Senator Joe Bowens Weekly Update Feb. 10
Our representative form of government was designed to give the people of Kentucky a voice, and to ensure elected officials are approachable and attentive to their constituents’ needs. It’s one benefit of the Commonwealth having a “part-time” legislature. Most of the year, we live and work in our hometowns, right beside the people we serve at the Statehouse.
The Framers’ original intent was for a loud citizen voice – but some people question just how much influence they have on our work in Frankfort today. For those doubters, I have an answer. The fact is that a small group of concerned citizens can still impact – and even initiate – legislation meaningful to them and their unique needs. The evidence can be found in the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 75 from the chamber this week.
Members of the Amish community in Kentucky felt that a current requirement for a bright- orange triangle mounted on the back of their horse-drawn buggies was a violation of their religious convictions against flashy displays. So they wrote to their lawmakers and worked together with them toward a safe solution that wouldn’t go against their religious beliefs.
The resulting legislation allows for white or gray reflective tape to be used as an alternative. The provision requires at least 100 inches of it outlining the back of the buggy, as well as several feet of tape on both sides and the front. Some supporters feel it is even safer than the orange emblem, a beautiful example of citizen-motivated legislation identifying even better solutions to the issues facing us.
We also passed several education-related bills this week. Senate Bill 95, which cleared the Senate on a 37-0 vote, encourages elementary schools across the state to establish summer learning programs for low-income students. Research shows that the achievement gap for disadvantaged students widens over the summer. This measure encourages schools to utilize a variety of existing resources, including community and business partnerships, to keep those students engaged and learning through summer day camps.
Senate Bill 38 (passed unanimously) focuses on keeping high school students interested in learning. The bill would create a career and technical education curriculum in the public school system. Supporters hope the new curriculum will prevent at-risk students from dropping out before graduation by preparing them for careers in local business and industry that do not require a college degree.
Another proposal aimed at increasing the number of high school graduates in Kentucky cleared the Senate by a 35-2 vote. SB 109 would give local school districts the authority to adopt a policy requiring students stay in school until age 18, or actual graduation if that comes first. Districts implementing such a policy would be required to offer an approved alternative education program that would help meet the needs of students most likely to drop out. The curriculum outlined in SB 38 would meet those qualifications. If made law, the provisions would take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.
Senate Bill 102, an informed consent bill, passed from the Senate. We have passed similar legislation from the Senate for several years. The original bill passed in 1998 required communication 24 hours prior between the doctor and the woman thinking about an abortion to discuss the procedure. Unfortunately, this has been interpreted by some as a pre-recorded message. A woman deserves full information provided in a face-to-face meeting with a medical professional when contemplating a surgery, especially one with such serious ramifications.
Finally, many of you have heard the news that a Franklin County judge ruled House Bill 1, the bill that laid out new state legislative district boundaries, unconstitutional. The Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will appeal his ruling directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will be asked to dissolve the injunction of the Franklin Circuit Court and to order that legislative districts created by House Bill 1, agreed by both the Senate and the House and signed by the Governor, be used for the 2012 elections. While other issues might be put on hold, the most fundamental element of our democracy is knowing and defining who represents us. The concept of “one person, one vote” is one we hold dear. Because of population shifts, the old district lines do not afford citizens equal representation – some districts represent too many people and some too few. It is my hope that the Supreme Court will provide clarification quickly. In the meantime, I am and will continue to be at your service. As for the congressional lines, the bill finalizing those was passed. Daviess County remains in the 2nd District.
This is just a one-week snapshot of the legislation we’re working on this session. There are many other issues being discussed in the Capitol. I encourage you to join in those discussions. You have a big say in the laws affecting you. As always, I stand ready and willing to listen to your thoughts and concerns. Our committee meetings, and chamber proceedings, are open to the public and aired on KET. If you can’t drive up, then tune in.
As always, I welcome your input. We are on the Internet at www.lrc.ky.gov. You can also leave a toll-free message for me at 1-800-372-7181. A taped message of information on legislative committee meetings can be heard at 1-800-633-9650 and to check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.