Frankfort – No matter what happens when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol on Thursday, the first 29 days of this year’s 30-day legislative session have certainly been memorable. While I wish we could have done more in some areas – and much less in others – here’s a brief look at what is poised to become law, barring a veto by the governor.
Most bills that clear the House and Senate fall into five broad categories: education; health and well-being; criminal justice; economic development; and tweaks to the way government is run.
The most prominent, and bipartisan, educational bill this year is focused on improving school safety. Senate Bill 1 is the product of months of work last year by a task force formed as a response to the Marshall County High School shooting in early 2018.
In short, this legislation streamlines school safety at both the state and district level and sets the stage to hire more school resource officers and guidance counselors within our schools Legislative leaders have said they will increase funding for this work when the next two-year budget is adopted in 2020.
Another new educational law that drew significant support this year broadens the use of KEES, which high school students earn with good grades to help pay for their postsecondary education. In this case, they’ll soon be able to use their lottery-funded scholarships for qualified workforce training.
Two other high-profile educational bills set to become law drew strong opposition from teachers and many like me who support our educators. One will give the Jefferson County superintendent much more authority over who will be principal in that district, while the other changes the tribunal process used to handle appeals of a teacher who has been fired. There is worry this new system will be unfair to teachers who feel they have been wrongly dismissed.
Quite a few bills to pass the legislature this year deal with criminal-justice matters, with two building on already-established laws. The first of those expands the Class D felonies that can be expunged – which will help many more citizens who have long paid their debt to society – and it lowers the fee for this process from $500 to $250 and allows it to be paid in installments.
The second expands the use of DUI interlock devices, a type of breathalyzer that keeps a vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated. Starting in July 2020, this law will apply to every first-time DUI offender, and he or she will have to use it for four months.
While these two laws modify existing statutes, another effectively does away with one that has been on the books since 1996. In this case, Kentuckians 21 and older will no longer need a permit or the training it requires to carry a concealed weapon. This will not apply to those who are otherwise not allowed to have a firearm, and other restrictions about where concealed weapons can be taken remain unchanged. This law takes effect later this summer.
In other criminal-justice actions, the General Assembly cracked down on telemarketers who try to trick unsuspecting callers by using local numbers, and we also toughened the penalties for those guilty of strangulation. Those who threaten places like churches and other public venues will face more serious punishment, as well.
As for our health and well-being, we built on last year’s work improving adoption and foster-care laws in Kentucky; we enabled pharmacists to provide life-saving maintenance drugs like insulin when there is an emergency and a doctor’s authorization isn’t readily available; and we established certification procedures for midwives. Another law will make it tougher to file a medical-malpractice lawsuit by requiring a certification to ensure it’s not frivolous.
There are some new laws that I opposed. One, for example, will almost certainly undermine our growing solar industry by making it tougher for new residential customers to get full credit for the excess electricity they return to the grid. A viable compromise originally passed the House, but that was unfortunately removed in the session’s final hours.
Another new law takes away much of the Secretary of State’s election responsibilities by removing that office’s vote on the state Board of Elections, meaning this board is now governed entirely by gubernatorial appointees. The Secretary of State is our chief elections officer, so this change removes some key constitutional checks and balances.
Other changes affecting the way the state governs itself are not as controversial. That includes changing the filing deadline for elected office to the first part of January rather than at the end of that month; keeping elected officials from gaming the retirement system; and establishing clearer rules for de-certifying peace officers who break the law or falsify information about their qualifications.
Several new laws will help veterans and those still serving our country. It will soon be easier for those in the service to maintain in-state college tuition costs and stop select utilities without penalty if they are based out-of-state. They and their spouses will also have an easier time getting interviewed when applying for state-government jobs.
At-risk veterans suffering from such things as PTSD, meanwhile, will now be eligible for a “green” alert, which is similar to our Amber and Golden alerts that quickly notify the public if someone is missing.
This is just a quick snap-shot of some of the laws to pass this year. More could be passed on the session’s final day this week, including a fix for our regional universities and quasi-government agencies like health departments, all of which are facing steep increases in their retirement costs.
I will update you further on our work next week. For now, please feel to email me about any of these bills or other issues affecting the state. My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
If you would like to know more about legislation or the legislative process, please visit the General Assembly’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov.