FRANKFORT - While issues of the day command much of the focus during sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, lawmakers also find opportunities to plan ahead for issues expected to arise in the coming years.
That was the case this week as lawmakers furthered preparations for Kentucky's participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. A resolution that passed the House chamber urges local communities across Kentucky to establish Complete Count Committees to localize Census efforts with the goal of ensuring maximum response for the federal government's population count.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the nation's population be conducted every ten years. Getting a good response to Census counts are important to states because more than 130 federal programs use Census data to distribute funds. Research shows that more than $15 billion in annual federal spending for Kentucky is guided by Census data.
Census results can help determine which schools receive funds for improvements, where new roads are built, and how people are represented in government. Strong participation in the census among a state's citizens can help ensure that a state receives a fair share federal funds.
House Concurrent Resolution 137 urges local communities to establish Complete Count Committees and to engage in publicity, outreach, and educational efforts to help overcome cultural, economic, technological, and linguistic barriers to participation in the Census. The resolution was approved by the House and will next go to the Senate for consideration.
With only a handful of days left in this year's legislative session, which is scheduled to end on March 28, the pace of activity around the Capitol continues to increase. Measures that took steps forward March 4-7 include bills on the following issues:
Foster children. A "foster child bill of rights" is on the way to the governor's office after being approved by both the House and Senate. House Bill 158 outlines 16 rights for children in out-of-home placement in Kentucky, including rights to "adequate food, clothing and shelter," "a safe, secure, and stable family," and "freedom from physical, sexual, or emotional injury or exploitation." The legislation also would reduce the time for a parent or guardian to consent to voluntarily placing a child for adoption from 20 days to 72 hours.
Medical marijuana. Legislation that would legalize medical marijuana was approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now awaits consideration by the full House. House Bill 136 would allow Kentuckians to be prescribed medical marijuana that is licensed to be grown, processed and dispensed in the state. Only patients with specific conditions outlined could be prescribed medical marijuana, and then only by their regular physician. Thirty three other states have already legalized medical marijuana.
Student vaping. Legislation designed to curb e-cigarette use, or "vaping," in public schools passed the Senate by a 33-3 vote. Senate Bill 218 would establish an anonymous reporting system for students to report vaping, require that parents be notified if their child was caught vaping and direct students to free vaping cessation programs. It would also encourage school boards to provide awareness programs to teachers and students on the dangers of vaping. The U.S. Surgeon General warns that nicotine exposure during adolescence could harm brain development and affect learning, memory and attention. Senate Bill 218 passed the Senate and now goes to the House.
Online harassment. Legislation that would criminalize a type of online harassment passed the Senate 26-10 and was sent to the House. Senate Bill 240, dubbed the "anti-doxing measure," would make it a crime for a person to use online communications to release identifying information of a minor with the intent to intimidate, abuse, threaten, harass or frighten. The information would include first and last names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses, school locations, email addresses or telephone numbers. Such actions would be a misdemeanor but could be enhanced to a felony if physical harm, monetary loss or death resulted in the online communications.
Military and veterans. Kentucky would designate a special flag to honor fallen U.S. military service members and veterans under a bill that was approved by the House on a 99-0 vote and sent to the Senate. House Bill 406 would name the "Honor and Remember" flag as an official state emblem honoring U.S. service men and women who died in the line of duty or as a result of serving. At least a dozen states have passed similar legislation.
Citizens who want to offer feedback on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly's toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.