By State Rep. Chris Harris
The 2017 session is coming down to the wire, with major legislation still left to consider on two “concurrence” days next week. After March 15th, we recess until March 29th and 30th, when we reconvene for our final two days to review any gubernatorial vetoes.
During “concurrence,” both the House and Senate will try to reach agreement on amendments to bills that have been adopted by the other chamber. There is a chance we’ll also hear some important Senate bills for the first time when we return next week, but a suspension of the rules will be necessary to consider those matters.
In House action this week, we took a step closer toward moving Kentucky into compliance with tougher federal security standards by approving legislation that would create “voluntary travel ID” cards – an enhanced driver’s license that could be used to board airplanes and enter certain federal facilities, including military facilities like Fort Knox and Fort Campbell.
On March 7th, the House approved House Bill 410, which allows individuals to receive the optional travel ID for $5 more than the standard drivers’ license by presenting a copy of their birth certificate and Social Security card. Under the legislation, licenses, permits and IDs — both enhanced and standard — would be issued by the state Transportation Cabinet instead of the state Office of the Circuit Court Clerk, as they are now. These new licenses and IDs would be renewed for eight years instead of the current four.
Kentucky is one of five states that have not met requirements of a 2005 federal law requiring enhanced security features for driver’s licenses following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kentucky came close to resolving this issue during the 2016 session, when both the House and Senate agreed to similar legislation, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Bevin. HB 410 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
On March 8th, the House voted 77-18 to provide school districts with more flexibility in setting school calendars. Under Senate Bill 50, districts could begin using the “variable instructional year” for the 2018-2019 school year if their first day of instruction is on or after the Monday closest to Aug. 26. Many school districts in Kentucky start in early August, and supporters of the bill say it will allow families to have more vacation time and support Kentucky’s tourism industry.
The legislation is designed to be voluntary, but there was some concern expressed that those schools that do opt for a later start date would either have to extend their school day or continue meeting into the month of June because of state requirements for instructional hours. The legislation now heads to the governor’s office for his consideration.
This week, we also approved Senate Bill 17, which would specify in state law that Kentucky’s public school students and public college or university students are allowed to express their religious and political views in their school work, artwork and speeches. The legislation states that public school students are allowed to display religious messages on their clothes while at school, use school newspapers and public address systems to announce student religious meetings, and distribute political literature on school grounds. This bill basically codifies in Kentucky the constitutional rights of our citizens as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Before leaving Frankfort this week, I joined my colleagues in the House Minority in expressing alarm regarding Senate amendments proposed to a House bill that would remove Kentucky’s Attorney General as the state’s chief law officer and give the governor “exclusive authority” to represent the state in most legal matters.
House Bill 281 was originally drafted to set limits on payment of legal fees awarded by the Attorney General’s office and is now pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. With these new amendments under consideration, the bill resembles another power grab by the governor’s office and is not in the best interests of our constitutional requirements for a separation of powers among the three branches of government.
On Wednesday, I hosted the 2016 Belfry High School State Championship Football team in Frankfort. This is the 4th consecutive year they have been recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives as State Champs. It’s a great honor for me to get to brag to my colleagues about the success of our small school from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
Also on Wednesday I proudly called HR 136 urging the United States Congress to pass the Miner’s Protection Act of 2017. This piece of legislation will provide our retired UMWA miners and their widows with the security they deserve in knowing that their health insurance and pension benefits are safe and secure. For each health insurance policy and pension benefit, there is a corresponding coal miner who worked in the mines to provide each of us with low cost, reliable electricity. We owe these men and their widows just as much, or more, than we owe big banks and the auto industry. The House passed my Resolution without any dissenting votes.
As always, please feel free to leave me a message on the legislative message line (800) 372-7181 or email me at [email protected] with any comments or opinions you may have on pending legislation.
State Rep. Chris Harris represents the state’s 93rd House District in Pike and Martin counties.