While the General Assembly is at its busiest during the first few months of the year, when new laws are approved, the summer and fall are vital as well to the legislative process.
The interim, as this time is called at the Capitol, starts in June and runs through mid-December, and it gives the 14 main House and Senate committees a less-hectic setting to come together to review the real-world impact of legislation and to learn more about issues affecting the state.
The joint committees range from agriculture and education to transportation and veterans, military affairs & public protection. There are also other subcommittees and statutory committees, which the legislature uses to focus exclusively on such areas of state government as administrative regulations and Medicaid.
In the past, these joint committee met throughout each month, but this interim, which began on June 3rd, legislators are condensing much of this monthly schedule into five days. Last week was the start of this trial run, and with nine House/Senate committees meeting, it had the feel of a legislative session.
On Monday, the Health, Welfare & Family Services Committee helped to kick off the interim with a focus on mental health and homelessness. During that meeting, legislators learned that the number of those in Kentucky who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence has dropped significantly in recent years. This total went from 4,998 people in 2014 to 3,688 people in 2018, with nearly half of that population located in Jefferson and Fayette counties.
During the Appropriations & Revenue Committee, legislators heard from the presidents of the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville. UK's president talked about the $200 million gap the school will have to somehow make up over the next five years when comparing expected revenues with anticipated needs, but he added that there is some good news, with research funding growing from $285 million in 2015 to almost $400 million this fiscal year.
In her presentation, U of L's president noted that the university has made significant progress since Kentucky's public postsecondary reforms were implemented in the late 1990s. Freshmen ACT scores have risen from 21.4 to 25.6 over the past 20 years, and the rate for students getting their degree within six years of starting has almost doubled, moving from 30.1 percent to 56.6 percent. The number of four-year degrees earned, meanwhile, has increased from 1,734 in 1998 to 3,040 in 2018.
On Thursday, the Tourism, Small Business & Infrastructure Technology Committee heard from Kentucky State Parks about the nearly $100 million worth of wide-ranging upgrades the system has undertaken in recent years.
Some of the things this money is going toward include as a renovated convention center; a marina relocation; and various roof, pool, campground and utility improvements. This work is roughly at its halfway point, too, given preliminary plans the legislature has to include $100 million more for further renovations in the next two-year budget.
In another broad overview, this one on Kentucky's coal industry, legislators on the Natural Resources & Energy Committee reviewed the ongoing challenges we face in this energy sector.
Coal severance tax receipts that reached $311 million in 2011, for example, are below $100 million now. On the other hand, officials say coal's outlook "looks to be flat but stable." It's worth noting that coal still provides three-fourths of Kentucky's electricity, although that is down from 94 percent a decade ago.
As the interim moves forward, there is still a possibility that Governor Bevin will call the General Assembly to the Capitol later this month to address a spike in retirement contributions facing our public health departments, regional universities and other quasi-governmental agencies. I'll cover this issue further as we approach July, the start of the fiscal year.
For now, I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about any issues affecting Kentucky.
My email is Wilson.Stone@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.