For several other eastern Kentucky legislators and me, the high point of last week didn’t happen at the Capitol but back here at home as we welcomed Governor Andy Beshear to the region.
It meant a lot to me that, during his time in Pikeville, he promoted my legislation to restore longstanding rules that had helped coal miners diagnosed with black lung qualify for the workers’ comp benefits they deserve.
Those rules were unfortunately changed by the General Assembly in 2018, for reasons I’ll never fully understand. As a result, it will be harder for miners to be awarded black lung benefits because the doctors for whom their testimony is given presumptive weight in a hearing has been reduced to only two doctors. Both of those doctors are in central Kentucky, not in the coalfields. This means patients have to travel potentially hundreds of miles and wait much longer, even though our medical community has the expertise to make the same diagnosis.
My House Bill 239 would return the system to the way it was before the 2018 change. With our part of Appalachia seeing an upturn in this horrible disease in the last few years, I think it is imperative we move back to the old system and not make these miners jump through unnecessary hoops.
In addition to Governor Beshear’s support, my legislation also has bipartisan backing from my fellow House members from the coalfields. They, too, understand how important this change is.
Earlier in the week, during the ongoing legislative session, I was proud to vote for several other bills that I think deserve to become law.
In the House Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday, I joined with many others to back a bill to legalize medical marijuana here in Kentucky, which would put us among about 30 other states that have taken similar steps.
It’s possible this proposal, House Bill 136, will come before the House this week, and with a little more than 50 sponsors, it would certainly pass if that happens. The hope is that the state Senate would then follow.
A recent poll indicates that about nine out of 10 Kentuckians favor this approach, and in addition to providing relief to those who qualify, it could also play a major role in helping Kentucky reduce the devastating opioid epidemic.
Two other significant bills, both of which earned a unanimous vote in the House last week, would have a positive impact on Kentucky’s criminal justice system. The first, House Bill 284, would make it possible for those on probation to reduce that part of the sentence if they meet certain benchmarks like furthering their education or getting treatment for substance abuse. The hope is that this will give them added incentive to get their lives back on track.
House Bill 327, meanwhile, will help those who have been charged with a crime but are not found guilty. Although those in these situations aren’t punished by a court, they still have a record that can make their lives tougher. This legislation will make it much easier to expunge these charges if a person’s case is dismissed.
Nearly every day the legislature is in session, there are groups who use that time to promote issues that have an impact on the state. Last week, two of the biggest events were the annual Black History Month celebration, which this year recognized the many military contributions of African Americans; and the second commemorated the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters, which initially began in 1920 to help women register for their newly won right to vote.
With the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, the General Assembly is only meeting for four days week. Wednesday marks the session’s halfway point, meaning we have reached the stage where the House and Senate will begin making final decisions on what should become law.
There is still time, though, to let me know your views about the issues affecting Kentucky. You can always reach me by email at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free line to leave other legislators and me a message is 1-800-372-7181.