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Usually, the first week is an organizational week during which the different parties elect their leadership. This year was different. When we announced the Senate Majority legislative agenda in December, we committed to move aggressively on passing legislation regarding job creation, education, and transparent and responsive government. With the passage of these bills, the "Agenda for Prosperity," very few can say we didn't deliver on that promise this first week.
Jobs and the economy are on the minds of many. Kentucky needs a clear and fair tax code that encourages current businesses to hire more Kentuckians and new employers to relocate in the commonwealth. Senate Bill 1 creates an independent commission of tax experts including economists and accountants who, with assistance from other interested parties, will review, revise, and most importantly, draft a new state and local tax system. If passed during the session, the proposal would be considered by the 2012 General Assembly. An independent panel without a political agenda has the best chance to overhaul an antiquated system.
Senate Bill 8 makes it easier for employers to cut through government red tape by consolidating on one website everything a business needs to file taxes or apply for licenses.
Education continues to be a long-standing focus of the Senate. We passed SB 13 and SB 3. The former will offer financial incentives to teachers whose students do well in math and science advanced placement exams and the latter allows voluntary charter schools authorized by the local school district. These bills prepare students for the work needs of the future as well as provide parents with choice on the education of their children.
Five bills addressed the need for transparent and responsive government. SB 4 increases accountability of public officials by demanding more frequent reporting of campaign contributions, restricting contributions from lobbyists, and perhaps most significantly, moves the filing deadline to file as a candidate from late January to after the legislative session. In this way, the public will be able to review the full legislative record of any legislator.
Senate Bill 7 put the financial data from all three branches of government and universities online.
Senate Bill 5 requires any bill that deals with appropriations to be posted at least 48 hours prior to voting.
Senate Bill 11 gives Kentucky officials another tool to aggressively go after those who attempt to defraud the state's Medicaid program.
The Senate also moved forward with protecting our traditional values. Senate Bill 10 is a constitutional amendment similar to what we passed last year. The legislation protects Kentuckians' sovereignty under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by banning federal mandates forcing the purchase of health insurance on individuals, prohibiting expanded gambling without a vote of the people, affirming the free practice of religion, promoting coal over environmental extremists, and guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish.
SB 9 enhances the informed consent statutes already on the books by ensuring a face-to-face meeting between a woman considering an abortion and her doctor - as opposed to a recorded message - and requires doctors to make available ultrasound images of the unborn baby to the mothers.
Finally, SB 6 is immigration reform that will help local governments uphold federal immigration laws.
It's been a long and productive week. I have a full committee plate. Besides working in the important Appropriations and Revenue Committee, the Education Committee, Program Review and Investigations Committee, Tobacco Settlement and Oversight Committee, and Transportation Committee, I have also been appointed Vice-Chair of the Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee.
The General Assembly will now take a three week break and then come back in February to consider any further bills as well as any bills that the House may pass.
Please feel free to call me toll-free with any questions or comments at 1-800-372-7181 or TTY 1-800-896-0305. You can reach me at home at 270/692-6945. You can also find us on the World Wide Web at www.lrc.state.ky.us.
Editor's note: Jimmy Higdon is the state senator for the 14th District.