Early last month, just a few days into the 2013 Regular Session, Governor Beshear, numerous state legislators from both parties and I gathered in support of a major building initiative for many of our public four-year universities.
On Thursday, that plan crossed the finish line when Governor Beshear signed House Bill 7 into law following a near-unanimous vote the day before in the House and Senate. The universities can now ready their shovels to build the 11 projects, which will cost $363 million and generate about 5,000 construction jobs. The schools will pay for it themselves without any new state tax dollars or an increase in tuition.
A unique feature of the plan is that, at the University of Kentucky, money from the athletics department will pay two-thirds of the $100 million cost for a new science building. That type of contribution is believed to be a first for the state.
With that legislation now behind us, the House spent last week approving a wide variety of bills it hopes will soon become law as well. Several had ties to the legal system.
That includes allowing domestic violence victims in dating situations to qualify for domestic violence orders, something virtually every other state already offers. In Kentucky, DVOs are limited to victims who either live with or are married to their abuser or have a child with that person.
Another area of the law where Kentucky differs from most states is automatically restoring voting rights to felons who have paid their full debt to society. Under House Bill 70, which the House approved on Wednesday, voters would have a chance to change that next year by adopting this constitutional amendment. If that were to happen, those convicted of treason, murder, a sex-based crime or bribery in an election would not be eligible.
On Thursday, the House approved a bill that would take DNA samples from any adult arrested or charged with a felony offense. This would be included in law enforcement databases and would make it easier to determine guilt or innocence in legal cases, especially those still unsolved. About half of the states have already enacted similar laws.
A related bill, adopted unanimously on Tuesday, would let victims of sexual offenses request HIV testing of the person who has been indicted for the crime or if the authorities believe there is probable cause. Such testing can only be required now after a conviction.
Another bill making it through the House on Thursday would provide coal-severance funded scholarships to college students from the 34 coal-producing counties who have at least 60 credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree and also attend a four-year school or comparable satellite campus in our coal regions. This would expand a plan that Rep. Leslie Combs of Pikeville and I had last year and that Governor Beshear used as a basis for a model program here in the mountains. Some exceptions in this bill would be granted if a degree is not available at the colleges in the coal regions.
Just as the college presidents and legislators gathered last month to support a plan to make significant upgrades to our college campuses, farm leaders took the same cooperative approach on Tuesday when they unveiled a new five-year strategic plan, which can be found online at www.kyagcouncil.org.
It’s a far-reaching report that notes such successes as last year’s record $5 billion in sales and the diversity behind that figure. We have 10 different commodities that earn at least $100 million annually, from poultry and horses to hay and hogs.
The report also noted upcoming challenges as well, such as declining tobacco settlement payments – half of which the General Assembly began dedicating to agriculture in 2000 – and the end next year of the tobacco buy-out program that sends money directly to qualified farmers. The report also encourages the state to do more to attract young adults to farming. This plan will help the General Assembly build on efforts it has already taken to boost agriculture.
For now, I hope you will continue letting me know your thoughts or concerns about the issues facing the General Assembly. You can 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. More information can be found on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov.