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Transportation plan offered for next 6 years

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From the House

By Rep. Linda Belcher

FRANKFORT ee" Not long after the governor gives the General Assembly a budget proposal to run state government for the next two years, the Transportation Cabinet offers its plan to maintain the state’s roads for the next six.

The report my colleagues and I received last week foresees a difficult road ahead, so to speak.

That’s not surprising, since vehicle and gasoline sales are down dramatically because of the economy and federal road aid has dropped substantially as well in recent years.

To understand how this has affected both the state and those whose jobs depend on road construction, consider that Kentucky was able to authorize only about one-third as many road projects in 2008 as we did in 2007.

Last year was better, largely because of the federal stimulus package, but still far below what our state needs. There are some bright spots for our road fund. Recent state and federal tax incentive programs have helped to spur car sales; the state’s economists are projecting healthy growth during the next two years; and an annual study of state highway programs has consistently ranked Kentucky’s among the most efficient.

House leaders and the chamber’s budget committee will spend the next several weeks reviewing the governor’s budget and road plan, with a vote by all House members expected by early next month.

The Senate will then have its opportunity, and a compromise should be ready for a final vote several weeks later. The budget will then take effect in July.

As this process unfolds, the House moved forward on several other bills last week that hold a lot of promise. On Monday, the House put its support behind a bill that would create an “In God We Trust” license plate, which is becoming increasingly popular in other states. Vehicle owners could choose this rather than the standard-issue plate, at no additional cost.

On Thursday, the House voted in favor of another transportation-related bill that has also proven popular in other states. This one would make it illegal for anyone to text while driving while also barring drivers under 18 from using the cell phone altogether. This would only apply when the vehicle is in motion.

The same day this passed, the session’s second bill to make it through both chambers was sent to the governor’s office for his signature.

This new law will allow Bluegrass Station near Lexington to build a $4 million airplane hangar, and the cost would be covered through lease payments rather than with state tax dollars.

If transportation was a main theme last week, our collective well-being was another. Advocates for those with disabilities rallied in the Capitol in support of state-funded programs important to them, and there was a push to promote a “Donate Life” license plate to raise awareness for organ donation.

Before the plate can be produced, at least 900 people have to make a request to the Transportation Cabinet and pay a $25 fee.

It is estimated that more than 104,000 Americans are waiting for an organ. One person who donates can help up to 50 people live a better life.

Another issue important to lawmakers is making sure foster children are given the tools they need to succeed academically. It was just a few short years ago that we passed legislation allowing foster children and adopted children to attend college in-state for free once they graduate from high school.

Under House Bill 84, which I am proud to sponsor and which passed the House on Friday, Kentucky’s foster children could have their college tuition waived when they attend college or university before graduating high school through dual credit and dual enrollment programs.

Other bills of mine were also sent to the Senate last week. House Bill 109 would improve early intervention testing in our schools so we can better reach those who are having difficulty learning. House Bill 83, meanwhile, would call on law enforcement agencies to enter a stolen item with a vehicle identification number into the NCIC database that tracks this information nationwide.

As always, but especially during a legislative session, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on the issues before the legislature. If you would like to take part, 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.