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When the General Assembly opens the 2012 Regular Session in early January, there is no doubt what the top issue will be: enacting the state’s budget for the next two years. Redrawing state House, Senate and congressional districts, something done after each Census, will likely be prominent as well, especially in the session’s opening weeks.
Beyond that, though, there will be dozens of other topics large and small needing attention. Earlier this month, those who staff the legislature’s 15 main committees offered their suggestions on what some of those may be. The list isn’t comprehensive, but their views shed further light on what may be debated during the 60 legislative days.
One of the most important of those will be finding ways to curb prescription drug abuse, which has seen a tremendous rise in recent years. We have unfortunately become a haven for what are called “pill mills,” or doctor’s offices that do little more than write prescriptions for such controlled substances as OxyContin.
Steps have been taken in recent months to better track those involved in these potentially criminal transactions, so that law enforcement and physician licensing agencies have what they need to take action, and there will likely be a move to make it much more difficult for these often fly-by-night operations to open in the first place.
In other judicial matters, the legislature will debate whether we should set a minimum age of criminal responsibility. There were 359 complaints filed against children 10 and younger last year, with the crimes ranging from criminal mischief to assault and arson. While most were handled through social services, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Dept. of Juvenile Justice and the Dept. of Public Advocacy are asking that we make this official policy. Currently, 11 states exempt children 10 and under from criminal responsibility, and five others have set the limit a little lower.
As the legislature considers taking this step, it will also see whether we should establish a statewide database of suspected gang members and increase penalties if a crime is gang related. The database could make it easier for local law enforcement agencies to know if a rise in crime is being coordinated, while tougher penalties would hopefully curtail this type of activity.
In addition to tackling problems, the General Assembly could offer incentives in several areas to spur progress.
Our public postsecondary schools, for example, could see a portion of their funding tied to meeting certain educational requirements, such as improved graduation rates. The Education Commission of the States says 27 other states have already added performance-base requirements for their schools.
In 2009, the General Assembly moved in that direction when it called for college remediation rates to be cut in half by 2014 when compared to 2010. We also pushed universities to do more to help a growing number of college students enrolled in these courses complete their degree.
Economically, we could make it more attractive financially for individuals to act as “angel” investors, which can play a critical role in helping new companies turn an idea into reality. Kentucky already offers tax breaks to investment funds that act in this capacity, but proponents say expanding it could make it easier to attract up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Making it easier for veterans to transition back into civilian life is another idea that may come up next year. In this case, we would see if it is feasible to let these men and women use their military training where applicable to help meet state licensing requirements in the private sector. Those in favor say this would help our veterans obtain work, while others caution that differing standards in the military could make it tougher to apply certain exemptions in a given profession.
As I mentioned, these items are only a snapshot of what could come up next year in the General Assembly. Others on the agenda could range from making it easier to buy milk that is not pasteurized to finding ways to expand broadband availability and usage across the state.
I will of course keep you updated on the progress we make in the months ahead, but your input is very much needed as well. I encourage you to let me know what issues are important to you and how you feel about any legislation when it is being debated next year.
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.