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As the General Assembly returns to the Capitol on Tuesday this week, it is worth taking one last look back at 2013 to review some of the issues my legislative colleagues and I have been studying in recent months.
We call this period the interim, and it begins each year during the late spring and continues through the holidays. Although no laws are enacted, this time, nonetheless, gives the House and Senate committees – 15 main ones that vote on legislation and seven others that monitor various aspects of state government – a chance to better understand what is working in state government and what may need more attention.
During a meeting of the Judiciary Committee this past fall, for example, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton gave his annual update of the judicial branch, including a review of the specialty courts that have been created since the 1990s.
These range from family courts, whose geographic jurisdiction now covers more than three million Kentuckians, to drug courts, which have graduated 6,000 offenders since 1996. Newer courts have been formed in some communities to help veterans and those with mental health needs.
Another topic this committee covered centers on the great success Kentucky has seen since the e-Warrants program went statewide in March 2012.
Until then, it could take months, if not years, to serve a court order.
In fact, a 2005 study found that the state had a backlog of 385,000 warrants. Now, we are serving these orders at a rate that is twice the national average.
Several other committees also learned of good news, such as when the state’s commissioner of the Department for Business Development told the Appropriations and Revenue Committee that Kentucky’s employment should now be back to pre-recession levels.
Helping to drive this trend is the fact that, over the last four years, more than 200 motor vehicle-related projects – accounting for 14,500 new jobs – have been announced across Kentucky.
One of those is the addition of a Lexus assembly line at the Toyota plant in Georgetown. This facility, which opened in the late 1980s, will hit a major milestone this year when it produces its 10 millionth vehicle. It is also worth noting that, of the 600 North American factories supplying parts to this plant, 100 are here in the commonwealth.
Kentucky has worked hard to make sure that the employees at these and other plants have the proper training.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System plays a major role in this regard, helping about 5,000 companies with their needs, according to the KCTCS president in testimony before the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Another area where Kentucky is doing well – but has plenty of room to grow – is the number of college students receiving what are called STEM+H degrees, which are in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and health.
Since the state overhauled our postsecondary schools in 1997, the number of these degrees has risen 115 percent, and externally funded research has tripled, from $124 million in 1998 to $387 million in 2011.
Our elementary and secondary schools, meanwhile, are getting high marks for their energy efficiency.
We are home to the nation’s first two that generate as much energy as they use over a calendar year, and more than 14 percent of our schools qualify for the prestigious Energy Star recognition, a rate exceeded only by Colorado and Delaware.
These are just several of the issues discussed during the interim, but if you would like to learn more, a full report can be found online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/info_bulletins.htm and clicking on the top link.
Meanwhile, with the 60-day legislative session starting this week, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on anything that could come before the General Assembly.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. His address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 or (800) 896-0305.