I spent this week moving fundamental pieces of legislation forward, passing two of my own bills, as well as meeting with constituents and visitors who come to Frankfort to champion their causes.
As many of you know, I am always honored to host students from our district at the Capitol. This past week was especially eventful as I was joined by a number of high school students from Middlesboro Independent High School — C.J. Blackstone, Colton Honeycutt, Ben Slusher, Lauren Padgett and Blair Bowling. These impressive young adults spent the whole day with me, the gentleman on Wednesday and the ladies on Thursday, attending committee meetings, conferencing with lobbyist and other legislators, working on important legislation, and joining me on the Senate floor where they served as my pages for the day. These students impressed me with their dedication and inspired me with their enthusiasm! It is reassuring to see their genuine passion for learning and their maturity of character. I appreciate Joy Williams, from the Middlesboro High School Youth Service Center, and Jeff Bowling, Blair’s father, for escorting the students on the long journey!
I would be remiss if I did not commend the Hazard Community and Technical College President’s Ambassador Group, which encourages leadership and participation on campus and in the community, for making the trip to Frankfort on Tuesday. This group, which included Jennifer Couch, Christian Callihan, Adiaha Cook, Sharon Morris, Brittany Claussen, Elizabeth White, Emilee Reynolds, Kelli Haddix, Cara VanVranken, Amy Hollins, Mary Hammonds, Don Smith, Tarissa Spencer, Chris Hibbard, Michael Cole and Tiffany Hibbard, came to Frankfort to observe the legislative process in action. I was privileged to spend time with them and to introduce the group, led by Dr. Steven Greiner and Ms. Delcie Combs, to the Senate body.
Lastly, on Friday I had the tremendous honor to present Senate Resolution 125, adjourning the Senate in honor of Cap. Shannon D. Ison for being awarded the Silver Star for bravery, one of only four recipients out of more than 15,000 Kentucky National Guardsmen deployed since Sept. 11, 2001. Ison and his family have a special connection to the 30th district, as the captain is based with the 206th Engineers in Hazard. I was so thrilled to have them join me on the Senate floor.
I know how personally impacted our area was after the horrific shooting in Hazard in January. As a result of this tragedy, I took a closer look at potential dangers in custody exchanges and examined how we could make them safer for all parties involved. Senate Bill 141, which passed the Senate Chamber unanimously, allows judges to require safe drop off zones, specifically buildings with metal detectors, for certain custody cases, giving extra protection and comfort when child custody exchanges are taking place. It is my hope that the House Chamber will also recognize the importance of this bill and secure its passage next week.
The Senate continued its attention to children by passing two education bills aimed at helping high school students get a jump start on their college degree. Senate Bill 61 would give motivated and prepared students the ability to graduate from high school early, with an Early Graduation Scholarship certificate, in addition to their high school diploma. This measure would allow the state funds normally used for the student’s senior year in high school to be used to pay toward their first year of college.
As an added incentive for early graduation, Senate Bill 64, which I co-sponsored, would provide a student who graduates in three years with Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) award for their fourth year of high school; we could not punish scholarship funding for early achievement! Rewarding our brightest and most motivated high-school students will put them on an early path for college success.
I hear from so many of you worried about your Second Amendment rights, and I would like to reiterate the regard in which I hold our sovereign and guaranteed Constitutional rights. The Senate took important steps toward preserving the Constitutional principles embodied in the Second Amendment this week, specifically with the passage of Senate Bill 129 and Senate Bill 150. SB 129, which I co-sponsored, protects the rights of gun owners from the possibility of federal encroachment of states’ rights.
I was proud to be the primary sponsor of SB 150, a measure that would remove the “red tape” for obtaining a concealed carry license for law abiding residents by reducing the amount of time state police have to approve or deny an application for a license from 90 to 60 days, as well as waiving the residency requirement for our men and women stationed in Kentucky serving in the armed forces.
The Senate passed a bill that would give Kentucky citizens the opportunity to vote in 2014 on whether to change the Kentucky Constitution to hold statewide office elections in even years, the same years as presidential and other federal elections. The savings to the state would be an estimated $1.4 million and to the counties an estimated $12.6 million in 2015 and subsequent odd-year elections. This legislation is about fiscal responsibility, as well as civic engagement, with voter participation estimated to increase by 30 percent. This measure would allow existing state and county revenue to be used for more productive programs and services like education and health care.
Another measure passed by the Senate to ease and assist voter participation the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act, designated as Senate Bill 1, would allow Kentucky’s armed forces personnel, and their spouses, and other Kentuckians living abroad, to register to vote, and to request and receive an absentee ballot, electronically. Ensuring all citizens a secure and accessible means to vote is essential, most especially for those military men and women serving overseas protecting this fundamental aspect of the country’s democracy.