I joined my fellow members of the House in passing several good, meaningful pieces of legislation this week, aimed at improving the quality of life for all Kentuckians. This is our last full week of this legislative session, with only eight legislative days left in the 2019 Regular Session.
SB 1 is a profound step toward both securing our schools and strengthening our students was a priority in both chambers this session. This legislation is a bold step forward in tackling an issue brought to light by last year’s shooting at Marshall County High School, a tragedy that rocked our commonwealth. The death of two young children highlighted the need for action, and the General Assembly delivered with passage of this transformative measure.
This bill stemmed from the excellent work of the School Safety Working Group in 2018, addressing two major challenges of securing our schools and strengthening our students.
This proactive approach to combatting violence in our schools focuses on increasing physical security, promoting an increased culture of student connection, and increasing oversight and accountability of school safety efforts. This framework sets a state goal of placing more trained law enforcement officers and school counselors in Kentucky schools, steps that will both harden the targets of our school buildings while better addressing the mental health needs of our youth.
The legislation also requires school districts to appoint a school safety coordinator, which many districts already do, while also calling for the creation of a new state school security marshal. This new statewide marshal would be charged with working to keep schools compliant with safety requirements. The bill also stiffens penalties making false threats against schools, and requires both active shooter training and more suicide prevention training for certain school employees.
A significant point of discussion has been just how new school safety initiatives will be funded. While the exact amount of costs associated with SB 1 will not be known until administrators begin to implement the bill, I am committed to prioritizing increased funding to support the major initiative we just passed. We will craft the new state budget next year, and it is critical that we appropriate enough funding to bring our school safety efforts to fruition. When 2020 comes, we will have a better idea of what kind of funding will be necessary to support the School Safety and Resiliency Act.
One of the most meaningful bills we have worked on this session cleared the House on Wednesday as members voted unanimously to pass legislation that would position Kentucky to provide more resources to children in state care. HB 2 is the first step in providing a comprehensive support program for the most vulnerable citizens of our state. The bill also adds ‘fictive kin’ under the definition of a caregiver. ‘Fictive Kin’ is a non-relative caregiver who still has a significant relationship with the child. HB 2 directs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to maximize services available to kinship and fictive caregivers with services including monetary support, child care, respite care and health insurance.
According to a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an average of 9 percent of Kentucky children resided in kinship care between 2016 and 2018, a rate more than double the national average. HB 2 incorporates national best practices in order to put Kentucky in the best position to draw federal funding for the program. The bill creates a state support system for grandparents and other family members and friends who have been awarded custody. HB 2 would also require the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to keep data on the exact number of relative and fictive kin placements – which would give lawmakers the data they need to identify areas of improvement in kinship and fictive care moving forward. Sadly, due to the opioid epidemic, this is a growing issue and has created a hardship for many families.
I was extremely proud to be the primary sponsor of HB21, legislation that would allow Family Resource and Youth Service Centers to accept private donations. FRYSCs are among the great stories of public education in Kentucky, as they provide necessary resources for our children, and families, but particularly those in need. They are currently funded through the school’s budget, but HB 21 would allow them to accept private donations for operation and maintenance. This measure comes on the heels of an increase in FRYSC funding that the legislature was able to include in last year’s budget. However, given the overwhelming need these centers face, being able to accept additional funds from those that desire to donate is a needed and welcomed opportunity.
In further action, members of the House voted unanimously to approve legislation that would support financial literacy education in Kentucky schools. House Bill 139 would create a Kentucky Financial Empowerment Commission, funded entirely by private donations, to provide curriculum and other resources to educators teaching financial literacy. In addition, the commission would also develop and implement plans to improve the financial literacy of Kentuckians. This is a complement to legislation passed last session that made financial literacy a requirement for high school graduation.
Members of the Kentucky House voted 93-1 on Monday to approve legislation that would ensure Kentucky consumers are aware of how the meat they are eating was raised. The legislation, HB 311, would prohibit cultured animal meat, which is produced in a lab, from being labeled as meat. Instead, it would bear the appropriate label that informs consumers of how it was created.
We also passed HB 4, a measure that would provide the General Assembly more oversight into how the legislation we enact actually becomes the laws that are enforced. House Bill 4 would ensure that legislative intent is followed when state agencies interpret legislation into regulations. Under current law, the legislature has the ability to monitor regulations and point out issues, but the agencies that write the regulations are under no obligation to actually address legislator’s concerns. The bill’s provisions would require the legislature to issue an annual report on regulations that legislators feel do not meet legislative intent. The legislature would then have the opportunity to clarify the issue through new legislation.
Also, this week members of the House voted 99-0 on Thursday to pass legislation that would tighten the legislative ethics code by explicitly banning legislators from sexually harassing employees and fellow members. House Bill 60 would make sexual harassment an offense in the legislative ethics code and create a new reporting process. The bill also provides clear definitions of harassment, sexual harassment, workplace complaint, unwanted sexual contact or sexually suggestive comments and discrimination, while creating a tip line to report wrongdoing within the legislative branch.
Legislative committees are, of course, still meeting and working on a few remaining House bills as well as legislation passed by the Senate and sent to us for consideration. I hope to update you on more action next week. In the meantime, I can be reached on my cell at 606-524-0227, please leave a message, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature’s website www.legislature.ky.gov. I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to serve.