Legislative Update …

Posted February 12, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Several bills move through senate during fifth week

It was a busy but productive fifth week of the 2020 Regular Session as we passed a wide array of bills through the Senate and continued biennial budget discussions.

As we wait to receive a budget proposal from the House of Representatives, where all spending bills must originate, the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee has already begun an intensive review process of the budget proposed by the Governor. Crafting the Commonwealth’s two-year financial plan is a lengthy process, but I am confident that the final product will be fiscally responsible while ensuring sufficient funding for our critical programs. I will keep you updated on the status of the budget in the coming weeks.

The Senate Majority made notable progress on the 2020 legislative agenda, successfully passing 11 bills over the course of the week, including Senate Bill (SB) 1 and SB 7.

Also known as the Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020, SB 1 ensures the cooperation of state and local governments with the federal government in the enforcement of federal immigration laws. The bill will create no additional responsibilities for law enforcement or agencies, but it does require no less be done than what federal statutory law states. SB 1 preemptively prohibits local municipalities from enacting sanctuary immigration policies. There had already been discussions in one of Kentucky’s major cities to enact such policies. While many can agree that federal immigration law needs to be addressed by Congress, current policies should be enforced to ensure the safety of the public, and provide law enforcement with the tools they need to enforce these laws in good faith.

Senate Bill 7, priority legislation relating to School-Based Decision-Making Councils, returns the appointment of the school principal to the Superintendent after consultation with the school council and equalizes council membership of teachers and parents.

Senate Bill 42 would require student IDs for middle school, high school and college students to list contacts for national crisis hotlines specializing in domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide. The requirement would go into effect on August 1 and apply to public middle and high schools, as well as public and private postsecondary schools that issue student IDs.

Supporters of the bill expressed alarm in the record-breaking number of youth suicides last year in the state’s two largest cities – Lexington and Louisville. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Kentucky and the second leading cause of death for residents ages 15 to 34, according to language in the bill.

Interpersonal violence statistics listed in the text of SB 42 include these additional stark figures: Thirty-nine percent of Kentucky women experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Child abuse and neglect are more prevalent in Kentucky than any other state in the nation, with 22 victims per 1,000 children compared to the national average of nine victims per 1,000 children. SB 42 passed by a 35-1 vote.

Senate Bill 45 would set nutrition and physical activity standards for childcare centers across Kentucky. It would do that by requiring these centers to meet the most recent version of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition standards. Other provisions would require the centers to meet certain physical activity and screen time standards. That term is used for activities such as watching television. SB 45 passed by a 34-0 vote.

Senate Bill 60 would add spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA, to a list of heritable conditions for which newborns are tested.

Supporters said the Food and Drug Administration recently approved gene therapy for children under two who have infantile-onset SMA. The therapy has improved muscle movement, function and survival of children who receive an early diagnosis, according to the National Institutes of Health. SB 60 passed by a 34-0 vote.

Senate Bill 63 would allow high school dropouts who are 21 or older to complete graduation requirements through “virtual instruction,” a non-traditional form of education that uses the internet to deliver distance learning. Some school districts are already offering such programs; this bill would just codify the practice.

The so-called virtual high schools would be available for those who earned at least 16 credits before dropping out. The programs would be an alternative to GED diplomas for people who are about a year short of the necessary credits to graduate high school.

Supporters said the goal was to get a high school diploma in the hands of Kentuckians who make up the state’s 9.4 percent high school dropout rate. They said it’s important because high school graduates earn a national average of $8,000 more annually. SB 63 passed by a 38-0 vote.

Senate Bill 87 would remove the automatic transfer of a child from district court to circuit court to be tried as an adult in cases involving the use of guns. It would also require the district court judge to explore whether the child has a serious intellectual disability when considering a transfer.

Supporters of SB 87 said when elected judges have the discretion to decide how to handle these cases rather than mandating a transfer, they can respond more effectively. Children, in turn, can have better access to rehabilitative supports and services within the youth justice system.

Laws that mandated the transfer of children to adult court were first passed across the country in the late ‘90s. Supporters of SB 87 said research has since shown transferring juveniles to the adult system generally increases rates of violence for these youth while not deterring juveniles from committing crimes. If enacted, Kentucky will join eight other states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee that do not have a mandatory transfer statute. SB 87 passed by a 36-2 vote.

For ambitious students who want to be a part of this year’s legislative process, the Kentucky General Assembly offers a variety of page opportunities for all ages. Students interested should contact my office at (502)564-8100 to make a formal request. More information regarding the page programs can be found at www.legislature.ky.gov

To those who have reached out or visited my office in the past weeks, thank you for staying engaged during these early weeks of the session. I appreciate your input and urge you to continue making your voices heard in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call the toll-free line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.