House of Representatives pass several newsworthy bills

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By Terry Mills

Last week, the House of Representatives turned its attention to two issues that may not seem to have much in common but are linked nonetheless because of the positive impact both could have on a significant number of Kentuckians.
The first vote came early in the week, when the chamber put its support behind the creation of public benefit corporations. As its name implies, this legal designation would give private businesses a chance to better verify their commitment to serving not just their customers but their community as well.
Nearly 20 other states and more than two dozen countries have already passed similar legislation, with some of the more famous companies taking part including Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia, the outdoor-clothing manufacturer.
Public benefit corporations do such things as use local suppliers, maximize recycling and energy-saving measures, donate to charity and give their employees time off to volunteer. While some point out that companies can already do these things, public benefit corporations are required to take an extra step by making sure that their investors and the public are regularly aware of how they are meeting their social responsibilities.
Studies show these types of corporations make good business sense in their own right. They weathered the country’s recession better than many other companies, for example, and are especially attractive to younger workers who are not only looking for a career but a cause as well.
The other newsworthy bill to pass the House last week is a familiar one to the chamber, but there is a growing hope that this is the year it finally passes.
Should that occur, voters in November would have the opportunity to amend our 1891 constitution and restore voting rights to most felons after they have completed their sentence, including probation and parole. These rights are restored automatically in nearly other state, but in Kentucky, it still takes a formal appeal to the governor. If voters approve, this change would benefit an estimated 180,000 citizens who have paid their full debt to society, although there would be some understandable exceptions, such as convictions for murder or sexually related crimes like rape and sodomy.
With these bills already halfway through the legislative process, several others were just beginning their journey last week. One of those introduced would call on all high schools to include basic CPR training in their health classes, a potentially life-saving step since there are an estimated 4,000 cases of cardiac arrest outside of hospitals each year in the state.
Another new bill, meanwhile, would require state and local governments to notify Kentuckians if their personal information has been improperly released or stolen. In the wake of recent announcements like the one by Target, the need for this has become all too apparent, given the sensitive personal data our governments have.
Although not a bill, the House took time last Tuesday to formally declare it Kentucky Food Bank Day, which recognized the fact that more than 620,000 of our citizens rely on charitable food banks. Last year alone, our food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters provided an estimated 44 million meals.
This week, the highlight will be Governor Beshear’s presentation of his two-year budget and road plan. The House will then begin work on its version, followed by the Senate. A compromise will be ready for the governor’s signature by mid-April at the latest.
I will discuss his proposal more in-depth in next week’s column. For now, I want to thank those who have already taken the time to let me know their views about the issues in front of the General Assembly.
If you would like to join them, you can write to me at Room 329G, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.