Although several major issues are still pending, the General Assembly wrapped up much of its work early last week, and for a “short” legislative session, there is already a fairly long list of key bills that have made it to Governor Beshear’s desk.
He has already signed two of those into law, and I was proud to sponsor or be prime co-sponsor of both. The first of those will let many of our public four-year universities use $363 million of their own money to build 11 major projects, while the second will make some needed adjustments to my “pill mill” legislation from last year, a law being hailed as a national model because it has already proven effective at cutting back prescription drug abuse. This update will make it easier for doctors and patients alike to comply with last year’s law while not undermining efforts to stop the abuse.
On Tuesday, the House and Senate completed their work on another far-reaching bill I am sponsoring. In this case, we want to increase transparency and accountability among our special districts, which range from public utilities and libraries to municipal airports and volunteer fire departments.
The state auditor’s office did a study on these districts last year and found that there are more than 1,200 altogether, and their collective budget tops $2.7 billion a year. Under this year’s House Bill 1, the Dept. for Local Government will build on the auditor’s work by completing an easy-to-follow database of these districts, which will have to meet more standardized reporting and ethics requirements.
This legislation will also make the public more aware when a special district is poised to increase its rates. In these cases, the districts will have to appear either before a city council or fiscal court to explain why these increases are needed.
Another major accomplishment this legislative session will update the state’s human-trafficking laws. It will now be easier to seize assets and use them to help victims. Estimates show there have been more than 100 identified statewide since 2008, with many being females forced into prostitution. Now, human-trafficking victims will have better access to state services and not be charged for a crime they have no control over.
A long-time priority of the House’s also passed this year, setting the stage for the state to increase the high school dropout age from 16 to 18. Under a compromise reached with the state Senate, local school districts will now be given the option to increase the age to 18, and if 55 percent of the districts make that choice, then it will become the policy statewide several years after that threshold is met.
This will hopefully cut back on the number of dropouts, which total more than 6,000 annually in Kentucky. About half of the states have set their age at 17 or 18, so this puts us in line to join them.
With children in mind, the House and Senate also put into law the current task force appointed by Gov. Beshear to investigate child abuse deaths and severe injuries. This will bring an independent review of these cases, to see if the state could have done more to prevent them.
Several of the bills expected to be signed by the governor will help those serving our country. Those who worked as an EMT/paramedic or firefighter will now be able to count that military experience if they apply for those types of jobs across the commonwealth. Their military firearms training, meanwhile, will now make it easier to qualify for a concealed carry license. Another bill will ease problems some military parents had with temporary custody orders not being lifted after they returned home from an overseas deployment.
There are several other new laws that I will address in my next column. For now, the General Assembly is on recess while Gov. Beshear decides whether to sign or veto the bills sent to him.
When my House and Senate colleagues and I return to the Capitol on March 25th, we will consider any potential vetoes and, hopefully, approve several other bills as well. The biggest among them centers on putting our public pensions on more stable financial ground and finding the best way to pay off their long-term liability.
If you would like to leave a message for me or for any legislator, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.