By Rep. Dennis Keene – With the General Assembly’s 2012 session behind us, I want to let you know some of the things we were able to accomplish to move the state forward.
I’m very happy to report that I was able to secure funding for some important projects in Campbell County. In fact, the transportation budget ranks Campbell County ranks 18th out of 120 counties.
The first is $1 million for spot improvements and repair work in and around the City of Newport.
We also have $1.8 million coming in 2013 for Taylor Creek to extend the culvert under KY 8 and Riverboat Row.
And I was able to secure $650,000 for the Purple People Bridge for improvements so it can continue to be the popular conveyance and special event site it has become.
These projects will support travel and tourism, infrastructure and our economic vitality for years to come.
While much of the session was taken up with redistricting and the budget, I was successful in passing two important pieces of legislation.
House Bill 308 will help address problems at proprietary or “for-profit” colleges uncovered in an audit conducted last year, which was initiated by complaints about high tuition, lack of job assistance and education, and a gross lack of financial accountability.
It was determined that the current board, which regulates the state’s 122 for-profit colleges, provided inadequate oversight, had not conducted an outside financial audit in 10 years and lacked a clear understanding of its role.
House Bill 308 will abolish the current State Board for Proprietary Education (BPE) and establish the Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education, an independent agency of the Commonwealth attached to the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet for administrative purposes.
The commission will be fully funded by the schools and will not cost Kentucky taxpayers one dime.
The legislation requires the new Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education to establish membership of commission reducing the number of proprietary school representatives.
I believe Kentuckians choosing to enroll in for-profit institutions deserve the same protections afforded students in state-funded colleges and universities. House Bill 308 provides those protections and will result in a better, more productive experience for the students as well as the schools.
Another bill, Senate Bill 40 helps the restaurant business across Kentucky. Because of an archaic law on Kentucky’s book, restaurants are required to be located at street level.
Many years ago, this was mandated so that police officers and other security forces could see inside the windows for illegal activity.
Over the years as the concept of multi-level entertainment and dining complexes have grown, the old law prohibited developers from adding restaurants above the street level, limiting the option of having more than one dining choice. Senate Bill 40 lifts that regulation allowing for restaurants on multiple floors of a building.
Senate Bill 40 will help places like Newport on the Levee – that are looking to re-position and re-invent for the future – opportunities to attract new businesses to the property.
Senate Bill 40 also changes restaurant reporting practices dealing with the sale of alcoholic beverages and food.
Previously, in order to be licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, restaurants had to get 50% of their gross receipts from the sale of food. Senate Bill 40 changes that regulation to state that restaurants must get at least 50% of their food and beverage receipts from the sale of food.
This change means that restaurants like the Hard Rock Café or Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville will no longer have to include gift shop sales in with their alcohol sales.
Other restaurants that sell items like t-shirts or hats also would not have to include those receipts into the calculation. The food and beverage receipts will now be separate from everything else and half of that would have to come from food, while the other half would be from beverages.
Senate Bill 40 is an important tool that will support our restaurant and entertainment industry, which is becoming one of Kentucky’s more profitable economic engines. Building or adding more restaurants to places like Newport on the Levee creates jobs, increases our travel and tourism opportunities and contributes to our overall economy.
The Kentucky General Assembly did enact the state’s two-year budget. This spending plan is balanced, as our constitution requires, but what is especially important is that it continues to protect the classroom and services for our most vulnerable.
It also doesn’t raise any taxes or lay off any teachers or state employees, and it features low levels of borrowing. In short, it has us living within our means without sacrificing our future.
That doesn’t mean it will be an easy budget to carry out; after more than $1 billion in cuts during the last four years, there is little fat left to trim. Nevertheless, there have been encouraging signs of economic growth in recent months, and there is broad consensus that the worst is truly behind us.
Although the budget requires some tough choices, there are some positive initiatives that deserve mention. About $20 million extra is set aside, for example, to provide much-needed help for our social workers, whose caseloads are well beyond the national average. We also give a much-needed tax break to victims of the early spring tornadoes, making it more affordable for them to rebuild, and we boost programs helping the elderly and our state parks.
In terms of lasting legislative accomplishments, this session will undoubtedly be remembered for the far-reaching work done to combat illegal drug use. We now have important tools to take on the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, and other new laws will help us limit the production of meth and the sale of dangerous synthetic drugs.
There are other numerous other accomplishments worth mentioning.
We cracked down on copper thefts, we laid the groundwork for a new memorial to honor our fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we gave our schools added flexibility should they want to pursue innovative approaches to improve their academic standing.
We also call for standardized local tax forms, to make it easier for companies to pay these taxes if they do business in more than one community; we now require life insurance companies to work harder to find beneficiaries of unclaimed policies; and we will have social workers provide more information to help foster children transition into adulthood.
The General Assembly covered a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time, and while I wish we could have done more, I appreciate what we were able to do in a challenging environment nationally. In the months ahead, as the legislative committees begin meeting again, we will look for more ways to help Kentuckians succeed.
Representative Dennis Keene represents the 67th House District in Campbell County that includes the cities of Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Wilder, Southgate, Woodlawn and Highland Heights. He is chairman of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee, vice chairman of Economic Development and a member of the Banking & Insurance and is the Budget Subcommittee on Transportation. Keene is a small business owner and an economic development advisor for EGC. For more information, visit: www.DennisKeene.com.