2017-03-15 / Opinions

Says Congress must help retired UMWA miners

By REP. ANGIE HATTON

I proudly joined my colleagues in the Kentucky House last week as we approved a resolution urging our congressional leaders to find a permanent solution that ensures our retired union coal miners and their families receive the pension and health care benefits they rightfully earned.

House Resolution 136 asks Congress to act swiftly in approving the Miners Protection Act — a bill that would use federal funds to maintain miners’ benefits that are set to expire by the end of April. Congress approved a temporary measure in December 2016 to the fund the benefits for four more months, but a long-term solution is currently stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

For decades, the federal government has repeatedly confirmed its role in guaranteeing retirement benefits for coal miners and, along the way, these workers bargained for money to be dedicated to their health care because of the increased risk for injury and illness due to the dangerous nature of their work.

Our country has an obligation to make good on its promise to our coal miners for all the sacrifices they have made to produce low-cost energy and economic development opportunities from coast to coast. I will be monitoring this situation closely and hope to have more news to report in the days ahead.

This week in Frankfort, both the House and the Senate will meet in two “concurrence” days in an effort to reach agreement on amendments to bills that have been adopted by the other chamber. We’ll then recess until March 29 and 30 when we will return to review any vetoes the governor may issue.

As the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly headed into its final days last week, we moved closer to creating an enhanced driver’s license — or “REAL ID” — that includes new security features mandated by the federal government as an antiterrorism measure. If the state does not provide a solution that meets federal standards, Kentuckians will have to show a passport or other acceptable form of identification to board domestic flights and enter certain federal facilities, including military bases such as Fort Knox and Fort Campbell, beginning in 2018.

House Bill 410 would enable Kentucky residents to get a “voluntary travel card” that would meet the REAL ID requirements while also serving as a valid driver’s license. The card would cost $48, compared with $43 for a standard, non-compliant license, and would be valid for eight years. Immigrants who are not citizens or permanent residents would pay an additional $30. The measure passed the House in a 77-19 vote and now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

Other legislation advancing last week included:

• Senate Bill 17, which would specify that students in Kentucky’s public schools, colleges and universities could express their religious and political opinions in their school work, artwork speeches and clothing, and be allowed to distribute political materials on school grounds and use school media to announce religious meetings. The bill now has passed both chambers and moved to the Governor for his signature.

• Senate Bill 8, which reduces Planned Parenthood’s access to local, state and federal family planning funds.

• House Bill 14, which would make it a hate crime to attack a police officer, firefighter or emergency medical professional, adding them to the categories of individuals protected by law because of race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. Having passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the bill now needs only Gov. Bevin’s signature before becoming law.

• House Bill 222, which would prohibit a judge from granting shock probation – early release from incarceration in favor of probation – to people convicted of second-degree manslaughter while driving drunk. The bill has been cleared by both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

• Senate Bill 50, which would give school districts more leeway in setting school calendars while maintaining the current requirement to provide at least 1,062 hours of instruction per year. The bill is designed to provide more flexibility for individual districts to operate on a “variable student instructional year,” choosing to provide the required number of hours without necessarily fitting them into the current mandate of 170 instructional days. The measure now awaits the Governor’s signature.

• House Bill 67, which provides protections against the release of autopsy photos and other images to news outlets, bloggers and anyone else who does not have an official need for access to them. The measure now has moved to the Governor’s desk for his consideration and signature.

• House Bill 305, which would improve treatment options and costs associated with involuntary treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. The bill, which passed the House 95-0 and now moves to the Senate, would allow a judge to order a person to undergo treatment for up to a year with the option of an additional year, and limit the costs that could be incurred by a family member or friend who asks the court to order involuntary treatment for a loved one, among other provisions.

I enjoyed welcoming several visitors from my district to Frankfort this week, including Dr. Bill Collins, who was honored on the House and Senate floors as he ends his term as president of the Kentucky Dental Association (KDA). Dr. Collins was instrumental in creating the RAM Dental Clinics that have helped so many free of charge.

It was also good to see Dr. David Narramare of Whitesburg as a part of KDA’s Legislative Day at the Capitol. I was so proud, too, to welcome several talented students from our area who served as my pages on the House floor, including Sheldon Tolliver, Camden Candy, Shelby Turner, Mia and Gage Rouse and Sarah McAuley.

Please continue to contact me with your questions and concerns by calling the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or emailing me at angie.hatton@lrc. ky.gov. It’s a great honor to represent the people of Letcher and Pike counties in the 94th House District.

State Rep. Angie Hatton represents the state’s 94th House District in Letcher and Pike counties.

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