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Military takes center stage in state House

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By The Staff

As is often the case during the early stages of a legislative session, the House and Senate spend the first few weeks focusing on their respective agendas, adopting bills each hopes the other chamber will consider favorably.

For the House last week, the military took center stage, as we unanimously approved legislation designed to help our veterans and those soldiers still serving.

The first of those, House Bill 57, may seem familiar, since several variations have passed our chamber before in previous years. Our goal is simple: to expand the current built-in benefit qualified veterans; spouses of veterans who are deceased or disabled; and those in the National Guard receive when applying for certain non-political jobs in state government.

Currently, these groups get a five to 10 point bonus on jobs that require examinations before being hired. That's a good start, but since this only applies to a fourth of the job classifications within state government, it is not enough.

This year's bill would rectify that, so that these groups - and members of the Reserves as well - would at least be guaranteed an interview, except in those situations when more than five qualify. Their test scores could also top 100 in those jobs where that is applicable; right now, those who don't make a mistake essentially get no benefit.

All but one state - Virginia - give veterans a built-in bonus that pays tribute to their sacrifice to their country. The U.S. Supreme Court called it good policy nearly 20 years ago, when it ruled that this approach encouraged patriotic service and eased the transition back into civilian life.

Last week's other military-related legislation - House Bill 168 - is a common sense measure that gives a little breathing room for returning soldiers whose driver's license expired while they were based out-of-state. If this becomes law, they would have 90 days to renew their license before they could be cited.

Those with a military background weren't the only ones recognized last week in the House. On Wednesday, we celebrated Disability Awareness Day, paying tribute to the 874,000 Kentuckians who have a disability.

Kentucky and the nation have come a long way in a generation by making sure those who are disabled have the services and the opportunities they need to live fulfilling lives. There is always room to do more, but for now, given the tight budget outlook, our goal is to preserve the gains we have made.

We will learn how tough that might be early this week, when Governor Steve Beshear is scheduled to give the General Assembly his two-year budget proposal. Neither year, we have been told, will have as much money available as we have spent this year, principally because of inflation and the downturn in the national economy.

Outside of the legislative process, we did get a dose of good news last week, when we learned that Kentucky State Parks increased spending on Kentucky-raised farm products by nine percent in 2007.

This program began several years ago, and it has turned into an excellent advertising tool for our farmers. Since seven million people visit the parks annually, this program has tremendous growth potential.

For now, the House's main focus will be on reviewing the budget and seeing what changes we think should be made. We should be ready to vote on it in early March, giving the Senate its turn. If all runs smoothly, a compromise bill will be ready for the governor's signature in the session's final days.

If you have any thoughts about the budget, or any other bill before the legislature, please take the time to let me know. I can be reached by writing to Room 351C, 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.

Representative Rick Rand