Legislative update: Committees on ag, budget, education prepare for 2022 session

50th District State Representative

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 — As I review last week’s legislative activities, I think we are all looking forward to Thanksgiving and some time with family and friends. However, it is also a reminder that Christmas is just 36 days away, 2022 begins in 43 days, and the next regular session convenes in only 46 days.


Like many of our college students who are preparing to take their finals, legislators are studying, reviewing, and preparing proposals for session. We face several big tests as we work to strike a balance between protecting the values we hold dear and embracing the kind of progress that will help provide opportunity for our children and grandchildren.

IJC ON AGRICULTURE. Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture met to hear testimony from Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, who spoke about the current needs that can be met through American Rescue Plan funding, which include updates to Future Farmers of America, local fairgrounds, and Foodbanks. Additionally, members also discussed legislative ideas focused around food labeling and appointing an agriculture community member to the Kentucky Economic Development Board to better represent the interests of agriculture. I see a great deal of value to this idea, after all agriculture has been a major source of jobs and economic growth since early pioneer days.

IJC ON APPROPRIATIONS & REVENUE. Legislators met to discuss appropriations for a supplemental math tutoring program that would provide tutoring and online study materials to Kentucky students after school hours. Members also heard a presentation from the Kentucky Housing Corporation about continued funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Last, members heard a presentation from the Administrative Office of the Courts on current challenges and future projects involving technology upgrades for virtual court hearings, including video arraignment in county jails and self-serve payment kiosks at courthouses.

BUDGET SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES. University of Louisville Health officials reported to members showing significant progress on a $35 million economic development loan used to assist it in acquiring KentuckyOne healthcare assets, including a 320-bed Jewish Hospital. The focus of lawmakers returned to how UofL Health is exceeding requirements and promises made in the loan—like reaching underserved communities, local employment numbers, and average wages. The hospital network also shared that they will ask the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority to revise the terms of the state loan so they can pay it back quicker. Members also discussed funding for a bevy of statewide programs and services—young adults with autism spectrum disorder, dementia and Alzheimer’s, and food insecurity.

IJC ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT / WORKFORCE INVESTMENT. Members heard from the Kentucky Travel Industry Association regarding enforcement of lodging tax for short-term rentals and appropriation of federal COVID-relief funds for tourism marketing in the Commonwealth. The presenter shared that labor shortages and other pandemic-related hits to the tourism industry have led to a decline of nearly $2.9 billion, and appropriation of these funds would be a step toward revitalizing the industry. Last, members heard from the Pegasus Institute regarding macroeconomic conditions that contribute to labor force participation. The presenter shared that as of September 2021, Kentucky’s labor force participation is 5.1% lower than the national average, highlighting low economic freedom as a contributing factor.

IJC ON EDUCATION. Lawmakers garnered high praise for their efforts to keep underserved and vulnerable children from falling behind in the classroom. Presentations highlighted how historic early education funding and Save the Children programs in rural counties significantly boosted math and reading proficiency despite pandemic-related disruptions. According to data reported by the advocacy organization, students who participated in the enrichment programs showed growth equivalents of two additional months of regular school and achieved more significant literacy gains than their peers nationwide.

EDUCATION ASSESSMENT & ACCOUNTABILITY REVIEW. With chatter around the profound impact virtual learning has on academic performance statewide, the Office of Education Accountability shared some lessons learned from Kentucky’s NTI program. On the surface, attendance rates on regular and NTI days were similar. But decoding the data paints a bleaker picture. Poverty-stricken school districts experienced disproportionate impacts on student achievement goals. Chronic absence nearly doubled for black, Hispanic, and limited English proficiency students. The report also shows that, on average, 68% of school days were remote from 2019-21, and the higher rates of distance learning are associated with drops in academic performance. The number of students scoring proficient or distinguished on statewide test scores plummeted: elementary math (-17%) and elementary reading (-15%), middle school reading (-16%), and math (-19%). Students are also failing at least one class at even higher rates (+11%).

IJC ON NATURAL RESOURCES & ENERGY. Members met to discuss resource adequacy in the Commonwealth, natural gas transmission pipelines, and water permits. The Department of Environmental Protection shared with members several changes they would like the legislature to consider making to state law. Those changes included the following, updating terminology to reflect current technology, programs, and practices and requiring Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for High and Significant Hazard dams.

IJC ON TOURISM, SMALL BUSINESS & IT. Committee members met to discuss First Frontier Appalachian Trails and Lexington Center expansion and the continued recovery of convention business in the Commonwealth. The presenters from First Frontier Appalachian Trails shared plans to create a major adventure tourist destination by connecting 19 Eastern Kentucky counties by all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails. The proposed trails are patterned after the Hatfield-McCoy trail systems in West Virginia. The planned ATV trails will have a huge economic impact on our region. First Frontier Appalachian Trails already has approximately 350 miles of trail mapped out for this project. That converts into overnight stays, eating out, and shopping. The committee also heard from the Central Bank Center and VisitLEX. Presenters shared that Lexington hotels lost $153 million dollars in hotel room revenue from March 2020 through October of 2021. Bringing the overall economic impact loss to Lexington from the meetings and convention attendees is now over $42 million dollars.

SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESS TASK FORCE. Members of the task force released recommendations after studying the availability of mental health services in the Commonwealth. The key takeaway is Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states that does not reimburse behavioral health in its Medicaid coverage or waiver supports. Lawmakers found two underlying themes—supported housing and employment—that a severe mental illness (SMI) waiver could target. These services are much needed to provide comprehensive care to the more than one hundred thousand families impacted by SMI. Members recommended funding and expanding “Tim’s Law,” an evidence-based treatment program, rather than living in an institution. The task force also sent sweeping directives for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to boost its current offerings—including expanding a designation to all behavioral health clinics to provide integrated services and assessing if current in-state programs provide psychiatric primary care physician training are sufficient to meet the need. The additional recommendations include eliminating barriers for those seeking help, including mobile health clinics and establishing mental health courts across Kentucky.

As always, I hope you will feel free to contact me with any questions or issues. I can be reached here at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Please feel free to email me at Chad.McCoy@LRC.KY.GOV. If you would like more information about any of these committees or legislative actions, you can visit the Legislative Research Commission website at legislature.ky.gov.


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