Law making is like March Madness

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By Tom McKee

In some ways, the end of a legislative session is not much different from the final weeks of the college basketball season: Both take months of preparation and teamwork to be successful; and both are at their most exciting as the clock winds down.
That proved to be the case last week as the House and Senate looked for common ground on a wide variety of issues with only a handful of days remaining to meet.
Some of the legislative session’s most pressing issues have already been signed into law.  Last month, for example, many of our four-year public universities were given the authority to begin building more than $360 million worth of projects.  
On Tuesday last week, Gov. Beshear signed into law House Bill 217, a needed update to last year’s far-reaching legislation that is cracking down on prescription-drug abuse.
This new law will ease some of the rules that had affected hospitals, long-term care centers and patients suffering from acute pain, including those in hospice or who are recovering from major surgery.  
The new law also better aligns with the permanent regulations that the physician licensing boards are now implementing.  
We think the changes in both the law and the regulations will make compliance easier for law-abiding doctors and patients alike while not hindering law enforcement’s ability to stop prescription drug abuse.
On Wednesday, the House spent much of its day debating the redrawing of the chamber’s 100 legislative districts to adjust for population changes reflected in the Census.  
This was done last year, as you may recall, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that our chamber split too many counties, even though it was the same number of splits made in the 2002 plan that is still in use today.
Because of the tighter rules for drawing maps, there are a limited number of options, and as happens every time with redistricting, virtually every member will gain new constituents while losing others.
The ideal population for a House district is 43,308 people, but it does not have to be exact.  Ultimately, a district has to be within five percent of that figure.  
Currently, under the old Census, our districts were designed when they averaged about 41,000 people per district.
The Senate has indicated it would rather wait to do redistricting until next January, but we in the House worry that this would only leave a short time before the filing deadline for legislative candidates.   
We believe that they and the voters deserve to have more time to learn their new districts.
For now, as we wait to see what happens, it appears that other issues are nearing resolution.  We’ll know more early this week, when the General Assembly is scheduled to meet for two days before taking what is known as a veto recess.  
Later this month, we will return to complete the legislative session’s final two days, which are normally set aside to consider any vetoes Gov. Beshear might have and also to potentially pass other bills as well.
My hope is that by then we can resolve differences on industrial hemp, which has been a focal point of discussion in recent weeks.  
The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee, which I oversee as chairman, overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill 50 last week, which Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says could lead to a new source of revenue for farmers and potentially thousands of jobs.  
My hope is that he is right, should the federal ban on industrial hemp ever be lifted.
The same day we voted for that bill, this committee adopted a resolution honoring Dr. M. Scott Smith, the Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture who is retiring this year and will truly be missed.
Dean Smith has held this title for more than dozen years, but has been at the department since 1978, when he began his career there as a faculty member.  
He later became an associate dean in the 1980s. He also served the farming community in other ways by being a member of both the state’s Agricultural Development Board and the Kentucky Fair Board.
From a research perspective, he is a national leader on the impact agricultural practices have on crop productivity and the environment.
Outside of the legislative process, but important nonetheless to the state, we learned some good news last week.  
On Thursday, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet said that the state’s unemployment rate in January was at a four-year low.
Earlier in the week, meanwhile, Site Selection magazine ranked Kentucky 10th among the states in its annual report on industrial activity.  
This national publication said that there were more than 350 major economic development announcements in 2012 across the commonwealth.  
Combined, they accounted for nearly $2.7 billion in investment and about 14,000 new jobs.
I continue to work for jobs in the 78th House District and I would hope 2013 will be a good year for industrial development in our area.
Although this year’s legislative session is nearly over, there is always time to let me know any thoughts or concerns you have on issues affecting the state.  My address is Room 332B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.  My email address is Tom.McKee@lrc.ky.gov.
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.  More information can be found on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov.