With time running out in the 2013 Regular Session, we turned our attention this week to reaching agreements on some of the General Assembly’s top priorities.
After years of work by untold lawmakers through many sessions, along with educators and other policymakers, a bipartisan compromise was achieved Monday on a bill aimed at raising the high school dropout age in Kentucky from 16 to 18. Everyone in the Legislature is concerned about our students’ education, but we also understand that simply increasing the minimum dropout age would not in itself increase the number of high school graduates in the State.
Senate Bill 97 would allow local school districts across the State to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 if they choose. Prior to raising the dropout age, it would require districts to have programs and resources in place for students at-risk of not completing their high school education.
The compromise reached on the bill would mandate that all Kentucky high schools implement the increased dropout age within four years after 55 percent of individual school districts have adopted the change. This allows individual school districts to make decisions based on local needs and concerns, but also promotes uniformity in schools across the State when ‘critical mass’ is achieved. It also helps ensure our most at-risk students are getting the attention and resources they both need and deserve.
House Bill 1 was sent to the Governor’s desk this week, as well. This bill brings transparency and accountability to the more than 1,200 special taxing districts across the State. These public library boards, fire departments, water and sewer and other local taxing districts provide outstanding services to their communities, but sometimes leave taxpayers in the dark on how their money is being spent.
The bill would put education and ethics rules in place for these special-purpose entities and would create an online registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information.
As agreed upon in a free conference committee made up of Senate and House members of both parties, the bill would also require all special taxing districts to submit a budget report to their local fiscal court. If a special district wanted to impose a new fee or increase the rate of an existing tax, it would be required to hold a public meeting prior to the change. This is an important step in keeping taxpayers informed and government entities accountable.
Many other bills received final passage this week.
Among them was an anti-human trafficking measure – House Bill 3. The legislation would increase penalties for those convicted of this crime while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit, like prostitution. It would also create a victim assistance fund to provide specific treatment options to victims, and would make training available for law enforcement in the identification and control of human trafficking. Some advocacy groups say it is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the State. House Bill 3 sends a clear message: We will not allow Kentucky’s children to be bought and sold.
Another measure related to crimes against children, House Bill 290 would create a 20-person review panel for cases of child abuse and neglect-related fatalities and near-fatalities. The panel would be given access to complete records of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, as well as information from law enforcement and other agencies involved in the case. Studying these cases will help us prevent child abuse in the future and ensure we are providing the best services possible to our youngest, most vulnerable citizens.
The General Assembly is now recessed for a 10-day veto period. During that time, we will continue to discuss issues still unresolved. While consensus has not been reached on important bills like public pension reform (Senate Bill 2), military overseas absentee voting (Senate Bill 1), and industrial hemp cultivation (Senate Bill 50), we are still working hard, in informal discussion during recess, toward final agreement on these and many other measures. There is still time to reach a consensus on any or all.
We return to Frankfort on March 25 to complete the final two working days of the legislative session. We will consider any vetoes the Governor might enact on any of the various bills we have passed so far, as well as put a final stamp of approval on any last-minute bills still being considered.
In the meantime, you can review the work of the Kentucky General Assembly by visiting our website at www.lrc.ky.gov. To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835.
There is still time to weigh in on matters important to you. If you would like to share your thoughts on any legislation, you may leave a message for me, or any legislator, by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.