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Higdon: State senate awaits completed state budget bill from the state House

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, March 6, 2020 — Week nine of the 2020 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly proved to be the most productive yet. Activity will only increase from this point forward, because on Friday the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee passed its state budget bill. That bill is now eligible for passage on the House Floor, at which point it will go to the Senate for consideration.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

The coming weeks will include some very late nights for lawmakers as we continue through the process of fulfilling this great responsibility with diligence and care for the taxpayers of Kentucky. Kentuckians deserve no less. I will keep you updated as the process moves forward.

Our top priority in Kentucky as we consider the two-year state budget and six-year road plan must always be our most precious asset… the children of Kentucky. On that note, it was fitting that last week, the Senate received a visit from two special guests in the Senate chamber, Save the Children Action Network president, Mark Shriver and award-winning actress, Jennifer Garner. Mr. Shriver is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and you know Ms. Garner from her many films such as Pearl Harbor, 13 Going on 30, Miracles from Heaven, Daredevil, Elektra, and more. Many might not know that Jennifer Garner grew up in rural West Virginia where she witnessed the effects of generational poverty on children, similar to those we see in rural Kentucky. With the help of local advocates, Jennifer and President Shriver are working to preserve funding for Save the Children’s early childhood education and literacy programs, which serve more than 12,000 children throughout the Commonwealth. The organization has directly benefited Kentucky children and for that we are grateful for the wonderful work of Save the Children. It was an honor to welcome them to Frankfort.

The Kentucky General Assembly reached another milestone on our journey toward the last day of the session. The deadline to file bills was last Wednesday. Almost 1,000 bills were filed—286 Senate bills and 647 House bills. With the March 4th bill filing deadline behind us, we now have a more complete view of the issues lawmakers will take up this year. There are sure to be tough decisions made, along with some compromises in the final weeks ahead.

More legislation that I introduced found success last week. I am happy to report that the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 149. The bill makes some reforms to the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) to provide better services to our veterans who have earned them through their sacrificial service to our great country. SB 149 also eases the ongoing staff shortages at veterans centers by allowing the KDVA to use personal service contracts to hire nurse aides. Our veterans deserve the highest quality of care and I was happy to be the sponsor of this legislation.

Other bills passing this week included SB 150, SB 182, and SB 193.

SB 150 is an effort to rein in surprise medical billing and protect patients. The bill seeks to stop the practice by requiring insurers to cover surprise medical billing, sometimes called balanced billing. This happens when a patient receives medical care—often unwittingly—outside of their insurer’s network. Subsequently, the doctors or hospital bills the patient for the amount insurance didn’t cover. SB 150 would require the state insurance commissioner to establish a database of billed health care service charges, and would provide a dispute resolution program for medical insurers and providers to work out their differences over these out-of-network charges, not the patient.

SB 182 would criminalize the “doxing” of minor. By definition, doxing is the act of publicly identifying or publishing private information about someone, especially as a form of punishment, intimidation, or revenge. This legislation was brought forward following the incident of the Covington Catholic students who were on their trip to Washington, D.C. SB 182 is a common-sense step to address the growing problem of cyber harassment in today’s digital driven era, and would protect the privacy of minors.

SB 193 establishes a goal of increasing participation in computer science courses by underrepresented groups, including females, minorities, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students whose families are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. For example, women represented 40 percent of the computer science workforce back in 1995. Today, it is less than 25 percent. SB 193 includes information regarding the number of computer science courses or programs offered in each school, as well as the nature of those courses or programs and the number of instructors required. I am proud to support this bill and hope to see an increase in computer science participation upon its passage.

Additional bills clearing the Senate were:

Senate Joint Resolution 35 directs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to establish the Task Force on Services for Persons with Brain Injuries.

SB 115 amends the statute regarding the tuition waiver for Kentucky Foster or adopted children to include graduate programs and extends the eligibility time period to ten consecutive or non-consecutive semesters up to age 28.

SB 136 requires home health aides who have not provided services to clients who have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia to complete four hours of approved dementia training.

SB 148 Requires individuals applying to claim certain agriculture exceptions to first apply for an agriculture exemption number from the Department of Revenue (DOR). The bill further requires that the DOR develop a searchable agriculture exemption number database for sellers and retailers to use for verification.

SB 159 sets regulations for the operation and maintenance of splash pads and to establish their separation from those of swimming pools.

Finally, a House measure relating to medicinal marijuana research passed in the Senate this week. House Concurrent Resolution 5 urges national drug organizations, such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, to expedite research into the potential therapeutic benefits and risks of using marijuana for health purposes.

I want to update you on a bill that I introduced, SB 208, which relates to the Kentucky Veterans Hall of Fame. I filed this bill to add a statewide structure to help the nomination process. Due to the founder and director being unable to make it to Frankfort to work with me on the details of the bill, we decided to work on this bill during the interim session, rather than moving forward this session without his full participation. I am a believer that every veterans deserves to be in the Veterans Hall of Fame; but every year we select twenty-five who stand out. I invite you to nominate a special veteran in your life by going to www.kyveterans.com. The deadline to nominate is March 31st.

As you know from reading my weekly columns, I enjoy providing my constituents with a weekly public service announcement of sorts, be it information on the 2020 Census, the distribution of Kentucky Lottery funds in the district, or public services available to the people of the 14th Senate District. This week I want to inform you that on Wednesday, March 25th, an expungement session will be held at the Lebanon/Marion County Career Center from 2 PM until 5:30 PM.

The expungement session can be beneficial to those who are looking for a clean slate. I encourage you to share this information with anyone you may know who would benefit from being forgiven for their past mistakes and is ready for full reentry into society. Past records can cause difficulty in finding employment even long after the debt to society has been paid in full. I am grateful to the Career Center, the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Public Advocacy, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the South Central Kentucky Reentry Coalition for making this no-cost service available.

In closing, I want to mention several special visitors and pages who joined me in Frankfort throughout week nine. These included students from the 14th Senate District. Ms. Ashanty Garcia, 7th Grader at Spencer County Middle School in Taylorsville, and Mr. Holden Underwood, 11th Grader from Nelson County High School in Bardstown. Finally, Brother Chris Howlett and Pastor Stacey Wilson joined us in the Senate to lead the chamber in prayer at the opening of the day’s session. It was a blessing to have them pray for state lawmakers.

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.

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