FRANKFORT – Over the past 15 years, the General Assembly has re-dedicated itself to helping veterans and those men and women still serving our country.
Some of the more high-profile laws enacted during that time include establishing a series of nursing homes and state-run cemeteries benefiting veterans and their families; excluding active-duty military pay from the state’s income tax; and making it easier for veterans to use their military training when applying for jobs in such fields as education and emergency services.
On Tuesday last week, the House unanimously passed three bills that, if approved by the Senate, would go a long way toward building on these accomplishments.
House Bill 225, for example, would continue the trend of allowing veterans to use their military training when applying for jobs in the private sector. In this case, the legislation calls on all professional organizations issuing licenses or certificates to let applicants use that training if it is determined to be applicable. This would cover those still serving as well as those who have been honorably discharged within the previous two years, but would not supersede a college education or qualifying exam if those are required.
In a related measure, House Bill 127 calls on the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) to establish a statewide policy on awarding academic credit earned as a result of military service. Currently, the standards differ from school to school.
With House Bill 183, disabled veterans who are business owners would be eligible to join a new program highlighting their wounded status, a move that would make customers more aware of the business owner’s military service and sacrifice.
Two other bills the House voted for last week would aid victims who have been exploited by others. House Bill 256 would make it possible for those whose identity was stolen to expunge crimes they had been erroneously charged with. This would also provide some financial relief if the identity theft caused the victim to pay higher insurance premiums.
House Bill 132 targets a different type of exploitation: Those who take booking photos and charge extremely high fees to remove them from their websites or publications. The photos are normally removed by law enforcement after a case has been resolved, but the websites refuse to take the photo and related charges down unless the victim pays hundreds of dollars. Often, the photos and charges are on several sites, multiplying the costs.
Under the bill, those who require payment to remove booking photos could be fined up to $100 a day.
Beyond spending time considering legislation, the House and Senate were also busy last week welcoming hundreds who had traveled to Capitol for events. That included many representing the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and our county governments, both of which were there to advocate for legislation important to them.
In other good news, we learned last week from CPE that few states are seeing a higher percentage of students succeed in college. In comparing the 2003-04 school year to 2012-13, the number of degrees and credentials earned in Kentucky rose by almost 60 percent. That placed us eighth among the states.
A breakdown of that figure shows our undergraduate workforce training programs were the most successful, increasing by 159 percent. Two-year degrees grew by half, while four-year degrees went up a fourth. While there is certainly room to grow, this is nonetheless good news and shows we are doing a better job than most states when it comes to getting our citizens the education and training they need.
In other state-related news, the Kentucky Department of Revenue is warning taxpayers that refunds are being slowed in the near term because of increased fraud and identity theft.
This is not a problem facing just us, of course. The IRS estimates it lost almost $6 billion in 2013 to bogus refunds, for example, and states collectively lose as much as $9 billion a year. The Department of Revenue warns everyone to take the necessary precautions when filing taxes and to more closely monitor their credit reports and bank accounts.
As we near the end of February, there is only about a month left for the General Assembly to complete the bulk of its work. Because of that, it is more imperative than ever to let me know if you have any questions or comments.
My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov. To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.