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Higdon: Kentucky General Assembly passes halfway point of 30-day session

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, Feb. 12, 2021 — On Thursday, the Kentucky General Assembly officially reached the halfway mark of the 30-day session, but not without Mother Nature making her presence known. I hope you remained safe during the winter weather that rolled into the Bluegrass late this week. Join me in taking a moment to thank the fantastic folks who have braved the weather to keep our lights on and our roads clear. They are unsung heroes.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

Amid ongoing budget discussions, key legislation to address challenges facing our state continues through the legislative process in Frankfort. Bills receiving passage in the Senate included:

Senate Bill (SB) 12 preserves the nonprofit nature of eye tissue donation by prohibiting for-profit entities from procuring any eye, cornea, eye tissue, or corneal tissue. It ensures that a person may not, for valuable consideration, knowingly purchase, sell, transfer, or offer to buy, sell, or transfer any human organ for transplantation or therapy.

SB 16 updates the Colon Cancer Screening Program with its fund and advisory committee to include “and Prevention” in the title. It requires funds from the sale of special cancer prevention license plates to be directed to the program fund and used solely for colon cancer screening and prevention. The bill also updates the membership of the program’s advisory committee. It requires the Department for Medicaid Services to present statistics on cancer services related to colorectal cancer annually and upon request.

Kentucky has done an excellent job in recent years on the cancer screening and prevention front. We were once ranked 49th in this area and have reached a ranking as high as 17th. We currently rank about 22nd. More work is left to do, but better focusing our efforts through good legislation will improve our ongoing fight against cancer.

SB 29 provides Kentucky’s Attorney General, Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and County Attorneys security against financial liability resulting from their sworn performance of duty to prosecute state law. Losses would be compensated by funds appropriated to the Finance & Administration Cabinet.

SB 36 removes the automatic transfer of a child from a district court to a circuit court to be tried as an adult in cases involving the use of firearms. The bill brings juvenile cases involving a gun in alignment with the standards applied to any other juvenile case. It would require the district court to consider whether or not the child has a severe intellectual disability, as well.

SB 73 extends the timeline for action for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in cases before them. Currently, the commission is struggling with caseloads that staffing levels are not fully able to manage.

SB 74 renames the current Office on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders to the Office of Dementia Services. The bill serves to elevate dementia-related services within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). Additionally, it updates the membership and duties of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Advisory Council. SB 74 establishes a Dementia Coordinator position that will help refresh the state health plan every four years to improve diagnosis and treatment of dementia and help apply for federal grants that can be used to treat dementia. Appropriation for this position will need to be allocated by the cabinet or appropriated in future budgets. Dementia-related diseases are the 6th leading cause of death. The enactment of this bill would be a step toward improving the state’s efforts to treat these horrible diseases.

SB 77 improves diversity on superintendent screening committees by reforming committee memberships in school districts where the minority student population is 50 percent or greater.

SB 80 strengthens oversight of peace officers who conduct themselves in a criminal or unprofessional way by easing a council’s ability to revoke certification. The bill also puts in place hiring procedures that will help ensure an officer does not avoid consequences by leaving one agency to work for another. The bill will increase societal trust and has the support of law enforcement organizations.

SB 84 provides women in state correctional facilities who are pregnant with an understanding of the community-based resources available to them by connecting them with social workers to help in the child’s placement. This bill ends placing pregnant inmates, or those within six weeks of delivery of a child, in solitary confinement. I consider this a pro-life measure. We must keep the best interest of an innocent child in mind.

“HORSE RACING” SLOT MACHINE BILL. SB 120 allows for the continuation of historical horse racing following a Supreme Court of Kentucky ruling that it was incompatible with the definition of pari-mutuel wagering.

I voted “no” on this bill for one significant reason. The saying goes that one of the few things that a man can give and still keep is his word, a smile, and a grateful heart. I voted in opposition to the bill. It has long been my position that this issue should be placed on the ballot as a constitutional amendment for voters to determine. When I ran for office, I promised constituents here in the 14th District that this would be my position on the issue. It is important to me that I stay consistent and dedicated to my word.

There are good people on both sides of this issue, each with valid arguments in their favor. The various opinions, nuances in gaming, and the courts’ involvement in this issue lead me to believe that Kentucky voters should speak on the subject themselves. In 1988, the Kentucky lottery subject was placed on the ballot for the voters to decide. Precedent implies HHR should take the same route. A promise is a promise.

As you can see, the General Assembly is hard at work. I am hopeful that inclement weather will not slow down our efforts. Should the weather remain as brutal as it has been, please avoid being out at all costs. This will help lessen the potential responses of first responders and enable road workers and linemen to do the challenging jobs they have. If you must be out, please be safe and mindful.

UNEMPLOYMENT UPDATE. In closing, we received an update on the ongoing unemployment issue. A recent audit of the Kentucky Unemployment System by State Auditor Mike Harmon made some troubling findings. There are approximately 400,000 emails from struggling Kentuckians seeking claims that remain unread.

If you have not received attention to your unemployment claim(s), please contact me with all of the information necessary to review your claim(s), including:

  • Your full name
  • County of residence
  • Last four digits of your Social Security Number
  • Last day worked
  • Your phone number

Please direct unemployment-related inquiries to my email at Jimmy.Higdon@lrc.ky.gov.

Additionally, if you have any questions or comments about any of the aforementioned public policy issues, please call my office toll-free at 502-564-8100 or the legislative message line 1-800-372-7181. You can also reach me at (270) 692-6945 (home). Stay safe and healthy. God bless.

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