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Capitol Notes: Frankfort's Week Included Session in Old State Capitol

Peek into one of the journals that have rested for more than a century on the shelves of the State Capitol’s law library and you’ll see the issues that captured lawmakers’ attention on March 15, 1908, the day the Kentucky General Assembly completed its last legislative session in the Old State Capitol.

Matters under discussion included improving coal mine safety, allowing vacation time for prison guards, keeping kids in school, and restoring a Henry Clay monument.

Some of those issues were still around when lawmakers next convened two years later. But their meeting location was brand new. The Old Capitol was left behind as lawmakers began the 1910 session in a magnificent new Capitol building that remains the center of state government to this day.

Still, the Old Capitol has its historic charm. That’s why every decade or so, state lawmakers decide to return to the Old Capitol for a day to celebrate Kentucky history in an architectural treasure that still looks much like it did during the 1800s. That happened again this month as the General Assembly held Feb. 21 proceedings in the Old Capitol’s storied Senate and House chambers.

Coming one day after Presidents Day, the Old Capitol activities gave lawmakers a chance to be addressed by an Abe Lincoln impersonator who joked that he was surprised to be invited to the proceedings since Kentucky heavily voted against him in the 1860 presidential race. “Well, ladies and gentleman, all is forgiven,” he said, “We come together now as one nation, united, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

While most of the Old Capitol activities were ceremonial in nature, lawmakers moved a number of possible new laws further along in the legislative process during the rest of the week. Bills that advanced between Feb. 19 and Feb.  22 include measures on a range of topics:

Foster children. Children in foster care and other out-of-home care placements would have their own statutory “bill of rights” under a bill that cleared the Kentucky House 99-0. The rights include adequate food, clothing, and shelter, as well as a safe, secure and stable family. The bill has been delivered to the Senate.

Felony expungement. Legislation to extend Kentucky’s expungement program to additional people convicted of low-level felonies advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 57 would allow discretionary expungement of additional Class D felonies not involving sex abuse, breach of public office or crimes against children. The bill now goes to the Senate chamber.

Crime victims. Senate Bill 97, which passed the Senate 35-0, would make it possible for sexual assault victims to go online to check the progress of forensic testing in their cases. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Sports wagering. The House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee approved a bill that would legalize and regulate sports wagering, fantasy sports contests and online poker. Bill 175 would allow licensed wagering on sanctioned professional and college sporting events at Kentucky horse tracks, Kentucky Speedway, or through an app downloaded at one of those locations. Online poker would be regulated by the Kentucky Lottery under the bill. Sports wagering alone would generate an estimated $20 million in annual tax revenue for the state. House Bill 175 now goes to the House chamber.

Golden alerts. A House committee approved legislation to change how the state issues Golden Alert notifications when an impaired person is missing. It would be up to the Kentucky State Police to initiate a Golden Alert under House Bill 150 if the agency decides an alert is necessary for the safety of someone with a physical, mental or cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The State Police would work with both state and local agencies to issue an alert using existing resources such as electronic highway signs, the Amber Alert broadcast emergency response system, and electronic media. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Citizens who want to weigh in on the issues under consideration can share their thoughts with Kentucky lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1.800.372.7181.

From the Legislative Research Commission

Photo: Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) presides over the General Assembly at the Old State Capitol (LRC)