FRANKFORT – When it comes to the legislative process, most of the public’s attention is understandably focused on the first several months of the year, when the General Assembly is in session and new laws are adopted.
The period from late spring to the holidays, however, plays an important role as well. During the interim, as this time is known, House and Senate committees come together to review issues affecting the state and to see what future changes to the law may need to be made. Although no bills are passed, these meetings provide valuable information that make legislative sessions run much more efficiently and effectively.
There are 15 of these interim joint committees, ranging from Agriculture and Education to Transportation and Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection, and most generally meet five to six times in the summer and fall.
Some of the legislative work in the interim is spent looking back at the progress of recently passed laws. This past June, for example, the Judiciary Committee focused on the implementation of this year’s Senate Bill 63, which was designed to erase the backlog of untested rape kits and ensure future ones are processed much more quickly.
That work is being done with a grant from the District Attorney of New York, which provided $2 million to process 3,100 kits. The General Assembly also increased the number of forensic biologists, boosting the overall numbers by a third.
In other meetings this year, legislators learned more about some long-standing programs. In June, the Agriculture Committee heard an update about the partnership Kentucky began in the 1950s with Alabama’s veterinary programs at Auburn University and Tuskegee University.
Kentucky covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition costs so future veterinarians from here can attend much more cheaply. That makes a four-year vet degree at Auburn cost $159,000, which is far lower than the $375,000 out-of-state tuition cost at Ohio State University.
Committee members were told that more than half of the qualifying students – there are about 40 slots for each class – had returned to Kentucky within five years of graduating veterinarian school. This partnership costs the state about $5 million annually, but that is far cheaper than the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to build a veterinarian school from scratch. It also helps make sure we have the well-trained vets our farmers and pet owners need.
In the Education Committee, legislators heard from the director of the Governor’s Scholar Program, which began in 1983. It has grown from about 100 high school students then to more than 1,000 now, and they gather each summer on three college campuses to learn in a more non-traditional setting.
A goal of Governor’s Scholars is to keep these bright students in Kentucky when they graduate, and so far it has proven successful, with four out of five choosing to attend college here.
Although most of the committee meetings take place at the Capitol Annex, many are held across the state as well. The Agriculture Committee always visits the State Fair in August, and several committees head up to Northern Kentucky each summer. Others this year traveled to Eastern Kentucky to learn more about economic-development initiatives there and to the Corvette plant in Bowling Green.
Some of the other issues reviewed by legislators this interim include:
- An update on the $18 million the General Assembly appropriated in the current two-year budget to upgrade state parks. It’s the single-largest investment the state has made in our parks in a decade;
- The rapid success of Kentucky’s aerospace and aviation industry, which shipped nearly $9 billion worth of goods to other countries last year, trailing only Washington and California. We’re on track to rise to second place this year, however, thanks to 19 percent growth during the first six months of this year; and
- The need to increase white oak supplies for bourbon barrels. This is not a short-term issue, but could be one in the next two to three decades if bourbon’s phenomenal growth continues.
It’s important to note that the 15 joint committees are not the only ones meeting in the interim. There are 10 others that oversee various aspects of state government, from administrative regulations and government contracts to Medicaid.
The General Assembly also established several special task forces this year to review more specific issues – such as the impact of free-roaming horses and the need for changes to the state’s workers’ comp system – and the House of Representatives had several of its own. Those include the Tobacco Task Force and others focused on technology, our most vulnerable citizens and how to further limit child abuse.
With the end of the year just days away, the next legislative session is not far behind. Legislators are scheduled to return on Jan. 3rd to kick off what will be 30 working days. I’ll discuss the progress of that work in future columns.
For now, if you would like to leave me a comment or if you have a question, 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 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.