Early last week, the General Assembly returned to the Capitol to finish work on several issues important to the state.
While these two days are normally set aside to consider any vetoes the governor may make, in recent years we have also used this time to find common ground on other bills that still need a little work.
This year, our biggest task was finalizing the state’s highway plan, a two-year document that totals more than $5 billion when counting the unspent money from this fiscal year.
I’m happy to report that Floyd County is well represented in the plan with about $77 million coming to our community, much of that money going toward completing the Minnie-Harold Connector.
There is also money to move forward with the preparation needed for our section of the Mountain Parkway expansion and extension. This road plan sets a feasible timeline to complete this project, and I am especially proud that it will no longer require tolling to complete.
Other projects include further safety measures on US 23 between KY 80 and KY 3384 and several bridge replacements.
Statewide, some of the high-profile road projects beyond the Mountain Parkway include further six-laning I-65 and continuing the bridge projects at Land Between the Lakes and in Louisville.
In addition to the road plan, the House and Senate also voted for another top priority of mine: Making our coal-county scholarship program permanent. As you may recall, Governor Beshear created a pilot program for our college students here in the mountains back in 2012 to financially help them finish their four-year degree close to home.
This new law, which I was proud to sponsor, not only makes sure this program will continue in the years ahead; it also extends it to all 34 coal-producing counties. This year’s budget also nearly doubles the available funding, from about $1 million a year to $2 million.
Another far-reaching bill to pass last week will improve our juvenile-justice system. Kentucky really needed these reforms because, among other issues, 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 last week 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, this situation has occurred elsewhere, so we want to make sure it never can occur here.
Some of the other proposals to make it through the General Assembly before the legislative session ended April 15th include:
· Increasing accountability of our school-district finance officers. This will better ensure those hired in the future 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 or concerns during this time, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can always email me at Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.