FRANKFORT – Because Kentucky has always given more than its fair share when it comes to serving our country, veterans issues have always been prominent when the General Assembly is in session.
They have had a permanent forum in the state House for decades, for example, and we worked with Governor Patton to establish the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs in the late 1990s and have helped it become one of the best-run in the country.
We have built new veterans-only nursing homes as well as state cemeteries that are complementing our national ones. We exempted active-duty pay from the state income tax because it was the right thing to do and it makes Kentucky a more attractive place to live for the families of those still serving.
Early last week, the House voted for three bills that would build on this work if they become law.
One would establish a program for disabled veterans who are also business owners. We believe these businesses should be highlighted and hope that potential customers would be more likely to shop there.
Another economic-related measure would make it easier to use military service as a qualification when applying for a job that requires a professional license or credential.
In the past, we have called upon our schools and emergency organizations to consider military training if it is applicable. Under last week’s bill, we would ask other professional organizations to fall under similar guidelines.
The third bill to be approved last week would have our public postsecondary schools review how they award academic credit for military service. The schools have different standards, but our goal is to make this apply equally.
Two other bills the House voted for last week would aid victims who have been exploited by others. One would make it possible for those whose identity was stolen to expunge crimes they had been erroneously charged with, while the other targets a different type of exploitation: Those who take booking photos and charge extremely high fees to remove them from their websites or publications. The photos are normally removed by law enforcement after a case has been resolved, but the websites refuse to take the photo and related charges down unless the victim pays hundreds of dollars. Often, the photos and charges are on several sites, multiplying the costs.
Under the bill, those who require payment to remove booking photos could be sued and fined up to $100 a day.
Beyond spending time considering legislation, other legislators and I met last week with hundreds who had traveled to the Capitol for events. That included many representing the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and our county governments. I enjoyed meeting with our local officials and talking with them in the Capitol’s Supreme Court chamber.
In good news for Kentucky, we learned last week that few states are seeing a higher percentage of students succeed in college. In comparing the 2003-04 school year to 2012-13, the number of degrees and credentials earned here rose by almost 60 percent, which put us as eighth-best among the states.
A breakdown of that figure shows our undergraduate workforce-training programs were the most successful, as the number of credentials awarded jumped by 159 percent. Two-year degrees grew by half, while four-year degrees went up a fourth. While there is certainly room to grow, this is nonetheless good news and shows we are doing a better job than most states when it comes to getting our citizens the education and training they need.
As we near the end of February, there is only about a month left for the General Assembly to complete the bulk of its work. Because of that, it is more imperative than ever to let me know if you have any questions or comments.
To reach me, my email is [email protected], or you can leave a message at 800-372-7181. Please don’t hesitate to write or call.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.