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Legislative session included several high-profile issues

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Each legislative session is inevitably remembered for a key issue or two, and this year’s will undoubtedly be recalled for the toughest budget most of us have seen in our lifetime and for taking a comprehensive approach on drug abuse.

There were several other high-profile issues as well, including the legislature’s latest effort to crack down on copper thefts and making sure that the interest on the sizeable federal loan for the state’s unemployment insurance fund is covered so businesses wouldn’t lose a much-needed tax credit.

While the General Assembly’s work in these areas took up much of the public’s attention, there were also quite a few other new laws passed this year to help our state.

In education, for example, it is now possible for schools to have considerable flexibility when it comes to boosting academic development. If they qualify, they could be free of some of the laws and regulations governing them, letting them experiment with such things as a longer school calendar or a different kind of classroom setting.

Another new law that will eventually affect some of our youngest children will move back the cut-off date to start first grade.  Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, children will be able to enroll if they turn six by Aug. 1st rather than the current Oct. 1st.

In other areas of education, the legislature passed a law that now prohibits superintendents from punishing teachers by assigning them to alternative schools, and we made it possible for special needs students who graduate with a modified curriculum to receive an alternative high school diploma rather than a certificate.

School coaches will now have to be better trained in recognizing and treating concussions and head injuries, and there will be a study to take a close look at middle school sports, which don’t have a statewide governing organization like high schools.

Another study, meanwhile, was also approved this year to see how the state can best treat juveniles caught up in the judicial system. There are at least three different areas needing closer review, including what approach the state should take when children 10 and younger commit a crime; how we should handle status offenses, which are violations like truancy that wouldn’t be an issue for adults; and how children caught up in domestic violence situations are affected.

For police, there will now be a “Blue Alert,” which is similar to the popular “Amber Alert” used when a child is missing. Under this new alert, the public will be notified if a police officer is killed or severely injured. That will hopefully make it easier to find the assailant.

Another law tied to public safety tries to bridge the line between religious freedom and protecting drivers on the road. In this case, those who drive motorless vehicles will now have the option to use reflective tape rather than the orange triangle that is otherwise standard but had been opposed on religious grounds by some groups such as the Amish.

Other new laws will standardize local tax forms to make it easier for companies to pay these taxes if they do business in more than one community; call on life insurance companies to work harder to find beneficiaries of unclaimed policies; and have social workers provide more information to help foster children transition into adulthood.

Although the time to pass laws is now over for the year, the General Assembly will soon begin holding its interim committee meetings again to review issues that may need to be addressed next year. If you have any comments or concerns about anything involving state government, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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.