January 31, 2014

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – With more than half of state government’s revenue dedicated to education, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the bills considered by the General Assembly every year are also centered on the subject.

That was certainly the case last week in the Kentucky House of Representatives, which sent to the Senate several pieces of legislation designed to improve different facets of our schools.

On Wednesday, for example, the chamber approved House Bill 154, a measure that would increase transparency within public school districts and streamline their accountability.

The transparency would happen by having the districts post monthly and annual financial statements online, with the Kentucky Department of Education reviewing the latter for irregularities.

Accountability, meanwhile, would be boosted in two ways: By requiring district finance officers to be certified by the Dept. of Education before being hired; and by better specifying the annual in-service training requirements for school board members and superintendents alike, ensuring ethics and school finances are among the issues regularly covered.

If this legislation is about the financial health of our schools, House Bill 98 is about improving student health. In this case, trained school staff would be allowed to administer insulin to diabetics, a task only those with a proper healthcare license can now do. This change would make it easier for family members who often have to travel to their children’s school when a nurse is not readily available.

In another education matter, but one that extends beyond the classroom, the House approved a resolution on Thursday that calls on the Secretary of State to lead an effort to study civic education and engagement across the state and report back to legislators in December.

This will hopefully help us find ways to improve voter turn-out while making sure that our citizens, young and old alike, have the knowledge they need to stay informed.

The same day the House passed this, it also approved a bill that would call on both state and local governments to contact citizens – and, in larger cases, national consumer credit reporting agencies – if their personal information had been breached. As we have seen in cases like Target, these situations are unfortunately becoming more widespread and common.

Kentucky is just one of four states that doesn’t require government agencies to make these types of reports; House Bill 5, which drew more than 70 sponsors in the 100-member chamber, would correct that.

One of the legislative session’s most widely discussed bills took a step closer to a full House vote late last week when the Labor and Industry Committee voted overwhelmingly for it.

House Bill 1 seeks to increase the state’s minimum wage, something that hasn’t happened since 2009. This increase, which would be stair-stepped from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016, would help tens of thousands of hourly workers.

Those small and/or family-owned businesses that are currently exempted from the state minimum wage would continue to be unaffected by this bill, but the qualifying limit on gross sales would be increased from $95,000 to $190,000, meaning more businesses would be included in this exemption.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of workers earning minimum wage or less are women, and a little more than half are older than 22. Nearly a third work full-time at this salary, meaning they earn about $15,000 a year.

Polls show that more than half of those surveyed support bringing this wage more into line with the cost of living, making it easier for these workers to support their families and be less reliant on public services.

Shortly after the committee voted for House Bill 1, it unanimously approved House Bill 191, which would raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, something that hasn’t happened since 1991. These employees – from waiters and waitresses to hotel bellhops – make $2.13 an hour plus their tip money; if this becomes law, that wage would ultimately rise until it is 70 percent of the minimum wage for non-tipped employees.

Beyond our work on legislation last week, the House also recognized several groups that visited the Capitol. That includes the United 874K Coalition, which represents the 874,000 Kentuckians who have a disability; the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, which brings together organizations that, collectively, employ one in nine Kentucky workers; and some very talented artists as part of Arts Day last Tuesday.

Now that February has arrived, the legislative pace promises to quicken, and that means your contributions to this process are needed more than ever. If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, you can reach me by writing to Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or by emailing me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.

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.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer