By Rita Smart
Special to the Register
Battling snow, ice, record cold temperatures and epic wind chills, l made it to Frankfort for the 2014 legislative session of the Kentucky General Assembly that convened this week.
Despite challenges as daunting as the weather, we are prepared to spend the next 60 days tackling issues, crafting a two-year budget and passing legislation to move Kentucky forward.
Issues and legislation under consideration include proposals to:
• Raise the minimum wage
• Promote economic development
• Protect our agriculture industry
• Amend coal severance tax revenue distribution
• Restore voting rights to felons who have completed sentences
• Establish a statewide public indoor smoking ban
• Revise Kentucky’s eminent domain law
• Allow casino gaming
• Permit electronic voting by our overseas military
• Overhaul our juvenile-justice system.
In addition, we must pass a budget. While the governor’s State of the Commonwealth speech was positive, some spending cuts will still have to be made to honor commitments to education and pensions.
Education is always a top priority, and because of the years-long recession, funding cuts have taken a toll. Kentucky did catch a break by being awarded a $44.3 million Race to the Top grant to improve early learning programs for our preschoolers, but we still have hurdles. We haven’t cut SEEK funding, but we haven’t increased it either. We’re lagging behind as the cost of books, teacher training and school safety have increased.
The House has passed its first bill this week. House Bill 8 would allow domestic-violence victims in dating situations to obtain domestic violence orders.
Currently, DVOs are available in Kentucky only if the abuser and victim have been married, lived together, or have a child in common. Kentucky is one of three states that does not issue protective orders to people older than 18 who have been in dating relationships. Hopefully, that will change. House Bill 8 passed by a unanimous vote out of the Judiciary Committee and now heads to the House floor for consideration.
I am fortunate to have two young interns this session. Sydney Morton is a senior at the University of Louisville and Ray Arnold is a recent EKU graduate with a master’s degree. Both are from Richmond and that makes having them even more special for me.
More than 200 bills have been filed and now the committee work begins.
On Thursday, Jan. 16, students from Madison Middle school will be joining me to testify before the State Government Committee on the Anti-Bullying Awareness bill. This will provide them an opportunity to learn how bills are introduced and the path they must follow for passage. Students back at the school will do their homework in writing letters, sending e-mails and calling legislators to vote yes on HB40.
Your input is important to me ,so please stay informed of legislative action by logging onto the legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835.
To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or check out KET’s website and download their mobile app where you can watch the action live on your mobile device.