FRANKFORT, KY – The General Assembly returned to the Capitol in early January, and in the House, we focused on electing our leadership, establishing our committee system for the next two years and hearing the eighth and final State of the Commonwealth address from Governor Steve Beshear.
I’m proud that I will have the opportunity to serve on several key committees including the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee. I look forward to serving with Chairman Tom McKee and the bi-partisan group of members to focus on important issues facing Kentucky’s family farms and small businesses.
In addition to this work, I am a member of several other committees: the Budget Review Sub-Committee on Economic Development & Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection; Economic Development & Tourism Committee; and I will serve on the Veterans, Military Affairs & Public Safety Committee, which as a veteran, is very important to me.
On Wednesday, during Governor Beshear’s State of the Commonwealth address, he took the opportunity to look back on the challenges faced by his administration and the General Assembly and to note the successes we have enjoyed as well. He also advocated for several issues that will be debated in the weeks ahead.
Our biggest obstacle in running state government since late 2007, he said, has been the long-term effect of the downturn in the nation’s economy. The state budget has been cut 15 times for a total of $1.6 billion.
On the positive side, the news economically has improved over the last couple of years. Exports are experiencing double-digit growth and now exceed $25 billion, while the unemployment rate is down more than two points over the last year. It went down in all 120 counties for three straight months last year; before then, that had never occurred even once.
Gov. Beshear said that updating the state’s tax incentives in 2009, a law I was glad to vote for, has made a profound difference as well. It has helped hundreds of businesses, which have pledged to invest nearly $10 billion and to create or preserve about 57,000 jobs.
When it comes to education, our high school students have made significant gains in a relatively short amount of time. The college- and career-readiness level of these graduates has risen from less than 40 percent in 2011 to more than 60 percent now. In addition, our high school graduation rate is now 12th best among the states.
Under the constitutional rules governing odd-year legislative sessions, the General Assembly will not return to the Capitol until February 3rd. With only 26 working days remaining, we have no shortage of issues to discuss, as Gov. Beshear pointed out.
There appears to be solid, bipartisan consensus on several major ones. That includes fighting the steep increase in heroin abuse across Kentucky. To underscore how much this epidemic has grown, Gov. Beshear said the Kentucky State Police crime lab analyzed about four times as many cases last year as it did in 2010.
Helping victims of dating violence is another initiative that should become law later this year. Currently, these victims generally do not qualify for a domestic violence order, since the criteria call for them to have been married to or lived with their abuser or to have a child together.
This needs to change, especially for our younger victims. Gov. Beshear said one survey showed this type of violence affected about 14 percent of high school students, a rate higher than most other states.
Another initiative that should become law this year would allow local and state governments to partner more closely with private businesses in building or operating public projects or services. About half of the states have what is called public-private partnerships in place, and this is making it easier – and faster – to do things as large as building multi-billion dollar roads and bridges and as small as running a utility or other local government service.
These and many other issues make up what promises to be a long agenda for a relatively short time frame. As always, but especially between now and the end of March, I encourage you to contact me with your views or concerns. Your input gives me the information I need to best represent our House district.
There are several ways to reach me. You can address letters to Room 357A, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. To check the status of a bill, you can call 866-840-2835, and if you have Internet access, the General Assembly’s website – www.lrc.ky.gov – is another great resource that features the full text of legislation and House and Senate votes.
If you have a child or know of one who would be interested in serving as a legislative page this year, please let me know that as well.
I hope to hear from you soon.