by: Representative Michael Meredith
Week six of the 2020 Regular Session allowed legislators an opportunity to work on several critical issues, including public health, our public pension, and criminal justice legislation. I have shared some information about the bills we passed in this week’s update. Of course, I always look forward to hearing from my district, so please feel free to reach out using the contact information at the end of this article.
This week, the House approved HB 129, legislation that seeks to transform the way that public health services are delivered. The bill changes how local health departments approach the programs they offer by placing a priority on essential services they are mandated to provide. HB 129 has broad support from public health departments across the state. Paying for public health has become a struggle in many of our communities. The state’s 81 public health departments face an almost $39 million deficit. Additionally, an estimated 18 face closure if they do not immediately deal with their financial problems. This would spell disaster for the 41 counties they serve. The majority of financial issues are directly related to their public pension costs. However, many within the public health system have brought forward concerns that new programs have been added over time, while the ongoing need for existing programs is rarely evaluated.
Health departments and other “quasi-governmental” agencies are also the topic of HB 171, which we approved this week. This bill is part of an ongoing effort to address our public pension crisis and provide relief to these “quasis" as we describe the public health departments, domestic violence shelters, and even our regional universities who participate in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System plan. During the 2019 Special Session, we passed legislation aimed at giving relief to quasi-governmental agencies that were struggling with the skyrocketing cost of their employee pension payments. HB 171 is based on the recommendations of the Public Pension Oversight Board and basically shifts how we base payments from a percentage of the payroll to the dollar value of how much they actually owe.
We also took action on two common sense pieces of legislation aimed at cleaning up criminal justice laws. We passed HB 327, which calls for the automatic expungement of criminal charges when someone has those charges dismissed or when a grand jury fails to indict them. One of the basic tenets of our criminal justice system is that we are innocent until proven guilty, so it is incredible to me that this is not already happening.
If it becomes law, HB 284 would establish credits for men and women who complete GED, vocational/technical education, or drug treatment programs while on probation. The program credit should incentivize those who have committed crimes to pursue a path that helps them find an alternative to further criminal activity and allow them to contribute positively to their communities.
We also took an opportunity to honor our Family Resource and Youth Services Centers and the men and women who staff them. The bill, HB 241, designates the second Wednesday in February as Family Resource and Youth Services (FRYSC) day. It is just seven short lines, but HB 241 conveys the respect that the House has for this group of educators and the work they do in our public schools. A product of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1994, FRYSCs basically plug both students and families into a network of resources and support to ensure that children can focus on learning. While they are not classroom teachers, the work they do has a direct impact on how well our children do in school.
The House Committee on Education is preparing more legislation for House consideration. This week, committee members approved legislation that would further expand the 529 educational savings plan uses. Under the provisions of House Bill 331, 529 educational savings plans could be used for tuition on any qualified education loan for the account’s beneficiary or sibling. If passed, 529 accounts could also pay for fees, books, supplies, and equipment for participation in any Department of Labor registered and certified apprenticeship program. Apprenticeships are driven by the needs of the job market and allow students to develop skills and prepare to enter the workforce. Examples include everything from mechanics to nursing aides. When they finish, they walk away with a nationally-recognized credential. We know that the traditional four-year college path is not for everyone. Good-paying careers should be equally available to those who want to pursue apprenticeships. This bill makes it easier to do just that.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.