It was a busy week and I spent the majority of my time in leadership meetings, caucus, and on the floor voting. I was happy to be joined by two bright young students on Wednesday. Hannah Whitaker, eighth-grader from Hazard Middle School, paged for me on the Senate floor and Kelly Brown, a junior at Middlesboro High School, interned for the whole day.
A particularly special moment occurred on Tuesday, when the governor signed the legislation I sponsored, Senate Bill 46, into law. Despite my many years in Frankfort, I stand in awe of the legislative process and it is a proud moment when a piece of legislation you sponsor clears the hurdles through both chambers and is passed into law by the governor. I am constantly humbled to represent our district and am reminded every day of the significant task on my shoulders to do the work for our people.
Many of you remember last year the General Assembly adopted bipartisan legislation intended to shut down the many “pill mills” that were operating throughout the state. Over the summer and fall, I met with doctors and community forums to discuss the legislation in action and its results. We discovered the law is working and having positive effects, but is also putting unintended burdens on doctors, nursing homes and hospitals.
House Bill 217 is designed to curb these unintended consequences by adjusting treatment protocols to allow medical professionals the flexibility needed to adequately treat patients, including those who are terminally ill or who have recently undergone surgery, without opening the floodgates for unscrupulous doctors. This epidemic has touched almost every family in some way in our state, especially in the mountains. I am proud of the work we have done to continue to improve “Pill Mills” legislation and will continue to follow its effects on our communities.
Another anti-drug bill, House Bill 8, was also adopted as a means to combat the growing presence of synthetic drugs. These drugs, which are designed to chemically mimic other drugs and controlled substances such as marijuana and meth, are constantly evolving and are made to look innocuous when, in fact, they can be life threatening. Drugs are a scourge upon our commonwealth’s families and we are committed their elimination.
As we continue to advance in technology and our young people are ever more equipped with smart phones and computers, we must be vigilant against online predators. The Office of the Attorney General and the Kentucky State Police have a cybercrimes unit to investigate these predators. House Bill 39 gives the KSP the ability to issue an administrative subpoena to investigate claims of online child exploitation in Kentucky. This narrowly drafted subpoena power is necessary to protect those who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and ensure that law enforcement has the ability to intervene as quickly as possible to protect children who are endangered. As a father and legislator, it is always my number one priority to protect our children.
Another measure designed to protect Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens is House Bill 3, a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate this week. The measure will help victims of human trafficking by adding that crime to the commonwealth’s abuse and neglect statutes and enhancing penalties. House Bill 3 would protect child victims forced into prostitution from being charged with criminal offenses, providing specific treatment options instead. Many times these children, forced against their will, are thrown into the juvenile corrections facilities instead of receiving the help they need to overcome these dire situations.
Finally, the Senate championed religious freedom rights by passing House Bill 279, known as the Religious Freedom Act. This bill reaffirms the most basic of American principles by specifying that government shall not burden a person’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion and protecting the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds. In addition, the bill maintains the strict standard of scrutiny used to evaluate the legality of any infringement on religious freedom. I heard from many concerned citizens in support of this bill and reassured them that I continue to stand up for our Constitutional rights that we hold dear.