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Sen. Max Wise's Legislative Update - March 6, 2020

Personal political commentary/opinions of the writer

By State Senator Max Wise, (R-Campbellsville)
16th District: Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties

Two hundred eighty-six bills in 40 days.

That's the number of Senate bills filed by the deadline for legislation to be introduced during the 154th Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Among those Senate bills were eight addressing public safety, 47 addressing health and medical services, 44 addressing children and minors, and 93 addressing all aspects of public education.

In a sign the 60-day session is heading into the homestretch, the Senate is expected to receive the general fund budget bill from the House next week. The Senate Appropriations & Revenue Committee will then consider the bill and propose changes based on the chamber's priorities. Majority caucus leadership has publicly said they intend to pass a budget before April 1, giving the legislature the ability to override any line-item vetoes to the budget.

Here are some of the bills that cleared the Senate during the ninth week of the session:

Senate Bill 21 would allow veterinarians to report the abuse of animals under their care. Kentucky is the only state where veterinarians are currently prohibited by law from reporting abuse of animals unless they have the permission of the owner or are under a court order.

SB 21 was amended to remove a clause that would have granted veterinarians immunity from liability arising from making a report. SB 21 was passed by a 35-0 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 37 would allow veteran-managed nonprofits to waive some startup fees. It would do this by amending the existing Boots to Business program to include these nonprofits. Through the program, new businesses that are majority-owned by a military veteran or an active-duty service member are eligible for fee waivers for the initial business filing, as well as the annual report filings. SB 37 was passed by a 33-0 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 115 would extend the eligibility time for the tuition waiver program for foster and adopted children. Currently, a child has five years after first enrolling in college. SB 15 would extend it until the student reaches the age of 28 or earns 150 credit hours. Those credit hours would not have to be consecutive. Supporters of SB 115 said the measure would encourage more foster and adopted children, who have withdrawn from college, to go back and get a degree. It was passed by a 36-0 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 150 would offer patients some protection from surprise medical bills. It would do this by seeking to stop the practice by requiring insurers to cover surprise billing, sometimes called balanced billing. That happens when a patient receives medical care - often unwittingly - outside of their insurer's network. Subsequently, the doctor or hospital bills the patient for the amount insurance didn't cover.

Supporters characterized SB 150 as a consumer protection bill. They said surprise billing was an exercise of cost-shifting from insurers to patients. Critics of SB 150 cited a fiscal impact statement prepared for the bill that estimated SB 150 would increase individual premiums for health benefit plans by up to $9 per month. Some suggested a better approach would be broader reforms to empower health care consumers through such measures as transparent pricing. SB 150 was passed by a 30-3 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 161 would toughen penalties for predators who target children online. Among other things, it would increase penalties for people who prey on children under the age of 12. The bill would also make it easier for investigators to conduct undercover stings by clarifying that they are allowed to pose as children online.

There was concern about one provision that would allow prosecutors to add, or stack, charges for every day a predator engages in conversation with the victim. Critics said that could lead to the temptation to drag out investigations to get additional counts, putting more children at risk. Supporters said investigators would arrest predators as quickly as possible. SB 161 was passed by a 34-1 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 182 would make it a crime to dox a minor. Doxing is slang for posting online private information about someone, especially as a form of punishment or revenge. A violation would be considered a misdemeanor but could be enhanced to a felony if physical harm, monetary loss, or death resulted from the online posting.

Critics of SB 182 contended the measure was too broad and would be difficult to enforce. The critics said the measure could even muzzle the victims of crimes perpetrated by juveniles. The supporters of SB 182 countered the posting would have to be done with the intent to intimidate abuse, threaten, harass, or frighten the minor. They added the posting would have to place the minor in reasonable fear of physical injury for a criminal charge to be filed.

The legislation was introduced in response to a Northern Kentucky high school student being relentlessly and cruelly doxed following the posting of a video of him with a Native American protester last year in Washington D.C. SB 182 was passed by a 30-6 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

Senate Bill 183 would require a parent or guardian under investigation for child abuse or neglect to notify proper authorities if they plan to move out of the school district. If the parent failed to notify authorities, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor. If the parent moved out of state, the charge could be enhanced to a felony.

Senate Bill 193 would require the state education department to annually report on the number of girls, minorities, students with disabilities, English language learners and students whose families are eligible for free and reduced-price meals enrolled in computer science courses.

The goal is to use that data to increase participation in the courses by underrepresented groups. Supporters of SB 193 said the measure was needed because 24 percent of computer scientists are women. In 1995, it was 37 percent. SB 193 was passed by a 37-1 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.

House Bill 129, dubbed the public health transformation bill, would modernize public health policy and funding in this state. It would do this by streamlining local health departments by getting them to refocus on their statutory duties. Those are population health, enforcement of regulations, emergency preparedness, and communicable disease control.

Supporters of HB 129 said it was needed because Kentucky's public health system faces a time of unprecedented instability and uncertainty. They added the system did not uniformly adopt the principles of the Affordable Care Act or adjust to the changes brought on by expanding Medicaid in Kentucky. These issues were just magnified by the financial strain Kentucky's pension issue brought upon the local health departments. The supporters said up to 18 of the state's local health departments serving 41 counties face insolvency in the upcoming fiscal year without the operational changes HB 129 would bring. It was passed by a 33-2 vote and was sent back to the House for consideration of a Senate amendment.

Thank you for staying engaged in the legislative process. It is an honor to serve you in Frankfort.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call the toll-free line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at

This story was posted on 2020-03-07 08:19:16
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