With just 14 days left in this year’s regular session, House and Senate leadership announced Thursday evening that we would not meet on Friday and Monday. Instead, they are using the time to consider what, if any, changes can be made to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is just one of many schedule changes and closings we have seen over the past week as more cases are diagnosed. Like many of you, I am paying close attention to what the Kentucky Department of Public Health is recommending. So far, they have advised avoiding large crowds, washing our hands regularly, and staying home if we have any symptoms. However, on any given day of the session, thousands of Kentuckians are in the Capitol and Annex to participate in committees, visit legislators, or take a tour. It is crucial to public health that we consider their recommendations. As I share this news, we plan to reconvene on Tuesday, March 17. However, I do expect we will see some changes in how we conduct our business. I will update you in my next column.

Despite the situation with COVID-19, we did act on several important measures before leaving Thursday. One of them is HB 2, legislation aimed at aiding the victims of human trafficking and strengthening the ability of law enforcement and our justice system to catch and prosecute traffickers. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide. It can happen in any community, and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Sadly, this crime is growing, and our Commonwealth's interstate system and central location make us a hub. Just last week, seven men went to a Louisville-area hotel room expecting to have sex with a teenager. Instead of finding a child, they were greeted by law enforcement officers. This practice is one of the most effective methods of catching human traffickers but can be challenged in court. With HB 2, we took steps to ensure law enforcement officers and prosecutors can continue to use this approach.

HB 2 also places those convicted of trafficking adults for the purpose of commercial sex (including prostitution) to the sex offender registry. Currently, only those who committed crimes involving child victims are on the registry. The bill would also require the increased posting of signage with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline phone number (1-888-373-7880) and other information about resources available to victims. Under the terms of the bill, signs would be posted in public restrooms at airports, bus stops, train stations, and truck stops.

The House approved two measures that we believe will help protect the lives of the innocent unborn. The first, HB 67, is a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution. If passed by both chambers and approved by Kentucky voters in November, the language in HB 67, would clarify that the Kentucky Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. It would also specify that there is no right to pay for an abortion with public funds. HB 451, the second pro-life measure we passed, expands the powers of the Attorney General regarding abortion. Currently, the Attorney General can only become involved in legal action against an abortion clinic if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services refers a case to him or her. Under the provisions of HB 451, the Attorney General is granted independence to investigate and seek civil and criminal penalties and injunctions against abortion providers. I have heard pro-life groups refer to our current legislature as the most pro-life in our state’s history. The passage of these two measures will add to that legacy.

This week, I also joined my colleagues in approving a bill that would allow a student with a felony record to earn and use their KEES scholarships. Recipients must meet eligibility requirements. Frankly, this could go a long way in helping someone turn their life around before it is too late.

The House is continuing our work to become the most military-friendly state in the nation with the passage of HB 67 and HB 437. HB 67 is aimed at solving custody issues sometimes faced by service members who share custody. In some cases, military personnel lose custody of their child because when they come home from a deployment, they are reassigned to a different state. This measure has been dubbed the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. House Bill 437 tackles an issue in insurance that has been dubbed the “Patriot Penalty.” Some insurers are penalizing our men and women in uniform for dropping coverage due to deployment or reassignment. As a result, military personnel are forced to pay an increase in insurance premiums of 35 to 40 percent. Under this measure, military members will no longer be penalized due to a deployment or reassignment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s update. I appreciate that our paper is willing to run these columns and, of course, hope you’ll let me know if you have any comments or questions. I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Richard.White@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at legislature.ky.gov.

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