Not much beats fresh picked fruit in the summertime. Recently we went to pick blueberries on a nearby farm, and it reminded me of summer days picking strawberries in my grandmother’s garden. The work was hard and the weather hot, but we always knew there would be strawberry pie for supper. We continued that tradition this weekend, making a fresh blueberry pie from the fruit we picked. The final result definitely made the hard work worthwhile! In July, the benefits also come to bear from the hard work of child advocates during the legislative session.

Many of you joined in that work to meet with, call, or email your legislators about legislative priorities on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children. Those efforts paid off with significant legislative wins for children and numerous positive investments in the state budget. New laws go into effect on Saturday, July 14th and the new state budget took effect July 1st. Soon Kentucky children should begin to see the impact of these new policies and investments.

Child welfare reform – The package of reforms to child welfare in House Bill 1 (sponsored by Representatives David Meade and Joni Jenkins) will take effect, and dates have already been set for upcoming meetings of the newly formed Child Welfare Oversight and Advisory Committee. HB 1 includes a number of reforms that will be implemented by the Department of Community Based Services and the Administrative Office of the Courts, all focused on strengthening families when possible and moving adoption cases along a tighter timeline when it’s in the child’s best interest to be adopted by a new permanent family.

Educational stability – The legislature also passed House Bill 527 (sponsored by Representative Steven Riley) to prioritize a child remaining in his or her school when entering foster care. In many instances, schools are the consistent and stable connection for children in foster care during an otherwise turbulent time, and HB 527 prioritizes educational stability when it’s in the best interest of the child. When it’s in a child’s best interest to move schools, HB 527 ensures a swift transfer of records to support a smooth transition to the new school.

Child abuse disclosure – The legislature passed Senate Bill 137 (sponsored by Senator Whitney Westerfield) that would allow courts to consider information disclosed by a child about abuse or neglect. The circumstances of the disclosure would be reviewed by a judge to ensure that the information was shared under reliable circumstances. The Kentucky Supreme court is reviewing the issue for incorporation into the Kentucky Rules of Evidence.

Minimizing the impact of parental incarceration – A bill prioritizing the health of babies by addressing substance abuse issues among incarcerated pregnant women will also take effect. Senate Bill 133 (sponsored by Senators Julie Raque Adams, Whitney Westerfield, and Alice Forgy Kerr) will ensure women who are incarcerated can be released to receive substance abuse treatment, which is critical to having a healthy pregnancy and healthy birth. The bill also ensures pregnant women are not shackled during labor, delivery, or the postpartum period. 

Ending child marriage – As of the implementation date, children will be protected from child marriage with Senate Bill 48 (Sponsored by Senator Julie Raque Adams). In Kentucky, most child marriages occurred with an adult partner. Reserving marriage for adults protects children from higher risks that come with teen marriage, such as higher rates of domestic violence and risk of dropping out of schools. Waiting until adulthood to marry also ensures both parties are legal adults with the rights and protections of adulthood.

Budget investments in child welfare – The state budget included critical funding to strengthen the child protective services system, which protects children from abuse and neglect. Funding was included to strengthen the work force, which in turn will improve how children’s cases are handled. The budget also included money to reopen the Kinship Care program, which supports relative caregivers who have stepped up to take in children who have been removed from their home.

Cigarette tax – Kentucky’s tax on cigarettes increased on July 1st as the new fiscal year began, with an increase of 50 cents per pack. While the experience in other states suggest the increase may not be significant enough to encourage the health impact we would hope to see from people quitting smoking, we know teens are less likely to start smoking with a higher cost of tobacco.