After meeting long into the night, the General Assembly wrapped up the 2014 legislative session early last week by approving several bills that build on the good work already signed into law.
As you may recall, legislators left the Capitol late last month to give Gov. Beshear time to decide whether to approve or reject the legislation sent to him.
We returned to consider those vetoes, which we accepted, and to act on some other unresolved matters.
The biggest accomplishment during that time was approving the state’s two-year highway plan. It proposes about $5 billion overall during the next two years, when counting the unspent revenue from this year.
Harrison, Pendleton and Scott counties did especially well, with the combined two-year funding topping $109 million.
Some of the larger projects include a new I-75 interchange to help with Toyota traffic; four-laning US 27 from Butler to Campbell County; improving the bridge on Mill Creek on KY 36 west of Cynthiana; making it safer on KY 32 in front of Harrison Memorial Hospital; and re-constructing the curve just east of Salem Pike on US 62.
Statewide, there are some other major projects as well.
That includes four-laning the remainder of the Mountain Parkway; widening I-65; and moving forward with the bridge projects in Louisville and at Land Between the Lakes.
While approving a road plan was the highlight of the last two days of this year’s session, there were several other bills sent to Gov. Beshear as well.
One of the most far-reaching is an overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system.
A legislative task force studying this issue learned that a significant number of juveniles are being detained for what are called “status offenses,” relatively minor violations that include truancy and being a run-away.
These are not matters to ignore, but keeping these adolescents detained for months at a time is not the right approach for them, and it costs the state substantially – about $100,000 a year for each juvenile, which is five times the cost of housing an adult inmate.
The new law will increase community treatment options in these cases, and the savings to the state is estimated at $24 million over the next four years.
Another prominent new law to pass the General Assembly last week will establish a permanent scholarship program to boost the number of graduates with four-year college degrees in the coalfields.
This builds on a pilot program Gov. Beshear created in 2012 in Eastern Kentucky by extending it to all 34 coal-producing counties.
Qualifying students will use the scholarship money, which comes from the coal-severance tax, to help attend upper-level courses at colleges in the coal counties, although there are exceptions if the student’s degree program is not available there.
Another new law will increase the training requirements of school district finance officers hired after July 1, 2015. This provision – on top of another calling for more financial reporting – will help increase transparency and accountability in our schools.
Overall, I think it was a productive legislative session, especially when considering the lingering effects of the country’s toughest recession in more than 70 years.
Some of the other legislative highlights this year include putting more money toward education; authorizing more than $1 billion worth of new and renovated buildings for our postsecondary schools; and establishing an adult-abuse registry that will decrease the likelihood of someone being hired who had been found guilty of this type of crime.
I’m proud that two of my bills are now law. They will help grocers replace broken eggs in a carton, a cost-saving measure for these businesses; and that will make it easier to landowners to harvest nuisance wildlife on their property.
I received thousands of calls, emails, letters and visits from many of you, and I want to thank you for letting me know your thoughts and concerns.
Although the legislative session is over, it will not be long before our committees begin meeting again in preparation for the next time the General Assembly returns to the Capitol.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me. My address is Room 332F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Tom.McKee@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.