Early last month, just a few days into the 2013 Regular Session, Governor Beshear and numerous state legislators from both parties gathered in support of a major building initiative for many of our public four-year universities.
On Thursday, that plan crossed the finish line when Governor Beshear signed House Bill 7 into law following a near-unanimous vote the day before in the House and Senate. The universities can now ready their shovels to build the 11 projects, which will cost $363 million and generate about 5,000 construction jobs. The schools will pay for it themselves without any new state tax dollars or an increase in tuition.
Locally, Murray State University will see several upgrades. That includes almost $10 million for renovating the Hester College dorm, $4.9 million for a variety of smaller projects around campus and $590,000 for sprinkler upgrades in the College Courts housing development.
A unique feature of the plan is that, at the University of Kentucky, money from the athletics department will pay two-thirds of the $100 million cost for a new science building. That type of contribution is believed to be a first for the state.
With that legislation now behind us, the House spent this past week approving other bills it hopes will soon become law as well. I was proud to sponsor two of those.
The first came on Tuesday, when the chamber unanimously supported a needed update to last year’s law banning broad classes of synthetic drugs. House Bill 8, which Rep. Myron Dossett co-sponsored, also expands the crime of unlawful transaction with a minor so that it includes any activity involving synthetic drugs.
On Wednesday, the chamber approved my House Bill 9, which would allow domestic violence victims in dating situations to qualify for domestic violence orders. Virtually every other state already offers this protection, while in Kentucky DVOs are limited to victims who either live with or are married to their abuser or have a child with that person.
Another area of the law where Kentucky differs from most states is automatically restoring voting rights to felons who have paid their full debt to society. Under House Bill 70, voters would have a chance to change that next year by adopting this constitutional amendment. If that were to happen, those convicted of treason, murder, a sex-based crime or bribery would not be eligible.
A little more than a week ago, the House unanimously approved a needed update to the state’s human trafficking laws, a move that would help us better protect victims forced into manual labor or prostitution. Authorities know of more than 100 victims in the last few years, but only a handful of criminals have been charged under current human trafficking laws since 2008, and only one has been convicted.
This bill would help change that by adding more training for law enforcement and making it easier to go after these criminals. Money seized in these cases would be used to provide treatment and boost law enforcement, and the victims would also receive help from the state rather than face criminal charges themselves.
Just as the college presidents and legislators gathered last month to support a plan to make significant upgrades to our college campuses, farm leaders took the same cooperative approach on Tuesday when they unveiled a new five-year strategic plan, which can be found online at www.kyagcouncil.org.
It’s a far-reaching report that notes such successes as last year’s record $5 billion in sales and the diversity behind that figure. We have 10 different commodities that earn at least $100 million annually, from poultry and horses to hay and hogs.
The report also noted upcoming challenges as well, such as declining tobacco settlement payments – half of which is dedicated to agriculture – and the end next year of tobacco buy-out payments sent directly to farmers. The report also encourages the state to do more to attract more young adults to farming.
One major priority in the report that is crucial to our area is the planned upgrade for our own Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center. It’s a project I will work hard to see funded as soon as possible.
For now, I hope you will continue letting me know your thoughts or concerns about the issues facing the General Assembly. My address is Room 373, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601. My email address is John.Tilley@lrc.ky.gov.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. More information can be found on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov.