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When the General Assembly left the Capitol late last month for its traditional veto recess – the roughly two-week period a governor has to approve or reject legislation – it was already becoming clear that the regular session’s final two days would be busy.
That certainly proved to be the case early last week, when the House and Senate worked late to find common ground of several high-profile issues. The biggest of those was the state’s highway plan, a two-year document that totals more than $5 billion when counting the unspent money from this fiscal year.
Statewide, some of the high-profile road projects include widening and extending the Mountain Parkway; further six-laning I-65, an ongoing project that will be complete by the end of the decade; and building new bridges near Land Between the Lakes and in Louisville.
In addition to the road plan, the House and Senate also voted for a bill that will improve our juvenile-justice system. This addresses the fact that a sizeable number of juveniles are being detained, often for months at a time, for what are called “status offenses,” which are such relatively minor violations as truancy or running away from home.
There are more humane and cost-effective ways to deal with these problems, especially when considering that it costs the state $100,000 a year to house a juvenile, or about five times the rate for an adult inmate.
The legislation approved on Monday last week is a major step in the right direction. It calls for more community-based treatment before detention is considered, and it is expected to save the state about $24 million over the next five years.
Another criminal-justice measure approved earlier this week will make sure that rapists cannot claim parental rights if their victim becomes pregnant and gives birth to the child. While rare across the country, we want to make sure this situation never can occur here.
Some of the other proposals to make it through the General Assembly before the legislative session ended Tuesday include:
· Authorizing a coal-county scholarship program, with the funds coming from coal-severance dollars. Governor Beshear created this as a pilot program in 2012 to financially help college students in Eastern Kentucky finish their four-year degree close to home. This new law makes that program permanent and extends it to all 34 coal-producing counties. This year’s budget nearly doubles the available funding, from about $1 million a year to $2 million.
· Increasing accountability of our school-district finance officers. This will better ensure those hired have the proper credentials needed to oversee potentially millions of dollars in school funding; and
· Extending tax incentives for AK Steel near Ashland, to help with ongoing upgrades.
For now, our work passing laws is over, but later this spring the legislature’s various committees will begin meeting again in what we call the interim. We use this time to monitor state government and to determine what future changes to the law may be necessary.
If you would like to let me know your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to let me know. To write, my address is Room 329G, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Terry.Mills@lrc.ky.gov. To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 1-800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.