A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly, February 14th, 2020

FRANKFORT – Over the years, Kentucky has adopted a number of smart-on-crime measures designed to improve our criminal justice system while getting the most out of our tax dollars.

            On Monday last week, the House put its unanimous support behind not one but two bills that, if enacted, would move us further down this road.

House Bill 284 would do that by reducing the length of probation for those who are putting their lives back on track.  Those meeting approved milestones in such areas as education, job training and drug treatment would see a shorter time under state supervision.  We know this is an effective strategy, because it’s already being used for those on parole.

            The other piece of criminal-justice legislation clearing the House last week – House Bill 327 – would automatically expunge records of those who have been acquitted or who have had charges against them dropped.  This would have retroactive provisions, too, to help those who have been cleared of any crime in the past.

            Many may have thought this was already happening, but the fact is that a record remains even when someone is cleared of charges against them.  That has made life tougher for many people, but this legislation would help correct that.

            Another bill drawing a unanimous vote – House Bill 312 – would benefit our foster children by making it easier to transfer their academic records from one school to another.  This also would also establish a foster home registry, to ensure child-placement agencies are not using homes that have been closed to foster children or are being reviewed for potential violations.

            Another significant bill drawing strong bipartisan support last week would help the University of Louisville with its recent purchase of Jewish Hospital and other related healthcare facilities that were at risk of closing.  Losing them would have potentially been devastating for the city’s medical community and overall economy.

U of L initially requested $50 million, but later lowered that amount to $35 million, which is also included in Governor Beshear’s proposed budget and is expected to be in the one ultimately becoming law.  Up to half of the loan is forgivable if U of L meets benchmarks tied to hospital employment and expanding access to medical care.

It’s too soon to say what its final fate will be, but the legalization of medical marijuana took a significant step forward last week when it was approved by the House’s Judiciary Committee.  This legislation has 51 sponsors out of the 100-member House, but it had similar support last year without being put to a full vote.  There is a growing hope, however, that it might have a greater chance of passing this year.

This week I filed a resolution to study high-stakes accountability testing in our public schools.  Every student in grades three through eight take the KPREP at the end of each year.  However, teachers do not get the results for the test until the next school year, when the student is no longer in their classroom and perhaps not even in the school. Furthermore, the assessments do not provide any additional information beyond a rating of novice, apprentice, proficient, or distinguished.  In addition, the cost to taxpayers of conducting the testing is extremely high; the contract for Pearson for 2019 and 2020 is more than $20 million dollars.  The goal of the study is to evaluate innovative ways to fulfill the accountability demands of the federal government while ensuring that the process supports instruction.  You can read the House Joint Resolution 82 here

Outside of the legislative process, all three branches of government came together early last week in the Capitol Rotunda for the annual Black History Celebration.

This year’s event honored military contributions by African-Americans, and one of the chief highlights was when Governor Beshear posthumously promoted Colonel Charles Young to the rank of Brigadier General.

Colonel Young, a Kentucky native who was born near the end of the Civil War, was the highest-ranking African-American in the military at the time of his medical discharge.

Several days later, two other rallies were held in the same venue.  The League of Women Voters celebrated its 100th anniversary – it was founded to help women register to vote after the 1920 passage of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment – and Moms Demand Action came together to champion gun-safety measures.

This week, the 2020 legislative session will hit the halfway mark, meaning that the number of hours spent debating bills and resolutions will get longer as the number of remaining days gets shorter.

I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me so far, and I encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already.  Most of the major decisions, especially when it comes to finalizing the state’s budget, are still to be made, so there’s time to let me know your views or concerns.

You can reach me by email at Tina.Bojanowski@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave a message by calling 1-800-372-7181 during the week. 

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