FRANKFORT – Last week, the General Assembly saw a much shorter schedule because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday and a winter storm on Friday that hit our region particularly hard.
Before discussing legislative matters, I want to take a moment to thank our local and regional road crews, emergency and hospital workers and anyone else who had to be on the job regardless of the snow. It is difficult to overstate just how much your contributions meant, and I know it is certainly appreciated by everyone.
In the few days we did have in the Capitol last week, the Kentucky House spent its time moving several key bills forward, and I filed my legislation to boost the state’s minimum wage.
On Thursday, the House voted for legislation that should make it easier for uninsured or underinsured Kentuckians to qualify for a colon cancer screening program. Kentucky has had a lot of success in recent years in catching this disease early, when it is much easier to cure.
Under House Bill 115, the state would set up income-based fees that would make the program more widely available to those who qualify.
With House Bill 59, which the chamber also supported on Thursday, the state would update a 2013 law that established an anonymous address protection program for victims of domestic violence. Victims use this program to ensure their abusers cannot easily track them down through public records.
If this legislation passes the Senate, it would do such things as allow a lower standard of proof for victims who may not have a domestic violence order but can still prove eligibility in other ways.
The day before those votes, the House Judiciary Committee put its support behind House Bill 229, which would give the Attorney General’s office jurisdiction to pursue and prosecute human trafficking cases.
This legislation’s goal is to use that office’s statewide resources and expertise to help prosecutors stop a crime that studies show occurs more frequently than many might think, especially when large sporting events like the Kentucky Derby are held.
The General Assembly passed its first major human trafficking law in 2007, and followed it with another far-reaching measure in 2013 that cracked down on traffickers and provided additional help to victims.
Last month, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services reported that there have been nearly 200 incidents across the state since statistics were first compiled in 2013. Last year, nearly all involved sex trafficking.
According to testimony during the meeting, it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of child-trafficking cases reported to the state have led to criminal investigations. If this bill becomes law, the hope is that we can bring that number of prosecutions up significantly.
As a former Attorney General, I have seen the effect of this horrible crime firsthand and know the bill will be put to good use.
Under new legislation, I was proud to re-file my bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage, which has not changed in nearly seven years. If it passes, it would raise the wage in three steps from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2018. It’s estimated that nearly 400,000 Kentuckians make less than that amount, and research also indicates this boost would provide an across-the-board lift to our economy.
In House Bill 278’s other provisions, we would raise the minimum-wage exemption for qualifying businesses, a figure that has not changed in 40 years. There is also a gender-equity provision, to better ensure employees are paid the same if they otherwise meet the same qualifications.
As the General Assembly enters the second fourth of this year’s legislative session, the pace is set to pick up considerably. On Tuesday this week, the House and Senate will receive the governor’s two-year budget proposal, which will dominate much of the time we have left.
On the positive side, budget numbers through the first half of the fiscal year showed the state outpacing previous revenue projections by a relatively large margin. The challenge will be finding ways to tackle some long-term problems, such as the liabilities within our public retirement systems, while doing all we can to increase such critical areas as classroom funding.
I will report more on that next week. For now, please don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts on any issue before the General Assembly. You can always email me at [email protected] To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.