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Legislative update: Kentucky senate wraps up a productive 2017 session

By SEN. JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 2 p.m. — Long nights, intense debate, and media attention from across the globe wrapped up what started as a quiet final week of the 2017 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Minutes before the Senate gaveled out for good, Gov. Matt Bevin called this session the most productive in history. It was truly an honor to work alongside the governor with the new House Majority to pass many great initiatives for our commonwealth.

Critics and supporters alike have noted the session was among the busiest our state has ever seen. We added to the session’s major accomplishments in recent days with the final passage of Senate Bill 1. This bill, known as the “Teachers Can Teach” bill, is a wide-ranging measure that will deliver sweeping education reform and effectively repeal Common Core standards.

The measure will change how Kentucky public schools are held accountable for student progress as well as how teachers are evaluated. It will place more control and accountability in the hands of local school districts, giving them a stronger voice in improving performance by both students and teachers.

The legislation also requires vigorous regular reviews of academic standards in Kentucky schools and holds schools accountable for success indicators such as graduation rates and college admissions exam scores. It offers state-funded opportunities to assess students’ academic progress through taking early college admissions tests, returns responsibility for teacher evaluation back to local school boards, and reduces the amount of paperwork that now takes time from teachers and administrators. The measure passed by wide margins and with nearly unanimous support in both the Senate and House. It has been delivered to the governor’s office to be signed into law.

In addition to passing major bills this week, we overrode four vetoes issued by the governor shortly before we returned to the Capitol on March 29 after a two-week recess. The governor’s four vetoes focused on measures dealing with the regulation of drones, court-ordered treatment for certain mentally ill people with a history of involuntary hospitalization, the manner of disbursing funds from a multimillion dollar legal settlement with Volkswagen, and the naming of roads in certain parts of the state. All four of these vetoes were overridden in the Senate and House with bipartisan support.

In other business this week, the Senate approved a number of bills that will become law when signed by the governor, including:

Senate Bill 120 is a criminal justice reform bill that will help people leaving prison successfully rejoin society. The measure includes provisions to remove licensing restrictions that make it harder for felons to find jobs. It also makes improvements in reentry substance abuse supervision.

House Bill 13 lays out the foundations for a new veterans’ nursing home in Western Kentucky.

House Bill 128 will ensure that public schools are allowed to offer elective Bible literacy classes to students.

House Bill 206 establishes the Dual Credit Scholarship Program, allowing high school students to use education credits for both their current high school class and future postsecondary institutions.

House Bill 253 will help protect abused children through unannounced visits by state social services workers to the residences where child abuse or neglect has occurred. The unannounced visits will continue until the welfare of a child has been safeguarded.

House Bill 375 prohibits disqualification for unemployment benefits for a worker who leaves a job to follow a military spouse who has been reassigned to another military base or duty location that is 100 miles or more from the worker’s home.

House Bill 522 is another bill aimed at helping state agency minors by allowing children who are at least 17 years old to seek a high school equivalency diploma.

House Bill 524 will help fight human trafficking by requiring public schools to display the National Human Trafficking Reporting Hotline information and will require the hotline number of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to be posted at rest areas. The measure will also make promoting human trafficking involving commercial sexual activity a criminal offense against a minor if the victim is under 18.

My next piece will be a big-picture summary of the highly successful 2017 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. In the months to come, lawmakers will continue studying and discussing the issues we are likely to take up in next year’s session. If you would like to offer input on the work lawmakers have completed in this year’s session or the issues we have yet to tackle, I hope you will take the time to share your thoughts.

Additionally, I would like to recognize this week as “National Retirement Planning Week.” Experts from the National Retirement Planning Coalition, the group that organizes National Retirement Planning Week® are urging Americans to use this time to develop, review and/or revise their retirement plans. If you do not have a retirement plan in place, I urge you to seek out options for one, even if that means saving a few extra dollars a week.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181, on my home phone at 270-692-6945, or email me at Jimmy.Higdon@LRC.ky.gov. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

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