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Bills deal with lives of children

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From the House

By Rep. Linda Belcher

 FRANKFORT – In each legislative session, the Kentucky House of Representatives spends a considerable amount of time on those who comprise our youngest generation, looking for ways to help them at home and in the classroom.

Last week was a high-water mark in both of those areas.  On Wednesday, for example, the House of Representatives put its unanimous support behind legislation that would make it illegal to intentionally view child pornography. Possession of this material has long been outlawed, but in today’s internet age, pedophiles have been able to exploit a loophole that makes it difficult to prosecute those who view, but don’t download, images stored on computer servers located outside of the United States.

If this bill becomes law, law enforcement here in Kentucky would have more authority to act, and those found guilty could face up to five years in jail.  At the same time, there are built-in protections for those who inadvertently view this material.

Earlier that day, the House Judiciary Committee laid the groundwork for more public accountability in court cases involving children’s welfare.  This issue has become especially prominent in the last year, because of ongoing efforts to learn more about several high-profile cases in which children died.

 If this bill becomes law, it would establish pilot programs in family courts, with one each in the seven Supreme Court districts.  This would give us the framework to open up these proceedings statewide while giving judges the discretion to maintain privacy where appropriate, such as in sexual abuse cases.

In academic matters, the House’s Education Committee gave the go-ahead to Senate legislation that would award alternative high school diplomas – rather than the current certificate – to special needs students who qualify.  This would better showcase their accomplishment, and it is expected to make it through the full House and then be signed by Governor Beshear in the days ahead.

 On Thursday, the House unanimously voted for legislation that would build on a 2007 law that was very beneficial to Ford, helping the company invest more than a billion dollars in its Louisville operations and hire up to 3,000 new employees. Under this bill, the incentives would be extended to include the state’s other assembly plants and large auto parts companies should they choose to make the qualified investments.  This bill could be a major boost to our economy.

On Friday, meanwhile, the House unanimously voted for House Bill 256, which would establish the Iraq/Afghanistan War Memorial Committee and eventually lead to a permanent memorial to honor the six Kentuckians who died in Operation Desert Storm and the 104 who have perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom and, in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom.

In other action in the Kentucky House this past week, several pieces of legislation affecting agriculture were approved.  One would create a task force to study how we can improve access to farm-fresh products in urban areas while another recognized Feb. 19-25th as Food Checkout Week, which highlights the fact that no other country spends a lower percentage of income on food than ours.  The House also put its support behind a resolution urging federal officials to include tobacco among the products being promoted in a proposed trade agreement between the United States and several Pacific Rim countries.

    There are about five full weeks left in the legislative session, so the month ahead promises to be the busiest of the year for the General Assembly.  The budget and a host of other issues affecting the state will be resolved during that time.

    As you probably already know, the bill to allow the public to vote on the gambling issue failed in the Senate.  I hope they have a solution for the horse industry since they are having problems competing with the large purses offered by other states.

If you would like to let me know your thoughts or concerns about any issue before the legislature, I can always be reached by writing to Room 351B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.