Each legislative session is invariably remembered for one or two high-profile laws, but there are always many others that, while not getting as much attention, are important as well.
This year will likely be recalled for such things as shedding more light on the work of our special districts, which run our municipal airports, libraries, public utilities and volunteer fire departments. Other major accomplishments will update last year’s law to reduce prescription drug abuse; significantly improve the state’s human trafficking laws; and set the stage to increase the state’s high school dropout age from 16 to 18.
If all goes well early this week, when the General Assembly meets for the legislative session’s final two days, we’ll have several more to add to that list. That includes stabilizing our public pension systems; helping healthcare providers having a difficult time getting payment from the managed care organizations overseeing Medicaid; and making it easier for military personnel deployed overseas to vote.
Outside of those issues, the House and Senate made strides in several other areas as well this year.
In law enforcement, we broadened 2012 legislation that has made it easier for the state to remove new versions of dangerous synthetic drugs as they appear on the market. This new law will also make it a crime to involve a minor in the sale or use of these drugs and, in a related matter, will crack down more on those convicted of manufacturing or using meth. Meth manufacturers will now face a lifetime ban if they try to buy cold and allergy products containing pseudoephedrine, while meth users will see their ban double from five years to 10.
Another new law will close a loophole some child pornographers had exploited. Under the old law, they had to actually possess the material, but now intentional viewing will count as well. There are some sensible exceptions, such as for parents or other officials investigating cases involving children in their care.
More felons will now have access to post-conviction DNA testing, something that had only been available to death row inmates. This will better ensure that justice is carried out. High-end thieves who steal items worth tens of thousands if not millions of dollars, meanwhile, will face stiffer penalties, as will those found guilty of manslaughter involving a firefighter or police officer doing his or her job.
In education matters, the legislature streamlined the law for those students who graduate high school early and it also increased scholarship money available to them. The Dept. of Education estimates there are more than 500 of these bright students who annually finish at least a year ahead of their class.
Now, they will no longer see their KEES lottery-based scholarships penalized for leaving school early. There will also be a new scholarship program these students could tap. It will come from half of what the state spends per pupil, and it will only be available during what would have been their senior year in high school. This scholarship must also be used at one of the state’s public two- and four-year postsecondary schools or a properly accredited four-year private college.
College students who were foster children or under similar care will now have more time to qualify for free tuition if they enlist in the military or take part in such other service programs as Americorps or the Peace Corps. We in the General Assembly feel it is critical that these students are not penalized for taking time away from their education to help their country.
Some of the other new laws will do such things as:
· Remove residency requirements for getting a concealed carry gun license. Those moving to Kentucky previously had to wait six months before applying.
· Make it tougher for amusement park operators to dodge fines or penalties by simply dissolving or changing the name of their business.
· Improve the state’s “one-stop shopping” online portal that businesses use when interacting with state government. This law will assign the businesses a single identifier that, when phased in, will be used by all state agencies.
As I mentioned, there is still a lot to be done legislatively for the two days we have to work. I will of course update you next week on what has taken place.
If you ever 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.