With only two days remaining to consider possible vetoes and some unresolved issues, the General Assembly completed much of its work this legislative session early last week.
Since the House and Senate only meet for 30 instead of 60 working days in odd-numbered years – and four of those are set aside to elect leaders and appoint committees – we spent the relatively short amount of time we had tackling a fairly long agenda.
Although our work is not done, we were able to pass quite a few bills that should help move the state forward in the months and years ahead.
Gov. Beshear has already signed two of those into law. One would let many of our public universities use their own revenue to build about $363 million worth of projects, with well more than half of that amount going to a new science building at the University of Kentucky and a major upgrade of UK’s Commonwealth Stadium.
The other new law updates last year’s legislation that targeted prescription drug abuse.
This change will make it easier for our healthcare providers and patients alike to comply with that law but not hinder efforts to pinpoint and then stop abuses.
Another major priority this year that is poised to become law will increase both the accountability and transparency of our special districts, which include such quasi-government agencies as public utilities, volunteer fire departments and libraries.
State Auditor Adam Edelen and his office did an in-depth study of these districts last year and found that there are more than 1,200 of them.
Combined, their budget exceeds $2.7 billion, or about the same as we spend on elementary and secondary education.
Under this year’s legislation, which I was proud to co-sponsor, the public will be able to track these districts’ spending through a state database.
The districts will also have to make the public more aware of any tax or fee increases they plan to enact, with presentations given at either a fiscal court or city council meeting.
This bill does not tinker with the inner workings of the districts themselves, however; instead, it just ensures there is a greater understanding of what they do, and that they follow the same ethics requirements as other locally elected officials.
Another high-profile bill expected to be signed by Gov. Beshear soon will improve the state’s human-trafficking laws.
There have been about 100 victims identified across the state in the last five years, with many of them young women essentially sold into prostitution.
This bill will let the state seize assets from human trafficking and use it to help the victims, who also will no longer be charged with a crime they may be forced to do.
A long-time effort to increase the state’s high school dropout age took a major step forward last week when the House and Senate – with Gov. Beshear’s support – passed a bill that sets the stage for this to happen.
It gives local school districts the authority to raise the dropout age for their students voluntarily.
If 55 percent of the state’s districts take this step, then it will become the law statewide several years later.
Since there are more than 6,000 high school dropouts annually, this has the potential to cut that number back significantly.
The plan is to better engage these potential dropouts so that they are more prepared for the future.
There are several other new laws certainly worth mentioning. Those include:
•Making it possible for veterans to count military experience as firefighters or EMTs/paramedics if they are applying for those jobs here in Kentucky.
This law also lets military training be used by those applying for a concealed carry gun permit.
•Authorizing a permanent and independent task force to study abuse cases in which a child was killed or severely injured.
Gov. Beshear appointed this task force last year, but this ensures it will extend to future administrations.
•Toughening penalties for those who kill firefighters or police officers while they are on duty.
This action comes in the wake of a 2010 case in Lexington in which a police officer was killed by a hit-and-run driver who will become eligible for parole after serving only serving 20 percent of his sentence.
Now, those in the future will have to serve a greater percentage of their sentence if convicted of a similar crime.
As I mentioned, there are still several outstanding issues awaiting resolution when the General Assembly returns on March 25 for the legislative session’s final two days.
At the top of the agenda is finding a way to stabilize our public pension systems for local and state government employees.
House and Senate leaders have been meeting with Gov. Beshear to see what can be done.
I am also hoping that we can finalize legislation that would have Kentucky be ready should the federal government either legalize industrial hemp or authorize a pilot project.
I have been working closely on this issue and hope that we can come up with a plan that, as Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says, could prove to be a financial boon for the farming community.
I want to thank those who have contacted me this legislative session.
While most of the work is done, it is never too late to let me know your views.
My address is Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. My email address is Tom.McKee@lrc.ky.gov.
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. More information can be found on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov.