FRANKFORT – The General Assembly may be at its busiest during the first several months of the year, when it’s debating and voting on new laws, but the summer and fall months are important as well to the legislative process.
The interim, as this time is called at the Capitol, gives the House and Senate an opportunity in a less pressure-filled atmosphere to review issues affecting the state. We hear testimony about how well the new laws are being implemented; monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of state government; and ready for the next regular session that always kicks off in early January.
The House and Senate committees that vote on bills meet separately during the legislative session but come together during the interim. There are 15 joint committees overall – from Agriculture to Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection – plus several other task forces and temporary committees created to study a specific subject. Another nine are known as statutory committees, and they focus exclusively on various areas of government, including Medicaid and the hundreds of administrative regulations that state agencies write each year.
Last week, the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment kicked off the interim by learning more about the white oak, the tree used to make the barrels that bourbon is housed in. With more than 6.6 million barrels of bourbon now aging across the commonwealth, we need to make sure this resource is being managed in a sustainable way so that the bourbon industry will always have what it needs.
On Friday, the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary met to discuss the early stages of a new law that will reduce the backlog of rape kits in the commonwealth. The state auditor’s office identified more than 3,000 last year and the unacceptably long time it takes for these kits to undergo forensic testing. Plans are now underway to do away with the backlog and ensure future kits are processed much more quickly.
Future agendas for other committees are still being finalized, but their staffs already have a broad idea of some topics expected to come up.
The Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations, for example, will hear more about internet-based fantasy sports sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings, both of which have come under scrutiny in other states.
The Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection will talk about the possibility of the federal government allocating more state nursing home beds for veterans in Kentucky, which if granted would complement the three veterans nursing homes that have been open for years and a fourth set to open this fall in Radcliff. Magoffin County is considered a leading site for some of these additional beds.
The Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism has scheduled a visit to Pike County in September to hear more about adventure tourism and the progress of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative as it works to grow and diversify our region’s economy.
Two new task forces that the General Assembly authorized this year will take a closer look at the state’s worker’s compensation system and the issue of free-roaming and abandoned horses.
While most of the committees have House and Senate members, I have authorized two others that will be exclusive to the House. The first of those, which also met last year, will cover technological issues; and the second, which held its inaugural meeting last week in Louisville, will study ways the state can improve the lives of vulnerable Kentuckians. The Tobacco Task Force, which has been around for decades, also consists entirely of House members.
There may not be any new laws approved between now and the holidays, but as these examples show, there is still plenty of work for the General Assembly to do during this time.
If you have any questions or concerns about issues before us, you can email me at [email protected]
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181, and to learn more online about the General Assembly’s work, please visit www.lrc.ky.gov.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.