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This Week at the State Capitol Feb. 20-24

In News, State by OC Monitor Staff

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky General Assembly has passed the halfway mark in the 2023 legislative session, and education is quickly becoming the headline issue as lawmakers continue to debate content in public schools and seek to address gaps in the teacher workforce.

The fourth week of the session brought a more complete view of the issues that lawmakers plan to tackle in 2023. That’s because Tuesday was the last day for new bills in the Senate and Wednesday was the last day in the House.

As of Thursday morning, more than 870 bills had been filed in the two chambers combined.

Among them, measures on postpartum depression, unemployment insurance, firearms, hazing and data privacy were all on the move this week. But few issues garnered as much attention as Senate Bill 5, which sparked lengthy debates in committee and on the Senate floor Thursday.

SB 5 calls on local school boards to create a new, multi-pronged process for resolving objections over explicit materials in public schools. Supporters say it would help parents protect their children from harmful content and challenge materials that don’t align with their values. Critics say it amounts to censorship that will hinder lessons on important topics.

The bill is one of several this year related to sensitive subjects and policies in public schools. It now heads to the House along with another education measure, Senate Bill 107, which likewise won approval in the Senate Thursday.

SB 107 would establish a new seven-member committee – appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate – to nominate appointments to the state Board of Education. It would also require Senate confirmation for appointments to the position of state education commissioner.

Meanwhile, in the House, legislation that seeks to ease teacher shortages, House Bill 319, was also advancing this week. The measure would clear the way for Kentucky to participate in the Interstate Teachers Mobility Compact. That would help streamline the process for military spouses who are certified to teach in other states to become certified here.

HB 319 would also allow someone with a bachelor’s degree to teach classes in their field on a temporary basis and under the supervision of a certified teacher. The House Education Committee passed the bill Tuesday

Here’s a look at some of the other measures moving forward throughout the last four days:

Personal Identification: House Bill 21 would help individuals who lack permanent housing obtain a driver’s license or personal identification card. The House Transportation Committee advanced the bill on Tuesday.

Unemployment Insurance: House Bill 146 would make technical updates to an overhaul of unemployment insurance that lawmakers passed last year. Among the changes, the measure sets the minimum duration of benefits to 16 weeks, instead of 12, and calls on state unemployment officials to advise claimants on scholarship opportunities. HB 146 cleared the House floor on Tuesday.

Physician Wellness: Senate Bill 12 would allow physicians to participate in wellness and career fatigue programs without disclosing their participation to employers. Supporters say it will help physicians deal with job-related burnout without fear of retaliation. The legislation moved off the Senate floor on Tuesday.

License Plate Readers: Under Senate Bill 129, law enforcement agencies, local governments or homeowner associations that use automated license plate readers would be prohibited from selling that data – or retaining it for more than 90 days – with some exceptions. The Senate Transportation Committee advanced the measure on Wednesday.

Firearms: House Bill 153 would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies and other public officials from enforcing federal firearm bans or regulations enacted after Jan. 1, 2021. The bill cleared the House floor on Wednesday.

Biomarker Testing: House Bill 180 would require health benefit plans to cover biomarker testing for patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases. The House passed the legislation on Wednesday.

Relief Funds: Senate Bill 99 seeks to enhance oversight and transparency of two Team Kentucky relief funds that the state executive branch established in the aftermath of recent floods and tornados. It passed out of the Senate on Wednesday.

Consumer Data Privacy: Senate Bill 15 passed out of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Cabinet Thursday. It would create new consumer protections related to the collection and processing of personal data online. That includes the right of consumers to delete personal data and opt out of targeted advertising, online tracking and the sale or sharing of personal data.

Healthcare Workers: House Bill 200 aims to address a shortage in healthcare workers by creating the Kentucky Health Care Workforce Investment Fund. It would use both public and private money to increase scholarship opportunities in the field. HB 200 cleared a vote in the House Committee on Health Services on Thursday.

Hazing: Senate Bill 9, known as “Lofton’s Law,” elevates the act of hazing to a crime. First-degree hazing would qualify as a Class D felony, while second-degree hazing would be a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate passed the measure on Thursday.

Sex Offenders: Senate Bill 80 also passed off the Senate floor on Thursday. It would prohibit those on the sex offender registry from loitering or operating a mobile business within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares, and public playgrounds or swimming pools.

KEES for Proprietary Schools: Senate Bill 54 would allow students to use a Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship to attend a qualified propriety school program that is focused on a high-demand work sector. The measure advanced off the Senate floor on Friday. A similar measure – House Bill 85 – moved out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

Postpartum Depression: Senate Bill 135 calls on the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to create a panel focused on perinatal mental health disorders and provide related information and assessment tools for health care providers. The bill cleared the Senate floor on Friday.

The House and Senate are scheduled to gavel back in Tuesday for day 17 of the session, and lawmakers have three more weeks before they break for a 10-day recess.

That schedule sets aside time for the governor to consider vetoes and leaves two legislative days on the calendar for lawmakers to override any vetoes before adjourning for the year March 30.

Kentuckians can track the action through the Legislative Record webpage, which allows users to follow a bill’s progression through the chambers.

Citizens can also share their views on issues with lawmakers by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181.