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Passing the budget is job No. 1

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By Rick Rand

During even-year legislative sessions, no other bill gets more attention than the budget, which is understandable, because no other bill directs so many of the General Assembly’s priorities.

Even so, that doesn’t undercut the importance of other legislation also set to become law, and as my colleagues and I prepare to wrap up the 2012 Regular Session this coming Thursday, there are more than a few of these bills that deserve mention.

Several, for example, will improve public safety, with two of the more prominent tackling the deadly rise of synthetic drugs and meth.

To cut back on the former, the House and Senate agreed to broaden the definition of these drugs, so that it will be much tougher for underground chemists to skirt the law by tweaking the drug’s formula.  This bill will also crack down on those selling these poisons – often referred to as bath salts or synthetic marijuana – with potential penalties ranging from prison to forfeiture of their property.  Together, this twin approach should give serious pause to any reputable store owner considering getting into this shady market.

The legislature’s plan to limit meth, meanwhile, is designed to keep pseudoephedrine out of the hands of those that manufacture the drug while not hindering law-abiding citizens who depend on this medicine, especially during allergy season.

In this case, those purchasing without a prescription will be limited to 7.2 grams of pseudoephedrine a month and up to 24 grams a year.  A standard box with 48 pills – each having a 30 milligram dosage – amounts to 1.44 grams, meaning families could still buy five of these boxes a month.  It’s crucial to note that this bill only applies to tablets; it does not affect gel tabs or liquid forms of pseudoephedrine, both of which are much tougher to use in manufacturing meth.

The hope, of course, is that we can stop the dramatic rise in labs that have gotten smaller and more portable in recent years.  They’re extremely toxic as well as fire hazards, and they can cost thousands of dollars to clean up.

Another problem that is also costing us financially is the growing number of copper thefts.  There have been numerous stories of air conditioners and other equipment being vandalized for the valuable metal they have inside.

Now, however, these thieves will find it much more difficult to turn their stolen goods into quick cash. Recycling centers will be limited in making these types of purchases, and payment will need to be made by check. These centers will also be required to register with the state.

In economic development, there were two bills to pass that hold a lot of potential for Kentucky.  The first of those is noteworthy because it will help our business community avoid losing a federal tax credit worth as much as $600 million.  This credit was at-risk if we didn’t come up with a plan to pay off the interest on the federal money the unemployment insurance fund had to borrow to maintain benefits during the recession.  Obviously, we could not afford to let that credit be dropped.

The other bill, meanwhile, will give Toyota, GM, North American Stainless and several other large auto parts companies the same opportunity to take advantage of the tax-incentive package that the legislature gave in 2007 to Ford, which then invested more than $1 billion and hired several thousand new employees at its Louisville operations.  The other companies will have to invest at least $100 million to qualify, but the hope is this new law will give them another reason to take this step.

For our veterans and those still serving our country, the General Assembly passed several bills that will help them or honor their service.  That includes setting up an adoption-assistance financial program for those in the National Guard – which could give them between $3,000 to $5,000 from the military family assistance trust fund – to laying the groundwork for a new memorial to honor those fallen Kentucky soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Drivers licenses will also now have a veterans designation, making it easy for these men and women to prove their service when needed.

Next week, I will detail what occurs on Thursday this week, which is when the General Assembly will consider any potential vetoes while also hopefully adopting several other bills.  Those include efforts targeting prescription drug abuse and making it easier for students in coal-producing counties to obtain their four-year college degree.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to continue letting me know your views on state government.  My address is Room 366B, 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.

I hope to hear from you soon.