Frankfort Focus

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Most decisions for legislators will be made this week

By Tom McKee

Each legislative session essentially has two distinct periods, with the first dedicated to the House and Senate setting their respective agendas and the second, much shorter one seeing where both sides can find common ground.
It is too soon to say what ultimately will cross the finish line, but this week is when most of those decisions will be made.  It promises to be a busy time.
As we look for consensus, there is hope in the House that we can do something this year to help both our youth and our senior citizens.
This past week we voted for a bill that would encourage hospitals regularly delivering babies to further educate families about shaken baby syndrome.  This would build on a pilot program the legislature established last year in Louisville.
We also gave approval to a bill that would give the Cabinet for Health and Family Services more authority to go after delinquent child support payments.
At the other end of the age spectrum, finding ways to end elder abuse has become a top priority this year of both the House and Governor Beshear.  We propose doing such things as creating a registry of those people convicted of abusing or neglecting an adult, with that list then being used by those providing senior citizen services.  That would make sure no one on the list is hired for these types of jobs.
A related bill would build on that by making sure those convicted of this type of abuse could never serve as the victim’s guardian or oversee the victim’s estate.
Improving consumer protection was the goal of several other bills to make it through the House in recent days.  One would have our public postsecondary schools give incoming freshmen more information about the potential perils of credit cards and the debt they can bring.  Another would keep many businesses from soliciting car accident victims within 30 days of the accident, which is similar to a rule already governing attorneys in these cases.
A third would add much more oversight when it comes to for-profit colleges, some of which have drawn complaints that students were not getting the education they thought they would be.
A nuisance of a different sort was addressed when the House approved a bill that would give local officials more say before the state releases large animals like elk into the wild.  While this program has proven very successful for our hunters, these animals have caused problems for some families’ property.
In other legislation, the House voted for a bill that would provide additional oversight of our public retirement systems.  We would make more information available about these multi-billion dollar agencies and end the practice of using middlemen to guide investments.  These placement agents, as they’re called, work in the private sector, but have generated controversy in other states while often reaping a significant amount of money that would be better kept in the retirement systems’ hands.
Some of the other bills coming through the House would give greater prescriptive authority to physician assistants and advance practice registered nurses, while another would initiate a small program to see if we can do more to improve the health of the state workforce.
My waste tire bill that I mentioned last week made it through the House with a vote of 99-0 this past week.  It would have the Energy and Environment Cabinet work toward keeping these tires from being a potential hazard or nuisance.  It would also have the cabinet provide customers of new tires information on how the tires can be disposed once they’re ready for replacement.
Although not tied directly to the legislative process, a report presented early last week by Governor Beshear could set the stage for action legislators take next year to improve our schools.
The findings were from a task force he formed in 2009 to take a top-down look at our elementary and secondary schools, to see how we could build on efforts already underway.  Those serving included the Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, legislators, advocates, teachers and parents.
Some of the task force’s recommendations ranged from raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 – which the House is trying to do this year – to improving career and technical education.  A tight budget outlook will likely dictate how much we can do, but hopefully we can use this report as the foundation for the legislature’s work in the future.
For now, there is still some time if you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns before the session ends.  You can write to me at Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.