One of those challenges took place on Thursday last week, when the General Assembly was scheduled to finish its work on the state’s road plan and enact a far-reaching plan to curb prescription drug abuse.
Although tentative deals were reached between House and Senate leaders, a disagreement the Senate leaders have with Governor Beshear kept the legislature from approving either of those bills.
Like you, I had hoped we would be done by now, but we have to have a viable road plan and an operating budget for the Transportation Cabinet, or literally billions of dollars of projects — including tens of millions of dollars for our legislative district — cannot move forward, and other highway safety measures would be stopped as well.
We also need a strong plan to combat prescription drug abuse, which takes the lives of three Kentuckians a day on average. Many of our surrounding states, as well as others such as Florida, have taken strong steps in this area, and if we don’t act, the epidemic we already have could become much worse.
As the legislature works this week to finalize these issues, it should not undercut the important work that has been done this year, beginning with the passage of a balanced budget that does not raise taxes or lay off teachers or workers. Other new laws will hopefully limit the production of meth and the sale of dangerous synthetic drugs. It will also be much tougher for thieves to sell stolen copper, and businesses will not lose a valuable federal tax credit that was at risk if we did not pass a plan to pay the interest on the loan the unemployment insurance fund had to obtain to cover benefits during the recession.
There were many other new laws this year that are noteworthy as well. In matters important to veterans, one of the highlights is a pathway forward to build a permanent memorial for those brave Kentucky soldiers who died while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This law will create a new committee that will spend much of this year deciding where this memorial should be located, how it should be paid for and how it should look. There have been a little more than 110 Kentuckians who have died in these two countries, including 10 during Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
In addition to this legislation, veterans will also appreciate a new law that will recognize their military status on their driver’s license. This will make it easier for them to prove their service in those instances where being a veteran makes them eligible for certain benefits.
In education matters, we authorized a study of middle school sports, which doesn’t have a statewide governing body like high schools, and we also call for more training so coaches will be better educated about diagnosing and treating athletes who suffer a concussion or other head injury.
Special needs students who complete a modified curriculum will now be able to get an alternative high school diploma rather than a certificate, and superintendents will no longer be allowed to punish teachers by assigning them to alternative school.
In public safety matters, there will now be a “Blue Alert,” which is similar to the well-known Amber Alerts that are issued when a child is missing. In this case, a Blue Alert will be called when a police officer is severely injured or killed. This will make the public immediately aware of what has happened, so that it can help find those responsible for the crime.
Some of the other new laws will do such things as: * Help standardize local tax forms, so companies doing business in multiple communities will have an easier time paying these taxes;
* Let the Amish and others driving motorless vehicles on the highway use reflective tape rather than the reflective orange triangle to ensure other drivers see them; and
* Call on social workers to provide more helpful information to older foster children as they prepare to leave state care and transition into adulthood.
I want to thank those who have contacted me this legislative session, and I encourage you to continue letting me know your thoughts or concerns about state government in the months ahead. I can always be reached by writing to Room 373, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
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.