Cluster Howard

Cluster Howard

When deciding how to vote on legislation, I ask myself two simple questions: Does it help more than it hinders, and what do those directly affected think?

I believe that’s good advice for any policy maker to follow, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time in the Kentucky House, it’s that not everyone in the General Assembly answers these questions the same way. One of the best examples of that can be found in last year’s major tax overhaul.

Many others and I opposed this law because it didn’t pass our two-question test. It raised taxes on 95 percent of working Kentuckians even as it lowered taxes on major corporations by hundreds of millions of dollars; and it was presented and passed on the very same day.

Not surprisingly, the rushed nature of this bill also led to unintended consequences. The biggest of those was the law’s negative impact on non-profits, which suddenly saw their tax bills rise because they had lost several long-held exemptions.

The good news is that the House moved to correct that mistake last Thursday. While the bill does not go as far as I would like, it is a major step in the right direction, and my hope is that this fix can be improved in the Senate before becoming law.

Shortly after the House voted for that bill, it overwhelmingly approved another that will, among other things, give some needed financial relief to our regional public universities and such quasi-government agencies as public health departments.

Without this, these postsecondary schools and agencies will see a huge spike in their public retirement-system payments that are due in large part to much more conservative estimates approved in 2017. Since Kentucky operates on a two-year budget cycle, it would not be fair to ask them to shoulder this burden until the General Assembly can better address this issue more globally when considering the budget next year.

This legislation also appropriates bond money for needed state park repairs and to move forward with several relatively small projects at our public universities.

On Wednesday last week, the House voted unanimously for several other bills that I think more than meets my two-question standard.

House Bill 64 would let pharmacists dispense an emergency prescription refill for maintenance drugs without prior authorization by a physician. This measure could literally mean the difference between life and death for those who have a critical need for such things as insulin.

House Bill 180 could also be a lifesaver for veterans with PTSD or who are otherwise at risk and have been reported missing. If it becomes law, local authorities would be able to activate the Golden Alert system currently used to make the public aware of a missing adult with a mental impairment. For veterans who fall under this new category, this would be known as a Green Alert.

House Bill 158 builds on last year’s major, and bipartisan, changes to Kentucky’s adoption and foster-care policies. This year’s legislation would implement a new federal law calling for more background checks of staff working in residential homes for children or with a child-placement agency. It also would establish a “Bill of Rights” for foster children, to mirror last year’s “Bill of Rights” for foster parents.

One of the most memorable moments for the General Assembly last week had nothing to do with the bills and resolutions before us. Instead, it centered on our brief trip across Frankfort to conduct a ceremonial meeting of the House and Senate in the Old State Capitol. This is not something that occurs often; in fact, it’s been at least a decade since the legislature last made the trip.

If you have not seen it, the Old State Capitol is worth a visit because of the history it holds. Henry Clay spoke there, and Kentucky’s current constitution was adopted there as well. Our first two Capitol buildings, both of which burned down, existed on the same site.

Just before that ceremony, the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus hosted the 16th annual Black History Month Celebration at the current Capitol. This event is a great opportunity each year to learn more about those who fought for equality and moved the state forward while also championing those causes and legislation seeking to build on these gains.

This year’s legislative session is now in its second half, so a shorter calendar means longer days trying to find a compromise on numerous bills. As always, please keep visiting, calling and emailing to let me know your views.

To reach me, you can send emails to Cluster.Howard@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, please call 1-800-896-0305.

The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.legislature.ky.gov.

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