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Senate passing legislation related to education, immigration, child health

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 — It was a busy but productive fifth week of the 2020 Regular Session as we passed a wide array of bills through the Senate and continued biennial budget discussions.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

Spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives. So with the governor’s proposal having been provided, your State Representative in the House has been working tirelessly on your behalf to fulfil that chamber’s constitutional requirement to introduce the state budget bill. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee and legislative staff have already begun the intensive review process of the budget proposed by the governor last week. Crafting the Commonwealth’s two-year financial plan is a lengthy process. Still, I am confident that the final product will be fiscally responsible while ensuring sufficient funding for our critical programs.

The Senate Majority made notable progress on the 2020 legislative agenda, successfully passing 11 bills over the week, including Senate priority bills 1 and 7. Senate Bill (SB) 1 is the Federal Immigration Cooperation Act of 2020 and SB 7 is a bill that returns the hiring authority of school principals to the district superintendent, in consultation with the School Based Decision Making Council.

Several bills with bipartisan support passed through the Senate this week, including SB 60 & SB 63. I am the primary sponsor of both bills.

SB 63 is a measure that would allow high school dropouts to complete their graduation requirements through online programs. The bill is one that has passed the Senate before, but unfortunately, time ran out on the legislative session before the House could pass the bill. It passed unanimously 36-0 in the past year and passed 38-0 this past week. Dropouts who meet the requirements of being at least 21 years of age, and having 16 credit hours left (being a junior) will be eligible. Meeting these requirements allows one to take virtual classes online to obtain their diploma. In our continually tech-driven world, this is a good step in providing educational opportunities and providing ways for people to better their lives.

Senate Bill 60 is a bill in which I am proud to see pass. A cure for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) was discovered in 2018. Currently, about five children are born with this disease each year in Kentucky, and SMA can be treated if the treatment is started in the first weeks after birth. This is a critical time to start treatment. SB 60 will add SMA to the list of diseases tested for during neonatal screenings. Ironically, SMA will be the 60th disease added to that list. Need for SB 60 was brought to my attention by a family of a child in our district, Eli Wheatley, who was born with this disease. I want to thank the Wheatley family for their contribution in making this bill possible. Their efforts will be a blessing to all those who will have this disease intercepted and cured by our excellent health and medical professionals.

SB 45 sets standards for Kentucky Child Care Centers, by requiring them to implement standards on physical activity, nutrition, and sugary drinks. The bill reminded me of an email I received from the Executive Director of Obesity Prevention Foundation of America, Pasquale J. Baccari. He informed me that there are support services for the prevention of childhood obesity free online to anyone who may find it beneficial.

They are provided on the organization’s website, obesitypreventionofamerica.org. According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, 20 percent of our population is affected by obesity. The site includes sections that offer suggestions and guidance for parents of overweight children, with healthy low-calorie recipes, juvenile exercise videos, health-oriented video games, parent and teen forums, hundreds of articles by health professionals, and much more. The website will even be adding a Body Mass Index calculator to compare to the Center for Disease Control and prevention recommendations. If you or anyone you know may find this useful, please make sure to utilize these free tools.

As you can see, several bills passed in week five. However, the bill I am most proud to have cast a yes vote for was SB 42, which requires issued student identification badges to contain emergency hotline numbers for domestic violence, sexual assault, and suicide prevention. Suicide rates among young people, sadly, is epidemic. I encourage you to have honest conversations with the young people in your life and let them know they are loved. Tragic stories arise far too often of someone who has taken their life out of depression or perceived hopelessness. Life is precious, and we should take the time to let others know their life is precious to us.

We owe a special thanks to Ms. Taylora Schlosser for her work on this bill, and for her dedication to mental health and suicide prevention. In efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental health, and to increase access and resources to social and emotional health support resources, Ms. Schlosser founded the Rae of Sunshine Foundation. The foundation was founded in memory of her beloved daughter, Taylor Rae. Please take a moment to visit raeofsunshineky.org to learn more about the incredible work they do through positive acts of kindness.

Keep in mind that for ambitious students who want to be a part of this year’s legislative process, the Kentucky General Assembly offers a variety of page opportunities for all ages. Students interested should contact my office at (502) 564-8100 to make a formal request.

If you have any questions or comments about these or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 (office) or (270) 692-6945 (home) or email me at Jimmy.Higdon@LRC.ky.gov. Remember, you can stay updated on the work of the General Assembly by visiting legislature.ky.gov.

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