(KY) Senate Week in Review

Submitted By Reginald Thomas

FRANKFORT— It may have been a “short session” in the number of days, but the 2017 Legislative Session was not “short” on important public policy changes. Last week, we completed the 29th and 30th days of the session by voting on significant issues in the areas of education, criminal justice reform, and government accountability.

Some bills were passed and others were defeated in the last two legislative days. The General Assembly had a major victory when we were able to move forward with important legislation that the Governor attempted to halt. We voted to override the Governor’s vetoes – all four of them. In my time in Frankfort, overriding all of a Governor’s vetoes is something that had not happened before.

The Governor’s four vetoes dealt with court-ordered treatment for mentally ill people with a history of involuntary hospitalization (known as Tim’s Law), the regulation of drones, the manner of disbursing funds from a multimillion-dollar legal settlement with Volkswagen, and the naming of roads in various parts of the state. All four of these vetoes were successfully overridden in the Senate and House by wide margins.

With time waning, some new bills did pass and were delivered to the Governor’s desk, including a wide-reaching education reform policy that would change how our public schools are held accountable for student progress and how teachers are evaluated. Among other goals, Senate Bill 1 is designed to place more control and accountability in the hands of local school districts, enabling them to have a stronger voice in how to improve performance by both students and teachers, and will hopefully help school districts to turn their low-performing schools around.

Other bills that passed last week, which will become law when signed by the Governor, include:

· Senate Bill 120 is a criminal justice reform bill that will help people leaving prison successfully rejoin society by providing them with employable skills. The measure includes provisions to remove licensing restrictions that make it harder for felons to find jobs. It also makes improvements in reentry substance abuse supervision.

· House Bill 253 will help protect abused children by allowing unannounced visits by state social services workers to the residences where child abuse or neglect has occurred. The unannounced visits will continue until the welfare of a child has been safeguarded.

· House Bill 524 attempts to help fight human trafficking by requiring public schools to display the National Human Trafficking Reporting Hotline information, and also will require the hotline number to be posted at rest areas. The measure will also provide for enhanced penalties for promoting human trafficking that involves commercial sexual activity making it a criminal offense against a minor if the victim is under 18.

· House Bill 309 enables tenants who are victims of domestic violence to terminate a lease with 30 days’ notice to their landlords without penalties. It also prevents abuse victims from being denied a lease because of their history as domestic violence victims.

Sometimes defeating a bill is a victory as we saw in the last hours of the last day of the session. House Bill 281 would have stripped the power of Attorney General Andy Beshear and future attorney generals to file civil lawsuits or appeals on behalf of the state. That power would transfer to the governor.  No other attorney general in the country would be as weak. For example, HB 281 would have prohibited the attorney general from suing to challenge Governor Bevin’s cuts to public universities. In addition to forfeiting the checks and balances on the governor, HB 281 would have narrowed the avenues for the Commonwealth to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Attorney General is the people’s attorney and this bill would have been a threat to the state and our people.

Soon the dust will settle and the 2017 session will be another for the books. There are some major issues still looming over us and the Governor has said he will call us back to session to address tax reform and pensions. Those are two very complex issues, and, at least in my opinion, for the General Assembly to successfully address them will require the House and Senate Republicans to find a plan agreeable to both.  That hasn’t happened yet. 

In the meantime, I urge you to stay in touch. You can always leave a message on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. You can e-mail me directly at reginald.thomas@lrc.ky.gov.

2017 Rice Leach Public Health Hero Award

On a different and a more personal note, I am honored to be selected as recipient of the 2017 Rice Leach Public Health Hero Award from the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department’s Board of Health. I will be recognized at the April 27 Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting and honored at the May 8 Board of Health meeting.

Previously known as the Public Health Hero Award, the Board of Health renamed the award in 2016 in memory of the late Dr. Rice C. Leach, Lexington’s former Commissioner of Health who spent more than 50 years as a public health physician. Leach died April 1, 2016. It is very humbling to receive an award named for Dr. Leach. If you would like to read more about this award, follow this link: http://www.kyforward.com/lexington-attorney-state-senator-thomas-named-rice-leach-public-health-hero-for-2017/.

Prepared by LRC Staff

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