FRANKFORT

"What a difference a day makes," sang the great Dinah Washington. They were six simple words, but they became truly magical when the Queen of the Blues put them to music in 1959.

The Kentucky General Assembly can relate to those words. After all, a day can make the difference between a bill becoming law, or not. It made a big difference on the last day of the 2017 regular session on Thursday, when bills to fund a new veterans' nursing home, ramp up the fight against human trafficking in Kentucky, and set fines for those who try to prevent off-duty peace officers from exercising their right to carry concealed weapons were among those that made it to the Governor to be signed into law.

The bills were just a fraction of well over 135 bills that passed the General Assembly during its 30-legislative day "short" session between January and the end of March, making the session one of the most productive in the state's history.

Just in the last couple of days of the session on Wednesday and Thursday, dozens of bills were passed in nearly all areas of Kentucky life. We gave final passage to an education reform bill that will create new rules for how Kentucky public school students are taught and tested and how their teachers are evaluated. A bill that will allow public schools to teach elective courses on the Bible was enacted. And legislation to bring jobs back to Kentucky's coal regions and ensure payment of coal miner black lung claims going forward made it to the Governor's desk for his signature.

It is true that not everyone got what they wanted before the session came to an end. That is always true when you have 138 lawmakers with different constituencies that, often, have very different needs. But we accomplished quite a bit in the time we were constitutionally granted this year to act on the needs of our great Commonwealth.

We gave our communities a choice in how they meet their public education needs by passing House Bill 520, a bill to allow publicly funded charter schools to operate in Kentucky starting next school year. The schools, established by contract and governed independently, will be served by state-certified teachers and administrators and authorized by local school boards or, upon request, by the mayors of Louisville and Lexington. In parts of Kentucky where our traditional public schools are doing well, I suspect that charter schools will be slow to become part of the public education picture.

We cracked down on the flow of street-level opioids into our cities and towns by passing stronger penalties for trafficking in any amount of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and fentanyl derivatives with final passage of HB 333. The bill will also set prescribing limits for highly addictive opioids like oxycodone and allow the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services Office of Inspector General investigative prescribing irregularities and report those to appropriate authorities.

We bolstered the state's growing economic and agricultural stake in industrial hemp production with Senate Bill 218, a bill that will improve the state's industrial hemp production program initiated in 2014.

We ensured that Kentuckians will be able to travel on domestic flights and enter certain federal facilities, including military bases, by bringing Kentucky's driver's licensing procedures in line with the 2005 federal REAL ID Act. HB 410 creates a voluntary travel ID, or enhanced driver's license, for boarding planes and entering federal facilities as of Jan. 1, 2019. It also spells out rules for issuing a basic, standard driver's license, driver's permit or state personal ID card.

We stepped up the state's informed consent law under HB 2 by requiring a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound of her fetus explained to her by her health provider before she can give informed consent for an abortion. And we passed SB 5, which prohibits abortion at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where abortion is necessary to save the life, or prevent serious risk or permanent bodily harm, to the mother.

And there was so much more: Bills to protect children on public playgrounds. Bills that will base funding for our state colleges and universities on their performance, such as their student success and course completion rates. Bills that will bring peer review to the medical malpractice complaint process in Kentucky. And HB 1 -- the House majority's top priority this session -- that makes Kentucky the 27th state in the nation to enact right-to-work legislation that prohibits Kentuckians from being required to join a labor union as a condition of their employment.

Some bills were so important to the General Assembly that we rejected the Governor's vetoes of those bills so that the legislation would be enacted into law. All four of the Governor's vetoes issued during his 10-day veto recess were overridden by lawmakers, allowing bills regarding court-ordered mental health outpatient treatment, appropriations from a mitigation settlement with Volkswagen and regulation of drones, plus a joint resolution designating honorary road names, to pass into law. I am especially pleased that we are going to be able to name the bridge on U.S. 31E over Bays Fork Creek for Titus Morris. That will allow us to be reminded that he died working to make our roads and bridges better.

It's amazing when you think that these are just some of the bills that passed into law this session. Dozens and dozens of other important bills will make it into the state's law books in 2017, and you can read all about them in the 2017 Regular Session Legislative Record, found on the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov. You can also still leave comments for your state Representatives and Senators by calling the Legislative toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.

It will be January 2018 before we meet in session again unless the Governor calls us into special session as some have speculated he will do. Only time will tell if that happens. For now, we look back at our work from the 2017 regular session and hope that the laws we passed benefit the state as a whole, day by day.

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