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Sen. Higdon reviews some of the issues facing the 2019 General Assembly

By SEN. JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 — As the approaching holidays provide a brief break before the 2019 General Assembly, my wish is that everyone can take time out of their busy schedules to enjoy family and celebrate the reason for the season.

This next session I will not seek the position of Senate President Pro Tem when the upper chamber convenes at high noon on Jan. 8 for the 153rd regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Last session, when Sen. David Givens lost his wife to cancer, I stepped up to serve his remaining term as pro tem so he could focus on his family. After a year of healing, Sen. Givens has told me that he plans to seek to return to that position. Out of my respect for him, I have decided to step aside.

With that said, once a leader always a leader. I will continue to study proposed legislation as we prepare for the upcoming session, set to begin on Jan. 8. While we need to continue to develop laws and policies that will attract jobs and businesses to Kentucky, here are some measures that I think could be taken up during the session:

PENSION REFORM. My crystal ball is too cloudy to make any accurate predictions on future public pension legislation. The fate of the pension bill passed last session is now in the hands of the courts. The case reached the state Supreme Court after a Franklin Circuit Court judge struck down the law down in June on procedural grounds. We expect a ruling from the Kentucky Supreme Court in early December.

SPORTS BETTING. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision paves the way for Kentucky and other states to allow legal betting on professional and collegiate athletic events. And several states have since moved to legalize sports betting or are in the process of doing so, including New Jersey, West Virginia and Mississippi.

Supporters say sports betting won’t resolve the state’s budget woes, but it could provide an important source of new revenue. But efforts to allow sports betting in the state face the same questions that challenged efforts to bring casinos to Kentucky: moral concerns and constitutional questions.

MARIJUANA. While legislation to legalize recreational marijuana has failed in the past, support for legalizing medical marijuana appears to be growing. A group of state lawmakers is making a push to legalize medical marijuana, arguing that doing so would provide patients with an alternative to addictive painkillers and expensive medications.

The supporters hope Kentucky will soon join at least 30 other states and Washington D.C. that have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Opponents say that marijuana should be vetted by the federal Food and Drug Administration before the state legalizes it in any way.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM. With the state prisons running out of space to house additional inmates, I expect legislation designed to curb the growth of Kentucky’s inmate population.

One way to do that is to increase the felony threshold level for theft in Kentucky, which is currently $500. Another way to reduce Kentucky’s inmate population is to enact bail reform. Yet other ideas include reducing possession of certain drugs to misdemeanors, increasing medication-assisted treatment for drug addicts and improving how the state supervises the 48,000 people on probation.

SCHOOL SAFETY. School safety also continues to be an urgent issue, and state legislators have devoted a lot of time to the issue during the interim.

Suggestions made by experts this summer include looking at the school environment. We need to make sure they have the proper resources to address mental-health issues. We need to make sure the school entrances are secure and to make sure the classroom is secure. If students have to shelter in place, they need to be able to lock down the classroom. And we need to encourage the expansion of school resource officers. Kids need to feel safe at school.

This is just a very short overview of a few of the things I think we will be dealing with next year. And, even though we have some idea of what to expect going in, we expect surprises. I’m sure there will be issues that pop up mid-session. We’ll be dealing with those, too.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, is president pro tempore. He represents the 14th District that encompasses Casey, Marion, Nelson and Spencer counties as well as part of Jefferson County. He can be reached by calling his office in Frankfort at 502-564-8100, his home in Lebanon at 270-692-6945 or emailing him at senatorhigdon@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @SenatorJimmy or on the Web at www.jimmyhigdon.com.

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