While Kentucky was trying to address the immediate needs of families across the commonwealth in the wake of COVID-19, the final gavel sounded on the 2020 General Assembly.
There was some good news for kids in this year’s legislative session—including its unprecedented one-year budget—while progress stalled for many policies and budget priorities that would help kids and families.
Two types of leaders make these wins for kids possible: legislative champions and, just as importantly, the advocates and organizations who work so hard on behalf of kids and families. Advocates, thank you for your phone calls to legislators, social media posts, legislative visits, attendance at Children’s Advocacy Day, and more. Your efforts were vital during this legislative session and, as we look ahead to the possibilities in 2021, will be more important than ever.
Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children wins for kids:
- Senate Bill 40 – close the gaps in fingerprint background checks and better protect children in foster care by requiring foster care agencies to screen their employees for criminal charges.
- Senate Bill 45 – strengthen licensed child care program standards on healthy eating and drinking, active play, and screen time.
- Senate Bill 56 – ensure Kentucky complies with the federal minimum legal sale age for all tobacco products and eliminate purchase, use, and possession penalties for youth up to age 21 so children and teens can grow into healthier adults.
- House Bill 32 – enact a state excise tax on e-cigarettes to help prevent use among youth. This a first step and we will continue to advocate for an e-cigarette tax equivalent to that currently on cigarettes to ensure a beneficial impact for kids and to see a boost in additional revenue for the state budget.
- Funding commitment to improve school safety and student resiliency, especially the emphasis on utilizing federal Medicaid funds for school-based health and behavioral health professionals to provide needed services in the school building.
- Sustained funding for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers (FRYSCs), a critical resource that ensures every student has the opportunity to succeed.
- Sustained per-pupil public school funding (SEEK) for the academic, social, and emotional well-being of students.
- Increased funding for the Relative Placement Support Benefit, which provides a one-time financial support to those caring for a child who has experienced abuse or neglect to purchase essential items, such as clothing, bedding, formula, and school supplies.
- Slight increase in funding for the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS), which provides much needed services to vulnerable children and families.
- Increased funding for professionals who respond to child abuse and neglect with forensic services and assessments, such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and child advocacy centers.
While we are celebrating these wins, we do recognize a few missed opportunities within the state budget that would have had a positive impact on Kentucky families, including increased funding for the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program to close the remaining gaps in uninsured children, for the Child Care Assistance Program to increase eligibility standards to boost to child well-being, family stability, and workforce viability, and for tobacco prevention and cessation programs to reduce youth tobacco use in the Commonwealth.
We at Kentucky Youth Advocates are optimistic that, when the legislature resumes next year, legislators will again have Kentucky kids and their families at top of their priority lists. And we are certain that advocates like you will lend your voices to speak up for those kids and families.
Check out our recent podcast episodes, featuring reflections from Terry Brooks and conversations with House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade and Senator Gerald Neal, and a recording of the April 29th Advocate Virtual Forum, featuring Representative Josie Raymond and Senator Whitney Westerfield, for more discussions on the 2020 legislative session and looking ahead to 2021 and Kentucky’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.