For two years now, the General Assembly has been working on ways to make our schools even safer.
Following the tragic shooting at Marshall County High School in January 2018, a bipartisan group of legislators spent months talking with experts and school officials to come up with ideas that were appropriate and reasonable. Their suggestions became the foundation of last year’s Senate Bill 1, which was arguably the most important piece of legislation to become law in 2019.
Last Friday, the legislature gave final approval to its follow-up, Senate Bill 8. Assuming it’s signed into law by Governor Beshear, its main provisions will make sure school resource officers (SROs) are armed while performing their job, and that schools will have at least one counselor or mental health professional for every 250 students.
I think this bill is a sensible step forward for our schools, but I also believe the state needs to provide more funding in this critical area and not make it an unfunded mandate. Governor Beshear’s budget proposal gives us a good start, but I’m hoping the General Assembly can do even more. As a former member of two different school-based decision-making councils, I know how important it is to get these laws right, and that includes funding them.
In a related school-safety bill, the House voted overwhelmingly on February 6 to make it possible for schools to work with private companies to catch those who illegally go around a bus that has stopped to let children on or off.
This happens far more often than the number of people cited for it, but the cameras these companies install on school buses will enable schools to catch many of these drivers. The good thing about this approach is that the cameras and monitoring are free to the schools, since the companies are paid from the fines collected.
On the same day the House voted for that bill, it also voted to make it possible for physician assistants to be able to prescribe controlled substances. These professionals do so much when it comes to increasing access to quality healthcare, and they deserve this authority. As it is, Kentucky is the only state that does not allow this, but if the Senate votes for this bill, we will finally make this sensible policy available nationwide.
My hope is that another sensible policy – the bill I filed to protect customers from too-high utility costs – will be heard in committee soon. As originally filed last month, it would give the Public Service Commission the authority to consider affordability when deciding how much of a utility’s rate increase should be granted.
The bill also would give the PSC the ability to have rates reviewed for those utilities that wait many years without asking for an adjustment. Keeping rates artificially low ultimately hurts customers, too, because utilities don’t have the funding they need to make repairs and upgrades, leading to subpar service and rate shock when new increases are inevitably granted.
We saw the impact of that delay recently in Knott County, whose water customers will now see their rates go up by 45 percent immediately and 15 percent more next year. This will be a hardship for many, but the PSC had little choice since rates hadn’t effectively changed since 2003.
Last week, I added a provision to my bill to make sure utilities undergo a management audit before asking for a rate increase. This will better ensure they’re following proper practices and spending money correctly before they ask for more revenue from their customers.
This week, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider a medical marijuana bill. This legislation has broad bipartisan support, and I hope this is the year it finally becomes law. A recent statewide survey showed that 90 percent of Kentuckians favor this approach.
On a more local note, I want to end by thanking Governor Beshear for declaring a state of emergency for this region following the devastating flooding we’ve seen. I also want to thank everyone who reached out to help others who had their homes or other buildings damaged by the high waters. I am committed to doing whatever I can to help us get back on our feet.
Although this year’s legislative session is nearing its midpoint, there’s still plenty of time to let me know your views on issues before the General Assembly. You can email me at Angie.Hatton@ lrc.ky.gov, or leave me or other legislators a message at 1-800- 372-7181.
I hope to hear from you soon.