Senate tackles travel, education measures; redistricting to courts

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Greetings from Frankfort! Anyone visiting the capitol this week would have enjoyed watching democracy in action, both on an individual level as well as a grander level. We passed legislation that made road travel safer for the Amish, we moved forward in education, and we found consensus on congressional redistricting even as legislative redistricting moved to the courts. It was a full week.

First, let’s look at how a small group of dedicated people can work to pass legislation meaningful to them. Senate Bill 75 unanimously passed from the Transportation Committee as well as the Senate chamber.

Members of the Amish community around Kentucky felt that a current requirement for a bright-orange triangle mounted on the back of their horse-drawn buggies was a violation of their religious convictions against flashy displays. So they wrote to their lawmakers and worked together with them toward a safe solution that wouldn’t go against their religious beliefs.

The resulting legislation allows for white or gray reflective tape to be used as an alternative to the orange triangle. The provision requires at least 100 inches of tape outlining the back of the buggy, as well as several feet of tape on both sides and the front.

Supporters feel it is even safer than the orange emblem, a strong example of citizen-motivated legislation identifying even better solutions to the issues facing us.

We also passed several education initiatives. Senate Bill 38, “Career Pathways,” focusing on keeping high school students interested in school, passed unanimously. The bill creates a career and technical education curriculum in the public school system. Supporters hope the new curriculum will prevent at-risk students from dropping out before graduation by preparing them for careers in local business and industry that do not require a college degree. This is also a business-friendly bill because industries need skilled labor. A companion to this legislation is Senate Bill 109. SB 109 would give local school districts the authority to adopt a policy requiring students to stay in school until age 18, or actual graduation whichever comes first. It would be a local decision, up to the school district. Districts implementing such a policy would be required to offer an approved alternative education program that would help meet the needs of students most likely to drop out. In this way, educators are better prepared and at-risk students do not distract from the traditional educational process. If agreed by the House, it would take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

  Senate Bill 47 allows for a type of “livestock-sharing.” Many people want to get closer to their food source for both environmental and health reasons. Many feel this is a parental and individual right.  SB 47 affirms Kentuckians’ right to enter into shared ownership arrangements for livestock.

Individuals entering into such contracts could use and consume products from their animal shares, such as meat, raw milk, and wool.   Last, but certainly not least, Senate Bill 102, an informed consent bill, passed from the Senate. We have passed similar legislation from the Senate for several years. The original bill passed in 1998 required communication 24 hours prior between the doctor and the woman thinking about an abortion to discuss the procedure. Unfortunately, this has been interpreted by some as a pre-recorded message. A woman deserves full information provided in a face-to-face meeting with a medical professional when contemplating a surgery, especially one with such serious ramifications.

Finally, many of you have heard the news that a Franklin County judge ruled House Bill 1, the bill that laid out new state legislative district boundaries, unconstitutional. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will appeal his ruling directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will be asked to dissolve the injunction of the Franklin Circuit Court and to order that legislative districts created by House Bill 1, agreed by both the Senate and the House and signed by the Governor, be used for the 2012 elections. While other issues might be put on hold, the most fundamental element of our democracy is knowing and defining who represents us. The concept of “one person, one vote” is one we hold dear. Because of population shifts, the old district lines do not afford citizens equal representation - some districts represent too many people and some too few. It is my hope that the Supreme Court will provide clarification quickly.

In the meantime, I am and will continue to be at your service. As for the congressional lines, the bill finalizing those was passed.  As always, I welcome your input.

Ernie Harris represents the 26th District in the Kentucky Senate, which includes Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble and part of Jefferson County. He serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, the State and Local Government Committee and the Banking and Insurance Committee. Contact him at (800) 372-7181 or TTY (800) 896-0305.