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Legislative Briefs: Felon voting rights bill advances; Senate passes religious expression measure

The House voted 82-9 Thursday in support of letting the state’s voters decide whether to automatically restore voting rights of convicted felons.

Currently, in Kentucky, a felon’s voting rights can only be restored by a pardon of the Governor. House Bill 70, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would allow most felons to have their voting rights restored once their sentence or probation is served.

Voting rights would not be restored under the proposal for felons convicted of treason, intentional homicide and specific sex crimes.

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale (right), talks with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, before the start of a meeting of House Labor and Industry Committee (LRC Public Information Photo)

Rep. Jeffery Donohue, D-Fairdale (right), talks with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, before the start of a meeting of House Labor and Industry Committee (LRC Public Information Photo)

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently allow automatic restoration of felon voting rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Attempts to put the question of automatic restoration of felon voting rights on statewide ballot have been made in Kentucky for well over a decade, said Owens, but so far to no avail. Similar bills have passed the House but have never passed the Senate.

“With the growing wave of interest and advocacy in criminal justice reform I’m hopeful that, this year, HB 70 becomes law,” said Owens.

Another lawmaker speaking in support of the measure was Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Eastwood, who asked his colleagues to pass the bill.

“I think it’s time that we bring people back in from the dark. Once they complete their sentence and their probation, and they’re non-violent offenders, I think it’s time to bring them back,” said Miller.

HB 70 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate tackles religious expression in schools

In response to a school’s prohibition of scripture readings in a public school’s stage adaptation of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the state Senate passed a bill relating to the expression of religious viewpoints in public schools by a 31-2 vote today.

Senate Bill 15 would set forth in statute what some protected activities for students are by enumerating the rights of students to express religious and political viewpoints in public schools – including state universities. That would include homework, artwork, speeches and religious messages on items of clothing.

“We live in times in which much political and religious expression … is under attack by those who want opposing viewpoints removed from the public square,” said Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, a sponsor of the bill. “There is truly no constitutional reason students can’t perform all of the play just because of the reading of scripture.”

SB 15 would also enumerate the rights of religious student groups to access school facilities during non-instructional hours the same way non-religious organizations do and to use school produced media to announce such meetings.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he had concerns about the constitutionality of SB 15 but that issue was not enough to stop him from voting for the measure.

“I’m a firm believer in the free expression of art and non-censorship in art and literature,” he said. “We ought to have, as a society here in Kentucky, the freedom to express our religious opinions in school and on the sports field.”

Thomas said his concern was a provision in SB 15 that referenced the Bible but not the holy books from other religions.

“That provision is going to prove troublesome if this bill becomes law,” he said. “Having said that, I don’t think we should ever get to the point of taking an individual’s free expression of religion out of schools.”

Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, also supported SB 15.

“It is just a restatement of the current law,” he said. “There is no new law in this bill.”

Child care centers could get EpiPen prescriptions under bill

Child care centers and homes could obtain prescriptions for EpiPen for children in their care under a bill that has cleared a House committee.

House Bill 148 sponsored Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, said the bill approved by House Health and Welfare would give certified child care center and family child-care homes the ability to obtain an EpiPen or like epinephrine auto-injector device by prescription for emergency use.

EpiPen allows epinephrine to be quickly administered by injection, usually through the thigh, to someone suffering a severe or life-threatening allergic reaction.

Current law allow parents to provide EpiPen to their child care provider but does not allow providers to get prescriptions for the device themselves, said Belcher.

“I’ve talked to the day cares and they weren’t aware (of being covered under current legislation),” said Belcher.

She was speaking of 2015 HB 248, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and passed into law last year, which allows EpiPen to be prescribed and dispensed to authorized places or individuals that have appropriate training to use the devices. That legislation does not specifically mention child care centers.

Belcher reminded the committee that all certified child care centers have someone trained in first aid “so we do have people there who can take care of our children, and that is our goal.”

“I think it’s good legislation. Maybe the bill last time did not go as far as we thought it went,” said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington.

HB 148 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate panel wants to lock out child ID thieves

A measure to protect Kentucky’s children from identity theft has been approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

Senate Bill 23, as amended in committee, would permit the parents and guardians of children and other vulnerable residents to place a “security freeze” on those citizens’ credit reports.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said security freezes are designed to prevent a credit reporting company from releasing one’s credit rating, thus preventing additional lines of credit from being opened.

“Identify theft occurs when criminals unlawfully gain access to someone’s personal information and steal it for their own financial gain – whether it is using someone’s Social Security number to open new accounts or illegally hacking into a banking account,” said Alvarado, who sponsored the bill. “All forms of identity theft can be serious.

“ … Obviously, it is not a new problem, but with so much of our personal information being stored electronically these days, the crime is happening more often – and especially to children.”

He said statistics about child identify theft are limited in part because children don’t become aware that their personal data has been stolen until they are old enough to apply for a driver’s license or credit card. The Child Identity Fraud Report of 2012, however, found that one in three households with children had at least one child whose personal information was compromised by identity criminals.

Alvarado said this past summer he was contacted by a constituent whose son had his identity stolen – ruining the 10-year-old’s credit. The father called the credit reporting agencies to place a security freeze on his son’s account only to learn Kentucky statutes do not permit parents to place freezes on their children’s accounts.

Alvarado, flanked by a representative from the Kentucky Retail Federation, said he prefiled the legislation in October 2015.

“The retail federation was kind enough to notice the bill and had some recommendations on language that would be more representative of the national norm for these types of legislation,” Alvarado said. “As a result a committee substitute was produced.”

Coal incentives bill goes to Senate

A bill that would allow the Kentucky coal industry to qualify for state tax incentives available to other industries in the Commonwealth is on its way to the state Senate.

The coal industry is now excluded from certain sales and use tax and income tax incentives that are available to other industries through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act (KEIA) and Kentucky Business Investment Act (KBI), said House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook. He said House Bill 202, which passed the House Friday by a vote of 89-0, would help to remedy the situation in the wake of years of coal job losses.

“It’s an attempt to right a wrong, in my opinion,” said Adkins, primary sponsor of HB 202. “I know that this bill will not be the magic bullet that will turn the industry around, but at least it will be there as a tool for the industry to use as all other businesses and industries qualify for in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

HB 202 would also require the state Cabinet for Economic Development to promote increased exports of Kentucky coal should it become law, according to the bill.

From LRC Public Information

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