February 12, 2021
SENATOR PHILLIP WHEELER’S LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
On Thursday, the Kentucky General Assembly officially reached the halfway mark of the 30-day session, but not without Mother Nature making her presence known. I hope you remained safe during the winter weather that rolled into the Bluegrass late last week. Join me in taking a moment to thank the fantastic folks who have braved the elements to keep our lights on and our roads clear. They are unsung heroes.
Amid ongoing budget discussions, key legislation to address challenges facing our state continues through the legislative process in Frankfort. Bills receiving passage in the Senate this past week included:
Senate Bill (SB) 12 preserves the nonprofit nature of eye tissue donation by prohibiting for-profit entities from procuring any eye, cornea, eye tissue, or corneal tissue. It ensures that a person may not, for valuable consideration, knowingly purchase, sell, transfer, or offer to buy, sell, or transfer any human organ for transplantation or therapy.
SB 16 updates the Colon Cancer Screening Program with its fund and advisory committee to include “and Prevention” in the title. It requires funds from the sale of special cancer prevention license plates to be directed to the program fund and used solely for colon cancer screening and prevention. The bill also updates the membership of the program’s advisory committee. It requires the Department for Medicaid Services to present statistics on cancer services related to colorectal cancer annually and upon request.
Kentucky has done an excellent job in recent years on the cancer screening and prevention front. We were once ranked 49th in this area and have reached a ranking as high as 17th. We currently rank about 22nd. More work is left to do, but better focusing our efforts through good legislation will improve our ongoing fight against cancer.
SB 29 provides Kentucky’s Attorney General, Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and County Attorneys security against financial liability resulting from their sworn performance of duty to prosecute state law. Losses would be compensated by funds appropriated to the Finance and Administration Cabinet.
SB 36 removes the automatic transfer of a child from a district court to a circuit court to be tried as an adult in cases involving the use of firearms. The bill brings juvenile cases involving a gun in alignment with the standards applied to any other juvenile case. It would require the district court to consider whether or not the child has a severe intellectual disability, as well.
SB 73 extends the timeline for action for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in cases before them. Currently, the commission is struggling with caseloads that staffing levels are not fully able to manage.
SB 74 renames the current Office on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders to the Office of Dementia Services. The bill serves to elevate dementia-related services within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). Additionally, it updates the membership and duties of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Advisory Council. SB 74 establishes a Dementia Coordinator position that will help refresh the state health plan every four years to improve diagnosis and treatment of dementia and help apply for federal grants that can be used to treat dementia. Appropriation for this position will need to be allocated by the cabinet or appropriated in future budgets. Dementia-related diseases are the 6th leading cause of death. The enactment of this bill would be a step toward improving the state’s efforts to treat these horrible diseases.
SB 77 improves diversity on superintendent screening committees by reforming committees’ membership in school districts where the minority student population is 50 percent or greater.
SB 80 will increase societal trust and has the support of law enforcement across the state and their organizations. The Kentucky Sheriffs Association, Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, and the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council are all in support of this piece of legislation. The bill strengthens oversight of peace officers who conduct themselves in a criminal or unprofessional way by easing a council’s ability to revoke certification. The bill also puts in place hiring procedures that will help ensure an officer will not avoid consequences by leaving one agency to work for another.
SB 84 provides women in state correctional facilities who are pregnant with an understanding of the community-based resources available to them by connecting them with social workers to help in the child’s placement. This bill ends placing pregnant inmates, or those within six weeks of delivery of the child, in solitary confinement. I consider this a pro-life measure. We must keep the best interest of an innocent child in mind.
SB 120 creates a pathway for keeping Historical Horse Racing (HHR) in Kentucky. It redefines pari-mutuel wagering to be consistent with how the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has regulated live racing for decades and HHR for the past ten years. This was a difficult vote for many members, including myself. Ultimately, I voted in favor of the bill because, being citizens of coal country, we have felt the devastation that occurs when government fails to support an industry. It pains me to see what has been done to our coal workers and communities, and I could not bring myself to do the same to employees in the equine industry. I believe that the divide on this issue will continue in the court system. It may be the case that Kentucky voters will ultimately decide on the matter via a constitutional amendment, just as they did in 1988 to establish the Kentucky lottery.
Two of my priority bills, SB 86 and SB 32, had hearings this week and passed favorably out of Committee.
I had Eastern Kentucky’s natural beauty in mind as I testified on behalf of SB 86 in the Natural Resources and Energy Committee this past week. The bill would ensure that 100 percent of any fines imposed for the violation of dumping solid waste are returned to the county in which the fine was issued. We must work to maintain the beauty of our region. Imposing penalties on those who would disrespectfully dump solid waste is a means of deterring that behavior. SB 86 would provide counties with some additional revenue sources to help mitigate the harms some people intentionally do to our community.
SB 32 amends the Kentucky de facto custodian statute KRS 403.270. With the rise of the drug epidemic, countless grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends have stepped up to care for many of our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children. Current Kentucky law states that a child’s caregiver must have sole custody of the child for six months if the child is under the age of three and a solid year (365 days) if the child is over three. Judges have been forced to place children back in dangerous homes simply because the actual caregiver is a day or a week short of the time limit. This bill will allow a Judge to consider the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether a child should be placed with the people actually giving care for the child or returning them to a potentially dangerous environment.
SB 75 continues its progress and hopefully will be considered by the Transportation Committee next week. This bill will further develop ATV tourism in Eastern Kentucky and permit our region to emulate the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System’s success in West Virginia.
As you can see, the General Assembly is hard at work. I am hopeful that inclement weather will not slow down our efforts. Should the weather remain as brutal as it has been, please avoid being out at all costs. This will help lessen the potential responses of first responders and enable road workers and linemen to do the challenging jobs they have. If you must be out, please be safe and mindful.
It is an honor to represent the 31st District in the Kentucky State Senate. Should you have any comments or concerns about these issues or any other public policy issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office. You can reach my office toll-free at 502-564-8100 Ext: 714 or by emailing me at Phillip.Wheeler@lrc.ky.gov. God bless.
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Note: Senator Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville) represents Kentucky’s 31st State Senate District, including Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Morgan, and Pike Counties. Senator Wheeler is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, Judiciary, and State and Local Government. Additionally, he is a member of the Capital Planning and Bond Oversight Statutory Committee. For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Wheeler, please visit:https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate131.jpg