By Sara Beth Gregory, 16th District Senator
FRANKFORT – The Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly reached its halfway point this week, with the Senate passing legislation to assist young families, help students, protect tax-payers’ dollars and save lives.
I was proud to sponsor Senate Bill 74, which passed the Senate unanimously. This legislation would strengthen and protect the Health Access Nurturing and Development Services (HANDS) program.
The program is used in every Kentucky county, with more than 11,000 families receiving help each year. This voluntary home visitation program, offered through local health departments, uses trained professionals who make home visits to help families learn the essentials of proper childcare, from pregnancy to age two.
During this time, families receive information on caretaking, home safety, and child development. This program has impressive results, including a 32 percent reduction in premature births, fewer developmental delays, reduced costs to Medicaid, and a reduction in the cost of remediation for children not ready for kindergarten.
The legislation also contains provisions for continued reporting on the programs’ effectiveness to make sure that taxpayers are receiving a strong return on their investment.
House Bill 7, the first bill to pass both chambers and be signed into law by the Governor, authorizes six of the state’s eight public universities to bond $363 million for 11 specific projects, including construction of a new Honors College and International Center at Western Kentucky University, a new science building at the University of Kentucky, and improvements to Commonwealth Stadium, among other projects.
The measure requires the bonds to be paid for by the universities and not with state tax dollars. This bill will help the universities with much needed classroom and housing improvements and while providing over 5,000 construction jobs.
As an added measure of protection for college students, the Senate inserted a stipulation that the universities could not raise tuition in order to repay the debt. Passage of this bill is a perfect example of bipartisan governing.
In addition to helping our public universities, the Senate also focused on providing assistance to our high-school students with its passage of Senate Bills 109 and 97.
Senate Bill 109 would permit high school juniors and seniors to use their Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) awards early to pay for dual credit courses.
Senate Bill 97 is aimed at helping more students graduate from high school by giving local school districts the option to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18, provided they have the funds and approved alternative programs to meet the needs of these students. These types of measures give Kentucky’s students a better chance for success.
Another bill designed to help our young adults is Senate Bill 72. This measure seeks to save Kentucky lives by mandating suicide prevention training for professional counselors, therapists, social workers, and other mental health professionals. This much-needed training will assist mental health professionals in recognizing the early warning signs of suicide, a leading cause of death among young adults.
The Senate passed two pieces of legislation on Friday, Senate Bill 39 and Senate Bill 40, which would allow the legislature to weigh in on the implementation of key parts of the Affordable Care Act (also referred to as “Obamacare”).
The implementation of this federal legislation stands to have a costly, state-wide impact, particularly due to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program to approximately 400,000 new individuals.
Senate Bill 39 would provide that any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by the General Assembly.
Likewise, Senate Bill 40 would require the General Assembly to approve the creation of any state-run health benefits exchange. These bills are designed to ensure that these decisions are not made solely by the Governor.
Instead, these bills would allow deliberation by the entire legislature in order to put the best and most cost-effective policies and programs in place for the citizens of the Commonwealth.
Please do not hesitate to contact me about any legislative issues that interest you by calling me in Frankfort toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the Kentucky General Assembly is available online at www.lrc.ky.gov.