By Mike Denham
Like most of the state, the Kentucky House of Representatives saw its schedule put on ice last week because of the snow and plunging temperatures.
While the damage and outages did not cause the same level of devastation that Kentucky experienced in 2009, there has been one constant between now and then: The tireless work of our road crews, first responders, hospital and utility workers and those who have kept our local businesses open. I know many pitched in as well to donate food and clothing for those in need and to check on their neighbors and friends. We owe these hard-working people a debt of gratitude.
As the General Assembly readies for a return to normal business hours this week, it looks ahead to the second half of the 30-day legislative session.
By now, each chamber has largely sent its own major initiatives on to the other for consideration. In the House, that includes:
· House Bill 1, a constitutional amendment that would give voters a chance in Nov. 2016 to decide whether Kentucky should become the 38th state to offer a local-option sales tax. If approved, communities could then vote on whether to add up to a penny to pay for capital projects that could not be easily built otherwise.
· House Bill 2, which would raise the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009. Many states have already taken similar steps, and this would give a much-needed boost to several hundred thousand workers, many of whom are struggling.
· House Bill 213, our chamber’s plan to counter the state’s heroin epidemic. This legislation would add more treatment options for addicts while increasing penalties on those trafficking heroin in large amounts. House and Senate leaders will begin working on compromise legislation in the coming days.
· House Bill 8, which will streamline the state’s protective-order system while expanding coverage to three new groups: victims of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Research indicates protective orders can make a true difference in protecting those at risk.
Other bills that have cleared the House, or should this week, would set the stage for granting voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence; and help the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System better handle its long-term liability.
Beyond our work in the Capitol, there have been other items affecting the state that are certainly worth mentioning. Earlier this month, for example, state budget officials announced that they “are confident that revenues are on track” to meet projections for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th. There was some concern heading into the holidays that more cuts might be needed, so this potential turn-around is good news.
The same day budget officials made their report, Gov. Steve Beshear said that the state’s exports topped $27 billion in 2014, the fourth-straight year a record has been set. That total is nine percent higher than 2013’s, and is well above the 2 percent growth the country experienced as a whole.
Kentucky shipped products to more than 190 countries last year, with aerospace and autos leading the way. The next two sectors – synthetic rubber and resins and pharmaceuticals – also saw sales top $1 billion apiece.
In another dose of good news, our libraries reported this month that they’re seeing unprecedented usage. According to the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, more than 30.6 million items were checked out of our 119 public libraries in 2013-14. That includes more than two million e-books, which for the first time surpassed items checked out via bookmobiles.
As I mentioned, the General Assembly is returning to its normal schedule this week.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Rep. Mike Denham, a Democrat from Maysville, has represented House District 70 (Bracken, Fleming and Mason counties) since 2001.