by Representative Michael Lee Meredith:
As I work on this week’s column, only six days stand between the legislature and the end of this year’s session. While a handful of bills sponsored by House members are still up for a vote, we have moved on to considering Senate bills. In this week’s column I want to share just a few of the bills passed out of the House this week that I believe will help make Kentucky an even better place to live.
As you know, so many of our fellow Kentuckians are hurting as they try to provide for their families during this pandemic. They have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but many have been met with silence when they seek unemployment benefits. That is why one of our top legislative priorities this year has been to address the deficiencies that led to the state’s unemployment crisis. HB 367 increases access to unemployment insurance benefits by mandating public employment offices be open and operational in specified locations across the state anytime the unemployment rate in a local workforce area increases to above five percent. This bill also would require a biannual review of area unemployment rates and makes technical changes to ensure that the resources invested are still being used wisely. We also passed legislation that establishes criteria and procedures in which the repayment of an unemployment overpayment can be waived when a recipient is overpaid or receives unemployment benefits for which they did not qualify. HB 468 would require the secretary of the Labor Cabinet to waive unemployment insurance overpayment debts if the overpayment is due to an employer or agency error and not the result of fraud or misconduct by the recipient.
Education and our children is always a priority in the Kentucky General Assembly. HB 184 relates to the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarships (KEES). It would allow a student who attends an out of state high school or Department of Defense school due to a parent's military transfer to earn a KEES award if the student earned a base amount in a previous year at a Kentucky high school. We also approved HB 384, which would permit the administrator of a school that participates in the Federal School Breakfast Program to authorize up to 15 minutes of the school day to provide the opportunity for children to eat breakfast during instructional time and would allow an educator to give a child extra time at another time in the day to eat a meal if needed.
During the pandemic, we have all become keenly aware of the lack of adequate internet service in many areas of our state. This lack of access has made virtual education and working from home a huge challenge. This week we passed a bill that would provide incentives to deliver broadband service to households and businesses in hard to reach areas referred to as the “last mile.” The measure, HB 320, would allow electric cooperatives regulated by the Public Service Commission to leverage their assets for broadband projects and would make financial assistance up to $250 million available for projects available through the Broadband Development Fund.
We are also focused on eliminating unnecessary burdens to expanding access to health care. Among the bills we passed this week is HB 48, would allow pharmacists to receive reimbursement for additional services and procedures they provide. Pharmacists collaborate with healthcare professionals, such as physicians and nurse practitioners and are often the health care provider Kentuckians see most frequently.
Pro-life legislation continues to receive attention and this week I was proud to vote for legislation aimed at saving newborn lives by providing a safe surrender option. HB 155 would define and allow the use of a "newborn safety device" related to the anonymous surrendering of a newborn infant in the Commonwealth at a participating staffed police station, fire station, or hospital. Pro-life means supporting parents and children before and after birth. This bill provides parents who may be at the end of their rope a safe option to save the life of their child.
Another bill that protects innocent life is HB 254. This measure, if enacted into law, would raise the penalty for possessing, viewing or distributing matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor under the age of 12 years to a class C felony. Offenders will be charged with a class C felony for the first offense, and a class B felony for each subsequent offense.
Again, these are just a few of the measures passed this week in the House that I believe will help continue to make Kentucky a place where people want to work and live and raise their families. I hope to update you on more next week and provide an end of session review in the coming days. In the meantime, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information please visit the legislature's website at www.legislature.ky.gov or you can email me directly at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ly.gov.