A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – Each year, the General Assembly has two distinct periods of activity: its legislative session, when laws are passed, and what is called the interim, when the House and Senate jointly review issues affecting the state.
While much of the public’s attention is understandably focused on the former – which starts in early January and runs through either late March or mid-April, depending on the year – the latter plays an important, educational role as well.
The General Assembly has 15 main committees – from Agriculture and Education to Local Government and Transportation – and eight others that permanently monitor various aspects of the Executive Branch. Those include government contracts, administrative regulations, implementation of programs funded by the 1998 tobacco settlement and the work of our public pension systems for state and local government employees.
Since the late spring, when the interim began, there has been no shortage of topics to review. In the Banking and Insurance Committee, for example, we heard testimony from the commissioner of the state’s Department of Financial Institutions. He noted that our community banks are doing well and added that they account for more than half of all small-business loans, 40 percent of loans for farmland and 15 percent of the state’s residential loans.
In Economic Development and Tourism, we learned that aerospace manufacturers have seen phenomenal growth in recent years. Its workforce has grown by two-thirds just since 2012 while exports have jumped 85 percent. Kentucky may rank third among the states in automobile production, but the aerospace industry ships more beyond our borders.
One area where more work is needed is broadband internet access. The Cabinet for Economic Development said Kentucky’s average internet speed is just 7.5 megabits (Mbps) per second, but the national average is 12 Mbps. That figure, meanwhile, is just a tenth of Japan’s average internet speed.
Work is being done to bridge these gaps, both by the private sector and by the General Assembly, which authorized $70 million in public and private funds in the current budget to lay the groundwork for faster access.
In our Education Committee, legislators discussed a National School Lunch Program initiative that would make it possible for eligible school districts to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students. A little more than 100 of the 173 districts are expected to take at least partial advantage of this; overall, Kentucky has nearly 500,000 students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
In the Judiciary Committee, the director of the Kentucky State Police’s laboratories said that its 130 employees, including 92 analysts, work 40,000 cases in a year, a figure that highlights the importance forensics plays in our criminal justice system.
In a related judicial matter, the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee reviewed efforts to help veterans who have been arrested or charged with a crime. The Administrative Office of the Courts reports that it has identified 25,000 since 2010, and as many as 500 may be in the state’s court system on a given day.
There are programs at all levels of government designed to help veterans at risk for homelessness, substance abuse or mental illness; and some communities have established specialized court programs. In addition, 300 law enforcement officers in the state have been trained since 2011 on issues tied to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries.
While not all of the topics discussed in the interim will be the focus of legislation, this time nonetheless helps us determine those areas where the state is doing well and where more work may be necessary.
The interim is now complete, but the legislative process will continue when the General Assembly returns to the Capitol on January 6th. The information we now have in hand will be a big help as legislators consider dozens of issues over the session’s 30 working days.
If you would like to let me know your concerns, my address is Room 366B, 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, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.