The 2013 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly remains now only in memories, yellowed newspaper clippings, history books, and new and amended statutes. By any measure, this should be considered one of the most successful “short (odd-year) sessions” that we have had. We passed a long-sought bipartisan agreement to ease the state’s public pension debt, along with a funding measure to assist in that effort. Lawmakers also approved measures to allow school districts to raise the high school dropout age, provide better oversight of special taxing districts and make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military.
We passed numerous bills this session that we think will improve the Commonwealth for years to come. Listed below are some of those bills.
Child protection. House Bill 290 will establish by statute an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries. The panel will be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the cases.
Hemp. SB 50 creates an administrative framework for the growing of hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government.
Human trafficking. HB 3 will strengthen human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. The legislation will offer assistance to agencies responsible for helping human trafficking victims by creating a “human trafficking victims fund” supported by service fees paid by convicted human traffickers, proceeds from seized and forfeited assets of traffickers, and any grants, contributions, or other funds that may become available.
Military voting. SB 1 will make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. The legislation will allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others serving overseas to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically.
Newborn health screenings. SB 125 will include critical congenital heart disease testing as part of the newborn screening program.
Pill mills. HB 217 will make adjustments to the “pill mill” law approved last year by easing some reporting requirements when pain medications are dispensed for legitimate needs while upholding the original bill’s intention of stopping prescription drug abuse. Mandatory reporting to KASPER (the Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system) will be lifted for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Exemptions would also be made for post-surgery patients, end-of-life patients, and some specified other patients with a clear medical need for increased pain management.
Public pensions. SB 2 will offer a plan to ease the state’s public pension debt and HB 440 offers a financing component to the plan. SB 2 will require the state to contribute the full amount recommended by actuaries to the pension system each year beginning in fiscal year 2015. Rather than a defined-benefit plan, the legislation offers future public workers a hybrid cash balance plan with a guaranteed four percent return on contributions. On the funding side of the issue, HB 440 will generate almost $100 million a year from tax changes that include a $10 reduction in the personal income tax credit, a trade-in credit for new cars, a cap on vendor compensation for sales tax collection, and enhanced collection efforts by the state Department of Revenue.
Scholarships. SB 64 will ensure that students earning Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships aren’t penalized in the amount of scholarship money they receive if they graduate from high school in three years rather than four.
School dropouts. SB 97 will allow school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts that do so must have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased compulsory attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it.
Special taxing districts. HB 1 will boost transparency and accountability for the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the state. The bill will put education and ethics rules in place for those special-purpose entities and create an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information. The bill will require the taxing districts to submit budget reports to fiscal courts. If a special district wants to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it will need to hold a public hearing in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting.
Student health. HB 172 will encourage schools to possess at least two epinephrine auto-injectors in case one is needed for a student having a life-threatening allergic or anaphylactic reaction.
Suicide prevention. SB 72 will require attendance at suicide prevention training programs at least once every six years for social workers, marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, fee-based pastoral counselors, alcohol and drug counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists.
Synthetic drugs. HB 8 will continue the state’s efforts to update laws regarding synthetic drugs to ensure that newly developed, harmful synthetic drugs are listed as controlled substances.
Religious freedom. HB 279 specifies that government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion.
University projects. HB 7 will authorize six state universities to issue agency bonds for 11 specific building construction projects at a collective cost of approximately $363 million. The projects will be funded by the universities’ own revenue streams, not state dollars.
Victim protection. HB 222 will establish a crime victim protection program in the Secretary of State’s office to allow domestic violence victims to have personal information, such as addresses, redacted from public voter registration roles. The legislation will also allow victims in the program to vote by mail-in absentee ballot.
We will return to the capitol for committee meetings and other discussions throughout the year, but unless the governor calls a special session, we will not be back to vote on new bills until January 7, 2014. Until then, I hope you will stay in touch and let me know how you feel about the issues facing our commonwealth. You may leave me a message by calling the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. You can also e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator Johnny Ray Turner represents Breathitt, Floyd, Knott and Letcher counties.