General Assembly faces bills on Medicaid, meth immigration

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Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Louisville Forum to discuss the 2011 Regular Session and what the General Assembly will likely address.

I told the crowd that, in the Kentucky House of Representatives, I expect several issues to take up much of our time when legislators return to the Capitol on Feb. 1. That includes helping Medicaid overcome a reduced amount of federal funding; raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18; and doing whatever we can to lower the number of meth labs in the state, which topped 1,000 last year for the first time.

Because the forum included Senate President David Williams, there was also discussion about his chamber’s agenda this year. Among a dozen or so bills that he highlighted is one that would essentially copy Arizona’s recent approach toward illegal immigration.

Senate Bill 6 was introduced in the state Senate on Jan. 4, assigned to committee the next day, voted out of committee on the third day and then passed out of the full Senate just a little over 72 hours after it was first introduced.

We are only now becoming aware of all that SB 6 includes, but we do now know that it will cost an estimated $40 million dollars to implement. The Senate bill does not address how this expansive new program will be paid for, either through cuts in other programs like education and health and human services or through higher taxes.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem in our nation and in our state and I, too, am very concerned about this growing issue.   However, the Commonwealth of Kentucky does not have the authority to deport illegal aliens, only the federal government does. That is why it is critical for the United States Congress to act on immigration reform soon.

I believe that most illegal immigrants come to Kentucky looking for work. The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed legislation during the past three sessions trying to attack this problem at the root, only to see it not receive a vote in the Kentucky Senate.  

If passed, as it was in the House last year, this bill would call on private contractors doing business with the state to use E-verify, a free, internet-based system that lets businesses know if anyone in their workforce is here illegally.

As a co-sponsor of this bill, I believe it would make it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to get jobs within the Commonwealth, which would make it less likely that they would live or travel here to begin with.  Using E-verify, we can begin to solve the problem of illegal immigration without a new big government program and without the huge costs that SB 6 will require.

For more than two centuries now, this country has been a beacon for those around the world looking for a better life.  Those who have settled here legally have provided untold benefits, and that diversity has made us stronger.  But it’s crucial for others who want the same thing to follow the same rules that so many others have.

At this point, it is too soon to say what will happen to any bill in the General Assembly, much less the ones I’ve written about.  We still have 26 legislative days to carry out a process that, while deliberate, nonetheless moves us toward common ground on which we can all stand.  My goal is that the House and Senate can reach a compromise on this issue, in a manner with plenty of public input and debate.

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181.