Governor lets us know that money is tight

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From the House

By Rep. Linda Belcher

    FRANKFORT - One of the most lasting traditions in Kentucky history is the now-annual “State of the Commonwealth” speech that the governor gives in early January to the General Assembly and, thanks to KET, a statewide audience.

    On Wednesday, Governor Steve Beshear kept that tradition alive with remarks that reflected recent successes the state has had - and the challenges we face in the next two years.

    He noted how helpful the economic-development package the legislature approved last summer has been, with more than five dozen companies benefiting during the last six months of 2009.  Combined, those projects could create 1,135 jobs, save another 1,450 and lead to an investment of nearly $130 million.

    He also recognized the work being done at Fort Knox because of the federal government’s base realignment.  This will eventually lead to 5,000 new military and civilian jobs.

    With the military in mind, he said that more than 12,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen have been deployed in defense of our country since Sept. 11, 2001, and that 400 are now oversees in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.  Sadly, 17 of them have died in this ongoing effort.

    Fortunately, 2009 was a record year when it comes to our day-to-day security, as no sworn peace officer was killed in the line of duty, the first time that has happened since 1906.  Our goal is to be able to say the same thing in 2010.    Some of Governor Beshear’s proposals he mentioned include raising the drop-out age - a measure strongly supported by the First Lady - and having greater cooperation between our community and technical colleges and universities, so classes transfer more easily.

    Part of the governor’s speech was spent talking about the legislature’s greatest challenge during the legislative session, the budget.  There have been six cuts since he took office two years ago, and at least $1 billion more will need to be resolved during the next two.           

    Governor Beshear will return to the General Assembly on Jan. 19 to formally present his proposal to run state government.  At that point, my colleagues in the House and I will spend several weeks to see what changes we may want to make.  The Senate will then have its turn.

    While the governor’s address dominated the opening week of the 2010 Regular Session, it was not the only prominent news in the House.

    On Thursday, the chamber’s Judiciary Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1, known as Amanda’s Bill.  This legislation, which is expected to be voted on by the full House this week, would allow judges to authorize electronic monitoring in domestic-violence cases.  It is named after Amanda Ross, whose murder in September is being investigated as a domestic-violence case.

    This bill would also give counties the opportunity to use electronic monitoring in pretrial cases, rather than keeping them in jail; that provision alone could potentially save them a significant amount of money.

    Also on Thursday, the House Education Committee approved legislation that will improve our chances for the federal “Race to the Top” grants.  States are competing for more than $4.3 billion, so the need for this legislation - which would give us more tools to deal with low-performing schools and which could become law as early as this week - is clear.  Education officials say we should know the fate of our application by spring.

    I have already started getting some messages and letters regarding the 2010 Session.  If you would like to let me know your views, I am easy to reach.  My address is Room 351B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

    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, and the Spanish line is 866-840-6574.  If you would like to know the status of a particular bill, that number is 866-840-2835.  All of these are toll-free. I hope to hear from you soon.