FRANKFORT – One of my top priorities during this year’s legislative session is laying the groundwork for building a new interstate-quality road from our region to Beckley, W. Va., giving us the vital route we need toward the east.
We have made a lot of progress over the past year, with other House leaders and I discussing the project with our counterparts in Washington and West Virginia. I also was able to mention it to Hillary Clinton, who expressed an interest in learning more.
If we are able to make this connection a reality one day, a bill the House approved last week could be a key component in helping us to get it built.
House Bill 309, which I am co-sponsoring, would formally establish what are known as public-private partnerships (P3), an economic development tool already available in more than 30 other states, including every one surrounding us.
In short, this measure would provide the regulatory framework that the state and our local governments would follow when outsourcing public services that the private sector may be able to perform more efficiently or building projects the governments cannot realistically take on themselves. There are built-in safeguards to ensure the process is fair and transparent.
The P3 legislation has passed the General Assembly before, but was not signed into law because of ongoing debate about how to build a potential new bridge in Northern Kentucky. House Bill 309 excludes that project, a move that will hopefully ease the bill’s passage.
Another economic-oriented piece of legislation the House approved last week would establish the Kentucky Workforce Development Task Force. If authorized, it would study how we educate and train our workers and what improvements may need to take place.
The resolution notes that the state and federal government annually spend more than $1 billion for these programs, but the effort is not coordinated among our schools and agencies.
The task force would be similar to one formed several years ago that brought state officials together with business and labor leaders. That work led to successful legislation that enabled the state to quickly pay back a sizeable federal loan borrowed during the recession to cover unemployment insurance benefits.
On a more personal note, I was proud to welcome some special guests in the Capitol last week. The first of those – Noah Greenhill and his parents – are looking to the General Assembly for some help after they have run into needless barriers regarding Noah’s care.
The Greenhill family spends more than $40 a day for a special food formula that Noah has to administer via his permanent feeding tube. That is his main diet, because he is essentially allergic to every other food. Pork, beans and rice are just some he can tolerate without becoming severely ill.
Unfortunately, his insurance company says this formula is not covered under his policy because it is not specifically required by law. After learning about this case from state Senator Ray Jones, I filed a companion bill to make sure we close this loophole. On Friday, the House voted in favor of my bill, and the General Assembly is poised to make this proposal one of the first laws to pass this legislative session.
Our other guests, the actress Jennifer Garner and Mark Shriver, who is former President John F. Kennedy’s nephew, came to the Capitol last week to advocate for maintaining a popular early childhood development program that receives state funding.
Garner and Shriver are involved in running Save the Children, a national nonprofit organization that, in Kentucky, provides education and health services to more than 13,000 children.
According to Garner and Shriver, Save the Children spends $10 million to match Kentucky’s nearly $1 million. Fortunately, there appears to be broad bipartisan support to keep that program intact here.
This week, the legislative session reaches its halfway point, so the days between now and the end of March, when the bulk of our work will be done, promise to be especially busy.
As always, your questions and comments are invaluable to that process, and I have already heard from hundreds of you. If you would like to email me, my address is [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.