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March Madness is a little different for the General Assembly

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By The Staff

In the General Assembly during this time of year, “March Madness” refers to more than just a basketball tournament as the final hectic days of the legislative session draw to a close.

In the state Senate, the focus last week was predictably on the two-year budget, with that chamber considering what changes it will make to the House version approved earlier this month.  The Senate is scheduled to vote on a proposal early this week, setting the stage for legislative leaders to come up with a compromise by the end of the month.

As that process moved forward, the House dedicated much of its time to issues important to our collective health.

On Tuesday, my colleagues and I voted unanimously for legislation that would provide better insurance coverage for children diagnosed with autism.

The bill’s chief sponsors noted how important it is for these children to receive the proper treatment as young as possible; if reached early enough, they have an excellent chance of overcoming it.  Without treatment, the lifetime cost for care could reach $3 million.

The same day this vote was taken, the House also put its unanimous support behind legislation that would increase colon cancer screenings for those Kentuckians who do not have health insurance.  Just as with autism, early detection is critical if we are to make a difference.

During testimony in committee, state Auditor Crit Luallen spoke in favor of this bill as a colon-cancer survivor. She said that a small investment can not only save lives; it can also save tens of millions of dollars in medical treatment.

Even larger financial savings could be possible in another bill that the House voted for on Wednesday.

If it becomes law, it would easily be one of the legislative session’s biggest accomplishments, since it would strengthen the health insurance benefit for retired teachers while reducing the program’s long-term unfunded liability by $2.8 billion, or nearly half of what it is now. This bill would not have been possible without the willingness of our teachers, school officials and their retirees to step up to help put this program on firmer footing.

In addition to lowering the unfunded liability, this legislation would save money in other ways, too. The state would have to borrow less to meet its contribution level, while senior teachers would feel more secure in retiring with this benefit, enabling districts to hire newer teachers at a lower salary.  

In other news tied to our schools, the House voted for a bill that would help those districts who have been off a significant amount of time because of flu and snow; our plan would give them a possible reprieve if they missed more than 20 days.

Another bill approved by the House Education Committee would make it possible for some of our brightest students to finish high school early and go to college, with the state providing them additional financial help in what would have been their senior year.

Two of the session’s more prominent bills took a step closer to becoming law Wednesday as the Senate moved their modified versions forward, sending one back to the House while readying the other for a full Senate vote.

The first of those is known as Amanda’s Bill, and it would give domestic violence victims real-time warning in certain cases if their offender is approaching. The second would hopefully curb what is known as “sexting” while making the penalty more age appropriate rather than having the teens potentially face much more serious child pornography charges. Slight changes made in the Senate committee mean this could become law soon.

We will try to find a resolution on those bills and many others as the 2010 Regular Session wraps up its last full week. In mid-April, we will return briefly to consider any vetoes Governor Beshear may issue.

I have enjoyed hearing from many of you since the legislative session began in January, and while not much time remains, it is still not too late to let me know your thoughts or concerns.

I hope to hear from you soon.

State Representative Rick Rand