With the General Assembly set to start its legislative session early next week, now is the ideal time to take a look back at what has happened since the last one ended.
Although enacting laws is our primary function, this period is important for legislators as well, as we carry out our oversight role of state government. That work is done by 15 main committees – which range from Education to Transportation – plus eight others that review such things as government contracts and the hundreds of regulations filed every year by state agencies. Two temporary task forces also met during this time, which is known around the Capitol as the interim.
After a rough stretch caused by the worldwide recession, there were some encouraging signs that things are slowly returning to normal. In the Appropriations and Revenue Committee, we learned that our budget remains on track with its moderate growth. That’s a lot different from the last two fiscal years, each of which ended with less revenue than the year before, something that hasn’t happened since 1945.
The road fund is performing even better, after weathering its own difficulties as businesses and the public alike pulled back on travel. There is a cloud looming behind this silver lining, however, according to transportation officials who testified that greater use of such vehicles as hybrids is reducing the amount of money available to build and maintain our roads. Nationally, this pot of money is down a fifth over the last decade after factoring out inflation, even though we’re driving more than ever.
In the Banking and Insurance Committee, another financial matter took center stage when we heard more about a new database the legislature created last year to more closely monitor those who use payday lending companies. With customers restricted to two loans at any one time, the number of transactions has dropped dramatically, from almost 300,000 a month to 175,000.
In the follow-up to this past fall’s World Equestrian Games – the continent’s second-largest sporting event in 2010, after the Vancouver Olympics – the Economic Development and Tourism Committee discussed the benefits they brought.
In addition to boosting our reputation, the Games also made the Kentucky Horse Park an even more attractive venue because of the $110 million invested over the last several years. It has scheduled 20 more events each year because of its increased capacity.
While most committee meetings were held in Frankfort, several were held across the state to learn more about a particular issue. For example, the Economic Development and Tourism Committee went to Paducah to see that city’s revitalized downtown, which went from an area where the per capita income was just $9,000 a year to a thriving center for the arts in just a decade, becoming a national model along the way.
The Agriculture and Small Business Committee, meanwhile, visited swine and poultry farms in Marshall County, while the State and Local Government committees met jointly at Toyota’s assembly plant in Georgetown. The Education Committee toured a technical school program in Green County.
With recent snow storms already causing havoc across much of the state, and a flu season still in front of us, that committee also discussed ways long absences could be overcome. One idea gaining favor is a virtual learning system, which would use technology to overcome obstacles caused by Mother Nature.
Some ideas discussed centered on transportation issues. That included keeping license plates with the driver, rather than with the vehicle, after a transfer. This change would put us in line with nearly 40 other states, and appears to have broad support among law enforcement and county clerks.
There was also testimony about ignition interlock devices, which some jurisdictions use to keep convicted drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel while impaired. A Canadian official testified that this caused repeat offenders to drop by 2/3.
Another problem we’re seeing on our highway is out-of-state truck drivers who don’t appear in court after being cited for a traffic violation. Because of a narrow definition of the law, we cannot report this to the state where the driver lives, but there is a growing consensus that this needs to change.
Some of these issues will undoubtedly come before General Assembly in the next several months. We are scheduled to only meet for four days next week to elect leaders in each chamber and establish committee membership for the next two years, and then finish the bulk of the 30-day legislative session in February and March. That’s a small amount of time for what could be a long agenda.
If you have any thoughts or concerns you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I hope to hear from you soon.
Representative Rick Rand