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Sen. Chris McDaniel's Week in Review from Frankfort

From State Senator Chris McDaniel via his blog:

The 2013 General Assembly Session is nearing its end with the Senate still working hard to ensure that important bills and resolutions are being considered and passed.   This week, the Senate addressed issues related to tolls, job creation, education, drugs, and religious freedom, among others.

First off, I would like to reaffirm my commitment to finding a way to fund the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge without the use of tolls. It is my belief that the bridge, which annually transports 4% of the nation’s GDP,  is a federal responsibility and that they should fund its replacement. However, even if we allow the federal government to abdicate that responsibility, we cannot forget that tolling would have a disproportionate impact on Northern Kentucky. For this reason, I voted no on House Bill 441 which would allow tolls to be used to pay for the bridge between Louisville and Indiana.

As most of you know, I am committed to cutting waste from government. To that end, I introduced and passed Senate Bill 55 out of the Senate. This would have moved our constitutional elections to even-numbered years and saved our state and counties over $15 million every election cycle. Unfortunately, this good legislation did not pass the house. However, it received excellent media coverage across the state from Northern Kentucky to Paducah.

Moving on to other issues, we know that as the economy changes we must give our educators every means possible to ready the next generation of Kentuckians for the ever-changing workforce.  To that end, the Senate passed Senate Bill 176, a measure to further help the state’s struggling school systems. Currently, schools cited by the state Department of Education for persistently low achievement must take measures to restaff, bring in an outside management company or possibly close. Senate Bill 176 would allow the most troubled schools the option of converting to a charter school. Of course, this would only happen in the most extreme situations and the decision would be left to the local school board. These measures will give local school systems more tools for improvement to make sure all Kentucky students are college or career ready.

Last week the Senate also passed two bills aimed at helping high school students get a jump start on their college degree.  Senate Bill 61 would give motivated and prepared students the ability to graduate from high school early, with an Early Graduation Scholarship certificate, in addition to their high school diploma. This measure would provide that state funds normally used for the student’s senior year in high school be used to pay toward their first year of college.  As an added incentive for early graduation, Senate Bill 64 would provide a student who graduates in three years with Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) award for their fourth year of high school.  Both of these bills are waiting consideration in the House.

The Senate also reaffirmed the constitutional principle of religious freedom with the adoption of HB 279, the Religious Freedom Act. This bill specifies that government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion, protects the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds and maintains the strict standard of scrutiny used to evaluate the legality of any infringement on religious freedom.

Last year, the General Assembly adopted bipartisan legislation intended to shut down the many “pill mills” which were opening throughout the state. The law is having a positive effect, but it also put undue regulatory burdens on doctors, nursing homes, and hospitals. House Bill 217 is designed to curb these unintended consequences by adjusting treatment protocols to allow medical professionals the flexibility needed to adequately treat patients, including those who are terminally ill or who have recently undergone surgery, without opening the floodgates for unscrupulous doctors.

Another anti-drug bill, House Bill 8, was also adopted as a means to combat the growing presence of synthetic drugs. These drugs, which are designed to chemically mimic other drugs and controlled substances such as marijuana and meth, are constantly evolving and are made to look innocuous when, in fact, they can be life threatening.  Drugs are a scourge upon our Commonwealth and we remain committed to their ultimate eradication.

According to advocacy groups, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in Kentucky, with the majority of its victims being children.  The Senate passed House Bill 3 as a measure that would help victims of human trafficking in the state by adding the crime to the state’s abuse and neglect statutes.

Finally, I was proud this week to help craft and pass an amendment to House Bill 337. House Bill 337 is a bill that allows coal counties to reapportion their coal severance funds in time of economic shortfall. However, we were able to craft a compromise that amended the bill to include a prompt pay provision for Medicaid, a tax credit for employers who gave paid time off for marrow and/or organ donors, revised our tax on short sales of homes, and extended KIFA funds to Angel Investors. With this legislation, we were able to take care of people who, with the down economy, have fallen on hard times and lost their homes while at the same time encouraging investment in high tech business who will help grow our economy.

I have enjoyed my first opportunity to serve you in Frankfort and am looking forward to the last few days of this legislative session. I will be working hard through the end to represent the citizens of the 23rd District.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

Photo: Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican from Taylor elected in 2012 and serving his first term in the Kentucky State Senate. He represented Senate District 23 which includes Covington and northern Kenton County.