House says yes to opening court for abused, neglected children cases

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By Tom McKee

This past week, the Kentucky House of Representatives spent much of its time focusing on two important groups: Our children and our farmers.
On Wednesday, for example, the full chamber voted to make viewing child pornography a crime, a move that would close a loophole that has made it tougher to prosecute pedophiles who don’t actually possess the images they view on the internet but don’t keep.
If this becomes law, state and local law enforcement would have much more authority to prosecute this crime.  At the same time, there would be provisions to protect those who inadvertently see such material.
On Friday, the House approved a bill that would begin opening court proceedings in those cases involving children who have been abused or neglected.  This is designed to increase accountability, to ensure that everything is being done to keep them safe.
House Bill 239 would begin that process by setting up pilot programs in several family courts across the state.  The judges would have more discretion to open proceedings while ensuring proper privacy concerns are met.
The need for this has become especially apparent in recent months in the wake of several high-profile deaths of abused children.
In the House Education Committee, a Senate bill that has drawn wide support took a step closer to becoming law last week.  Under that one, special needs students would receive an alternative high school diploma rather than the certificate they now get if they complete their modified curriculum.
As for farming, there were several resolutions approved this week in the Kentucky House that I either sponsored or co-sponsored.  One would create a task force to see how we can better promote agricultural activities in our urban areas and increase access there to fresh farm products.  Another recognized last week as Food Checkout Week, which highlights the fact that our country spends less of our income on food than other countries.
There were also two resolutions approved this past week in the House encouraging federal officials to act on farming issues. One asks that tobacco and tobacco products be included in the proposed trade agreement now being considered with several Pacific Rim countries.
The other asks the federal government to make its guest-worker program (known as H-2A) more efficient and user friendly so that it is less burdensome for farmers to legally hire workers they need.
Another bill I filed this year made it through the House unanimously on Friday. This one would lay the groundwork to create a permanent memorial for those brave Kentucky soldiers who have died fighting for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total that now stands at 110.
This memorial, whose location would be determined later this year, would include those who have served during the past decade in those countries as well as Iraq in the early 1990s as part of Operation Desert Storm.
On Thursday, the House approved a bill that could provide a major boost to our automotive companies.  
It would expand the tax incentives that were offered to Ford in 2007 in Louisville to Toyota’s and GM’s assembly plants as well as large auto parts suppliers, as long as they meet the guidelines.  It requires a sizeable investment to qualify, but this plan helped Ford spend more than a billion dollars on its facilities and hire up to 3,000 people.
With about five weeks left in the legislative session, time is beginning to draw short.  The House will soon vote on its proposal for the state budget, and both the House and Senate will finalize action on a number of other issues by the end of March.
I want to thank those who have contacted me this legislative session to let me know their thoughts or concerns.  If you would like to take part, my address is 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 those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
If you have children who would be interested in paging during the legislative session, please use the information above to let me know. I have been fortunate to have several students already help me this year. It’s a wonderful educational experience for those who want to see how the legislative process works.