House sends Senate education, public health, and criminal justice legislation
Before I begin, I want to take a moment to celebrate the big news coming out of Fort Knox. That post will soon be home to the U.S. Army’s newest headquarters. That means more than 635 soldiers will be added to the post, 200 of whom will support a new operational command post in Europe on a rotational basis. This is going to have an incredible economic impact for the region, but also for the entire state. Army leadership gave a great deal of credit to our state’s military-friendliness, citing many of the bills we have passed over the past couple of years as a reason for this decision. We continue to see evidence that the policies we are adopting are paying off. While it takes time, the hard work will pay off and we will see every Kentucky community prosper. I have served on the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee since elected and I am proud to have assisted this effort.
One of the education-focused bills we passed is a bill that would help ease the transition to a new school for Kentucky’s foster children. HB 312 would expedite the transfer of the child’s confidential records between school districts and require more state collaboration with local school districts to help meet the child’s needs. Many schools struggle to help foster children because they simply do not have the information they need. This bill is a continuation of our mission to improve opportunities for our children in foster care and builds on the Foster Child Bill of Rights passed during the 2019 Regular Session.
The House also approved HB 340, legislation that lays the groundwork for attracting and keeping speech-language pathologists and audiologists in our public schools. Schools are struggling to fill positions in this field because they can only pay a fraction of what the private sector pays. This bill provides the framework for a salary supplement. When funding is available, the salary supplement will be available to districts that qualify. HB 340 has the support of the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation and the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
We also took an opportunity to honor our Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and the men and women who staff them. The bill, HB 241, designates the second Wednesday in February as Family Resource and Youth Services (FRYSC) day. It is just seven short lines, but HB 241 conveys the respect that the House has for this group of educators and the work they do in our public schools. A product of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1994, FRYSCs basically plug both students and families into a network of resources and support to ensure that children can focus on learning. While they are not classroom teachers, the work they do has a direct impact on how well our children do in school.
I was happy to sponsor a bill that emphasizes arts education in our elementary and middle schools also cleared the House. HB 37 would require all public elementary and middle schools to offer instruction in the visual and performing arts. Under the terms of the bill, elementary schools would offer a minimum of 100 hours of instruction in this area each week. Middle schools would have to offer at least one course every year. Almost half of Kentucky school districts offer arts programming that already meets the standards set by HB 37. I am proud that this measure is supported by the Kentucky Music Educators Association, and also has bi-partisan support and democratic co-sponsors.
Also this week, the House approved HB 129, legislation that seeks to transform the way that public health services are delivered. The bill changes how local health departments approach the programs they offer by placing a priority on essential services they are mandated to provide. HB 129 has broad support from public health departments across the state. Paying for public health has become a struggle in many of our communities. The state’s 81 public health departments face an almost $39 million deficit. Additionally, an estimated 18 face closure if they do not immediately deal with their financial problems. This would spell disaster for the 41 counties they serve. The majority of financial issues are directly related to their public pension costs. However, many within the public health system have brought forward concerns that new programs have been added over time, while the ongoing need for existing programs is rarely evaluated.
Health departments and other “quasi-governmental” agencies are also the topic of HB 171, which we approved this week. This bill is part of an ongoing effort to address our public pension crisis and provide relief to these “quasis" as we describe the public health departments, domestic violence shelters, and even our regional universities who participate in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System plan. During the 2019 Special Session, we passed legislation aimed at giving relief to quasi-governmental agencies that were struggling with the skyrocketing cost of their employee pension payments. HB 171 is based on the recommendations of the Public Pension Oversight Board and basically shifts how we base payments from a percentage of the payroll to the dollar value of how much they actually owe.
Lastly, we took action on two common sense pieces of legislation aimed at cleaning up criminal justice laws. We passed HB 327, which calls for the automatic expungement of criminal charges when someone has those charges dismissed or when a grand jury fails to indict them. One of the basic tenets of our criminal justice system is that we are innocent until proven guilty, so it is incredible to me that this is not already happening.
We still have more than half of the session ahead of us, so I hope to continue reaching out to you through this legislative update. If you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Mark.Hart@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Twitter @staterep78HD.