FRANKFORT – As college basketball fans prepare for the postseason, it’s worth pointing out that the final few weeks of a legislative session are not that much different from March Madness.
The pace in both cases is hectic; time is a factor; and bills, like the teams, either move forward or see their run end early.
The key difference is that, while the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments end with a single winner, a legislative session can have many shining moments.
Last week, many of us in the Kentucky House filed a bill that we hope will be part of that list.
In short, it would give this year’s graduating high school seniors – and every class thereafter – a chance to obtain a two-year college degree without owing any tuition. With student-loan debt far outpacing what we owe as a nation on our credit cards, this has the potential to be a game changer for many families while significantly increasing the size of our college-educated workforce. It also should boost the numbers of those going on to pursue a four-year diploma.
Earning what the bill calls the “Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship” is straight-forward. It would potentially apply to anyone graduating from high school who attends a Kentucky Community and Technical College (KCTCS) school the following fall and takes at least 12 college credit hours. This would also apply to those obtaining their GED before turning 19.
The incoming college students have to qualify for in-state tuition, and the size of the scholarship would depend on how much tuition they owe after taking into account state and federal aid like Pell Grants and KEES, the lottery-based scholarship high school students earn with good grades. Student loans and work-study programs would not count against them.
Students would be required to fill out a federal financial aid form, and the tuition money they receive could not be used for such other college-related expenses as food or lodging.
The money would be available as long as the student maintains a 2.0 GPA or better. The scholarship would end within six semesters of eligibility, when they obtain an associate’s degree or when they have been out of high school for four or more years.
KCTCS officials believe that, based on a similar program in Tennessee, a little more than 3,200 students would qualify this fall if this bill becomes law. The first two years’ combined cost to the state is estimated at $33 million.
House leaders, who are finalizing the chamber’s budget, say this is something the state can afford while not undercutting an increased commitment to Kentucky’s growing public pension problems. In fact, Governor Bevin’s proposed budget would have hundreds of millions of dollars sitting idle, and while some of that is prudent in case of emergencies, the House believes that most tax dollars should go toward helping Kentuckians.
While the scholarship program and the budget were the biggest topics of discussion in the House last week, we also moved forward two noteworthy bills.
The first of those, House Bill 137, would require those convicted of attempted murder of a police officer or firefighter to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for probation or parole. Currently, they are eligible after serving just 20 percent, a bar too low for that type of crime.
We also approved House Bill 210, which would increase the penalties for those who attack local health department employees. This would add this group to about 10 others already covered under this provision, including law enforcement, social workers and teachers.
After this week, only two full ones will remain in the legislative session, and that time will be critical when the House and Senate decide which measures they can support and which will not become law.
Under the current calendar, legislators are scheduled to leave for a veto recess toward the end of this month and return for two days in mid-April to consider any vetoes that the governor may issue.
It’s a lot to do in a relatively short amount of time, and your contributions are vital to the process. I hope you will continue letting me know what you think should pass this year. If you would like to take part, you can write to me at 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 by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.