A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – The first week or two of a legislative session may seem slow at first glance, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of these opening days.
That’s because this is the time when legislators and the governor alike lay out their priorities, setting the stage for what we hope can be accomplished by the time we finish our work, which this year will be on April 15th.
Since this is an even-numbered year, passing a budget to run state government will understandably be the main focus. The House will begin tweaking the governor’s proposal after he delivers it later this month, and while moderate growth is forecast for the next two years, there is already a long list of needs in such areas as education, healthcare and our public pension systems.
During his State of the Commonwealth speech on Tuesday last week, Gov. Beshear pledged to put more money toward education, even if it meant other areas of the budget would have to be cut.
He did note there is some positive news worth celebrating. The percentage growth of new businesses in Kentucky over the last year, for example, outpaced every other state and was four times higher than the national average. Our exports in 2013, meanwhile, were on track to increase 14 percent over 2012’s record total, a rate that only one other state exceeded.
While passing a budget is at the top of everyone’s to-do list, there are several other high-profile bills as well that are expected to be debated this session.
The one that seems to have the most bipartisan support in both chambers is finding a way to combat the sudden rise in heroin overdoses, which went from about five annually before 2010 to more than 170 last year. Simply put, we have to find a way to get this drug out of the commonwealth and do what we can to increase treatment options.
With that in mind, the state got welcome news last week when it was announced that settlements with two large pharmaceutical companies would give Kentucky more than $30 million for drug-treatment programs. The biggest portion will help juveniles, while $6 million will update KASPER, the state’s prescription-drug monitoring program that is used by doctors, medical licensing boards and law enforcement.
Another priority of many this legislative session is making it possible for domestic-violence victims in dating situations to obtain a domestic violence order, or DVO. Kentucky is one of the last states, if not the last, to make this available to this group of victims.
Under current law, DVOs can only be obtained by victims who either have married or lived with the alleged abuser or have a child in common. The bill to add to that list cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and will almost certainly be one of the first to make it out of the full House.
Some of the other issues expected to be discussed – but not necessarily voted on – are familiar ones to my legislative colleagues and me. That includes efforts to restore voting rights to most felons after they have completed their sentence; giving voters a chance to consider constitutional amendments on expanding gaming and a local-option sales tax to fund community projects; and increasing the age and height requirements for child booster seats.
Speaking of traffic safety, the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety reported last week that the number of highway fatalities in 2013 was the state’s lowest total in 64 years. One death is too many, of course, but is good to see that what we are doing to make our roads safer is paying off.
With plenty of bills to consider, this legislative session promises to be a busy time, and your input is especially crucial. If you have any thoughts or questions, don’t hesitate to let me know. You can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or send me an email at [email protected]
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.