New law will benefit university projects

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By Jimmy Higdon

Last week was significant as the first piece of legislation for the 2013 General Assembly was signed into law.
House Bill 7, the first bill to pass both chambers and be signed into law by the Governor on Thursday, authorizes six of the state’s eight universities to bond $363 million for 11 specific building projects, including renovation and expansion of Albright Health Center at Northern Kentucky University, a new science building at the University of Kentucky, and an Honors College and International Center at Western Kentucky University, among other projects.  The measure requires the bonds to be paid for by the universities and not with state tax dollars. This bill will help the universities with much needed classroom and housing improvements and create more than 5,000 construction jobs.  As an added measure of protection for college students, the Senate inserted a stipulation that the universities could not raise tuition in order to repay the debt. Passage of this bill is a perfect example of bipartisan governing.
The Senate adopted several bills designed to increase the educational opportunities for our young people. Senate Bill 109 would permit high school juniors and seniors to use their Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) awards early to pay for dual credit courses. Senate Bill 97 is aimed at helping more students graduate from high school by giving local school districts the option to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18 provided they have the funds and approved alternative programs to meet the needs of these students. Lastly, Senate Bill 95 would extend the tuition waiver to foster and adopted children for those who choose to serve in the military after high school. Today’s high school students are competing on a global scale. These types of measures give Kentucky’s children a better chance for success.
Another bill designed to help our young adults is Senate Bill 72.   This measure seeks to save Kentucky lives by mandating suicide prevention training for professional counselors, therapists, social workers and other mental health professionals. This much-needed training will assist mental health professionals in recognizing the early warning signs of suicide, a leading cause of death among young adults.
The Senate passed two pieces of legislation, Senate Bill 39 and Senate Bill 40, which would allow the legislature to weigh in on the implementation of key parts of the Affordable Care Act. The implementation of this federal legislation stands to have a costly, statewide impact. Senate Bill 39 would provide that any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by the General Assembly. Likewise, Senate Bill 40 would require the General Assembly to approve the creation of any state-run health benefits exchange. These bills are designed to ensure the best and most cost-effective policies and programs are in place for the citizens of the Commonwealth.
The Senate continues to look for ways to make the lives of Kentucky’s military easier. Senate Bill 128, passed unanimously this week that would allow the DD-2 form to be used as an acceptable document to prove service in order to obtain the veterans’ designation on Kentucky drivers’ licenses. Senate Bill 1, legislation designed to expedite the vote of Kentucky’s military men and women serving overseas, passed unanimously out of committee and on its path to the Senate floor.
I’ll keep you informed on the work of this committee and others during the final 13 days of this Regular Session. Your input is invaluable, so please call me in Frankfort toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or my home at 270-692-6945 if you have any questions, concerns, or comments.