While crafting the biennial budget remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we are staying the course to uphold our other legislative obligations as members of the General Assembly by passing bills that include specific reforms and amendments to help us move the Commonwealth forward.
I am pleased to announce that this year’s school safety measure, Senate Bill 8, has been signed into law by the Governor. Passing both chambers with bipartisan support, Senate Bill 8 requires the trained and certified law enforcement officers already serving in Kentucky schools to be armed. The School Safety and Resiliency Act, which passed in 2019, implemented additional security and safety standards for schools, such as the requirement of a school resource officer and increased mental health services.
This week, I briefly stepped out of my role as chairman and presented a bill to the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The measure I am sponsoring, Senate Bill 159, relates to public health and protection concerns in regards to “splash pads.” These water play areas are usually found in public parks and have little or no standing water. As the father of two young children, I know how much kids enjoy running around on these splash pads. Senate Bill 159 establishes standards for the operation and maintenance of splash pads in a safe and sanitary manner—similar to those of a public swimming pool.
Another bill I am sponsoring advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 183, relates to child abuse or neglect investigations and would prohibit a parent, guardian, or other custodian from withdrawing, transferring, or in any way altering the current enrollment of a child to hinder an abused or neglected child investigation.
The Senate passed a few constitutional amendments this week, all of which relate to responsible criminal justice reform. Constitutional amendments passed by the Kentucky General Assembly go through a slightly different process than regular bills by also requiring the approval of Kentucky voters. If a legislatively referred constitutional amendment is passed by both chambers, the proposed amendment will be placed on the ballot at the next general election during which members of the state legislature are up for election. If approved by a simple majority of voters, it becomes part of the Constitution.
A constitutional amendment that advanced this week was Senate Bill 58, which would curtail a governor’s ability to issue pardons on the way out of office. In other words, a governor would not be able to issue pardons or commutations during a certain period of time, beginning thirty days prior to the gubernatorial election and ending on the fifth Tuesday after the election—before the next governor is sworn in.
Sections of the Kentucky Constitution granting a governor the power to pardon date back to 1891 when it wasn’t unheard of to duel. Since then, our society and the composition of our judicial system has changed dramatically. It’s important to keep in mind that the power to pardon allows one man or woman to override the judgement of multiple authorities and officials within our criminal justice system. To limit the possibility of political corruption, Senate Bill 58 implements overdue, responsible oversight to a governor’s power to pardon.
Also passing was Senate Bill 62. This measure would grant the General Assembly the authority to establish standards for giving persons convicted of certain felonies the right to vote. However, the new process to restore voting rights would exclude those convicted of treason, bribery in an election, a violent offense, a sex offense, or an offense against a child. Currently, Kentucky is one of only two states, along with Iowa, with a lifetime voting ban for felons. Although there was an executive order put into place in late 2019, there are around 170,000 Kentuckians that are still without the right to vote due to a prior felony conviction. If approved by the House and Kentucky voters, Senate Bill 62 could give felons a clearer path to regaining their voting rights.
An act relating to blockchain technology is also heading to the House following its passage this week. Senate Bill 55 establishes a blockchain technology working group attached to the Commonwealth Office of Technology to evaluate the feasibility and efficiency of using blockchain technology to enhance the security protection of Kentucky’s critical infrastructure. If you aren’t already familiar, blockchain technology allows digital information to be distributed but not copied and, in many ways, has become the backbone of a new type of internet. Originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin Blockchain, the tech community has now found other potential uses for the technology. I am proud to support this measure and look forward to seeing continued technological advancements here in the Commonwealth.
The Senate also passed a number of other bills this week:
SB 132- Adds individuals with state-issued personal identification cards to a master list of potential jurors, giving us a wider representation of our communities within our jury pools. The list of potential jurors was last expanded by the General Assembly in 2002.
SB 156- Ensures that Kentucky’s high school career and technical education system is unified, equitably funded, collaborative, responsive to industry, sustainable, and provides equalized access to all Kentucky students.
The pace in Frankfort is getting quicker, and I anticipate an increase of visitors and advocates from across the Commonwealth. As always, I welcome your input on these issues. I am honored to be your voice in Frankfort.