Senate bill would protect religous freedoms, rights

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We are entering the home-stretch of the 2012 General Assembly with the attendant rush of bills as legislators feel the urgency of the dwindling days. The Senate had a very full week with legislation, committee meetings, and we received the budget proposal from the House as well as the state’s road plan. Visits from groups ranging from the AARP to 4-H also came to the capitol to see their legislator and press for their causes.

The Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, on which I serve, has been spending extra hours reviewing the House version of the budget. We will make our changes in the next few days and hopefully get into the conference committee — a committee made up of both House and Senate members — late next week for consensus.

As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I got my first look at the Six-Year Road Plan late this week.  Continuing to build our highway infrastructure is key to the economic growth in our district. I will devote most of my time during the remainder of the session to the road plan.

Let’s look at the legislation. Senate Bill 158, the Religious Freedom Act, is a constitutional amendment that will protect religious freedom from an overbearing government. If approved by the House of Representatives and not vetoed by the governor, Kentuckians will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the government has the right to infringe on religious beliefs except in a case of a compelling government interest and only then, using the least burdensome means. Courts would have more ammunition in favor of religion in the cases of, for example, the jailing of Amish who refused to highlight their buggies and people in Bell County who wanted to pray before football games. SB 158 takes us back to a traditional, more reasonable, standard.

When the governor issues administrative regulations to implement laws, the regulations are reviewed by the Senate through the Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee. The House has a similar committee. However, the problem with the current system is that even if the committee does not approve the regulation, the governor can still implement it. Senate Bill 10 makes sure that your duly-elected representative or senator who know and are a part of your communities have a say on what can be very burdensome rules.

As administrative regulations can outlive their usefulness, so also can boards and commissions. Boards and commissions are smaller government entities that the governor appoints. Many are obviously important such as the Public Service Commission that regulates utility rates or the Parole Board. There are others, however, that may be holding on – and costing tax-dollars – often because they have such a low profile. A comprehensive look is needed to evaluate what Kentucky can afford to have and what we can afford to do without. Senate Bill 8 sunsets all boards and commissions 180 days after the end of a governor’s term. This offers a brand new opportunity every four years to review the value of each board and commission.

Diabetes is one of the leading chronic diseases in Kentucky. While there are many dedicated medical professionals who can assist those with diabetes to manage the disease, there also happens to be those who want to take advantage of the situation.  Senate Bill 198 establishes minimal quality standards by directing that diabetes educators be certified. Families confronting the disease have enough to worry about. They should have the peace of mind to know they are receiving correct information from a knowledgeable source.

I sponsored Senate Bill 179 to help prevent identity theft and other similar malfeasance. This bill removes the required social security number from petitions for local option elections. There are other ways to verify identity without putting your personal data at risk.

Finally, Senate Bill 110 invites the community to use our local schools for non-school activities such as book clubs or intramural sports during non-school hours while protecting school district employees from unreasonable lawsuits. It is unfortunate, but understandable, that many school districts are nervous about opening their facilities to neighborhood groups. SB 110 will help relieve some of that an anxiety while at the same time encouraging community unity and healthy families through artistic, civic, literary and other activities in addition to recreational and sports usage.

Please call me with any thoughts or questions you have about the above or other legislation. You can call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also find information on meetings or specific bills online at www.lrc.ky.gov. I will continue updating you as we wrap up the session.


Sen. Ernie Harris. R-Crestwood, is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee.  He also serves on the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation, the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee, and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee.  He represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, and Trimble counties, as well as a portion of Jefferson County.