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We have passed the midpoint of the General Assembly, and the activity has continued to be energetic and fast-paced. I welcomed guests from my district and enjoyed seeing the constituents. It was also nice to see some decent weather come our way in the Capitol city.
The Senate took up historic legislation this week in House Bill 70, which would restore voting rights certain to felons after five years removed from their sentence.
House Bill 70 with Senate Committee Substitute One would amend the Kentucky Constitution to provide two paths for certain felons that meet the standard specified to have their voting rights restored. The Senate State and Local Government heard testimony for this bill from the primary sponsors as well as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.
With the Senate committee substitute, the bill gives an additional path to the one already in place, which is through executive pardon. The new path restores the right to vote five years after completion of the sentence during which the ex-felon has positively rejoined society and has not returned to criminal activity. Five years is an appropriate waiting period since this legislation is giving back rights they do not have, and the felonies in question range from drug trafficking to racketeering and embezzlement.
The system to have rights restored is currently on the books, and this amendment does not change it. Upon completion of the sentence an ex-felon can seek executive pardon from the governor. This is a simple questionnaire, a little longer than a voter registration card.
This measure strikes a balance between giving citizens who want to serve their sentence, pay their debt and become participating members of our governance, and the automatic restoration of rights to everyone upon release, which forfeits some accountability on the part of the convicted person. The bill now moves back to the House as the next step in the process.
We also passed House Bill 181 on the Senate floor, which was originally introduced in the Committee on Agriculture, which I chair. The “Egg Bill,” which passed unanimously, is basically a common-sense bill that simply helps eliminate the wasting of our food products.
Regarding education, Senate Bill 54 passed as well. This would help Kentucky’s children be better prepared for Kindergarten. Statistics and data show that early childhood education is critical to future academic success. A recent state screening showed only 49 percent of Kentucky’s children were kindergarten-ready when they entered school. However, students who go through preschool programs have much higher readiness.
Senate Bill 54 would permit children to attend preschool for 16 hours per week, rather than 10 without changing licensing requirements. This measure would benefit preschool-aged children with two extra days of instruction, better preparing them for kindergarten and giving a foundation for future academic success.
On the other end of the age spectrum, we passed legislation to protect our vulnerable adult citizens that require professional care this week. Senate Bill 98 would require entities that provide personal care services to vulnerable adults to query vulnerable adults to query the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for a prospective employee, contractor or volunteer to find out if the prospect has been the subject of a validated substantiated finding of adult abuse, neglect or exploitation. An individual can also request the registry to submit to a potential employer.
To keep our lakes and waters friendly, Senate Bill 66 would set requirements for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Peace Officers to only enter boats if there is reasonable suspicion of a violation. Too often, our guests and residents who are enjoying the lakes in Kentucky, are stopped, searched by overzealous officers and put through interrogation and tests at random. This hurts the tourism industry of Kentucky, which is important to our small businesses and economy.
Along with a stricter standard for stopping a boat, the measure would require Fish and Wildlife officers to be trained in hospitality and tourism.
Finally, a bill of note that passed Wednesday is Senate Bill 119. The bill sets up a medical review panel for lawsuits against healthcare providers. It consists of three doctors and their opinion is admissible to court. It is not a finding of law or an opinion. This measure will help prevent frivolous lawsuits. It will protect victims that are taken advantage of by unscrupulous attorneys and will keep healthcare providers focused on what they need to do rather than worrying about entering into expensive, frivolous litigation.
I invite you to come to Frankfort for hearings of interest to you. Citizens are always welcome in our committee meetings. You can also view live-streaming and archived coverage of legislative proceedings at www.ket.org. Also, the work of our caucus can be followed on twitter at @kysenategop. If you have any issues or concerns, please call my office in Frankfort at 502-564-8100.
Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, represents the 20th District including Carroll, Henry, Shelby and Trimble counties, as well as part of Jefferson County. He is the Chair of the Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee. He is a member of the Government Contract Review Committee, the Transportation Committee, and as a liaison member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.