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Ky. General Assembly session produces plenty of winners, losers

“Current and future retirees will be paying a little bit more for their retiree health care, but they will be guaranteed that they will have health care,” —Sharon Oxendine, president, Kentucky Education Association


FRANKFORT

Kentucky parents struggling to care for their autistic children received assurance that their health insurance plans must pay for the costly treatments. Community college students gained a smoother pathway toward achieving four-year degrees.

They were among the winners in the Kentucky General Assembly’s grueling 60-day session that ended Thursday. So were retired teachers, who benefited from a successful legislative effort to shore up their financially fragile health care program.

“Current and future retirees will be paying a little bit more for their retiree health care, but they will be guaranteed that they will have health care,” said Sharron Oxendine, president of the Kentucky Education Association.

Anne Gregory, the mother of a 9-year-old child with autism, hailed passage of a bill requiring insurance companies to pay for treatment services for autistic children.

“Parents will no longer go broke trying to provide their children with the medically necessary, appropriate autism treatments they need and deserve,” said Gregory, a state advocacy chairwoman for the national group Autism Speaks.

For every winner, there were plenty of losers who saw their favorite bills fall short.

Not even a unified effort by business and labor groups provided enough lobbying muscle for a plan to fix the state’s beleaguered Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The measure sailed through the House but died in the Senate.

Gov. Steve Beshear said the lack of action means businesses, employees and laid-off workers will rely “on a precarious system that will cost all parties more money in the long run.”

Under the bill, Kentucky employers would have gradually paid more in taxes to fix the trust fund but not nearly as much as they would if the state continues borrowing to keep the fund afloat. Jobless workers would have generally received slightly less in weekly benefits and would have waited a short time before receiving the assistance, starting in 2012.

Advocates for raising Kentucky’s minimum school dropout age from 16 to 18 also came up short. The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Beshear, whose wife, Jane, was a leading proponent of the higher dropout age, said “there is no rational reason” for the bill to have died without a Senate vote.

Supporters of charter schools came away disappointed. The Senate passed a bill to give local school boards the option of creating charter schools, but the House refused to go along.

The legislation was billed as an effort to improve Kentucky’s chances of winning federal education money in a nationwide competition.

Abortion opponents lost out on a bill to require doctors to show women seeking abortions the ultrasound images of their fetuses. The measure passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Also falling short were efforts to lift Kentucky’s ban on constructing nuclear power plants and to extend eminent domain rights to pipeline companies that would dispose of carbon dioxide. Supporters said the eminent domain provisions would have helped put Kentucky out front in converting coal to liquid fuels. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of that conversion process.

Meanwhile, community college advocates, who seemed an ever-present lobbying force during the session, were cheered by the passage of legislation that eventually will make it easier for students from two-year colleges to transfer course credits to four-year public universities.

Michael McCall, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, said the measure “will transform the lives of Kentuckians by creating a more clearly defined path to a bachelor’s degree” for KCTCS students.

Horse lovers in a state that prides itself as the horse capital of the world won passage of a bill to protect unwanted, neglected and sometimes abused horses.

Public safety advocates claimed victory with a bill that sets a standard of presumed impairment for drivers if even slight levels of commonly abused prescription drugs are detected in blood tests.

Lawmakers pushed through a measure aimed at expanding psychiatric residential treatment programs for children now being cared for in other states. It seeks to expand psychiatric treatment care in residential centers for severely disturbed youngsters.

Another successful bill off ers up to three free overnight stays at state park lodges to totally disabled military veterans, subject to space availability and other considerations.

Even history buffs had reason to be happy. Lawmakers approved creation of a commission to plan activities for the War of 1812 bicentennial and to commemorate Kentucky’s role in the war.


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