February began with another busy week in the Capitol. The House signed off on several pieces of legislation, sending them to the Senate for further consideration. We met through Thursday afternoon when weather forecasts made it clear that ice and snow would blanket much of the Commonwealth that night into Friday morning. We opted to reschedule Friday’s session day to allow members to return home safely. Fortunately, temperatures were warmer than anticipated and we avoided the worst of the ice.
Providing disability, death benefits to first responders: We approved two measures this week aimed at ensuring our first responders who contract Covid in the line of duty receive the benefits they deserve. The first bill, HB 69, would eliminate any question that first responders who get Covid are eligible for short term disability benefits. The second measure, HB 56, would clarify that those who die with Covid are eligible for work-related death benefits.
Approaching advanced recycling as manufacturing: The full House approved HB 45, which would redefine companies that break down recycled plastics into raw materials for use in new products as manufacturers rather than waste disposal. Doing so would help eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens and prevent inappropriate federal intrusion. Similar legislation in other states led to major growth and the ultimate passage of HB 45 could bring as many as eight new facilities to Kentucky with an estimated $78 million in annual economic impact.
Expanding Treatment Options for Veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries: Members of the House joined together in a bipartisan vote on HCR 40, which formally requests our state’s congressional delegation to work to get the state’s Veteran’s Administration Medical Centers included in an important program that shows promise in treating PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. The program uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment sessions where participants breathe 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber once per day. The treatment accelerates tissue healing by increasing the concentration of oxygen in the blood stream. Today an estimated 12,000 Kentucky veterans deal with traumatic brain injuries, so this treatment has considerable promise.
Ensuring parents have a voice in school board meetings: We also sent the Senate HB 121, legislation that would require school boards to provide at least 15 minutes for public comment at school board meetings if someone has signed up to speak. Parents and guardians should have a voice in the policies that impact their children’s education.
Ensuring charitable organizations can continue to help those who struggle with medical bills: Kentucky already allows charitable organizations to pay off medical debt for those who cannot afford to do so. However, some have raised questions about whether the bills can be paid directly to insurers. HB 317, which passed the House on Wednesday, clarifies that eligible religious institutions and other non-profit organizations can pay insurers directly for health insurance, copays, and deductibles. This is a technical change but will have a big impact.
Increasing access to lifesaving psychiatric treatment: We voted on Thursday to pass HB 339, which would provide $14.6 million in funding for inpatient psychiatric treatment in Southeastern Kentucky. The region has limited access to this lifesaving treatment, making it out of reach for those who need it. Funding will go to the Department of Health and Family Services for use toward funding behavioral services. We also tied accountability to it, requiring the Cabinet to report back to the legislature on how the money is spent.
While these bills passed the entire House, legislative committees continued to meet and consider bills and resolutions. The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee approved HB 226, legislation that would establish the Read to Succeed program, an early literacy initiative that uses the most recent research-based approaches to help Kentucky children unlock the door to the fundamental skill of reading. HB 226 also incorporates language from HB 93 which provides school districts with funds to assist in hiring reading interventionist specialists for students in need of additional support. We have already included $11 million for this program in House version of the budget that we passed in mid-January.
As always, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com. If you would like more information, please visit the LRC website www.legislature.ky.gov.
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