We returned to Frankfort for our first full week of legislative work on Monday, January 13. With all the administrative duties accomplished, House committees got down to work immediately. Several bills were taken for consideration and a number of them were sent to the full House for a vote in the near future.
As the House Education Chair, I chaired our first meeting of the 2020 General Assembly this past week. We will meet each, Tuesday morning at 8:00 am, unless we call meetings at special times. At our first meeting, we approved legislation that would require that school behavior codes include standards for reporting bullying. This measure could help us better understand more about bullying and get an idea for how widespread it is in our public schools. We also received a presentation regarding mandated federal and state testing, and were given various examples of local board additions. Testing comes with an expensive price tag; therefore, we want to ensure that we are assessing efficiently and effectively, while meeting the federal requirements. I will be presenting a bill next week which removes Charter school training from board of education members, unless an application has been received. I don’t foresee rural Kentucky to have any charter applications, period. The purpose of ever having this option was solely an attempt to improve the performance of Jefferson County, who continues to dominate the bottom ten percent in academic achievement.
The House Agriculture Committee met early last week to approve two bills. The first, HB 236, is part of our ongoing effort to help Kentucky farmers growing industrial hemp. This is still an incredibly promising crop, and this bill will bring our state further in line with federal guidelines in order to promote the hemp industry. Committee members also approved legislation that will remove the requirement that candidates for the position of state veterinarian be residents. While there are many talented, qualified veterinarians in this state, opening this up will only increase the pool of candidates and help us find the best possible person to serve in this position.
Members of the Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation called the Public Health Transformation Bill because its provisions are aimed at making big improvements in how Kentucky approaches public health. HB 129 would change how public health programs are funded and operated to make sure that priority is placed on the most necessary functions. Public health faces an almost $39 million deficit and an estimated 18 health departments servicing 41 counties face closure if they do not deal with their financial problems. While much of the money issues are related to the cost of public pensions, changes in health care needs have also contributed to the debt. Over time, new programs have been added while the need or effectiveness of existing programs has not been considered.
In the House Transportation Committee, members heard an important update from new Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray on the Real ID program. This program has been in progress for more than a decade and was created in response to federal homeland security laws passed following the increased worldwide terrorist threats. Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards will be available in regional offices in Bowling Green, Paducah and Somerset by the end of next week. A total of 12 regional offices are planned for the initial statewide roll-out, with the remaining locations to include Manchester, Jackson, Prestonsburg, Morehead, Florence, Elizabethtown, Madisonville, Louisville, and Lexington. A central office is located in Frankfort and, according to Gray, more offices may be added in time.
The full House and Senate gathered again on Tuesday evening to hear Governor Andy Beshear deliver his first State of the Commonwealth Address. While the Governor shared some of his priorities, I had hoped we would hear more than what was presented on the campaign trail. He provided a preview into some of his goals, but no real information about how he intends to pay for any of the new spending he will propose. This means we will have to wait until he gives his budget speech on January 28.
I will continue updating you on our work in Frankfort. If you have any questions or comments about this session, I can be reached during the week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (EST) through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. They will ask you to share contact information, but I will get the message and I do indeed appreciate hearing from constituents. You can also contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.legislature.ky.gov.
I also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. As always, you can feel free to contact me on my personal cell phone, which is 606-524-0227. It is a privilege to serve you.