A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – At the end of each legislative session, there is understandably a lot of discussion about what the General Assembly has passed.
Although not given as much fanfare, the early to middle part of summer is an important period as well, because – other than those relatively rare cases when there is a specific enactment date or an emergency clause – that is when all legislation actually takes effect. This year, that date fell on June 25th.
For one of the more high-profile new laws, that day was more like a starter’s pistol. In this case, the General Assembly did not set a specific time to begin raising the state’s high school dropout age from 16 to 18; instead, my colleagues and I said the countdown could not begin until 55 percent of the state’s school districts first voted to make that change locally.
To make sure that happened quickly, Governor Beshear and other supporters organized a campaign called Blitz to 96, the magic number of districts needed to extend the new drop-out age statewide in 2016. If the success of the law’s first week is any indication, this should be a short-lived endeavor, since supporters are already more than three-fourths of the way to their goal.
Assuming Kentucky meets the threshold, we will join more than 20 other states that have set their dropout age at 18. This landmark change, updating a law passed in the 1930s, promises to play a significant role in reducing the estimated 6,000 high school dropouts Kentucky unfortunately sees every year.
Just as each legislative session has several laws improving education, there are also many that do the same for our criminal justice system. This year, for example, we updated our laws to limit human trafficking, which has become much more prevalent in recent years.
It’s estimated that, between 2008 and 2012, there were more than 100 of these types of cases across Kentucky, with most involving prostitution or forced labor. Now, victims in many of these cases will be able to get the care they need rather than be charged with a crime they are forced to commit.
Another crime we focused on this year is child pornography. Before this latest change, some pedophiles were able to exploit a legal loophole by saying they did not technically possess the material they witnessed over online networks. Now, with some sensible exceptions for parents and others investigating matters involving children in their care, intentional viewing of this obscene material is enough to charge pedophiles with a crime.
Another area regularly addressed by the General Assembly is helping veterans and those still serving our country. This year, we took such steps as ensuring that temporary child-visitation orders put in place when a parent is deployed overseas will now revert to the previous child-custody order when the soldier returns home.
Veterans with firefighter or EMT/paramedic training in the military, meanwhile, can now use that experience when applying for similar jobs locally, and other professional organizations are encouraged to follow in those footsteps where it is applicable.
Veterans can also cite their military firearms training when applying for a concealed-carry license.
Although their full effective date either occurred this spring or will be phased in later, there are several other new laws worth mentioning. Those include:
o Increasing transparency and oversight of the state’s estimated 1,200 special districts that run our public utilities, health departments, volunteer fire departments and municipal airports;
o Requiring screening for critical congenital heart disease in newborns, a process that will begin in January. Kentucky sees about 65 children born with this condition every year;
o Allowing many of our four-year public universities to move ahead with more than $360 million worth of construction projects; and
o Tweaking last year’s “pill mill” legislation so that officials can better target prescription drug abuse without putting an undue burden on law-abiding patients and doctors. In less than 18 months, we have seen steep declines in abuse, but have to be vigilant as addicts move to other drugs, such as heroin.
Even as these new laws are being implemented, work is already underway to be ready when the General Assembly returns in regular session in January. One area that promises to be spotlighted then is an overhaul of our juvenile justice laws. While it is too soon to say what will be proposed, an ongoing task force is looking to see what can be done to modernize the law as it affects minors.
As the second half of the year gets underway, the General Assembly will review issues like this more closely. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any thoughts or suggestions. You can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.