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With January behind us, the General Assembly is finding the quick pace that defined the legislative session’s opening days is now settling into a more measured routine.
The first few weeks, of course, were dominated by two main actions: Governor Beshear’s speeches on the state of the Commonwealth and his budget proposal; and redistricting, which the House and Senate undertake each decade to reflect population changes in their districts and those of the Kentucky Supreme Court and our congressional delegation.
On Tuesday last week, the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee began the weeks-long task of closely looking at the governor’s budget to see what changes our chamber may want to make. Given the financial difficulty expected - Governor Beshear has warned most agencies to prepare for cuts of more than eight percent - few if any major alterations are forecast.
As this process gets underway, several other noteworthy bills have already been sent to the Senate for consideration. Those include a few designed to benefit those who have served our country.
House Bill 197, for example, would authorize an “I Support Veterans” license plate, and House Bill 221 would let veterans obtain a driver’s license that would reflect their service. House Bill 121, meanwhile, would require that any POW/MIA flag bought and flown by a public institution in Kentucky be American made.
If House Bill 224 becomes law, those serving in the Kentucky National Guard would be eligible for a new adoption-assistance program. In this case, those enlisted could recoup up to $5,000 in unreimbursed expenses if they adopt a child with special needs and up to $3,000 for any other child. This money would come from the military family assistance trust fund.
House Bill 71 would offer assistance to the families of soldiers killed in action by exempting probate fees their estate would normally pay; this exemption would apply as well to such hazardous-duty professionals here at home as law enforcement and firefighters.
Another prominent topic in the House this legislative session is education. House Bill 40, which is now in the Senate, would establish a statewide teacher evaluation system by the 2014-15 school year, streamlining a process that now varies from district to district. Those helping to implement this would include the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, the Kentucky School Boards Association and a statewide parent organization. This evaluation system could include peer and parent surveys and evidence of student progress in the classroom.
Another school-related bill also making it through the chamber, House Bill 30, would let school districts sell qualified advertising on their school buses as a way to raise revenue.
In addition to these bills, the House has put its support behind two studies centered on our youngest generation. One would take a closer look at the effect domestic violence has on children, and another would see how we can get more computing devices in the hands of fifth and sixth graders.
On Friday, the House voted unanimously for my resolution calling on the U.S. Dept. of Labor to reconsider a proposed rule change that would limit how much help teenagers under 16 could provide on the farm. If this federal rule is allowed, it would keep teens from using power equipment like tractors or handle cattle. No one wants to endanger their welfare, of course, but I think we have achieved a good balance as things now stand. Now that my resolution has passed the House, it will be sent to our congressional delegation and the secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
As all of this legislation shows, there is no shortage of ideas being discussed, but with only about two months left to finish our work, it is still too soon to say what will ultimately become law. Because of that, I encourage you to keep contacting me with your thoughts and concerns.
My address, should you want to write, is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.