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Committee work continues in Frankfort last week

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By Tom McKee

The General Assembly may not have been in session last week because of a planned recess, but that didn’t mean legislators were away from the Capitol.

Many of the House and Senate committees took the opportunity to continue holding their regular weekly meetings, including the one I oversee as chairman: the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee.

One of the bills it approved has the potential to be a significant help to local food banks that provide for families in need.  House Bill 344, which I am proud to sponsor, would do that by giving Kentucky farmers an outlet for any surplus or unmarketable products they have that would otherwise go to waste.

The legislation calls on the Department of Agriculture to oversee this program, with guidance from a new committee made up of food bank and local government representatives, farming organizations and state officials.  This approach was recently featured on public radio.

Another bill of mine was approved last week by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 317 would make it easier for schools having a tough time filling coaching vacancies by letting candidates complete a professional development course authorized by the state Board of Education.

Schools would still need to make the effort to find certified coaches, but I know many schools have had difficulty getting applicants.  This bill offers a reasonable middle ground that would make sure student athletes are not unfairly penalized because a coach cannot be found.

There were several other bills adopted by committees last week that also deserve mention.  One would end shock probation for those found guilty of killing someone while driving under the influence.

Another, approved the House Education Committee, would let schools end their year without making up to 10 days if they were missed due to last month’s snow and ice storm or last fall’s devastating winds from Hurricane Ike.  Other days missed because of such things as snow or flu would not be included.

That committee is expected in the next few weeks to take a closer look at the CATS tests used to assess our schools.  There is growing support in the House and Senate for an update that would make national comparisons easier.

Beyond legislative matters, the Capitol was also home last week to two press conferences held by Governor Beshear.  The first highlighted legislation that could lead to a NASCAR race in Kentucky as early as next season.

If that bill becomes law, it would expand our already successful tourism development act, which has used targeted tax incentives during the last decade to help build projects like the Newport Aquarium and the Kentucky Speedway.

This legislation would make it possible to significantly expand the Speedway.  The incentives would only kick in once the project is complete, and would be a relatively small investment when considering the revenue other states get hosting a NASCAR race.

The other press conference dealt with energy conservation.  Governor Beshear said he’s calling on all state government facilities to turn off the lights and adjust the thermostat between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and over the weekend.  Such a move would save $2 million a year, and as much as $100 million if other government-run facilities like schools and courthouses followed suit.  Governor Beshear also set energy-efficient rules for new state government construction.

There are little more than three weeks left in the 2009 Session, and with the revised budget now law, our biggest task is enacting a new road plan for the remainder of this fiscal year and all of the next.

The federal stimulus plan recently signed into law should make that work a little easier.  That money will also ease the deficit in our Medicaid program and be a big help to our schools.

As always, but especially during the session, I encourage you to let me know any concerns or questions you may have about state government.  I can be reached by writing toRoom 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.