Early this week, the General Assembly returned to the Capitol to begin another legislative session, which in even-numbered years lasts for 60 days and runs through mid-April.
Gov. Beshear will help set the stage when he gives his State of the Commonwealth address this week and, later this month, presents his two-year budget proposal. Redistricting, something done each decade to align the state’s legislative and Kentucky Supreme Court boundaries to changes in population, will also be a major issue in the session’s opening days.
There will be dozens of other bills to consider as well, and as is often the case, they will generally focus on education, health and safety, and economic development.
In that first category, there will be another attempt to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18, a top priority in the House as well as for Gov. Beshear and the first lady. If passed, it would have Kentucky join about 30 other states that have increased their minimum dropout age to 17 or 18.
Other education legislation that has already been filed would do such things as offer specialized high school diplomas to those who have excelled academically; let school districts sell advertising on school buses; and keep track of students’ body mass indexes in an effort to better assess the problem of childhood obesity.
When it comes to public safety, one legislator is looking to increase the use of ignition interlock devices for those convicted of DUI, so that they couldn’t drive impaired again; and another would add judges and witnesses to the list of people notified when an involuntarily committed person is released or escapes.
Allowing those who are dating to obtain a domestic violence order if they fear for their safety is another priority for many in the House, as is creating a database of those convicted of adult abuse to ensure they cannot work in jobs involving care of the elderly. There will also be an attempt to add taxi and bus drivers to the list of professionals who, if assaulted, would see their attackers face additional criminal penalties.
In health-related matters, bills have been filed to make it easier for first responders from other states to asssit their counterparts in Kentucky if needed and to award tax breaks both to doctors who provide charitable healthcare and good Samaritans who become live-organ and bone-marrow donors.
There are other bills as well designed to spur positive action. One would exempt the collection of sales tax for the first $20,000 in sales made by nonprofit or civic-oriented organizations, and another would give tax credits to customers who provide work for the blind or severely disabled. Angel investors who help start-up companies get off the ground would also be eligible for tax breaks.
In agricultural matters, one bill would let customers in restaurants know what country their catfish comes from – there has been controversy due to some foreign-market practices – and another would make it easier to buy raw milk, which is also controversial because of safety concerns tied to unpasteurized milk.
For veterans and their families, bills have been filed to extend Gold Star license plates to siblings of servicemen and women killed in action and to include a veterans designation on drivers licenses and personal identification cards.
It is too soon, of course, to say if any of these ideas or many others will ultimately become law. Their fate depends in part on the time we have and, more importantly, the public’s support or opposition.
If you would like to be more involved in the legislative process, there are several ways you can participate.
To leave a message for me or any legislator, you can call, toll-free, 800-372-7181 or, for the hearing impaired, 800-896-0305.
To check a bill’s status, that number is 866-840-2835, and to see when legislative meetings are being held, call 800-633-9650.
This information and the text of the bills themselves can also be accessed online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
If you would like to write me, meanwhile, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
I hope to hear from you soon.