Legislative Update - April 26th, 2020
Deb and I continue to pray everyone is safe, healthy and we can get back to normal safely soon. Check out www.kycovid19.ky.gov for all the latest updates.
By design, it’s not easy to pass a new law. A proposal can’t begin without at least one legislative sponsor, and then it must navigate through both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governor’s office while competing against hundreds of other bills trying to make the same journey. Limited resources, a ticking clock, politics and unforeseen events like a worldwide pandemic make the process exponentially more difficult!
Now that this year’s legislative session is over, it’s worth taking a look back at the ideas that didn’t make it, since most will likely be before General Assembly again when it returns to the Capitol in January.
Some bills are perennial members on this list, even though they enjoy wide public support. Medical marijuana, for example, routinely gets numerous sponsors in the House, but it wasn’t until this year that it actually cleared the chamber. Even though more than 30 states have taken this step and a recent statewide poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found 90 percent of Kentuckians are in favor of it, this legislation was not heard in the Senate.
A constitutional amendment allowing Kentucky voters to decide whether we should have expanded gaming is another idea that has been around for years. Legislative leaders have shown little support, however, even though it has generated hundreds of millions of tax dollars for several surrounding states.
If the odds for that seem long, the ones for sports wagering may be improving. This year, it cleared a House committee unanimously, and next year, when sports will hopefully be back in some form and the state will be in dire need of new revenue sources, there’s a good chance this one will pass.
Criminal justice reform – like tax or education reform – is an ongoing, multi-faceted issue, and some years have seen more success than others. Still, at a time when our prisons and jails meet or exceed capacity, there is broad agreement that more needs to be done.
This year, the General Assembly did pass two laws to make it easier for those on probation to reduce their time under state supervision and to let the state move prisoners from overcrowded jails. Only the House, though, voted for legislation that would raise the dollar amount for felony theft and fraud charges, a figure that has been flat for years. This sensible step could a long way toward reducing incarceration rates.
One criminal justice measure that should have passed long ago is a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights for most felons after they complete their sentence. The House used to routinely pass this type of bill, but that hasn’t happened in several years. Governor Andy Beshear did sign an executive order in December restoring these rights for more than 150,000 Kentuckians with a non-violent felony record, but it will take a constitutional amendment to make this permanent. It’s worth noting that nearly every other state already has this in some form.
Another proposal Kentucky definitely needs is one that would cap insulin prices for many diabetics at $100 a month. Although production costs for this life-saving drug are low, it nevertheless has seen its price jump in recent years, forcing many diabetics to ration insulin at great risk to their health. I'm proud the House voted unanimously for this bill to keep these costs affordable.
While these bills won’t become law this year, many will undoubtedly be studied more when House and Senate committees begin what they call the interim in June. These joint meetings are important because they give supporters and opponents alike more time in a less-hectic setting to explain why bills should or should not pass the legislature.
On a final note, I was happy to learn that Governor Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams announced on Friday that every registered voter can request an absentee ballot for the June 23rd primary or otherwise take part in early voting. This bipartisan move will make it much safer for voters and poll workers alike as we try to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and hopefully it will set a precedent to allow for early, excuse-free voting with a valid ID in the years to come. That's an issue that needs to be on the legislature’s agenda next year as well.
As always, I encourage you to let me know your views or concerns about any issue affecting Kentucky. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the toll-free message line for all legislators is 1-800-372-7181.
Thanks for all you do, stay safe and holler anytime.