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Bills filed would benefit schools and farming communities, says McKee

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By Tom McKee

The 2009 Regular Session hit the halfway point early last week, and as expected, the General Assembly’s workload began to pick up considerably.

It was a highly productive time for legislation I have filed on behalf of the farming community and our schools.  Along with a resolution that should be of particular interest to livestock farmers, several bills I sponsored were sent to the state Senate.

That includes House Bill 344, which would enable food banks like God’s Pantry to receive surplus or unmarketable products that farmers may have.  House Bill 235 would set up a Forest Health Board, in part to improve fire prevention; and House Bill 173 would update guidelines involving the grain industry.

House Bill 172 would allow communities to designate parcels of land as agricultural if they are less than 10 acres in size but otherwise meet all of the other qualifications.

House Bill 302, meanwhile, would do two main things.  First, it would give peace officers employed by the Department of Agriculture the right to enforce the law in areas dealing with such things as animal theft or cruelty.  It also would include goats, horses, llamas and other animals in the definition of livestock.

Speaking of livestock, my House Concurrent Resolution 106 asks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to delay for at least six months its plan to significantly change the rules for carcass removal.  While the goal of protecting the food supply animals eat is certainly worthwhile, we simply need more time to get ready for these changes.  Otherwise, farmers may find it more difficult, and expensive, to remove dead livestock.

Another agricultural related bill that farmers should know about is the first non-budgetary legislation to make it to the governor’s desk this legislative session.  Assuming it is signed into law, owners of farm trucks will be asked if they want to donate $10 when obtaining or renewing their vehicle registration each year.  This money will go to a new fund that the Department of Agriculture will be able to use for its programs.

My final bill to make it through the House last week would help schools having trouble filling coaching vacancies with certified candidates.  Under House Bill 317, schools in this situation would be able to hire someone as long as the candidate is at least 21, has a high school diploma and passes a professional development course authorized by the Department of Education.

Perhaps the biggest news of last week were the details we learned about the federal stimulus package Congress recently approved for the states.

According to Governor Beshear, Kentucky will get more than $3 billion over the next 28 months, but most of that will go to maintain programs we already have.  Medicaid, for example, will get a third of that total to handle its fast-growing enrollment and its already large shortfall.  Our schools and infrastructure will also get a significant boost.

In addition to the bills already mentioned, the House sent many others to the Senate last week that would help our schools and tighten the law in several key ways.

That includes a bill requiring high schools to help 12th graders learn more about voting practices and another calling on public postsecondary schools to help new undergraduates understand the potential pitfalls of credit cards.

Other legislation would create an “In God We Trust” license plate; have our rest areas fly the POW/MIA flag; make tattoo artists and body piercers obtain a license; and increase the penalty for those who drive away from an accident in which they should know someone was killed or critically injured.

Outside of the legislative process, but very important nonetheless, the House took time last Thursday to pay tribute to five Kentucky soldiers who have died on the battlefield since our last legislative session.  We were honored to have their families attend this ceremony.

As many of you may know, our local National Guard unit is scheduled to be home from Afghanistan soon.  That is welcome news for our area, and certainly for those in the unit and their families.

The General Assembly now has less than two weeks to complete the bulk of its work this legislative session.  If you would like to let me know your views on any bills before us, please feel free to write to me at Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.