As I file this legislative update from my Capitol desk, we are more than halfway through this year’s legislative session and wrapping up business on our seventeenth legislative day. Our week began with members of the General Assembly convening Tuesday’s session in the Old State Capitol Building. It was a great opportunity to appreciate the building that was the center of our state government from 1830 until 1910.
My time there this week led me to consider how Kentuckians have faced many challenges in our state’s history. The Old Capitol witnessed political debates on issues that have challenged us throughout our commonwealth’s history and continue to confront us today, but our commonwealth has persevered just as the building itself has.
While we began our week with a nod towards history, we quickly moved to passing legislation that looks toward our future. I was proud to vote for House Bill 158, legislation titled the Foster Child Bill of Rights. The bill would ensure that Kentucky children in foster care and other out-of-home placements have their basic needs met. The list of rights includes the right to “adequate food, clothing, and shelter” and “a safe, secure and stable family.” HB 158 would also require national and state background checks on child residential home and placement agency staff as required under a 2018 federal law. The cost of the background checks would be covered by the home or agency, not the employee.
On Thursday, we voted 96-4 to approve a tax cleanup bill that would exempt all Kentucky nonprofits from collecting the sales tax on admissions to their charitable events. HB 354 also ensures that all nonprofits see their threshold for collecting sales taxes raised from $1,000 to $10,000. Last year, the legislature took a major step forward in making the tax code more pro-business, lowering your income taxes and moving Kentucky in a more consumption based direction. However, minor adjustments to major legislation like the tax reform package are always necessary as changes are implemented.
Shortly after passing the tax reform measure, the House voted overwhelmingly to pass HB 268, which would provide additional funding to several state entities – including our state parks and universities. Once nationally recognized for their facilities and offerings, our parks have fallen into a state of disrepair. HB 268 would authorize a $50 million investment in bond funds for improvements at Kentucky’s state parks for the first phase of improvements while committing to an additional $50 million for state park improvements in future budgets. The bill also provides funding for critical programs at several of our public universities.
On Wednesday, the House voted 79-18 to set aside one day each year for Kentuckians to pray or reflect on the state’s public schools and their students. House Bill 166 would designate a voluntary “Day of Prayer for Kentucky’s Students” on the last Wednesday of each September, which would coincide with the international “See You at the Pole” student-led school prayer event. Student participation in the event would be voluntary and open to all faiths and religious traditions.
This week we also gave approval to two very simple but important pieces of legislation aimed at saving lives. HB 150 would provide valuable assistance in locating missing adults with impairments or disabilities. HB 150 would allow the Amber Alert System, which includes highway signs and public notification, to be used for Golden Alerts. A similar measure, HB 180 creates a Green Alert system to help locate missing, at-risk veterans within the same alert system. Both of these bills plug into a system that is proven to work in order to help more people in their time of need.
Legislative committees remained active this week as well, passing bills like HB 2, which seeks to provide important resources to children and guardians in kinship or fictive care. If passed into law, the measure would create a state support system for grandparents and other family members and friends who have been awarded custody. There are an estimated 96,000 Kentucky children living in kinship or fictive situations, many of which are financially struggling to provide necessary care. The language in this measure incorporates national best practices which will put Kentucky in the best position to draw federal funding dollars.
HB 5, legislation that would prevent selective and discriminatory abortions that are based on race, gender, and perceived disability, such as Down syndrome also began moving through the legislative process. I am looking forward to supporting this bill, which would apply the same civil rights protections that Kentuckians receive after they are born to our unborn. Pro-life measures are continuing to receive attention and I am pleased to see such strong support building for measures like HB 5.
Before closing, I would like to take an opportunity to thank the paper for running these columns. I hope to continue to update you on our progress. In the meantime, I can be reached here at home anytime, 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.