FRANKFORT – As the General Assembly readies for a return to the Capitol on January 2nd to start another legislative session, it is worth taking a look back on what has happened since the last one ended in late March.
This period is known as the interim, and it gives my fellow legislators and me, plus constituents like you, a less-pressured environment to review issues affecting Kentucky so we’re better prepared when it is time to consider bills and take votes. These meetings generally start in June and run through the first half of December.
There are 14 joint House and Senate committees, and their subject matter ranges from Agriculture to Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. There are 11 other permanent committees that focus entirely on reviewing select areas of state government, while a few specialized task forces are often formed for a short time to come up with potential solutions, as we saw this year with the House’s decision to look for ways to improve adoption and foster care procedures.
Most of the meetings understandably take place in the Capitol Annex, which is just behind the Capitol. However, it’s not uncommon for meetings to be held across the commonwealth, to give legislators a closer look at a region or to highlight a specific project or organization.
The Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture, for example, traveled to Louisville to learn more about upgrades the Kentucky Fair Board is overseeing. That includes a more than $200 million renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center, which will be able to host 25 percent more conventions and trade shows when the work is complete next year.
The Interim Joint Committee on Education also went to Louisville, where school leaders there showcased the sheer size of the state’s largest school system. Two-thirds of its 100,000 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch; 65,000 ride the bus every day; and more than 6,000 are homeless. There are also 120 different languages spoken in their schools.
During its meetings this summer and fall, the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare dedicated time to several persistent and troubling issues, such as the opioid crisis, teen suicide and the steep price caused by child abuse. In that case, legislators were told 22,000 children were victimized last year and the lifetime cost for their care is expected to top $4.6 billion, a truly sad amount.
In another criminal-justice matter, the retiring leader of the state’s Department of Public Advocacy told the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary how much has changed in this field in Kentucky since the 1980s.
Over that timeframe, he said, the overall crime rate has dropped almost a fifth and the violent crime rate is a fourth lower. However, our prison population has grown three times faster than the national average, a trend driven in large part by the epidemic rise of illegal drug use. Legislators and state officials have long worked to reduce these costs with a host of smart-on-crime measures, and more recommendations are expected to be considered next year.
In another area of law enforcement, the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government discussed body camera use by police. Kentucky may need to standardize how these cameras are used and when their footage can and cannot be released under our Open Records law.
There were a host of other topics covered by legislative committees this year. Those include:
- The rising use of coal ash – we generated 7.7 million tons of it in 2015 – in road construction. This waste product adds years of durability to concrete, which is saving billions of dollars in construction and repair costs.
- The success of the decade-old Historic Preservation Tax Credit. Since its creation, private investors taking advantage of it have spent $900 million to revitalize irreplaceable buildings that have defined our communities for generations.
- The need to be ready for autonomous vehicles. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has a working group looking at its potential impact here, and its members say self-driving trucks and cars could save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars each year while also upending everything from urban planning to revenue from traffic citations.
- The work of the state’s WWI Centennial Committee, which began commemorating “The Great War” this past April and will be highlighting events through the summer of 2019.
With all of this information now in hand, the House and Senate will be better prepared when they convene the 2018 Regular Session. Next week, I’ll take a closer look at what we can expect during those 60 working days.
For now, if you have any thoughts on these or other issues, please let me know. You can write to me at Room 432F, 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.
I hope to hear from you soon.