House approves bill to help disabled veterans

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By Terry Mills

The lives of Kentucky veterans will improve thanks to legislation passed this session by the Kentucky House of Representatives.

House Bill 14 allows for permanently and totally disabled veterans who are citizens of Kentucky to stay at Kentucky state parks for up to three nights per year at no cost. And House Bill 75 amends current state government personnel statutes to provide a preference to veterans when hiring.  It ensures that state government employees are aware of an applicant's military service so that our returning service men and women are given every opportunity to become employed. Both of these bills honoring our brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for Kentucky have been signed into law by the governor.

A bill that would ensure our returning combat veterans are connected to available mental health programs when they are accused of breaking the law is now being considered by the Senate after it passed out of the House by a vote of 97-0. Years of war and multiple deployments have taken their toll on the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserves, and have led to increased cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and other post-deployment difficulties. Unfortunately, combat veterans may not initially seek help to deal with their difficulties.

Although a lot of work remains, the Kentucky House of Representatives moved the budget process forward significantly last week when the chamber's leaders unveiled a proposal to overcome the $1.2 billion deficit the state faces during the next two years.

Their plan calls for living within our means, without any new taxes. It does not require the draconian cuts many states have made, and it continues protecting those core services like education, Medicaid and our safety. Layoffs of career state workers and teachers would be avoided and our parks and prisons would remain open.

There are still many details to be worked out, but this gives us a blueprint to follow. We expect a vote in the full House early next month, and then the Senate will make whatever changes it thinks is necessary; both sides will try to reach a compromise by the end of March.

Domestic violence protection would be expanded to people in dating relationships with the passage of House Bill 189. Current law permits domestic violence court orders only in cases in which a couple is married, divorced, has lived together or has a child together. House Bill 189 also requires the state court database to show if an assault or homicide was related to domestic violence. Kentucky would be the 40th state in the country to expand this protection. The legislation passed by a vote of 96-0 and now goes to the Senate.

House Bill 58, which would require drivers convicted of their first DUI to use interlock ignition devices on their vehicle, passed the House by a vote of 95-0.  An ignition interlock is a device that samples the driver's breath for alcohol content. If there is alcohol, the car will not start, or if the car is in motion, some other signal, such as flashing lights and a sounding horn, will occur. Currently 12 states require or provide incentives for ignition interlocks for all persons convicted of a DUI. The bill will now be considered by the Senate.

A bill that would raise the school dropout age from 16 to 18 by 2015 has cleared the House Education Committee. House Bill 301 would require students to attend school until at least age 17, beginning July 1, 2013 with the goal of having the state high school graduation rate at least 90 percent by July 2015. Statistics show that dropouts earn an average of $7,000 a year less than students with high school diplomas. House Bill 301 now goes to the full House of Representatives.

You can stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you this session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 1 (866) 840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 1 (800) 633-9650. It is an honor to represent you in Frankfort.