This year’s legislative session may have seemed 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. Since most take effect 90 days after the final gavel, barring an emergency or specific enactment date, that means nearly all of them became official this past Saturday.
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 adoptive and foster-care children to find a loving home.
Several other new laws will also affect our youngest generation. In our schools, teachers and administrators are poised to 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 is increasing, and a wellness program designed to help officers and their families cope with the stress following a critical situation is now formally established.
My legislative colleagues and I 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.
Economically, two changes legislators approved this year have made it possible for distilleries to ship their products to qualified customers and for microbreweries to sell more of their product in their stores and at such places as festivals.
Those who qualify for a disabled parking placard will now 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 are now being renewed in the vehicle 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 many 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.
There is still one piece of legislation whose fate is in up in the air. That is a constitutional amendment that the House and Senate voted to place on the ballot during November’s elections. If voters approve, Marsy’s Law, as the amendment is known, will give crime victims more of a voice and keep them better informed in their cases.
In a way, the official enactment of these laws is the true end of this year’s legislative session. Work is already underway, however, on what we will be debating when the House and Senate return to Frankfort in November.
If you have any thoughts about these new laws, or what changes you think are needed, please let me know. My email is First. Last@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.