Education, healthcare, tourism and economy discussed during the interim

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By Jimmy Higdon

This month the Interim Joint Committee (IJC) on Education met in Columbia on the campus of Lindsey Wilson College. President William T. Luckey, Jr. welcomed us with a tour of the school and spoke about the special role Lindsey Wilson plays in the community. We also heard from Gary Cox, representing the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, who discussed the benefits of Kentucky’s private colleges. We are indeed fortunate to live in a state blessed with an abundance of educational options. Both public and private institutions contribute to our tradition of educational excellence. We need to work on the affordability of higher education for Kentucky students, and monitor the amount of student debt young people are incurring. These factors are important as students consider, and work, toward obtaining a college education.
My other IJC meetings included IJC on Health and Welfare, during which we heard testimony from medical groups claiming a critical shortage in primary care physicians. Concerns were raised that the increased enrollment through the Affordable Care Act will increase waiting times to see physicians - many who already deal with huge patient loads. As of April 2014, 330,615 new Medicaid recipients were added, and 82,795 people purchased private insurance. These numbers are putting a strain on the current medical care community. The Senate worked to provide solutions by passing a law to expand the services offered by nurse practitioners. This law went into effect July 15 - we will watch to see if relief is provided as nurse practitioners are able to provide more services.
Two of my other committees, Economic Development and Tourism, and Labor and Industry, met jointly at Lake Cumberland State Resort Park. During the meeting we heard testimony on Kentucky’s Houseboat Industry as well as the water sports that are enjoyed on our lakes and rivers. The economic impact is amazing with the tourism, houseboat industry, and all the related businesses in our state.
The Subcommittee on Energy met Friday, July 18 in Frankfort. I joined the other members in hearing from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services regarding the Low Energy Assistance Program Block Grant Application. Representatives from Clark Energy and KU and LG& E also testified on rising electric prices and programs for low-income consumers. Finally, the Public Services Commission presented on the process utilities go through to set utility rates.
While we enjoyed hearing about this signature piece of Kentucky’s economy and tourism, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the $90.9 million budget shortfall. Governor Beshear will use agency surpluses, General Funds and rainy-day funds to cover the shortage. To echo our Senate President’s thoughts, this is appropriate for a one-time fix, but it is simply a symptom of a larger problem - our economy remains sluggish. We need to make economic and tax policies that will make Kentucky more business-friendly and we must find a way to succeed in the face of increased federal regulations on our industries. If the status quo continues, these problems will persist.
I am always interested in your comments or questions. Please feel free to contact me by calling and leaving a message at the toll-free message line for legislators, 1-800-372-7181. Also, you are welcome to call me at my home, 270-692-6945. My e-mail address is jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov.
Keep up to date with all the Interim Joint Committee schedules and agendas by visiting the legislature’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov. Archived meetings and proceedings, as well as interim coverage, can be viewed at www.ket.org.
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You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action in the following ways:
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