just the House would require life insurance companies to be more pro-active in finding policy holders who have died; let fireworks be sold for longer periods around the Fourth of July and the New Year; and tighten the rules governing when youth can return to sporting events following a concussion.
The Capitol is quiet for now, but later this spring, the House and Senate will return to begin what we call the interim. During that period, which runs through early December, both chambers’ committees will meet jointly each month to review the progress of laws we have passed and to see what may need to be addressed during the next legislative session.
If you would like to contact me during that time, my email is [email protected] You can also leave a message for me or any other legislator at 800-372-7181.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.