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While no one can predict exactly what will pass in a regular legislative session, one constant can always be counted on: Diversity. Last week was a textbook example of that in action in the Kentucky House, with legislation ranging from wild pigs to alternative energy projects.
For those not in agriculture, wild pigs may not seem like a major issue, but the truth is that their growing numbers are wreaking havoc in the fields of many farmers, including in Henry County. If the legislation passing the House unanimously last Monday becomes law, the Department of Fish and Wildlife would determine the exact size of the problem, and a plan of action would flow from there.
On Tuesday, the House turned its attention to the use of cleaning products in our schools. The goal here is to find ways to limit the exposure children may have with the sometimes harsh chemicals used to keep a school clean. This bill would have the state’s Department of Education help promote other cleaning supplies that are just as effective but less toxic.
Children were also the focus of an official report that came to light last week by a legislative task force created in 2011 to study childhood obesity.
It found that Kentucky is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of high school students classified as obese, with the rate nearly one in five. We’re tied for eighth with two other states when it comes to obesity among low-income children between the ages of two and four.
This trend, not surprisingly, has long-term impacts both on the lives of these children as they mature and the state’s pocketbook as well. According to the report, Kentucky spends more than $1.2 billion annually on obesity-related medical conditions.
On the positive side, some notable strides are being made in our schools. The state regularly gets high marks for its food services, and we’re seeing such things as the Kentucky Farm to School program – found in more than 1,200 schools across the state – put locally grown products onto our children’s plates.
While we wait to see what legislation will move forward as a result of this report, the House did vote unanimously on Tuesday for a bill designed to keep our state government workforce healthy. Under this plan, the Personnel Cabinet would establish a pilot program that would lay out incentives for qualified employees who take concrete steps to improve their health. A study would be done in coordination to see how effective this is over the long term.
On Wednesday, the House re-visited an area where it has taken the lead over the last several years: alternative and renewable energy. This legislation, sent unanimously to the Senate, would exempt the sales tax on equipment needed for geothermal drilling and expand tax incentives to more companies involved in the alternative and renewable energy field.
One of the most widely discussed topics last week wasn’t on legislation still before us but on a bill that was signed into law last month: the redistricting of the General Assembly’s population boundaries and those of the Kentucky Supreme Court. As happened in the wake of redistricting in the 1990s, this matter is now in the courts to determine if the plan was done properly. If that case from nearly 20 years ago is a guide, it may be a year or two before a final answer from the Supreme Court is handed down.
As we wait to see what happens next, the number of bills moving through the House will begin picking up in the days ahead. Many of the major initiatives, from limiting prescription drug abuse to the budget, are still in their early stages but are on track to be introduced and ready for a full House vote within a month or so.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly.