By State Rep. Chris Harris
Democracy in action is often a crowded affair, as the waiting rooms and hallways of the Capitol and Capitol Annex overflowed this week with large groups of Kentuckians traveling to Frankfort to make their voices heard on key issues important to their cause.
Librarians, social workers, physician assistants, county magistrates, steel workers, and representatives from United Way and the American Cancer Society were among those individuals who scheduled appointments with each of us to advocate on behalf of their local organizations.
While hectic, it’s scenes like these that remind me of the true privilege to serve in the “people’s house” where viewpoints from all corners of the state converge, and the issues we considered in both committee work and on the House floor reflect a wide array of concerns facing the Commonwealth.
On Tuesday, the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee approved legislation that will make it easier for groceries and farmers to donate to local food banks by clarifying the state’s Good Samaritan law and establishing legal immunity protections to those individuals and businesses that help fill this important need. Advocates for the bill noted that one in seven Kentuckians depends upon a food bank each week to survive, a sobering statistic and one that reminds each of us of the need to facilitate the work of these life-saving charitable organizations.
In the House Education Committee, legislation was approved that will require schools to offer instruction in prescription opioid abuse prevention. This effort to communicate with our students is especially critical considering statistics revealing that the number of Kentuckians who die from prescription drug overdoses has steadily climbed over the past decade to more than 1,000 each year, exacting a devastating toll on families, communities, social services and economic stability and growth. A Harvard University study also released this week foretold that 61,000 Kentuckians would lose critical substance abuse services if the Affordable Care Act is repealed by Congress, which would further undercut our efforts to address the drug issue in our state long-term. This legislation now moves to the full House for consideration.
On the House floor Wednesday, we approved legislation that will allow sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds in foster care to apply for driver’s permits and driver’s licenses, thus enjoying the same rite of passage as most other teenagers enjoy. Under the legislation, teens in foster care could sign permit or license applications for themselves as long as the application is verified by the state and the teenager has proof of insurance. This legislation is a positive step forward for Kentucky’s foster youth who are currently only able to obtain an ID. This legislation now goes to the Senate for their consideration.
In a related issue, we also approved legislation we hope will reduce the number of children in the foster system by allowing them to stay with “fictive kin,” which could include family friends, neighbors or other relatives with whom they enjoy a trusting relationship. According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, there are currently more than 7,900 children in Kentucky’s foster care system
This week, we passed HB 14, known as the “Blue Lives Matter” bill, to add first responders to our existing hate crime law. Kentucky’s hate crime law currently protects people based on their race, color, religion, national origin and sexual orientation. I voted against this bill because while this legislation did nothing to protect our first responders, whom I support fully, it did divide the House of Representatives along racial lines, which I felt was wrong. ALL lives matter and while the 93rd House District does not have a large minority population, I believe in and I will always defend our constitution’s provisions that all men are created equal.
Some other bills that made their way through the House and on to the Senate this week are:
-HB 35, which would make Kentucky one of nearly three dozen states allowing the creation of public benefit corporations — companies that make investments in a public benefit, or public good, part of their corporate philosophy while maximizing their profits. The bill passed the House on a vote of 78-17.
-HB 116, which would spell out where and for how long special purpose government entities’ financial information should be made available for public inspection. The bill passed the House by a vote of 95-0.
-HB 26, which would repeal state law requiring monthly visits and inspections of certain public places, including dance halls, by sheriff’s departments. The bill passed the House 91-1.
We’re almost at the halfway point in this legislative session, and the window of time allowed for filing new bills has closed. You can stay informed of all legislative action of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. If you would like to share your comments or concerns with me or another legislator about a particular bill under consideration this session, you can call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181. If you would like to email me, my address is [email protected]
Thanks for the honor of representing this district. I hope you have a great week ahead and look forward to hearing from you soon.