The Kentucky House of Representatives welcomes visitors of all types – veterans with the presentation of colors; local school groups witnessing the bill-making process; award-winning musicians, artists and athletic teams; and advocates here to support causes they believe will help Kentuckians.
Some individuals are witnessing the legislative process for the first time, while others are here to share information that helps inform our decision-making.
Sometimes even celebrities stop by. This week, award-winning actress Jennifer Garner and Mark Kennedy Shriver, nephew of President John F. Kennedy, shared their hard work on a subject near and dear to me and my colleagues in the House Majority – increasing early learning opportunities and good nutrition for our at-risk children.
As ambassadors for Save the Children, Garner and Shriver stressed the success of Kentucky’s $1 million investment in the organization’s efforts to serve more than 11,100 children in Kentucky through early education and literacy programs.
Save The Children amplifies our own state appropriation with $10 million in private funding to support more than 300 staff members working full and part-time in Kentucky, including 200 employees stationed in Eastern Kentucky. Those folks reach out and touch the lives of more than 46,000 children in our Commonwealth. Considering the return on investment and dedicated staff and volunteers of Save the Children, my hope is that we will find a way to retain this funding as work in the House on the next two-year budget plan continues.
The testimony of our celebrity visitors this week helped underscore concerns I touched on in last week’s column regarding Gov. Bevin’s proposed cuts to early childhood education, including $4 million less in each year of 2017-2018 period for preschool services. These funding reductions weaken our state’s long-standing efforts to help more children enter kindergarten ready for school. The governor’s budget proposal also slashes $4 million over the next two years for family resource and youth services centers, $2 million for after-school programs and $4 million for safe school initiatives and professional development programs for teachers.
On Thursday, during the House Postsecondary Education Budget Subcommittee, University of Kentucky President Dr. Eli Capilouto shared his concerns regarding the effect of education cuts on workforce development and their impact at UK. He said the governor’s call to cut 4.5 percent from UK before the end of the current fiscal year, and another nine percent cut over the next two years, “will have a chilling effect.” He did not mince words and noted that those cuts would be borne on the backs of our students with tuition increases and “touch every corner of campus.”
News reports echoed concerns of our university leaders when the president of Kentucky State University, a historically African-American college, said KSU “cannot withstand” the deep cuts proposed by the governor’s budget.
Kentucky’s colleges and universities serve as critical centers of commerce and learning, and have withstood more than $180 million in cuts since 2006 as our Commonwealth worked diligently to grapple with the economic setbacks suffered during a time of extended recession.
I agree with the governor that the damage to our state’s pension system – largely due to the Great Recession – is a problem we cannot ignore. Yet, our state’s revenues are up again, with more than $900 million in growth projected over the next two years and some $225 million currently in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. I have no doubt there are ways to streamline our government and make it more efficient, but cutting our colleges and universities so deeply at a time of increasing prosperity creates great concern among my colleagues in the House Majority. As we develop our own budget plan, we are looking for ways to offset the governor’s cuts. We are continuing to uncover more details on the impact of the governor’s proposal during our budget subcommittee hearings. Soon we will have our own response to his proposal and a plan that hopefully will work with the governor to accomplish our goals.
On the House floor Thursday, the House again approved “P3 legislation” – for public-private partnerships — that would provide a financing alternative for local governments and state agencies to fuel major infrastructure projects. The legislation has passed the House in recent sessions, but failed in the Senate despite bipartisan support and the blessing of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. To help quell concerns, House Bill 309 adds increased provisions for public oversight and transparency. The bill passed 83-11 vote and now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
Also on the House floor, we addressed the issue of bullying in schools by approving House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Rita Smart, D- Richmond. The legislation would define bullying as “any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated” if it occurs at school, on school busses, at school-sponsored events, or disrupts the educational process in some other way. Having a clear definition of bullying will help protect students. HB 316 was approved on the House floor Thursday by a 94-1 vote and now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
In committee work, we approved legislation that will standardize academic credit for military service and training at Kentucky’s public colleges and universities. House Bill 127, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, paves the way for more consistent paths to higher education or earning a degree for our active duty members and veterans. The legislation now moves to the House floor for consideration.
Please know that, just as we welcome the well-known to the state Capitol, we cherish visits from the people of Breckinridge, Hancock, and Hardin counties in the 10th House District. I hope you’ll let me know how I can assist you, your school, or your community organization in visiting the Capitol by contact me at [email protected] or by calling the Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181.