This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Herald-Leader. You can view it online here.
Assessing what worked in the General Assembly for the commonwealth’s children is pretty simple: leadership.
The 2015 session — and in fact, the 2013 and 2014 sessions, as well — generated broad and deep progress on the passage of policies that are good for kids.
This session saw the legislature’s continued commitment to combating child abuse and neglect through the passage of Senate Bill 119 sponsored by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, which ensures educators receive information on recognizing and reporting signs of child abuse.
House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. John Tilley, is a win to help protect victims of teen dating violence and children of parents who experience dating violence by extending protective orders to people in dating relationships. House Bill 429, also sponsored by Tilley, will create a child care council to help working parents have quality child-care options to choose from.
There were improvements to booster-seat requirements and protections from online predators.
So what is going on? Kentucky’s kids have become a dominant priority for our lawmakers.
At the 2015 Children’s Advocacy Day, more than 700 champions for children heard Senate President Robert Stivers declare that our greatest resource and greatest asset are our children. Speaker Greg Stumbo and other leaders in the House share that thinking.
Another source of leadership comes from committee chairs of both chambers. In addition, several bipartisan partnerships continue to put kids before politics.
Tilley and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, as co-chairs of the Judiciary Committees, are a great example of this. This Christian County version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid led the fundamental reform of juvenile justice last session and were active on key bills this session.
A third source of leadership emerged from the troop of fresh faces and new partnerships in the General Assembly. Virtually every new legislator asked, “What can I do for kids?”
That was Sen. Max Wise openly sharing family challenges and transforming those into policy decisions. It was Adams and Rep. Rita Smart working together on protections around child abuse. It was Rep. Linda Belcher standing tall on the House floor challenging those who would dilute the importance of protecting kids from abuse.
It was Sen. Ralph Alvarado championing the smoking ban on the Senate floor. Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey worked with key Republicans around a refundable state earned income tax credit. Sen. Danny Carroll stood up for the child-care sector.
There is still work to be done — whether that is the Senate embracing a comprehensive smoke-free law as a concrete way to improve the health of pregnant women and children or the House recognizing that charter schools can be a powerful tool to strengthen education outcomes.
Kentucky’s kids have real champions in the General Assembly. And in its varied dynamics, that leadership just might make Kentucky Youth Advocates’ vision of “Kentucky as the best place in America to be young” into a Bluegrass reality.