While most legislative sessions are often remembered for one or two major accomplishments, there are always other new laws that may not be as publicized but are important as well in their own right.
The highlight of last year, outside of the budget, was the work the General Assembly did to crack down on illegal drug use. But the House and Senate also made it much tougher for copper thieves to make a quick buck, kept businesses from losing a sizable federal tax credit tied to the unemployment insurance fund and gave schools the ability to take truly innovative steps in the classroom.
Time may be short this year because the session will only last for 30 instead of 60 days, but there have already been numerous bills filed that could be easily added to this list.
Several of those promote safety, especially when it comes to our schools. House Bill 135, for example, would create the School and Student Safety Review Subcommittee as part of the Legislative Research Commission, which is the General Assembly’s administrative arm.
On Thursday, a special House committee I appointed and that is modeled after this legislation held its first meeting, which featured a welcome dialog from Louisville and Kentucky State Police officers as well as the director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety. While we wait for this committee to become permanent, this approach gives us a head start on an issue that every state is confronting after last month’s tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
In a related measure, House Bill 65 would require that all schools report to the Dept. of Education each time law enforcement is called for an incident on their property. This could be a valuable tool that would give us a better statewide picture of the safety problems schools may be facing.
In other safety measures, House Bill 93 would standardize guidelines for outdoor warning systems and require training for when they should be used; and House Bill 39 would criminalize intentional viewing of child pornography, not just possession of the material. It’s important that we close this loophole.
As for education legislation, House Bill 59 would set up the possibility of early high school graduation for gifted students who qualify – a move that would enable them to go to college sooner – House Bill 16 would establish a three-day sales tax holiday for school supplies in early August; and House Bill 44 would encourage schools to do more to promote healthy food choices.
Economically, House Bill 119 calls for the state to establish a preference for iron, steel and other products made in the United States when a new government building is built or remodeled.
House Bill 17 would establish an angel investor tax credit, in an effort to boost investment in fledging companies at a time when they need it most; and House Bill 141 would establish a different type of tax credit for farmers who donate agricultural products to non-profit food programs.
Removing different kinds of restrictions is the focus of some other bills. House Bill 70 would give voters the ability to restore voting rights to most non-violent felons once they complete their sentences; and House Bill 97 would keep employers from firing or retaliating against an employee who is a crime victim and takes leave to attend proceedings tied to the crime.
It is too soon, of course, to say what will ultimately become law, but as the General Assembly considers the major issues of the day – from tax and public pension reform to legislative redistricting – it’s important to keep track of bills like these as well as they move through the pipeline.
We will kick this process off on Feb. 5th, when my legislative colleagues and I return to the Capitol for the session’s remaining 26 days.
Your input, as always, is important, and I appreciate those who have already contacted me with their views. If you would like to leave a message for me or for any legislator, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.