Whitesburg KY

Tourism won’t fix all, but will help greatly

State Representative Angie Hatton of Letcher County spoke on the House floor in Frankfort last week.

State Representative Angie Hatton of Letcher County spoke on the House floor in Frankfort last week.

If you know my family you know we have been active in the coal business. Our trucks moved coal all throughout this region and financially sustained us, just as it sustained our coal miners and eastern Kentucky for more than 100 years.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. Coal from the western U.S. can be mined cheaper, they say. It’s cleaner, they say. Regulations and competition from cheaper natural gas have hurt us, forcing Kentucky coal jobs to their lowest level since the late 1900s.

Today we are working to bring coal jobs back home. We are hoping for better federal policies and better market conditions to make that happen. But I think we also know we can’t stop there. We must branch out and find new sources of income for our region and our families. I believe a bill I am cosponsoring — House Bill 156 — is part of the solution.

Approved this week by the House Committee on Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, HB 156 would promote outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities by creating the Kentucky Mountain Regional Recreation Authority. You may have heard about the KMRRA, which has been discussed at the local and regional level for quite some time — including at a recent event sponsored by the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce — and is now awaiting approval at the state level through HB 156.

Before I go any further, let me say that I understand tourism is not a cure all for our region’s economic troubles. It can’t provide jobs for everyone (at least not at first!). But every bit of economic development is good economic development if it brings jobs to eastern Kentucky and, as a member of the House Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee and a strong advocate of HB 156, I support tourism as an economic development tool.

So, how would HB 156 work? First, it would create the KMRRA, which would be responsible for establishing a recreational trail system throughout counties in the Kentucky Mountain Recreational Area. Those counties include Letcher, Pike and 18 others in our region. The bill spells out that the purpose of the trail system would be to increase economic development, tourism, and outdoor recreation for residents and visitors. It also sets out rules for governance, county participation, landowner participation, and gives the KMRRA the power to fund KMRA operations — including the power to issue revenue bonds. Rest assured that those bonds would not be considered part of the state debt.

I am very excited about the opportunities that HB 156 holds for Letcher and Pike counties and our entire region, and am so thankful to be part of making KMRRA and this very promising recreational system a reality.

I also want to fill you in on a workers’ compensation bill that came to the floor of the House for a vote this week. That bill, HB 296, would limit permanent partial disability medical benefits to 15 years for workers injured on the job, and make other questionable policy changes that I feel are an attack on working families.

Our working families have suffered through a recession (many are still not back on their feet financially) and the last thing they need is to be slapped down by a cut in workers’ comp benefits. Had the House approved Amendment 2 to HB 296, which would have improved the system without any cuts to benefits, I may have been able to support the bill. Instead, the bill passed the House 58-40 without Amendment 2 and without my vote. I hope there is trouble ahead for the measure unless it is made more worker-friendly.

I have told you that I serve on the House Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee, but I am also very busy as a member of two other committees this session: the House Agriculture Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. House Judiciary is a natural fit for me as an attorney with a love for the law and the justice system. I am also excited to serve on House Tourism and Outdoor Recreation — which I have explained is working on the KMRR — and House Agriculture, which I see as another important tool to improve and diversify eastern Kentucky’s economy.

There will be more to share with you on the happenings in Frankfort next week. Until then, I encourage you to stay informed of all legislative action of interest to you by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. If you would like to share your comments or concerns with me or another legislator about a particular bill under consideration this session, you can call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.

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