A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Sen. John Schickel: Shaping Commonwealth’s future; look at some of Senate bills considered last week

Squeaky floors. No vote-counting tote boards. And nearly two-century-old decor.
That’s what greeted Senators when they convened for the fourth week of the 153rd regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly on Tuesday inside the Old State Capitol Building. The nostalgia commemorated President’s Day, often used to observe the birthday of one of Kentucky’s greatest sons, President Abraham Lincoln. The 16th President of the United States would have been 210 this year.
The Senate unanimously passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 116 immortalizing the event. The document recounted how the Old Capitol was constructed from 1827 until 1830 by Lexington architect Gideon Shryock. He was just 25 when he was commissioned to build the Old Capitol—his very first project.

John Schickel

The halls of the Old Capitol were graced by the likes of such respected Kentuckians as Henry Clay, according to the resolution. It also was where the acrimonious words of secession echoed. Union troops drove out Confederate Governor Richard Hawes and later used the building as Civil War barracks.
As the resolution most eloquently captured, the venerable landmark has witnessed the commonwealth’s darkest days, such as in the winter of 1900 when William Goebel was assassinated outside its halls. But it has also seen the true spirit of Kentucky. It stands to this day as a testament to Kentuckians’ ingenuity, equanimity, and dedication to the rule of law. 
Senators used the occasion to reflect on how far Kentucky has come and where it is headed. The commonwealth’s future will be shaped, in part, by legislation passed during this short session. Bills passed just this week tackle some of the most perplexing societal issues. Those include fair elections, healthcare, heinous crimes, and even the ancient art of midwifery.
Some of those bills include:
Senate Bill 34 would require the Kentucky Board of Elections to institute measures to help prevent inappropriate use of the voter registration roster before the May primaries. Supporters said it “would draw a bright line between the Secretary of State’s office and the state Board of Elections.” It would do this by granting county clerks, assistant county clerks, and the Board of Elections’ staff the sole authority to access, correct, or alter the voter registration roster.
Opponents said legislators shouldn’t act until they know the outcomes of three separate, ongoing inquiries into the interplay between the Secretary of State and Board of Elections, as it concerns the voter registration roster. SB 34 passed by a 27-8 vote.
Senate Bill 85 would expand the use of ignition interlock devices (IID), breathalyzer-type devices connected to the ignition systems of vehicles of people convicted of driving under the influence (DUI). SB 85 would do this by allowing and incentivizing IIDs for all people charged with a DUI and shift administration of the program from the courts to the transportation department. It would also move Kentucky toward a more compliance-based model, in which offenders would have to complete a 120-day period of sober driving before exiting the court-mandated program.
The state recorded an astonishing 24,576 DUIs in 2017 alone. The supporters cited an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety study from last year that found the number of impaired drivers in fatal crashes fell 16 percent when states required IIDs for all DUI offenders. SB 85 passed by a 34-0 vote.
Senate Bill 97 would allow sexual assault victims to track the progress of forensic testing in their cases through a web portal. Supporters said SB 97 builds on the SAFE Act of 2016.
The act was passed after a 2015 report by the state auditor found more than 3,000 untested sexual assault kits in Kentucky. An acronym for “sexual assaults forensic evidence,” the 2016 legislation sought to prevent a backlog of untested kits from ever happening again. This year’s measure, SB 97, passed by a 35-0 vote.
Senate Bill 102 would create a crime for possessing, trafficking, and importing a doll imaged after a child to be used for sexual gratification. Another provision would prohibit businesses from soliciting patrons for the use of these child sex dolls. The bill stemmed from a case in Northern Kentucky that gained some notoriety. SB 102 passed by a 36-0 vote.
Senate Bill 67 would define, prohibit, and set penalties for the sexual contact or trafficking of animals for sex. Kentucky is one of five states where the act of animal sexual assault isn’t already expressly prohibited in statute.
Supporters of SB 67 said the direct link between domestic violence and animal abuse is well documented. They said research has also shown a direct link between child sexual abuse and animal sexual abuse. SB 67 passed by a 35-0 vote.
Senate Bill 12 would provide civil immunity for someone who enters a passenger car or truck to remove a dog or cat who is in immediate danger of death. The bill included other stipulations that must be taken to gain that immunity. Those would include making a reasonable effort to locate the owner and contacting police, fire, or other emergency personnel. SB 12 passed by a 33-1 vote.
Senate Bill 30 would require, under certain circumstances, health benefit plans to cover genetic tests for cancer that are recommended by certain health care providers. It would also reduce the age required for colorectal cancer examination and testing coverage from 50 to 45.
Supporters said SB 30 is needed because Kentucky leads the nation in cancer cases and deaths. They said less than 10 percent of the 2,500 Kentuckians that should be receiving genetic testing every year are getting the life-saving screenings. Supporters added insurance companies routinely cover the tests—but only after a suspicious cancer is diagnosed.
Opponents expressed concern that insurance mandates, such as SB 30, were cumulatively raising the rate of private health insurance. They also questioned whether the mandates ultimately save money in health care costs. SB 30 passed by a 33-3 vote.
Senate Bill 16 would promote research, treatment, and education on rare diseases. The legislation would establish the Kentucky Rare Disease Advisory Council and Trust Fund. In order to reduce the administrative burden on state agencies, the council would be administered by an existing eligible entity operating within the state.
A rare disease, sometimes referred to as an orphan disease, would be defined in the legislation as a disease that affects fewer than 200,000 people. That would cover about 7,000 rare diseases that an astonishing 30 million people are diagnosed with—just in the United States.
Eighty percent of those rare diseases are genetic in origin and can be linked to mutations in a single gene or in multiple genes, which can be passed down from generation to generation. With all the advancements in our understanding of genetics, supporters of SB 16 said the measure would help in finding new treatments and cures. SB 16 passed by a 36-0 vote.
Senate Bill 65 would establish the Palliative Care Interdisciplinary Advisory Council within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. SB 65 would also establish the Palliative Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program within the cabinet.
Recent studies indicate that by closely matching treatments with the patients’ goals in improving their quality of life, palliative care can provide substantial cost reductions. Supporters of SB 65 said when pain and distress are alleviated, the length of stay at hospitals can be reduced. It passed by a 36-0 vote.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 would create the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Workforce Assessment Task Force to study the state’s healthcare workforce needs as well as the state’s long-term care services and supports infrastructure. The task force would be required to meet monthly during the upcoming legislative interim and to submit findings and recommendations to the Legislative Research Commission by December.
Supporters of SCR 46 said there are currently 71,000 Alzheimer’s patients in Kentucky. They added that 250,000 Kentuckians provide more than 20 hours per week of unpaid care for those individuals. SCR 46 passed by a 35-0 vote.
Senate Bill 84 would recognize, certify, and regulate home-birth midwives in Kentucky. SB 84 would do this by creating a council to advise the state Board of Nursing on the creation of regulations regarding qualifications, standards for training, competency, any necessary statutory changes, and all other matters relating to certified professional midwives.
Supporters said birth certificates show that about 700 babies are born at home in Kentucky every year. That’s despite the fact the state stopped issuing permits to home-birth midwives in 1975. The supporters said SB 84 wasn’t whether to allow home-birth midwives, but whether to regulate the practice and discourage charlatans from preying on expecting mothers.
Opponents expressed concern that women seeking to give birth at home during high-risk pregnancies would endanger the baby’s life. SB 84 passed by a 32-4 vote.
All the bills now go to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
The fourth week of the session also brought the halfway point of this short, 30-workday session. Senate bills that pass out of the chamber by month’s end have a better chance of making it through the legislative process, so expect the pace to pick up even more next week. Final adjournment is scheduled for March 29.
Sen. John Schickel represents the 11th District in Boone County. If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, He can be contacted by phone in Frankfort at 502-564-8100, Ext. 617, or at home at 859-384-7506.  Also reach him in Frankfort with a message, on twitter @Senatorschickel, or on Facebook at State Senator John Schickel. You can also review the Legislature’s work online.

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