By HUBERT COLLINS
State Representative (D-Wittensville)
FRANKFORT- The General Assembly is in recess right now to give the governor time to consider vetoes to the dozens of bills passed in this session’s final days. The state budget bill, with $19.2 billion in appropriations, is biggest bill of the bunch. But it certainly is not the only one our state needs.
Over 130 bills cleared both chambers before we recessed on March 30, and most of them are not appropriations bills. They are bills to improve state policy in public health, mine safety, the state elections process, education, the list goes on and on.
As we wait to return to Frankfort for the session’s next and final day on April 12, I would like to look at what lawmakers did to improve the workings of Kentucky state government so far this session. And I would like to begin with our work in the area of health and family services.
Let’s start with a bill that will protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to live in group homes or staffed residences-collectively known as “residential care facilities”-in a community setting. House Bill 122 would prohibit local government from passing any ordinance that restricts the location of these homes, although local governments would be allowed to adopt a resolution requesting that the state provide information on the location of such facilities within their boundaries. The data would be restricted for use by local emergency officials and not subject to the Open Records law.
The General Assembly has spent years trying to move more people with disabilities who are under the state’s care into community settings and away from institutions. While HB 122 would not allow local group and staffed homes to avoid applicable zoning, businesses, health, nuisance and other requirements followed by other homes in their neighborhood, it will prohibit local governments from placing requirements on those homes that are more stringent than requirements in state and federal law or regulation. HB 122 is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
We lawmakers have also worked hard to improve stroke care in the Commonwealth, and our efforts did not wane in this session.
Kentucky, as you know, is part of the nation’s 11-state Stroke Belt, so named because of the unusually high incidence of stroke and heart disease found in the region stretching from the southeast into the lower Midwestern state of Indiana. It is a not a distinction Kentucky wants, nor one that is good for its citizens. So, in 2010, Kentucky passed a law aimed at saving lives by allowing nationally certified primary stroke care hospitals in the Commonwealth to receive a special state designation that we lawmakers hoped would attract stroke patients to our best hospitals for stroke care.
This session, we went even further with HB 467, which will require that a plan be established and implemented to improve stroke response and treatment statewide.
But HB 467, which is also now before the governor for his signature, goes even further by reaching into another area of public welfare: The well-being of impaired persons who have gone missing, either due to developmental disabilities like autism or due to physical, mental, or cognitive impairment or brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
It was in 2008 that our state created a “Golden Alert” system for immediate notification of emergency officials, media and the public when an impaired adult goes missing. Like the Amber Alert system for missing children, the Golden Alert’s purpose is to find and retrieve missing persons who are unable to care for themselves. The system is a good one, but one thing we have learned since Golden Alert was implemented is that different persons with disabilities require different alerts, based on their impairment.
Knowing now that there is no “one size fits all” for Golden Alert, HB 467 creates two sizes, so to speak: “Golden Alert D” for reports of missing impaired persons—not just adults—with developmental disabilities like autism and traumatic brain injury, and; an updated “Golden Alert” that will include reports of missing impaired persons with physical, mental or cognitive impairment or organic brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease. HB 467 will also require those involved in search and rescue of persons involved in a Golden Alert D to have 30 minutes of basic search and rescue instruction in the behavioral characteristics and proper care of those persons, with one hour of instruction required for search and rescue management.
One last bill I would like to mention in the short space remaining this week is HB 449, also passed in this session’s last full week, which is geared toward child and adult safety during threatening situations, like the recent storms and tornadoes that ravaged parts of our state. This legislation will require certified family child care homes to have written evacuation plans in place for those times when such threatening situations arise.
More action will be ready to report when we return for our final day of the session on April 12, as discussed. Until then, you can always stay informed of all the action by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov<https://webmail.lrc.ky.gov/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.lrc.ky.gov> or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835 to check the status of a particular bill or resolution. For committee meeting schedules, please call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. Or, to comment on a bill, please call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.