Starting this week, hundreds of state legislators from across the country will begin visiting classrooms to kick off the 16th annual "America's Legislators Back to School Program."
Sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), this event initially lasted just one day but now extends through much of the school year. While most students tour the state Capitol at least once, often during a field trip in elementary school, this program flips that by bringing state government to them.
Kentucky is one of the leading states participating in this program, and it has certainly helped increase civic awareness among our youngest citizens. The need for this type of outreach nationally is clear, given the results of an NCSL survey several years ago that found only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of government. Another third could not name any.
This week is an ideal time for this program to begin because Sept. 17 is the 227th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
While that document still guides the United States today, it is a different story for Kentucky, which has operated under four constitutions since its founding in 1792. Although the first one was relatively short, the current one — adopted in 1891 — is four times as long and took months to write.
Another area where our state constitution differs significantly from its federal counterpart is the number of amendments that have been added. The U.S. Constitution now has 27, including the original 10 Bill of Rights, but Kentucky's has a little more than 40. The most recent addition came in 2012, when voters extended constitutional protections to hunting and fishing rights.
In modern times, there have been several efforts to re-write Kentucky's constitution. Voters soundly rejected major revisions in the late 1960s, however, and other attempts in the 1970s were also unsuccessful.
Voting, of course, is one of the most important rights enshrined in our federal and state constitutions. With the Nov. 4th election now less than two months away, time is drawing short for those haven't registered but would like to. The deadline is Monday, Oct. 6th, and the forms must be completed through our county clerk's office.
That same deadline exists for those in the military stationed outside of United States or other Kentuckians who are also overseas. They can now take advantage of a 2013 law that makes it easier to register or update their voting information electronically. For more details, visit the State Board of Elections' website at www.elect.ky.gov.
Speaking of registration, it's important to note that another 2013 law is helping to protect victims of domestic violence and felony sexual offenses; now, they can be sure their names and addresses are not publicly available.
Recently, the Secretary of State's office called for more citizens to become precinct election officers. We need about 15,000 — four for each precinct — to staff the polls on election day. There are some restrictions, such as not being closely related to anyone on the ballot and being at least 18. Our county clerk and each political party's local executive committee have more information for those interested.
Over the years, Kentucky has taken several positive steps to improve our citizens' knowledge about their government and their social responsibility. Western Kentucky University, the University of Louisville and Northern Kentucky University have dedicated programs in this field, for example.
Last week, meanwhile, the Center for Digital Government's 2014 survey gave Kentucky high marks for its health insurance and business-portal websites. Kentucky also has made it easier to go online to better track government spending and such quasi-government agencies as public utilities and libraries.
The "America's Legislators Back to School Program" is an important facet of these efforts to de-mystify government and make it more accountable and accessible. If you are a teacher or school official who would like to take part, I would be glad to work out a schedule to visit your classroom between now and the end of the year.
You can reach me in several ways. My legislative address is Room 329F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601, and my email is Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov. You can also leave a message by calling 800-372-7181.