Over a calendar year, the General Assembly’s work is split into two distinct periods: legislative sessions, when new laws are adopted; and what is known in Frankfort as the interim, when the legislature’s committees take a closer look at issues affecting the state and what may need to be done to improve them.
While the public’s attention is understandably focused more on legislative sessions – which in 2013 begins on Jan. 8th and lasts for 30 working days – the interim is crucial as well because of the wealth of information it provides. It runs from late spring through mid-December.
Each of the legislature’s 15 main committees, ranging from Agriculture and Education to State Government and Transportation, hold several meetings during that time, as do a variety of single-issue task forces that are often created for short-term studies. There are also eight oversight committees that meet every month; they focus entirely on various aspects of state government, including administrative regulations, government contract spending and Medicaid.
At the end of each interim, legislative staff compiles a helpful booklet that documents all of the work these committees have done. In short, a lot of ground is covered during this time.
The Agriculture Committee, for example, traveled to Owsley County High School to learn more about its work in getting students to eat more locally-grown food. This committee also discussed the devastating effect this past year’s drought had on farmers and the possibility of using sorghum to produce ethanol.
The Appropriations and Revenue Committee, meanwhile, heard from state budget officials about the fiscal year that ended June 30th. Revenues were up for the second year in a row – which followed a two-year decline – while the Road Fund jumped nearly eight percent, although much of that had long been forecasted.
Another piece of good news the committee heard deals with the state’s unemployment fund. Although our jobless rate is still much higher than anyone prefers, about half as many Kentuckians are drawing from the fund when compared to two years ago. At the same time, a sizable federal loan the state borrowed to cover costs is set to be paid back in just about five years.
In the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, tourism officials detailed their marketing efforts to promote the “There’s Only One” campaign that highlights 44 travel destinations unique to the commonwealth.
That committee also received a study centered on the state’s economic development incentives offered between 2001 and 2010. Nearly 580 companies either located or expanded operations here in part because of the incentives, which totaled $1.3 billion over the decade and helped create 55,000 new jobs and make 330,000 others more secure.
The study added that, when compared to 13 peer states, Kentucky has less employment in knowledge-based jobs but is seeing faster growth, especially in the biological and advanced manufacturing industries. Kentucky also is outpacing these other states in research spending. On the flip side, we trail when offering incentives for infrastructure and helping start-up companies get off the ground.
In the Education Committee, my legislative colleagues and I learned that the Gatton Academy is doing well educating some of our brightest students. This specialized high school, which is based at Western Kentucky University and which Newsweek called the best high school in America a year ago, has 126 junior and senior students currently enrolled from across the state. Since it first opened its doors in 2007-08, nearly three-fourths of the graduates have stayed in Kentucky to complete their college degree.
Other educational programs are succeeding as well. Since 2000, gains in adult education have cut the number of working-age Kentuckians without a high school credential in half – from 30 percent then to 15 percent now. Building on that is a 2009 effort by the General Assembly to make sure more graduating high school students are college and career ready. In just a year’s time, the percentage of students qualifying under this higher standard went up more than nine percent.
In other committee meetings, we discovered that:
· A legislative study found that, in 2010, the coal industry had a total economic impact of $10 billion in Kentucky.
· Kentucky has the nation’s largest fleet of hybrid-electric school buses, which use a third less energy than their diesel counterparts. Mammoth Cave is also the country’s first national park to use alternative fuels for all of its vehicles.
· The six Kentucky State Police crime labs processed 38,000 cases in 2011, helping law enforcement prosecute such crimes as DUI and sexual assaults.
· In the quarter-century since the lottery was approved, it has generated $14 billion in sales, with $3.71 billion returned to state government, $8.33 billion paid to the winners, and $1.8 billion given to retailers and used for operating expenses.
· In a related item, the Dept. for Charitable Gaming’s commissioner said Kentucky ranks among the top six states in charitable gaming. This industry, which benefits such groups as churches and veterans, generated almost $400 million in sales in 2011.
If you would like to read more about the General Assembly’s work during the interim, the free booklet can be found online at http://www.lrc.ky.gov/lrcpubs/info_bulletins.htm. Just click on report 240.
As always, but especially during legislative sessions, I would like to hear from you if you have any concerns affecting the state. You can 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.