The 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly is now history, and with its conclusion comes the consideration of what was accomplished, both good and bad, and how the adoption of these policies will play out for the future of the Commonwealth.
It was a busy session, with 793 bills introduced overall, and 203 approved by both chambers. Already signed into law by the governor are 146 bills. Additionally, the governor vetoed four measures – including an important mental health care bill that enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support – but each of those vetoes were overridden by both the House and the Senate when we met this week in our final two days of the session. That means those bills become law “notwithstanding” the governor’s veto.
As your state representative, I have been a strong voice throughout this session against certain policy issues that I believe are bad for Kentucky and will have long-term, negative effects for working, middle class families. I support efforts to bring wages up, not drive them down, and I am disappointed in new laws approved this session that have repealed prevailing wage standards for public construction projects and ensured that Kentucky’s talented tradesmen and laborers have a “right-to-work-for-less.”
The new House Majority also championed controversial legislation that will damage the future of public education in Kentucky by allowing for the creation of for-profit charter schools. House Bill 520 will drain funding that could otherwise stay in our public schools and be used to improve learning. Additionally, I stood firm against efforts to create an artificial barrier between you and your right to access the court system after you have suffered a medical injury. The new “medical review panels” enabled under Senate Bill 4 will infringe on your constitutional rights by requiring medical malpractice lawsuits to be heard first by review panels comprised of health care providers.
Sadly, each of these measures was a part of a well-planned, destructive agenda driven by wealthy, out-of-state interests whose main interests are creating profits for themselves at the expense of average, hard-working Kentuckians. As the negative consequences of these actions are revealed in the months ahead, I stand ready to question those responsible for forcing these measures through the legislative process at lightning speed, and hold them accountable for the damage done.
Still, not all was lost, and when we had opportunities to work in a bipartisan manner for the betterment of Kentucky, we did.
I was proud to vote in favor of Senate Bill 1, a sweeping education reform act dubbed the ‘let the teacher teach act,’ which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both legislative chambers. SB 1 aligns Kentucky with national reform efforts and improves how students are tested. It also lifts burdensome paperwork on teachers, but still keeps accountability in place. Additionally, it places more power in local school districts to intervene in low-performing schools.
Another bipartisan measure we approved will allow a judge to order outpatient treatment for up to a year for a narrowly-defined group of individuals with serious mental illness who have been involuntarily committed to a state psychiatric hospital at least twice in the previous 12 months. The governor vetoed Senate Bill 91, known as “Tim’s Law,” but both the Senate and the House came together this week to override the veto with almost unanimous approval.
I was also proud to support House Bill 333, a new effort to address Kentucky’s drug epidemic by creating stronger penalties for trafficking any amount of the addictive opioid drug fentanyl and its derivatives. Fentanyl is responsible for contributing to almost 34 percent of the fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky, and can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. House Bill 333 passed in both the House and Senate and now goes to the governor for his consideration.
Also, in the final hours of the session, the House and Senate gave final approval to House Bill 206, a legislative measure that will allow students who maintain a 2.5 or better grade point average to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money for apprenticeship programs. The bill also allocates $7.5 million a year to school districts to establish a Dual Credit Scholarship program that will allow students to earn credit for up to two college courses while still in high school.
We also authorized funding to bring jobs back to Kentucky’s coal regions, and we ensured payment of coal miners’ black lung claims going forward.
I look forward to discussing more details on these legislative measures and others approved in the 2017 session in the weeks to come, but I want to close this article by thanking you for all the questions, comments and information I received throughout this session. I sincerely appreciate your support and your insight, and I am honored to represent you in the Kentucky General Assembly. If you would like to explore more details of the legislation passed this session, I encourage you to visit the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov. Also, please continue to stay in contact with me by calling the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at [email protected].
Thanks again, and have a great week.