It took until the late morning hours, but after much wrangling, House and Senate leaders agreed on a budget early Sunday. While no budget is ever perfect, I firmly believe that the document we came up with lays a strong groundwork for moving our Commonwealth forward over the next two years.
I’m especially proud that the House’s top priorities – increasing our funding toward education and bringing much needed improvements and building projects to our college campuses – are in place. While funds were especially tight this year, we found a way to make sure the money Kentucky needs for teachers, new textbooks and early child development programs is there.
Besides the good news the budget means for Kentucky as a whole, it also contains promising developments in our own back yard by making it possible to open the Otter Creek facility as a medical parole institution for our oldest and sickest prisoners. Not only does this potentially mean jobs to our area, but we will be on the forefront of an innovative approach to cost-saving care that has proven successful elsewhere. I will work toward making it a reality here.
I will focus more next week on what else is in the budget, but I want to say that its passage on Monday speaks well of the legislature’s ability to come together to move Kentucky ahead. It’s certainly a lesson that I wish Congress would follow.
Beyond the budget, several other important pieces of legislation made their way through the General Assembly last week.
For our region, one of the most important will give school districts more certainty as they make up missed snow days. As we all know too well, many schools have missed weeks because of the especially brutal winter. Now, we’ve provided a clear path forward that will enable them to complete their work by June 6th if there is no way they can make up all of their snow days.
Another issue set to become law would make it possible for families to access CBD oil, a medicine derived from marijuana or hemp which does not have an intoxicating effect but that has been shown to be an effective treatment for some conditions, especially among children dealing with seizure disorders. Of all the bills constituents have contacted me about this year, CBD oil has been one of the top. I’m happy to see this advance to the Governor’s desk with large, bipartisan support from both chambers.
A bill that would make needed improvements to the state’s juvenile justice system is also on track to become law soon. On Thursday, the House approved the Senate legislation with some minor changes that would enhance collaboration between the juvenile justice system and schools and improve tracking of data.
The bill is meant to make sure that the legal system has more options beyond detention, especially in those cases involving violations, such as truancy, that would not even be a crime if committed by an adult. It makes no sense – morally or financially – to put these juveniles, at a cost of $100,000 a year, in the same environment as others who are there for serious offenses.
Another bill about to become law will have state and education officials pull information together on employment rates and the earnings of degree programs at our public universities. This will give students a realistic look at what they can expect in professions they want to pursue.
After meeting early this week, legislators are now back home to give Governor Beshear time to decide whether to sign or veto the bills sent to him. The General Assembly will return to the Capitol later this month to consider any vetoes he might issue and to potentially vote on other legislation.
My hope is that, by session’s end, we will see a permanent program using coal-severance tax revenues to help our college students cover some of their costs as they pursue a four-year degree here close to home. This has been debated for more than two years, and it needs to pass.
For now, I want to thank everyone who has let me know their views or concerns. While the General Assembly’s work is largely complete, it is never too late to contact me. My email is Greg.Stumbo@lrc.ky.gov, or you can leave a message by calling, toll-free, 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.