Legislative update: ongoing committee meetings during the 2022 interim
By JIMMY HIDGON
14th District State Senator
Thursday, July 28, 2022 — The Kentucky General Assembly is more than a month into the 2022 interim, and committee meetings are in full swing. My fellow legislators and I receive updates on the implementation of policies passed in the past and hear testimony on various issues affecting Kentuckians.
Notable interim committee meetings have taken place so far, including the Joint Interim Committee (JIC) on Appropriations and Revenues, the IJC on Education, the IJC on Veterans Affairs, Military Affairs and Welfare. audience, and many more. I want to share with you the information gathered during these meetings.
TRIBUTE TO DEAD OFFICERS. As a member of the IJC on Veterans Affairs, Military Affairs and Public Safety, I was moved by the testimony of law enforcement and local officials in Floyd County who informed the committee of this that has happened since the June 30 shooting in the community of Allen. Floyd County Deputy William Petry, Prestonsburg Police Captain Ralph Frasure, Prestonsburg Officer Jacob Chaffins and K-9 Officer Drago were killed in the line of duty while executing a warrant for a domestic violence appeal. We heard about the heroism of each of them and the impact they had on their communities. I encourage you to watch the video of this committee meeting to learn more about these incredible officers and K-9 Drago. You can find archived legislative coverage at ket.org/legislature.
DEPLOYMENT OF BROADBAND, UPDATE OF WATER INFRASTRUCTURES. IJC on Appropriations and Revenue received an update on $250 million in funding for local governments to upgrade aging and inadequate water supply infrastructure and $300 million allocated for expansion broadband during the regular session of 2021.
Forty-seven awards were recently announced by the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority (KIA) as part of the first round of broadband deployment efforts. The prizes are equivalent to nearly $90 million in grants and $204 million in total investment when private matching funds are included. This will affect more than 34,000 households and businesses in 36 counties. Bardstown, Nelson County, recently received a nearly $1.1 million grant to extend high-speed Internet access to more than 1,000 currently unserved households and businesses in Nelson, Spencer and Washington.
An additional $200 million has been committed to improving water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure across the state. You may be familiar with recent announcements in your area where the KIA has awarded funds for local clean water programs. In February, Casey County received more than $500,000 to replace or upgrade aging and outdated equipment such as pump stations, water tanks, water meters and more.
Lebanon Water Works Company in Marion County has received over $80,000 to add a new flow meter to the raw water intake system to allow the company to better monitor water from the Rolling Fork River and Reservoir by Fagan Branch. Washington County was among those awarded a $5.6 million share last February to improve local water supply infrastructure. In April, the LaRue County Water District received nearly $300,000 for Buffalo’s water reservoir system, while Hodgenville’s Cleaner Water Program received nearly $250,000 for upgrades. at the Smith Plaza Tower. I am excited about the new allocation of funds for our counties here in the 14th Senate District.
SCHOOL SAFETY. The committee heard from several professionals in the school safety and mental health fields about current standards and the status of implementation of safety policies and mental health services in schools across the state.
Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center of School Safety, and Kentucky State School Marshal Ben Wilcox testified about the progress of securing school facilities and staffing and training school resource officers ( ORS).
Akers notably pointed to four laws enacted by the Kentucky General Assembly during his testimony, including a 1998 bill that followed a tragedy at Heath High School in Paducah. The bills spawned the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS) and made possible the collection of data on violations of the law, establishing the framework for school emergency management protocols. Over the past decade, the General Assembly has strengthened school safety efforts and made Kentucky a model for the nation. We have been informed that 15 states have expressed interest in receiving the language of Kentucky’s school safety laws.
In 2013, a bill was passed to further codify laws on access to school facilities. He placed more emphasis on emergency response in schools. In 2019, landmark school safety legislation was passed following the Marshall County shootings. Known as the School Safety and Resiliency Act, the bill implemented new school safety programs and encouraged schools to hire school resource officers (SROs). The bill required 120 hours of training for an SRO, regardless of background or experience. Akers testimonial and celebration of safety efforts in Kentucky schools. They said the language of the law was clear and decisive and gave their respective offices the tools to work with schools to ensure safety standards were met.
In the last legislative session, we passed House Bill 63, which added a time limit for schools to show they are making a sincere effort to hire ORS. There are still challenges such as staffing issues in almost all areas of the workforce and budgetary realities. Nevertheless, there is no more important goal than to ensure that we protect students, teachers and everyone inside the school walls. HB 63 has provided schools with more options in their efforts to have ORS by allowing school districts to establish local police departments like you see on college campuses. This will not only give schools additional flexibility to meet state law expectations, but it will also provide an opportunity for federal funding to support the effort. Legislative leaders have indicated their commitment to providing more funds to help schools.
Part of the challenges we faced in fully realizing the expectations set out in the Safe and Resilient Schools Act was the impact of COVID-19 which came a year after it was enacted. The state has been forced to adopt a cautious approach in spending taxpayers’ money. Fortunately, thanks in part to sound economic policy and the growth of the state’s rainy day fund, we are now in a stronger position to direct needed dollars to the best schools for protection. In the most recent budget, hundreds of millions of additional dollars were allocated to cover the full cost of all-day kindergarten and a larger share of local school transportation costs, opening up funding flexibilities for school districts.
BUDGET SURPLUS. In conclusion, recent reports show that the state has a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion this year, which is a testament to the policies enacted over the past few years and Kentucky’s economic growth despite national economic challenges such than inflation.
In some ways, we’ve managed to isolate ourselves and are in a good financial position, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to higher costs at the grocery store and at the pump. It is crucial to remember that inflation contributes to larger government budget surpluses. In a context of inflation over 9%, every dollar is worth less than before.
As Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, I also want us to be aware that state projects such as road improvements and construction will cost more than they originally did. It will be up to lawmakers like me to uphold the commitment to be fiscally responsible with precious taxpayer dollars. There are things to be optimistic about, but you shouldn’t watch the news with rose-colored glasses. Yet my commitment to you is that I will remain diligent in the responsible use of the dollars you have helped make available to the state.
RETIREMENT WATTS. Finally, I would like to recognize Nelson County Executive Judge Watts upon his retirement at the end of this month and thank him for his years of dedicated service to the citizens of Nelson County. I wish him the best. Blessings to him and his family.
If you have any questions or comments about these or any other public policy issues, please call my office toll free at 502-564-8100 or the Legislative Message Line 1-800-372-7181. You can also reach me at 270-692-6945 (home) or email [email protected]