FRANKFORT – The Kentucky General Assembly crossed another mile marker this week by reaching the deadline for the introduction of new bills in the state Senate.
With this deadline passed, we now have a more complete view of the issues lawmakers will take up this year. The bills address a mix of familiar issues and new problems. Some attempt to assist our citizens with disabilities while others address crimes perpetrated with technology our founding fathers could only imagine. Some measures drew bipartisan support while both parties vigorously debated others.
One bill that passed this week was Senate Bill 179, which works in conjuncture with an act that was passed by the U.S. Congress named the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. SB 179 would allow tax-exempt savings accounts for disability-related expenses, similar to college saving plans. The account covered by the ABLE Act would be capped at $100,000 and allows no more than $14,000 in contributions per year. These accounts would not count against people with disabilities in their eligibility for certain public programs, like Social Security or Medicaid.
Having a disability often requires incurring significant expenses but many public programs require a certain level of poverty to qualify. It has always been a kind of a catch-22 for people with disabilities. I co-sponsored an earlier version of this bill, Senate Bill 76, and I voted yes.
Another measure, Senate Bill 37, tackles a crime that didn’t exist when Kentucky’s modern statutes were drafted. It attempts to deal with youngsters under the age 18 who are caught sexting – the act of sending sexually explicit photos of themselves or other minors via mobile phones. The bill would make the first offense a Class-B misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would be Class-A misdemeanors. Under current law, minors could be convicted of a felony for sexting and be forced to register as a sex offender. I voted yes.
Other issues taken up in the Senate chamber this week include:
· Senate Bill 175 would create a Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights through a constitutional amendment. The protections for crime victims would include the right to be notified of court hearings, the punishment and the release date for the perpetrator. The measure is known as “Marsy’s Law,” named after a murder victim whose parents are leading a national movement. Kentucky is one of 18 states without such a bill of rights. If passed by the state General Assembly, the measure would be put to voters on November’s election ballot. I voted yes.
· Senate Bill 193, also known as Noah’s Law, would expand insurance coverage for amino acid based elemental formula for children and adults suffering from food protein allergies, eosinophilic disorders, and short-bowel syndrome. The bill was named for Noah Greenhill, a 9-year-old Pike County boy with food protein allergies that has been denied this health benefit. There are approximately 200 other Kentucky children that would also benefit from this measure. The bill contains an emergency clause so that the law would go into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature. I voted yes
· Senate Bill 178 would establish March 30th each year as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day in Kentucky. There are more than 125,000 Vietnam veterans in the commonwealth. Designating this day is a way to honor the Kentuckians who served this nation so courageously and unselfishly during the Vietnam War. I co-sponsored this bill.
· Senate Bill 188 is a continuation of efforts to modernize Kentucky oil and gas regulations. It would make test wells subject to current oil and gas permitting, reporting and construction standards. Current regulations surrounding test wells are deficient. It would also allow oil and gas prospectors to keep the results from their test wells secret in certain situations to protect their claims. Despite depressed prices, Kentucky’s oil and gas industry is a billion-dollar business with about 3,000 employees. I voted yes.
· Senate Bill 89 seeks to lift a long-standing moratorium on nuclear power plants in the state. It would require energy companies to have a plan to store nuclear waste instead of the current, and more rigid, requirement that facilities have means of permanent disposal. It would also eliminate several other obstacles to the construction and maintenance of nuclear facilities. I voted no.
· Senate Bill 152 would change the informed consent process required prior to an abortion in Kentucky. The bill calls for a woman seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound and be given the option to view the ultrasound image. Doctors violating SB 152 could be fined up to $100,000 on the first violation and $250,000 for subsequent violations. I voted no
All the bills that passed the Senate this week are now before the state House of Representatives for further consideration.
You can stay up-to-date on the budget negotiations, and other legislative actions, throughout the session:
Legislative Research Commission (LRC) website at www.lrc.ky.gov;
LRC toll-free bill status line at 866-840-2835.
LRC toll-free meeting information line at 800-633-9650.
LRC toll-free legislative message line at 800-372-7181.
General Assembly’s Spanish message line at (866) 840-6574.
E-mail me personally at [email protected]