By Robin Webb
FRANKFORT— The Kentucky General Assembly convened Jan. 7 for the 2014 Regular Session. More than 200 bills have already been filed and are working their way through the legislative process.
Our biggest task this year – as with every 60-day “long session” – will be writing state government’s biennial budget. A job that is even more complex as we continue the hard uphill climb out of the worst recession in recent history.
Recovery has been slow and revenues, though growing, are not matching our needs. State economists are predicting a $500 million increase in funds over the next biennium. But a lot of that is already spoken for to cover increased health care costs, pension funding and other necessary expenses. No one ever gets everything they want in the budget process, but this year the decisions will be especially difficult.
One of our top priorities, as always, will be education initiatives and funding. The state has made great strides in recent years and we want to keep that momentum going.
We will also continue to fight the war on drugs. It is an ever-changing battle. With heroin abuse and overdose showing an alarming surge, we will look at ways to shut down the heroin trade in the state.
One of our first orders of business this week was a joint session of the House and Senate to receive the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address. Included in his agenda are public safety and public health measures, educational and training opportunities, and job growth proposals of interest to many lawmakers.
Many of these issues as well as others will come before us this session. The bills we consider will be as wide in focus as they are in reach, touching many facets of life for every single Kentuckian. Health care, education, public protection, veterans and military affairs, the Constitution, criminal justice, agriculture and the environment, roads, jobs, state services. We will talk about them all – and more – before the final gavel falls in April.
Only about a quarter of all bills filed this year will make it to the law books at the end. And there is no way of knowing which those will be. I take my responsibility seriously and strive to do what is best for the commonwealth. In order to do that, I need input from my constituents.
There are many ways to stay involved and informed during the 2014 General Assembly. The Kentucky Legislature Home Page, www.lrc.ky.gov, provides information on each of the Commonwealth’s senators and representatives, including our phone numbers, addresses, and committee assignments. The site provides a bill tracking service, committee meeting schedules and many other helpful tools.
By going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what is happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.
You may access meetings and chamber proceedings streaming live or archived online at www.ket.org.
You can also stay in touch with General Assembly action in the following ways:
· A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.
· To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.
· To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.
· You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.
· You can also e-mail me at email@example.com.
I would be lax if I did not welcome our newest senator, Reginald “Reggie” L. Thomas, D-Lexington, who represents District 13. Senator Thomas is a lawyer and professor at Kentucky State University. Eager to get to work, Senator Thomas hit the ground running when the 2014 Legislative Session convened this week.