A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly, February 7th, 2020

FRANKFORT – With more than one-third of this year’s legislative session complete, the Kentucky House of Representatives has already put its support behind a sizable list of bills that is now one step closer to becoming law.

            Two that passed on Thursday would go a long way toward expanding access to medical care and keeping our children safe as they enter or exit their school bus.

            House Bill 135 would accomplish the former by allowing physician assistants to write prescriptions for controlled substances.  Kentucky is the only state where this is not allowed, but if we join the 49 others, supervising doctors will be able to focus on more complicated cases and physician assistants will be better equipped to do their job.  They already can prescribe many medicines, and this additional authority would be subject to the same limits already in place for other providers.

            The school-safety measure found in House Bill 34, meanwhile, would let school districts partner with companies that install cameras designed to catch drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.  This arrangement would not cost districts anything, since the companies are paid from fines, and the hope is that many districts will take advantage of this to increase the safety of children riding school buses.

            Several of the bills to clear the House over the past month will help first responders or have a positive impact on the criminal justice system.

House Bill 14, for example, would make it possible for families of EMTs who are killed in the line of duty to enroll in undergraduate courses at public colleges and universities without being charged tuition, a benefit already available to qualified families of firefighters and law enforcement.

The related House Bill 271 would ensure spouses of any state or local government or school employee who dies in the line of duty are eligible for higher death benefits established in a 2018 law.  This will primarily benefit widows who have since re-married and those families that, for various reasons, did not receive in-the-line-of-duty death benefits but would like to re-apply if this becomes law.

Under House Bill 269, local governments would have authority to take an innovative approach when it comes to collecting fines for parking violations.  In this case, the communities could opt to let those ticketed pay at least some of their fine in donated goods that would help our charities.

For our veterans, House Bill 24 would move us a step closer to building a new nursing home for them in Bowling Green.  This will be Kentucky’s fifth once built, complementing other veterans nursing homes in Jessamine, Hardin, Hopkins and Perry counties.

            We’re still several weeks away from the House voting on modifications to Governor Beshear’s budget proposal, but committees have already started their review.

As this work moves forward, there has regrettably been some confusion about whether his budget fully funds the pension systems.  The short answer is “Yes,” when talking about teachers and state employees.  Those payments are state government’s responsibility, and every penny is there.

            In addition, the budget paves a path forward to help our quasi-governmental agencies, which include regional universities, public health departments and mental health organizations.  If nothing is done, they face a steep increase in pension payments in July that most simply cannot pay.

The governor’s proposal calls on these quasi-governmental agencies to make higher payments, but below what they would have been, and the budget helps bridge the gap with extra funding plus by doing things like providing a one-percent raise for state employees and hiring new social workers and revenue-audit staff.

            In other words, his budget does much more than the one enacted in 2018, and if critics say it shorts the pension systems, then the budget from two years ago was even worse, since it just froze the rates for quasi-governmental agencies with no new money.  The governor’s plan should be heralded as a positive move, not a negative one.

            This week, a House committee will consider one of the legislative session’s more widely discussed pieces of legislation, House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana.  More than 30 states allow this, and the bill has many sponsors from both side of the political aisle. 

Late last week, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky reported this issue is more popular than ever, with 90 percent of Kentuckians surveyed saying this support medical marijuana.  That’s a positive sign for the legislation.

            I will keep you updated on these and many other bills in the weeks ahead, and I encourage you to let me know your views.  You can reach me via email at tina.bojanowski@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a message for me or any legislator (or all 138 of us) by calling 1-800-372-7181 during the week.  This is staffed by live operators, and the hours are extended during legislative sessions.

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