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Opinion: Near halfway point of regular session, legislators continue to advance many bills

By RICK GIRDLER

State Senator

As the Senate eagerly awaits the holiday weekend and a budget proposal from the House of Representatives, we remain busy in Frankfort passing bills both out of committee and out of the Senate to send to our colleagues in the lower chamber during a rainy sixth week of the 2020 Regular Session.

The governor has already signed a couple of House bills into law. House Bill 236 incorporates federal U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines related to hemp into the Kentucky statute. It establishes hemp testing procedures for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and opens up private market testing to help address a backlog of hemp products. This bill benefits our agriculture industry and Kentucky hemp farmers. House Bill 186 eliminates potentially costly requirements for more than 171,000 Kentuckians who operate direct sales or multi-level marketing businesses.

Main topics of discussion this week included measures relating to students, health care and the overall wellbeing of Kentuckians.

School safety legislation, Senate Bill 8, is heading to the governor’s desk following its passage in the House late last week. If signed into law, Senate Bill 8 would require trained and certified school resource officers to be armed on public school campuses. It would also allow a school superintendent to appoint someone other than a district-level school administrator to serve as the district’s school safety coordinator.

This multifaceted measure also specifies the goal of having at least one school counselor or school-based mental health services provider for every 250 students. This bill is a continuation of the General Assembly’s efforts to increase safety within our school walls, and I hope to see it signed into law very soon.

Senate Bill 101 ensures dual credit hours earned in high school would be transferable to Kentucky’s colleges and universities. In dual credit, a student is enrolled in a course that allows the pupil to earn high-school credit and college credit simultaneously. Several years ago, the General Assembly passed similar legislation dealing with two-year colleges and four-year universities. That legislation aligned courses with the colleges so the credits earned for those course hours could be transferred to universities. I was proud to support Senate Bill 101 this session as it provides students an affordable and efficient avenue to obtain higher education.

Nearly 900,000 Kentuckians, including almost 30,000 children, have been diagnosed with an eating disorder — an illness that is often overlooked. Senate Bill 82 targets access to care for eating disorders by establishing the Kentucky Eating Disorder Council. The group would oversee the development and implementation of eating disorder awareness, education, prevention and research programs. The council would also be responsible for making recommendations regarding legislative and regulatory changes to improve access to care for those diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Senate Bill 122 would make a change to Tim’s Law of 2017, a much-heralded law that has rarely been used by the courts. The law allows judges to order assisted outpatient treatment for people who have been involuntarily hospitalized at least twice in the past 12 months. Senate Bill 122 would extend the period to 24 months so more Kentuckians with serious mental illnesses could receive help the law is designed to provide.

The goal of Senate Bill 122 is to stop the proverbial revolving door of mentally ill patients at state psychiatric hospitals and county jails. The law is named for Tim Morton, a Lexington man who was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment dozens of times over 36 years, often involuntarily and in police handcuffs, because he did not recognize that he had schizophrenia. A bipartisan measure, Senate Bill 122 passed by a 33-1 vote.

Senate Bill 30 would limit Kentucky to three managed care organizations, known as MCOs in healthcare parlance, to operate the commonwealth’s massive Medicaid program. The goal with this legislation would be to reduce costs for medical providers. Supporters of Senate Bill 30 said medical providers, particularly rural hospitals, were drowning in paperwork associated with complying with multiple MCOs’ peculiar rules concerning everything from credentialing of doctors and facilities to pre-authorizations, appeals and payments for medical care. They added that Senate Bill 30 would also save taxpayer money by reducing the state’s contract compliance monitoring of the MCOs. Senate Bill 30 reflects wider frustrations with MCOs, once touted as a way to reduce the cost of administering Medicaid.

Senate Bill 123 would confirm various executive orders reorganizing the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. It would also create a new division of telehealth services after the state disbanded a telehealth board a couple of years ago. The new division would allow the cabinet to continue to provide oversight and resources to Kentucky’s telehealth providers. Telehealth is the use of technologies, such as videoconferencing, to support long-distance health care programs. It is seen as a way to reduce health care costs while expanding health care access to rural areas.

As we approach the holiday weekend and the halfway mark of the 60-day legislative session, I would like to say thank you to those of you who have offered comments, questions and concerns. Your input is greatly appreciated. I wish you and your loved ones a happy Valentine’s Day and a safe President’s Day weekend!

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at (800) 372-7181 or you can email me at rick.girdler@lrc.ky.gov.

 

Sen. Rick Girdler (R-Somerset) represents Kentucky’s 15th District, including Boyle, Lincoln and Pulaski Counties.