Forty-four percent of our General Fund budget is spent on K-12 education — the largest spending item in the budget. The cost of children’s health care to the state’s $5.6 billion-per-year Medicaid program is second only to spending for our disabled citizens. And approximately 7 percent of the General Fund budget annually goes toward human services, including child protection. This week we passed several bills that will keep us true to that mission.
House Bill 224 would raise the high school dropout age gradually by increasing the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 on July 1, 2017 and from age 17 to 18 on July 1, 2018. Having that high school diploma is more important than ever as jobs are highly competitive, a highly trained workforce is in demand and the military and other employers require a diploma. House Bill 224 passed the House by a vote of 87-10 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
A measure to strengthen Kentucky’s human trafficking laws to better enforce the rising incidence of crimes against children passed the House this week with a vote of 95-0. House Bill 3 will provide a “safe harbor” from prosecution for child victims of human trafficking; primarily target individuals who exploit children by increasing penalties and prison sentences; and provide better training for victims, advocates and law enforcement to recognize signs of human and child trafficking so action can be taken more quickly and appropriately. We hope House Bill 3 will be given swift action in the Senate so that efforts to curb human trafficking can be accelerated.
To stem child fatalities on Kentucky roadways, House Bill 282 would increase children’s height requirements for booster seats. Currently children must use booster seats until they reach 50 inches in height or the age of seven. The new law would require booster seats for children less than nine years old and between 40 and 57 inches in height. Requiring older children to use booster seats should decrease child vehicular fatalities in the future. House Bill 282 passed with a vote of 61-37.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic across the United States and according to studies by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Kentucky ranks high in childhood obesity and overweight adults. Providing healthy food choices in schools can go a long way in helping kids create good eating habits in the future and that is the goal of House Bill 44. It would require school cafeteria strategies such as placing nutritious foods and salad bars in the front of the food line, placing plain milk before chocolate milk, and moving unhealthy prepackaged foods away where students would have to request them. House Bill 44 passed by a vote of 72-26 and will be considered by the Senate for passage.
Bullying continues to be a problem in Kentucky schools causing mental, physical and emotional stress on our young people. House Bill 35 would designate October as Anti-Bullying Month in Kentucky and names purple and yellow as the symbolic colors for anti-bullying awareness. The bill passed by a unanimous 99-0 vote.
I expect our pace to increase in order to comply with the “short” session calendar and there are long days ahead as we still must grapple with issues such as pension reform.
You can stay informed of legislative action by logging onto the legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650.