The recently completed legislative session may have felt like it was just about public-pension reform and budget-related matters, but the General Assembly approved a considerable number of other laws as well during the 60 working days.
It is difficult to pick the most prominent from that list, but one at the top would have to be the overhaul of the state’s adoption and foster-care policies. This legislation brought together recommendations from a bipartisan House task force that met for much of last year, and I’m confident these changes will speed up the time it takes for children in these situations to find a loving home.
Several other new laws will also affect our youngest generation. In our schools, teachers and administrators will have more training when it comes to suicide prevention, dyslexia and seizure disorders, and incoming high school freshmen during the 2020- 21 school year will have financial literacy added to their requirements to graduate.
First responders will benefit from several positive changes to the law this year. The annual training stipend for law enforcement and firefighters will increase, and a wellness program designed to help officers and their families cope with the stress of a critical situation has been formally established.
Legislators also increased the death benefit for local and state government first responders and other employees who are killed in the line of duty, and we also cracked down on those who intentionally expose law enforcement to bodily fluids, especially if the fluids contain a communicable disease.
In other criminal-justice matters, we also toughened penalties for those committing sex-based crimes against those with intellectual disabilities and who intentionally distribute private and explicit images without the photographed person’s consent.
Reducing gang violence was the focus of another new law, but we want to make sure it is applied fairly and that it truly lowers the number of people in gangs.
In November, voters will have a chance to approve a constitutional amendment designed to give crime victims more of a voice and keep them better informed in their cases. This is known as Marsy’s Law, and it has been implemented in other states. It is worth noting that Kentucky has been at the forefront nationally in this area, with a system already in place that notifies victims when their attackers are released from jail and that lets those with a domestic-violence order know if the person named in that order has bought a firearm.
Economically, two changes legislators approved this year will make it possible for distilleries to ship their products to qualified customers and for microbreweries to be able to sell more of their product in their stores and at such places as festivals.
Those who qualify for a disabled parking placard will have a longer time between renewals under another measure now law, but if they want more than one placard for their vehicles, there will be a small fee. In a related matter, personalized license plates will now be renewed in the owner’s birth month rather than the end of the year.
Although I was proud to support many of this year’s new laws, there are some that I think are wrong for Kentucky. One, for example, will end workers’ comp medical benefits after a set period of time for those who have suffered a permanent but partial injury on the job.
I believe those who have been hurt through no fault of their own should not have to take on these costs for the painful setbacks they have suffered. What makes this even more unnecessary is that workplace injuries are down significantly over the past 20 years and workers comp premiums have declined for the last 12. These numbers show that the system is working well for employees and businesses alike.
Another new law I opposed will make it tougher for the Attorney General’s office to partner with outside law firms that are only paid a contingency fee if a settlement is reached. Under these arbitrary limits, some of these law firms – and the expertise they bring – will decide not to take part in these often large, complex cases. That, in turn, will make it more difficult for the state to go after such groups as rogue pharmaceutical companies that have poured tens of millions of opiate prescriptions into the commonwealth.
Unless they have an emergency clause or a specific enactment date, these new laws will be implemented later this summer. While our time passing legislation is over for the year, the legislative process continues, with the interim, as this period is called, starting in June and running through the first part of the holidays. During this time, our House and Senate committees will meet together each month to review matters that may need our attention when the next legislative session begins in January.
As we wait for the interim to begin, I want to thank those of you who reached out to me during the past three-and-a-half months and encourage you to keep that dialog going in the months ahead. You can always contact me by email at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number to dial is 800- 896-0305.