I am sure many of you are wondering what is happening with pension reform in Frankfort. So let me start there. There are seven or so bills being floated behind the scenes, and all, or most, of them would tackle pension reform somewhat differently. Until the House decides which proposal it can get behind, we are moving forward with other legislation of importance to our citizens. That is the legislation that cleared committee and the House floor during our third full week of session.
Kentucky’s dropout rate of 22 percent is a concern to most of us here in the Commonwealth. While the rate is lower than the national rate of 25 percent, we can all agree that it is still much too high. We have worked for over a decade to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 without success, but this might be the year. House Bill 224, of which I am a cosponsor, passed the House last Thursday by a vote of 87-10. The bill would raise the dropout age from 16 to 17 in 2017 and from 17 to 18 in 2018.
Not everyone believes the so-called “graduation bill”—so named because it’s designed to encourage students to graduate high school—is a good idea, especially for teachers who have to deal with disruptive older students on the verge of dropping out of school. But others hope this is the session that the legislation becomes law. The bill will now be considered in the Senate, where other dropout bills are pending.
Children and other victims of human trafficking in Kentucky are the target of extensive bipartisan legislation that passed the House by a vote of 95-0 last Friday and now goes to the Senate. House Bill 3 would give Kentucky’s human trafficking victims greater protection under state law by including them in the state’s abuse and neglect statutes, offering them protective custody, protection from prosecution for crimes committed while in captivity, and the creation of a victims’ assistance fund. Should it pass into law this session, as many hope, the Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act--as HB 3 would be known--would help the growing number of human trafficking victims here in our state get the help they need and deserve.
Crime investigation has changed quite a bit in the past 20-30 years as science continues to uncover new types of evidence used to prove a person’s guilt or determine their innocence. The use of human DNA—the unique biological material that each of us possess—is a clear example of this, although there are those who feel the use of DNA by law enforcement and the courts should be expanded. Two bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week would do just that.
HB 89, if passed into law, would require the collection of DNA via mouth swab from those arrested for a felony crime, pre-conviction, to help facilitate the capture of suspects in future crimes, while HB 41 would expand the availability of post-conviction DNA testing and analysis to those convicted of capital offenses or other specific violent offenses at the person’s request to help them prove their innocence. Current Kentucky law only allows post-conviction DNA testing for persons on the state’s Death Row. Both bills have been returned to the full House for its consideration.
You know, most of the state’s budget goes to fund elementary and secondary or K-12 education in the Commonwealth. After graduation, many students plan to go to college but not all want to, or easily can, leave their home region to do so. Under HB 210 passed by the House Education Committee and returned to the House last Thursday, many students in Kentucky’s 34 coal-producing counties could earn their four-year degree—with state financial assistance—at eligible post-secondary institutions in those counties.
The Kentucky Coal County College Completion Program that would be established by HB 210 would offer scholarships of varying amounts for students from the state’s eastern and western coal counties—including Hopkins County—who finish their four-year degree in the state’s coal regions. Also, grants would be offered to community colleges in the regions to help them provide outreach to two-year students who are considering earning a bachelor’s degree. Funding for the scholarships and grants would come from coal severance tax dollars, which could be appropriated for the program in the 2014-2016 state budget (to be considered during the 2014 Regular Session) and beyond.
Currently, nine coal counties, all located in Eastern Kentucky, offer the scholarship to students from those counties who attend school in that region. That program was set up last year by an executive order signed by the governor. HB 210 would make that program statutory, while expanding it to the 25 other counties, both east and west.
I have heard many say that this is the busiest start to any “short” 30-day legislative session in memory, and it has been busy at the State Capitol, no doubt. But we have a lot to do. Please continue to watch the action in Frankfort this session and contact me with your thoughts or concerns. You can do so easily by contacting the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. Have a great week.