Sen. Hornback discusses education, drugs and religious freedom, among other issues before the GA

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Sen. Paul Hornback

By Paul Coyle

  FRANKFORT – The 2013 General Assembly Session is nearing its end with the Senate working overtime to ensure important bills and resolutions are being considered and passed.   

This week, the Senate addressed issues related to education, drugs, victim protection, special taxing districts and religious freedom, among others.

 The Senate continues to place a high priority on strengthening Kentucky's educational opportunities which is evidenced by the adoption of Senate Bill 176 and 97.  

Together, these bills will give struggling schools more options for improving their performance and help students stay in school and earn a diploma. 

Currently, schools cited by the state Department of Education for persistently low-achievement must take measures to restaff, to 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 where, for example, schools are graduating only a small percentage of students. 

Senate Bill 97 would allow schools to adopt a policy requiring students to stay in school until age 18 or graduation, whichever comes first, provided, however, each school that does must demonstrate that they will offer an approved alternative education program for students at risk for dropping out.  

If 55% of the schools adopt such a policy, the remaining districts will then be included for consistency.  

These measures will give local school systems more tools to make sure our kids are college or career ready.

 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 to 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 the Senate remains committed to their ultimate eradication.

A measure designed to protect Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens is House Bill 3, a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate this week. 

The measure will help victims of human trafficking by adding that crime to the Commonwealth’s abuse and neglect statutes, in turn stiffening penalties. 

House Bill 3 would protect victims from prosecution for forced crimes, providing specific treatment options instead.  

It would also create a victim assistance fund and would make training available for law enforcement in the identification and control of these crimes.

As the Senate continues to look for ways to use taxpayer dollars more wisely, it’s critical there is transparency and accountability across all levels of government.  

To that end, House Bill 1, championed by Kentucky’s state auditor, would require the more than 1,200 special taxing districts (which spend more than $2.7 billion of public money each year) to publish their financial statements online and conduct regular audits.  

An important addition made in the Senate would place ultimate authority for levying a tax in the hands of publicly elected officials by giving the fiscal court veto power on any tax increase.  

While many taxing districts act in accordance with their statutory mandate, this measure will provide disclosure, transparency, accountability and oversight to best guarantee sensible spending.  

This bill is now in the House for consideration.

The Senate struck a blow for religious freedom by passing House Bill 279, known as the Religious Freedom Act. 

This bill reaffirms the most basic of American principles by specifying that government shall not burden a person's or religious organization's freedom of religion and protecting the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds. 

In addition, the bill maintains the strict standard of scrutiny used to evaluate the legality of any infringement on religious freedom.

Lastly, although the public pension reform bill adopted by the Senate early in the session has yet to be passed by the full Assembly I remain hopeful that the House and Senate can work together to resolve this issue.  

The Senate’s original measure, based on recommendations by a bipartisan, bicameral task force, is a common-sense bill that is critical to saving the public pension system, not to mention the state's credit rating and taxpayers’ dollars.

Your input is invaluable, so please contact me if you have any comments or questions toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.  You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.