Last November’s election provided me with the privilege of a lifetime — the honor of serving as your voice in Frankfort as the state representative for the 94th House District in Letcher and Pike counties.
Since that time, I’ve tried to represent your interests to the very best of my ability, and as we consider the 2017 session’s conclusion last week, I hope I’ve meet at least some of your expectations.
Throughout this short, 30-day legislative session, I fought hard, and spoke often, on the House floor for the people of eastern Kentucky. I am a lifelong witness to the backbreaking hard work that so many of you have endured through the years to “keep the lights on” and faithfully fuel the engines of American industry.
As our region works to regain financial footing, and to make our economy more diverse, I am thankful to report several achievements from the 2017 session that that should assist us in our efforts.
I proudly co-sponsored legislation to create the Kentucky Coal Fields Endowment Authority to fund improvements to infrastructure, water, economic development, public health and technological access in Kentucky’s coal regions. These improvements will be funded with $7.5 million in state coal severance dollars, and projects will be selected based on their economic development and job creation potential, as well as their ability to be self-sustaining.
House Bill 156 also establishes the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority (KMRRA) to encourage new opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism in our beautiful region. The legislation outlines the KMRRA’s responsibility to create a recreational trail system in Letcher, Pike and 18 other eastern Kentucky counties. It also sets out rules for governance, county participation, and landowner participation. This is an exciting new opportunity for cooperation and coordination among our region’s already excellent tourism professionals.
In an effort to strengthen our workforce, we also passed legislation that will allow students to use Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) money for apprenticeship programs if they have maintained a 2.5 grade point average or better. Additionally, the bill provides $7.5 million to school districts for a Dual Credit Scholarship Program so students can earn up to two college courses while still in high school.
Along with these positive steps forward, I am sorry to report a number of policy changes from this session that will hurt our working families and all of those finding it harder and harder to hold onto the American Dream.
During that first week of session in January, I told my House colleagues that I would take “my roots and your boots over those suits” any day, and I meant it. But it didn’t stop the new powers-tobe from rushing through “rightto work-for-less” legislation with little opportunity for public input, or from repealing the prevailing wage standards for public construction projects. Both of these measures drive down wages, decrease the quality of construction, and encourage the creation of poverty-level pay that increases dependency on public assistance programs.
There was also no stopping legislation that will allow private, for-profit charter schools to drain funding and expertise from our public schools. And while many of us rose to speak against them, medical review panels will now stand between you and your ability to file suit against those who have harmed you through a medical injury.
Throughout this country, wealthy corporate interests are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to drown out the voices of working and middle class people. Kentucky fell victim to their influence this time around, despite our best attempts to slow the train under the great limitations that were placed on legislative debate. Yet I am not discouraged, but rather encouraged, because I have received hundreds of messages from so many of you to let me know that you are prepared to join the fight against these outside forces and become more involved in the political process.
Rest assured, I will be keeping close watch on all of these policies — good and bad — as they are rolled out in the months to come, and will continue to ask questions, seek solutions and find ways to strengthen opportunities to provide the types of jobs our people need and deserve.