SEN. STORM: Important work being done in first week of legislative session

As we officially gavel in the Kentucky General Assembly's 2022 Regular Session, your representatives will tackle key issues most important to you that enhance the quality of life of Kentuckians.

The Interim Joint Committees met in the fall and listened to the thoughts and concerns of districts across the Commonwealth. Seeds sown during that interim period have informed this General Assembly and will ensure a fruitful 60-day session establishing policies that improve the lives of Kentucky's residents.

Despite repeated appeals to our governor, a special session in the fall to handle redistricting was not called, so that important legislation was introduced Tuesday, the first day of the session. The constitutional process of redistricting occurs every 10 years and is the sole responsibility of the state legislature. The process is guided by population data gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau and constitutional legal requirements as well as federal statutes and case law. The General Assembly's efforts on this front will ensure you have an equal voice in Frankfort for state issues and appropriate representation at the national level in Washington, D.C.

Even-numbered years are known as "budget sessions" and take place over 60 session days. After passing single-year budgets in the previous two years, the General Assembly will get back on track in 2022 by passing a two-year budget. Because of COVID-19 and the natural disasters that tore through western Kentucky in 2021, vast sums of federal dollars have poured into the state from Washington and unnaturally inflated our economy. We will ensure we do not use these one-time relief dollars to create recurring expenses in the following years. You can trust the state budget our caucus is committed to crafting will be fiscally conservative, protect Kentucky's resources, reflect Kentucky's values, and maintain full funding for obligations like pensions. This assembly remains committed to improving the status of the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, also known as the "rainy day fund."

Labor challenges in the Commonwealth cut across almost all industries and are most evident in our local health care system. We are experiencing a nursing shortage like the state has never seen before. The physical and emotional fatigue our medical professionals are experiencing is legitimate and we have to protect the health care systems our communities rely upon. It's important we audit our state workforce programs holistically to evaluate what is working, where funds are being spent, and how we can repurpose dollars to be used most effectively. Boosting education in the skilled trades and providing a mechanism for students to access training will position them with industries that need an expanded workforce and entice new commerce to our state. Considering best practices of other successful neighboring states like Indiana and Virginia will help the Commonwealth build a vibrant workforce and healthy economy.

Maybe the most important topic the legislature will address is improving our state's K-12 educational system. Improving literacy standards has to be a priority. The evidence is clear that children who can read at or above grade level by the third grade are more likely to be successful in life. A report by the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Kentucky-based public policy think tank, points to a need for literacy reform and significant improvements in student outcomes across the Commonwealth. Providing teachers with the professional development they need to improve reading achievement among students will be a goal of the Senate this session.

A robust and well-rounded education is critical to a better Kentucky. Because of the impact of COVID-19—and the unintended consequences of executive branch responses to it—our state has significant ground to make up. This legislature recognizes that and will continue to lead on this issue.

Finally, one issue that unites us is protecting our most vulnerable population: children. Sadly, Kentucky ranks among the worst in the nation in child abuse and neglect. Stabilizing the child welfare workforce must remain a top priority if we intend to protect high-risk children who live in unsafe environments. As COVID-19 led to school and daycare closures, abuse and neglect moved into the darkness, away from educators and caregivers who are trained to identify the signs. Much like the cooperative efforts we witnessed in helping western Kentucky after being ravaged by tornadoes last month, protecting our children is a unifying issue. Now is the time to pass bipartisan legislation to protect our state's most precious treasure.

Much can be accomplished when we work together to benefit Kentucky residents. We will carry that sentiment with us as we progress through the 2022 Regular Session.

I have introduced and will be the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 30, which will provide persons applying online for motor vehicle registration renewal the choice to be an organ donor. It will also allow County Clerks' office to ask a person applying in person if they wish to become a voluntary organ donor. The bill will also ensure that financial donations collected by the Transportation Cabinet are forwarded to the Kentucky Circuit Clerks' Trust for Life, which is a fund exclusively utilized to promote the organ donor program.

Follow the exciting changes taking place by visiting legislature.ky.gov. Live coverage is available through ket.org/legislature; if you miss live committee meetings or legislative action in the Senate and House chambers, archived footage is also available at ket.org/legislature/archives. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In closing, I want to leave you with this:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Senator Brandon J. Storm (R-London) represents the 21st District, which encompasses Bath, Estill, Jackson, Laurel, Menifee, and Powell Counties.

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