Whitesburg KY

Black lung rules must be changed

Rep. Angie Hatton

Rep. Angie Hatton

Hundreds of bills may be filed every legislative session, but only dozens go on to become law. This year was no exception, especially with the General Assembly’s calendar shortened because of the coronavirus.

Still, every legislator has a list of bills he or she thinks should have been enacted, and I have several on mine.

One that I believe should have passed this year is my legislation that would have reversed 2018’s harmful and unnecessary workers comp changes that have since made it much tougher for coal miners with black lung to qualify for benefits.

That two-year-old law means the state only authorizes a few doctors to be given “presumptive weight” when testifying about a black lung patient, even though several more physicians have the same level of medical expertise. It’s just not fair to force these miners to jump through unnecessary hoops, but I am grateful that a bipartisan group of my fellow House members did sign on to my bill as co-sponsors, and we will try again in 2021.

One bill that has been around for quite some time would legalize medical marijuana. No other unresolved issue has the support of more Kentuckians, and yet the state Senate would not even hear this in committee. Over 30 of the states have passed this in some form, and I think it’s time for Kentucky to join them.

It’s also time to update Kentucky’s 1891 constitution so that voting rights are restored automatically for most felons after they complete their punishment.

Governor Andy Beshear did sign an executive order late last year making this possible for more than 150,000 Kentuckians with a non-violent felony record, but only a constitutional amendment will make sure this is not reversed by a future governor. Voters should be given the chance to make this permanent.

Another issue that I think needs to be addressed is raising the minimum wage. It has been 11 years since the last increase, and during that time we have weathered a Great Recession, a steep decline in the coal industry and now the coronavirus pandemic. Just one of those would make it difficult for families to make ends meet, but many have now struggled through all three on a paycheck that hasn’t changed since 2009.

Some of the other bills that didn’t make it this year are relatively new. One, for example, would have kept insulin costs at $100 a month for most diabetics. The House backed this unanimously, and had it cleared the Senate, Kentucky would have been among the first states to take this step. The need is certainly there, with hundreds of thousands of our citizens facing this medicine’s skyrocketing costs, even as the expense to manufacture it remains low.

Now that this year’s legislative session is over, these and other proposals will have to wait until next year to try again. My hope is that those I’ve listed will finally make it then.

Outside of the legislative process, a couple of important announcements have come out of the Capitol over the last week.

One is the decision to allow every registered voter to obtain an absentee ballot for the June 23 primary election or to vote early through other means. Traditionally, this can only be done if the voter cannot appear in person to vote on Election Day, but Governor Beshear’s executive order essentially waives that requirement. That will hopefully better protect voters and poll workers from the coronavirus, and this primary election will also be a good trial run should something similar be needed for November’s election.

In the second announcement, this week marks the point where restrictions put in place because of the virus are starting to be lifted by the administration, beginning with many healthcare procedures. Things like social distancing and wearing masks are still vitally important and will be for some time, but I know we are all hopeful these steps will make it easier for us to get back to a more normal routine.

Although the time to pass laws is over for the year, the legislature’s work will pick back up again in about a month, when House and Senate committees begin meeting jointly to review issues affecting Kentucky.

Your input in this process is important, and I hope you will continue reaching out if you have any questions or comments. My email is Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, and you can leave me or any legislator a message by calling 1-800-372-7181. This toll-free number is open during normal business hours each weekday.

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