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Revenge Porn, Anti-Bullying Bills Advance

It would be a crime in Kentucky to post “revenge porn”—sexually-explicit photographs or videos of a person that were never intended to be made public—online under a bill that has cleared a House committee.

House Bill 110, sponsored by Reps. Joni Jenkins (D-Shively) and Tom Riner (D-Louisville) would make sharing such images a misdemeanor if they picture an identifiable person and are shared both maliciously and without the person’s consent. Sharing the same images maliciously for profit or gain would be a felony. 

The bill passed the House Judiciary Committee this week and is on its way to the House for consideration.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Metzmeier who has worked with victims of revenge porn through the Jefferson County Attorney Domestic Violence Intake Center told the committee that many cases involve “the most horrible things you can imagine,” including threats of exposing private erotic images if a person tries to leave a relationship. Criminalizing the practice is necessary, he said.

“There might be other criminal charges that will fit… but if the materials are just simply distributed and that’s all, the current state of the criminal law does not cover that. So there’s a gap in the law that HB 110 would fill, and I think it’s needed,” said Metzmeier.

Rep. Thomas Kerr (R-Taylor Mill) said “consent” may need to be clarified in the bill since the images may have been made consensually, but distributed without consent of the victim.

“I just wonder if we should say “consent” means consent to the distribution of the image, it doesn’t matter if they gave consent to the creation of the image,” said Kerr.

Jenkins said she’d work on a floor amendment to satisfy that point.

“We certainly want the intent to be clear,” she said.

Anti-bullying legislation clears House committee

A bill intended to add a clear definition to state law books of what constitutes bullying was approved by the House Education Committee today.

House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Rita Smart (D- Richmond) would define bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated” if it occurs at school, on school busses, at school-sponsored events, or disrupts the educational process in some other way.

Clearly defining bullying in the law books will help protect students, said 13-year-old Morgan Guess, who founded the Guess Anti-Bullying Foundation in her hometown of Paducah.

“I can understand this definition and I feel protected by it,” Guess said. “We should have one definition that every school uses and every student and parent can understand.”

HB 316 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Bicycle safety bill approved by Senate

The state Senate passed a bill clarifying how motorists interact with bicyclists by a 33-4 vote this week. Kenton County's representation in the Senate, Senators Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill) and Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) opposed the bill.

Key provisions in the legislation, known as Senate Bill 80, would require bicycles to keep to the right and would require motorists to stay at least three feet away from bicycles when passing.

“Bicycles are a growing mode of transportation both in urban areas and rural areas,” said Sen. Robin L. Webb (D-Grayson) who introduced the bill, “but we have had a few tragedies of late when it comes to cyclists and sharing the road.”

Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) referenced a well-known lawyer who died after being involved in a wreck on his bicycle last year in Fayette County as influencing his decision to sign on as a sponsor of SB 80.

Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) also supported SB 80. She noted that bicycles can sell for as much as cars and that bicyclists also pay taxes for services that help support the roads.

“In Lexington, Ky., where I reside and in many cities and rural areas people ride bicycles to be healthy,” Kerr said. “Many people also ride their bikes to the grocery, to the stores, to their job.”

Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) urged senators to join him in voting against SB 80. He said it was enabling bicyclists, going 10 or 12 mph, to ride on state highways with narrow lanes, blind curves and 55 mph speed limits. Hornback also noted that Kentucky has invested in parks and trails for bicyclists.  

“I encourage members to really think about this,” he said. “Roads are built for transportation of goods and services. … I know Senate Bill 80 sounds good. I know it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, but it is not in the best interest of public safety.”

Webb, whose home is between Kentucky Trail Towns Olive Hill and Morehead, responded by characterizing SB 80 as a tourism bill. The Kentucky Trail Town Program is designed to help connect communities to trail systems and assist in developing sites as tourist destinations.

“Cyclists spend money,” Webb said. “We want to do everything we can to attract them and make them safe when they are in our communities.”

SB 80 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

University projects bill clears House budget committee

State colleges and universities could move forward with their building projects even if those projects aren’t included in a state budget bill under legislation that has passed a House committee.

House Bill 265 would allow capital projects funded with a combination of restricted funds, agency funds, federal funds and private funds to be exempt from the state budget process as long as the projects are authorized by the college or university’s governing board and the Council on Postsecondary Education and presented to a state legislative oversight committee. All costs would be the responsibility of the institution, according to the bill, with no fiscal impact on the state.

HB 265 was approved by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and sent to the House floor for approval.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Clark (D-Louisville) said HB 265 would help postsecondary institutions weather budget cuts proposed by the governor.

“With the Governor’s proposal on higher education, (postsecondary institutions) are going to take a 9 percent cut but their population is still growing,” said Clark. “We need to give them the opportunity, if they have restricted funds or agency funds, and they can pay 100 percent for their project, that they can fund it.”

Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) said the bill is “really taking all the accountability away from the state.”

Clark said the Council on Postsecondary Education “will not let (the institutions) extend their debt service beyond what the capacity is.”

Workforce development bill advances

Legislation to track the progress of workforce development in Kentucky was passed by the Kentucky House of Representatives this week.

House Concurrent Resolution 97, sponsored by Rep. Larry Clark (D-Louisville) and Rep. Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro) would direct the Legislative Research Commission to establish a Kentucky Workforce Development Task Force to study workforce issues and submit a final report by Dec. 2016 that includes proposed changes and recommended legislation for workforce development.

Last year, over $1 billion in state and federal funds were provided to train, educate and support Kentucky’s workforce, according to the resolution. Those responsible for workforce development, however, are distributed throughout different state and local agencies, which makes it a challenge to develop a comprehensive plan on what could be improved statewide. 

HCR 97 passed the House by a vote of 95-0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Concurrent resolutions, if passed, go to the Governor for his signature but are used only to express opinion or convey messages. They do not become law.

Senate committee approves redistricting bill

Proposed changes to how Kentucky is divided into districts for representation in the General Assembly passed out of the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee this week.

Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Sen. Albert Robinson (R-Laurel) proposes an amendment to Section 33 of the Constitution of Kentucky which controls how legislative districts are determined. The proposed legislation specifies that redistricting of 38 Senatorial and 100 Representative districts would occur at least once every 10 years, during the first even-year session following the release of the decennial U.S. Census.

Another large part of the amendment: Redistricting would only divide a county under specific conditions. Counties with sufficient population for a district would contain at least one whole district before parts could be separated to create others. It would direct the General Assembly to divide as few counties as possible.

The committee approved the bill, 11-0, and forwarded it to the full Senate. If passed there and by the Kentucky House of Representatives, the proposed amendment would be put to Kentucky voters. It advanced to the House floor during last year’s session, but did not pass after two readings.

Robinson said SB 137 was inspired by his home county.

“Laurel County is one of the reasons I’m presenting this. It has 60-plus thousand people in it, cut five different ways and not one representative lives in Laurel County. Laurel is not the only county in this situation,” he said.

The bill also sets out provisions for redistricting to be carried out in a regular and timely fashion. The General Assembly would have until tax day, April 15, of that first even-numbered year to finalize districts. If it did not, members would be required to stay in session – without pay – for the sole purpose of completing the task.

The next U.S. census is set for 2020, meaning redistricting would have to be completed by the end of the 2022 General Assembly session.

Bill advances to improve survivor benefits for firefighters' families

Surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters are a step closer to qualifying for state-paid survivor benefits after the Committee on State and Local Government approved legislation this week.

Senate Bill 138, which would determine that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty, passed out of committee by an 11-0 vote. If passed into law, it would make survivors eligible for an $80,000 death benefit.

“One of the biggest dangers facing firefighters right now is one you don’t see. That’s cancer,” Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Christian McDaniel (R-Latonia). Flanked by leaders of the Commonwealth’s various firefighter advocacy groups, McGarvey said the impetus for the bill was the hidden dangers of the job.

It’s easy to presume the elevated risk for firefighters is lung cancer from breathing smoke, he said. Most cancers come from contact with toxins from burned material, however.

“This is not running into a burning building and breathing smoke. This is not lung cancer. This is bladder cancer. It’s colon cancer. It’s kidney cancer, liver cancer, skin cancer,” he continued, listing other types of the disease with greater risk due to absorbed toxins.

Under the bill, a firefighter will have died as a result of an act performed in the line of duty if they were 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years for the survivors to receive the benefit. Their cancer cannot be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco – they cannot have used tobacco in the 10 years preceding diagnosis.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. McGarvey said he hopes fellow legislators move quickly to pass the legislation.

“Unfortunately, this is a death benefit so it’s not something that will help firefighters when they’re alive,” he said. “But it is the least we can do for firefighters and their families.”

From the Legislative Research Commission