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House of Representatives offer assistance for devastated areas

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By Tom McKee

FRANKFORT – A little more than a week ago, when I was writing my weekly newspaper column, I had no idea of what the dangerous storms already on the horizon would bring.
As we all know by now, it was one of the deadliest days in our history, and many communities were hit especially hard. That includes our neighbors to the north, in Pendleton, Campbell and Kenton counties, and in such other areas as West Liberty and East Bernstadt. For some of them, it will take months if not years to rebuild.
My colleagues in the House and I are committed to doing all we can to help.  
On Friday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced that our chamber had personally raised more than $20,000 for relief efforts. That will be added to the outpouring of support that has flowed in from all corners of the Commonwealth, something that has been so heartening to see.
When it counts the most, we take care of our own.
My thanks to the many Harrison County residents who have contributed and are helping with the recovery effort in Pendleton County.  Gary Carter, the extension agent for agriculture, and others in the extension office and the Harrison County Beef Cattle Association are making a big effort to aid our neighbors to the north.
Thinking of others was also on our minds in the House when we voted on state government’s two-year budget on Wednesday of last week.
We have been fortunate in some ways when compared to other states, some of which have laid off thousands of teachers and state employees and raised taxes. We haven’t had to do either, and the House budget continues that trend, though it does require some sacrifice.
Over the last several years, state agencies have absorbed more than a billion dollars in cuts. They would face another 8.4 percent reduction in the next two years under the plan that Governor Beshear proposed two months ago and that the House has largely agreed to accept.
This budget, which now goes to the Senate for its consideration, continues to shield our most critical services. It doesn’t cut the overall funding for the classroom, known as SEEK, but it recognizes that it will be a little tougher for schools because of a growing student population.
Our public postsecondary schools also won’t take the full brunt of cuts proposed for most agencies, and there is no plan to cut student financial aid, including the popular KEES program that provides lottery-funded scholarships to students who earn them.
In some areas of education, the House differs slightly with the governor’s plan. We don’t want to cut our schools’ family resource centers, and we want to keep programs like KET and gifted education better funded.
Some of the other highlights of the House budget include setting aside money for an adult-abuse database, so those convicted of this crime can never be hired in a job involving care of our older citizens.
We also make it possible to build a fourth nursing home for our veterans, if we get the go-ahead from the federal government, and we agree with the governor that more money is needed for our social workers, who have been under tremendous strain in recent years.
It’s important to emphasize that all three branches are being treated equally in these cuts. The goal is to keep the burden spread as evenly as possible, while recognizing that some areas, like education and critical health services, have to be a priority.
If all goes as planned, the Senate will finalize its budget in the next several weeks, and a compromise will be sent to Governor Beshear by the end of the month.
While the budget was the highlight of last week, another major bill also made it through our chamber.  This one would crack down on prescription drug abuse, which has become a true epidemic in the state.
The hallmark of the bill is moving the state’s prescription-drug monitoring system, known as KASPER, from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the Attorney General’s office.  
The bill also would call on more doctors and pharmacists to take part.
By broadening the system and putting it in the hands of law enforcement, we will be better able to track those who improperly prescribe strong pain medicine and those who doctor shop. We in the House believe this is the best way to tackle a problem that kills more Kentuckians each year than auto accidents.
The rest of the month will be especially busy, with a lot of work being finalized.  
If you would like to let me know your thoughts on the issues before us, you can 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 those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.