Lawmakers stay busy as session winds down

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Even as many schools closed across the commonwealth due to snow last week, Frankfort shrugged off the white stuff and continued with our work. After this week, only a few days remain of the 2013 Session.

Kentucky has in place a process for improvement for struggling schools. When the state Department of Education cites a school for being persistently low-achieving, there are several options the school board can choose from such as restaffing, allowing an outside management company to lead a turnaround effort, or even closing.

Senate Bill 176 will add another option: the local school board can allow a petition to convert the school to a charter school. Please keep in mind that these are extreme measures for extreme situations.

Unfortunately, the fact is that we have schools that are graduating only a small percentage of students. This is unacceptable and we must give parents, teachers, and communities every tool possible to make sure our kids are college or career ready. Anything less is a disservice to the students and the future of Kentucky.

We also have several programs in place to help kids who may not necessarily learn in the traditional manner or need more help than their peers to understand their lessons. But there are also students who are motivated and prepared enough to want to continue pushing themselves and these children need our support too. Senate Bill 61 would allow for early graduation for qualified students who meet set requirements. Senate Bill 64 allows students who graduate early to still access their full KEES funds.

I am also pleased that a bipartisan compromise has been achieved on the governor’s drop-out bill. Senate Bill 97 allows local school districts to adopt a policy requiring students to stay in school until age 18, or graduation whichever comes first, with the understanding that they would have to offer an approved alternative education program that would help meet the needs of students most likely to drop out.  Further, once 55 percent of school districts have programs in place, the rest of the state will come on board so that we can all work off the same page. With this bill, decisions are not made by a Frankfort bureaucrat and educators are better prepared to assist all students. 

Voting is at the foundation of our democracy. Senate Bill 1 makes it easier for military and those Kentuckians living abroad to receive election ballots. Especially for our servicemen and women, voting is a particularly meaningful action that we stateside should do everything we can to make easy and available. Electronically transmitting the ballot gets the ballot in the hands of voters earlier so it can be filled out and returned on a timely basis.

The bill also establishes a group to study the possibility of electronically returning the ballots. Right now, the county clerks are concerned that the integrity of the ballot and the anonymity of the voter may be compromised if transmitted via email or fax.

House Bill 3 is another bipartisan bill that passed this week. The measure will help victims of human trafficking in the state by adding that horrible crime to our abuse and neglect statutes, in turn stiffening penalties.  According to advocacy groups, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in Kentucky. Sadly, the majority of its victims are children.

House Bill 3 would protect victims from prosecution for forced crimes, providing specific treatment options instead. It would also create a victim assistance fund and would make training available for law enforcement in the identification and control of these crimes.

Two anti-drug measures also passed. House Bill 217 is the General Assembly’s attempt to curb the unintended consequences of last year’s House Bill 1 which shut down pill mills across the state but also put undue regulatory burdens on doctors, nursing homes and hospitals. The bill adjusts treatment protocols to allow medical professionals the flexibility they need to adequately treat patients without opening the floodgates for unscrupulous doctors.

House Bill 8 is yet another bill geared to combating synthetic drugs. These drugs, which are designed to chemically mimic certain drugs and controlled substances such as marijuana and meth, are constantly evolving as bad actors continue to try to addict our young people. They may look harmless and be sold in innocuous packages of bath salts or incense but make no mistake; they are dangerous and often life-threatening.


Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, and Trimble counties as well as a portion of Jefferson County.