FRANKFORT- Restoring voting rights to felons, repealing workers' comp law, and a bill allowing discrimination to smokers are all among new bills to be prefiled for the 2019 session.
A bill that gained attention when filed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, last week is BR 333 which would allow employers to discriminate against employees, or potential employees, based on if they are smokers. Kentucky law currently prevents employers from not hiring someone because they smoke cigarettes as long as they comply with the workplace policy concerning smoking. This law would remove smokers from the protected class outlined in Kentucky's employment anti-discriminaton law.
While it has yet be filed, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, will be prefiling a bill to restore voting rights to non-violent offenders. Currently, Kentucky's Constitution has a lifetime ban on those convicted of a felony. After Florida voters removed that ban from their constitution, Kentucky and Iowa are the only two states remaining that permanently ban voting for convicted felons. Since the ban is in the constitution, the bill will have to pass the legislature, and then go to voters for final approval.
While on the Leland Conway Show in WHAS 840 Monday, Sen. McGarvey spoke about the legislation, saying this bill would automatically restore voting rights to those who have completed their sentences.
"You have paid your debt, you have been rehabilitated, we have taken you off probation and parole. We want you working, we want you paying taxes, we want you to be a member of society," McGarvey said. "How can you do that if you can't have the right to vote?"
In 2015, outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear, D-Kentucky, signed an executive order restoring voting rights to non-violent offenders. Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Kentucky, rescinded that order saying it should be up to the people of Kentucky to decide if they want to restore voting rights.
Since Republicans hold a super majority in both the House and the Senate, it will need bipartisan support. Sen. McGarvey said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, is working on similar legislation in the House. He believes this is something the governor could support.
"I hope the governor will ultimately support this type of initiative. He has done some work on criminal justice reform that I've been a part of an appreciate a lot of his perspective on that," McGarvey said.. "So, I hope the governor does support this."
Finally, a bipartisan bill was filed Monday to repeal a section of the new workers' compensation law that deals with black lung. Reps. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, and Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, filed the measure which would roll back sections of the law that limit the number of state-certified doctors eligible to diagnose the debilitating disease.
House Bill 2, passed last session, limited the number of doctors able to diagnose black lung to just board-certified pulmonary specialists who are licensed as "B" readers. This legislation would allow the state to contract with any physician trained to diagnose black lung. Black lung is prevalent in Eastern Kentucky, where many coal miners live and work.
“When this bill passed, there were only a handful of doctors here in Kentucky meeting that standard, according to a news report by NPR, and nearly all were working for the coal industry or nearing retirement,” Rep. Hatton said in a release. “This change all but cut out radiologists who are just as qualified to make black-lung diagnoses.”
“The only reason to remove radiologists was to save money at the expense of our miners,” Rep. Goforth added in a release. “That’s just wrong,”
The chief executive officer of American College of Radiology called this issue a "matter of life and death for many people".
Lawmakers will be back in Frankfort for session in January.