States have often been called laboratories of democracy, and for good reason: That's where most cutting-edge ideas to improve government are first tested. The good ones are widely copied while the unworkable ones teach a valuable lesson as well.

Legislators often look beyond their own borders to see if there are better ways to serve their constituents. This year, for example, the General Assembly passed a public-private partnership law that more than two dozen other states are already using to better work with the private sector to build major projects or to carry out a public function more efficiently.

Our work this year to reduce the backlog of rape kits across the commonwealth also has elements successfully used in other states.

On the other side of the coin, Kentucky has helped other states through our education reforms and efforts to reduce illegal drug use.

Starting this weekend, up to 1,500 legislators and staff from 14 other southern states will be traveling to Lexington to add to this dialogue.

This will be the 70th annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), which is expected to have a $5 million economic impact. SLC is the largest of the country's four regional conferences and was last hosted here in 2006. In 2010, we also were home to the annual meeting of the similar, but larger, National Conference of State Legislatures.

These organizations serve as a clearing house of information and a chance to exchange ideas. This year, Senate President Robert Stivers serves as SLC's chairman, while two of the conference's six standing committees are led by my House colleagues.

That includes the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, which is the oldest of the six. During its meetings, legislators will hear from some of Kentucky's leading agricultural leaders and there will be a focus on the work we have done over the past 15 years to boost farming with the aid of the settlement most states reached with the major tobacco companies in the late 1990s. There will also be a trip to see our work growing industrial hemp.

The second SLC committee headed by a Kentucky legislator -- Human Services and Public Safety -- will focus part of its agenda on how our state has addressed the prescription drug and heroin epidemics and what we and other southern states are doing to counter a rise in diabetes.

Other committees, meanwhile, will focus on such areas as public pensions, improving teacher training and what states can expect with the passage late last year of the federal transportation plan.

During the conference, legislators, staff and community volunteers will also dedicate time to help further SLC's Campaign Against Hunger, which for five years has packaged meals for those in need. This year's goal is 80,000 meals, which will then be distributed locally.

As we enter the second half of the year, the General Assembly is already laying the groundwork for the legislative session that starts in January. To determine how best to address the issues before us, we will again look to see what has worked well elsewhere. Forums like the upcoming SLC conference play an important role in that regard.

If you have any comments or concerns about the state, either now or in the months ahead, please let me know. You can reach me by writing to Room 329F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

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