FRANKFORT – When historians look back on the 2018 legislative session, most of their attention will understandably be focused on three things: the state’s budget, the corresponding tax plan and public-pension reform. They didn’t generate every headline, but there’s no doubt they accounted for most.
Dozens of other bills, however, completed the same journey as those new laws, and while their impact won’t be as far-reaching, they are important in their own right. I think most will move the commonwealth forward, but I opposed several others, which I detail further below.
Several of the new laws will affect our children, both in and out of the classroom. Teachers and administrators, for example, will now have more training on suicide prevention, seizure disorders and dyslexia, and financial literacy will become a graduation requirement for freshmen entering high school in 2020.
Displaced children will benefit from streamlined adoption and foster-care rules designed to put them in a loving home much more quickly, and there are now reasonable limits on underage marriage. Those who are 16- and 17-years-old, meanwhile, will no longer be able to give consent if their partner is at least 10 years older.
In criminal-justice matters, there are new penalties for several types of crimes: molesting someone with an intellectual disability; distributing private and sexually explicit images without consent; and intentionally exposing law enforcement to bodily fluids, especially if those fluids contain a communicable disease.
A new law designed to stop gang recruitment and violence also passed this year, but will need to be monitored to ensure it is applied fairly and accomplishes its intended goal.
For our law enforcement and firefighters, the General Assembly voted to increase their annual training stipend and codify a program designed to help officers and their families cope with the aftermath of critical situations.
My colleagues and I also increased death benefits for those state and local government employees who die in the line of duty. This mainly applies to first responders, but also covers others with potentially dangerous jobs.
Victims of crimes may soon have more of a voice in our courts, thanks to the passage of a constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law. It will be up to voters in November, however, to decide whether this is ultimately approved.
From an economic standpoint, microbreweries will soon be able to sell more of their product on site and at festivals, while distilleries will be authorized to ship their product directly to consumers. Individuals will be able to freeze their credit longer; those diagnosed with autism will have fewer restrictions on insurance coverage; more home bakers will be allowed to sell their products; and those who like to fly drones will face more stringent guidelines.
Those with a personalized license plate will soon be able to renew it in their birth month rather than the end of the year, and those eligible for disability placards for their vehicles will have to pay a fee for additional cards but will have a longer time between renewals. The change will hopefully make it easier for the disabled to find open parking spaces designated for them.
Some of the new laws, as I mentioned, are problematic. One, for example, sets unnecessary time limits on workers comp medical benefits for those who have received a permanent but partial disability on the job. This program’s premiums have been in steady decline for a dozen years, and workplace injuries have dropped significantly as well. That good news calls into question the need for any change.
Another questionable law now on the books will limit in-house reviews of medical professionals, potentially making it tougher to pursue medical-malpractice cases; and a third caps contingency fees earned by private law firms that partner with the state on large, complex cases. That particular change will principally affect the Attorney General and make it tougher for that office to find law firms willing to help the state go after such bad actors as rogue pharmaceutical companies that have flooded the commonwealth with painkillers.
The time to enact laws this year may be over, but the legislature’s work continues. In June, House and Senate committees will begin meeting jointly each month to review these new laws and other issues affecting the state. Because of that, it is never too late to let me know your thoughts or concerns.