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Under the rules that govern odd-year legislative sessions, much of the General Assembly’s work doesn’t begin until February and it ends about a week before the start of March Madness. With four days set aside in January for organizational matters and one or two days in late March used to consider any vetoes, that leaves about 25 days to cover what is often a long agenda.
With that in mind, the Kentucky House of Representatives wasted no time in moving its major priorities forward when my legislative colleagues and I returned to the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
The first of those made it through the full chamber on Thursday. This measure, which has already drawn strong support from leaders in the state Senate, would give many of our four-year public universities authority to spend more than $360 million of their own money for much-needed projects that range from dorm renovations to upgrades at the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium. It’s estimated these projects will generate about 5,000 jobs.
On Friday, the House voted for another bill that also appears to have an easy path ahead in the Senate. In this case, House Bill 1 would provide some needed oversight and accountability for the state’s estimated 1,200 special taxing districts that run such local services as our libraries, public utilities, volunteer fire departments and airports.
This legislation does not tinker with how these agencies operate, but it does streamline reporting requirements so the public can better track this spending, which the auditor’s office estimated last year at $2.7 billion. That’s about the same as the state spends on elementary and secondary education.
A key reason the public has a difficult time tracking spending is that the state law governing these districts is often confusing. The auditor’s office found that more than 1,000 statutes affect them, with some dating back a century.
House Bill 1 will clear up a lot of that confusion, and it will make sure that the same ethics laws used by local governments in their communities govern the operating boards of these special districts.
During his State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday, Gov. Steve Beshear offered several more bills he would like to see pass this year.
At the top of the list is putting our public retirement systems on firmer financial ground. There is a broad consensus that we cannot wait another year to take action in this area.
Other priorities he listed include raising the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 and adopting a child-safety package that would close a gap in the booster-seat law, improve newborn screening, toughen other laws like texting while driving and crack down further on online sexual predators who target children.
Gov. Beshear noted that the state has some sizeable challenges as we continue to emerge from tough economic times. Per-pupil funding, for one, has not seen a raise for several years, and he said that needs to change.
He also added that we’re doing well in other ways. The unemployment rate has dropped by a fourth in the last two years, and the national publication “Education Week” recently put Kentucky 10th among the states when measuring school achievement, which is up two dozen spots from 2011.
This week, the House will look at such measures as an update to last year’s “pill mill” legislation, which is already having a positive impact when it comes to limiting prescription drug abuse. This bill will make it easier for healthcare providers and patients alike to comply with the law while not undercutting our work to stop an epidemic that takes the lives of three Kentuckians every day.
I have already received many calls and emails from those of you following the legislative process, and if you would like to take part, there are several ways to reach me or to learn more about our work this session.
Should you want to write, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Ky. 40601. My email address is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District, which includes Carroll County, in the Kentucky General Assembly.