For those who regularly follow the General Assembly, this past week in the Kentucky House of Representatives may have felt a little like the movie “Back to the Future,” since we spent much of our time on issues that have been through the chamber before.
That’s not unusual, of course. Some may be caught up because of budget concerns, or because House and Senate priorities may differ, or because time may run out while more pressing issues are addressed. There is hope, though, that this is the year when a few of these perennial initiatives finally become law.
One of the more prominent is raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18, something both Governor and First Lady Beshear have long championed. The House Education Committee approved it overwhelmingly on Tuesday, and the full House was poised to follow suit on Friday, as it has done several times before in recent years.
Those of us supporting it believe we need to change a rule set nearly a century ago, when the lack of a high school diploma was not the impediment in the workforce it is today. This change would put us among the more than 30 other states that have set their minimum dropout age at 17 or 18.
This also would significantly reduce the estimated 6,000 students who leave our high schools early each year, virtually guaranteeing they will not reach their full potential. One estimate shows their career earnings will be $300,000 less than a fellow classmate with a diploma. They also are likely to cost the state more in the future because of higher expenses tied to corrections and such safety-net programs as Medicaid.
We in the House are committed to ensuring that, if this does become law, it will be a positive change for everyone. One major factor in our favor is the high quality of alternative education programs tailored to those at-risk of dropping out.
Two other bills familiar to House members and rooted in the legal system moved forward this past week. On Tuesday, and with strong bipartisan support, the chamber voted to make it easier for some Class “D” felons to re-enter society after they have completed their sentence. Class “D” is the lowest of the four levels of felony convictions.
This proposal would only be available if those applying otherwise have a clean felony record for at least five years after their punishment is complete and their original charge was not tied to child, elder or sexual abuse. The hope is that, by allowing this expungement, they would no longer be hindered in those cases, such as work, where a felony conviction could be a problem.
The other bill, which I am sponsoring, would extend domestic violence order protections to dating couples. All but two states already offer this, and the reason why is because victims in these situations are just as vulnerable as their counterparts who are married, living together or share a child with their abuser – all three of which are already eligible for DVOs.
This bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee, which I chair, on Wednesday, and a vote in the full House should come soon. Although not tied to legislation, there was some good news for the state this past week worth mentioning. On Monday, Governor Beshear announced that the tax amnesty program authorized last year met its goal. More than 27,000 taxpayers paid their back taxes, and they came from every county in Kentucky and the 49 other states. Altogether, this short-term program raised $56.9 million, or about $200,000 more than had been expected.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, Governor Beshear said that 2012 was a banner year for Kentucky’s exports. We shipped to 199 other nations $22 billion worth of products, which was a 10 percent increase over 2011. That growth was twice the national average.
The timing of the announcement was fitting, because early in the week, the House heard from a leading official from Canada, Kentucky’s biggest trade partner. He highlighted the close working relationship we have with his country.
This coming week, as the 30-day legislative session reaches its halfway point, the House is expected to take up legislation tied to school safety and pension reform. It promises to be a busy time.
As always, but especially now, your input to this process is critical. If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns, you can reach me by writing to Room 373, 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. I hope to hear from you soon.