By Rae Hodge–
The Kentucky legislature resumed business in Frankfort in the last week, and swiftly began taking up legislation in committee and chamber. The following events are highlights from the week’s activities, including celebrations, landmark events and bills.
House Bill 190, sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, would enact a statewide smoking ban in public places and places of employment. The bill has been proposed for three years, though it has only been heard twice in committee. Having gathered the support of Gov. Steve Beshear during his State of the Commonwealth address, and sailing easily through committee, Kentucky is one step closer to having the ban. The bill now moves to the Kentucky House of Representatives for the full vote of the chamber.
Senate Bill 11, known as the Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Memorial Act, is sponsored by Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, and would legalize the plant for medical use throughout the state. Attention to the bill has increased in the media since the push for industrial hemp has begun in Kentucky, and Clark says that this may help his cause. The bill’s strongest opposition is in the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee. Clark has also said that police support for the bill is gathering, telling reporters this week that since the liberalization of Kentucky marijuana possession penalties in the last two years, police “like the fact they’re not throwing everybody in jail for possession of a little bit of weed.”
Rapists could lose custody rights
A loophole in current Kentucky law allows rapists to take their victims to court and sue for custody if those victims become pregnant as a result of the rape. Kentucky is among 34 states that allow this to happen. Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, filed legislation in the Kentucky House of Representatives this week that would prevent rapists from taking their victims to court. A Georgetown Law Journal estimate states between 25,000 and 32,000 women become pregnant each year as a result of rape. Keene says that he expects no opposition to the legislation in committee.
The late Dr. J. Blaine Hudson was honored in the rotunda during the 10th annual Black History Month Celebration at the Capitol, and was post-humously inducted into the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians during the celebration. Hudson was a former dean at the University of Louisville College of Arts & Sciences. U of L President James Ramsey was in attendance and spoke to the academic accomplishments of Hudson, “He embodied everything we value at the University of Louisville,” said Ramsey. Hudson’s surviving family was on hand to speak about him, and to receive awards on his behalf. The celebration included members of Kentucky legislative leadership such as House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonburg, and members of the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus.
State of the Commonwealth
Gov. Steve Beshear gave his annual assessment of the state’s condition in his State of the Commonwealth address to Kentucky. Many criticized the Governor’s bleak outlook on the troubles facing the state, and his demand to raise revenues for education and pension reform. Beshear called for reforms to the tax code that would allow revenues to accumulate. “What we will be able to pass in this session in the way of tax reform or pension reform is not clear. And yes, the two go together,” said Beshear. Other things Beshear also advocated for statewide smoking bans, continued investment in education, and a forward-looking legislative agenda that would focus “not just on the present, but on five, 10, even 25 years from now.
Child care hang ups
The future of state-funded childcare assistance is uncertain in state government. The program which provides financial assistance to low income working families in Kentucky so that parents can go to work or school announced drastic cuts this week. The current averages the number of participants every month is 23,700 families, or 42,000 children.
The cuts were announced after the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services experienced a $86.6 million reduction. The cuts to the child care assistance program are estimated to save $57.8 million in fiscal year 2014.
Constituents gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb 6 to protest the cuts by hanging up tiny disposable bibs on which messages were written to legislators, urging them to reconsider the cuts. Among them, many college graduates and students’ messages were present.
“My son has benefitted from me receiving Child Care Assistance. I graduated from college because of childcare also,” read one bib, signed by Vanessa Churchill.