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Recent News

Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives - 08/14/18

Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens - 08/14/18

Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges - 08/07/18

Water needs discussed by state legislative panel - 08/07/18

Experts view youth violence as public health crisis - 07/19/18

New state laws go into effect July 14 - 07/06/18

 

August 14, 2018

 

Lawmakers review VA suicide prevention initiatives

FRANKFORT – An average of 20 veterans kill themselves every day.

That was a statistic federal and state veteran affairs officials kept coming back to while testifying about suicide prevention programs available to Kentucky’s 300,000 veterans at yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection.

“Within our veterans’ community, there has been a recognized problem with young men and women coming home from serving ... and then finding themselves drifting outside of the military,” said Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, who co-chaired the committee. “This is an issue important to all of us.”

Lexington Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Case Manager Becky Stinsky testified that on average 70 percent of veterans who kill themselves are not seeking treatment through the VA health care system. She told legislators that she conducts suicide prevention training in the community, including companies that employ large numbers of veterans, to try to reach that 70 percent.

Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Heather French Henry testified that her department collaborates closely with the VA.

“If you would have told me 18 years ago that the VA would be offering things like acupuncture, tai chi and yoga, I would have said there probably is never going to be a chance,” Henry said. “But now every VA hospital really is a specialty care facility when it comes to mental health, behavioral health. They do offer some of these more nontraditional ways to address mental health.”

Rep. Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg, asked how long, on average, it takes a veteran to qualify for VA health care benefits if they have suicidal thoughts.

“If anyone (with suicidal thoughts) contacts the VA, whether they are eligible or not, we are going to care for them,” said Lexington VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator Rebecca Willis-Nichols, who also testified before the committee.

She said the process to apply for VA health care benefits has become “much leaner” and easier in recent years. It can be done online, via mail or in person by filling out a 10-minute form, she said.

Schamore then asked what happens to suicidal veterans that do not qualify for VA health care benefits.

“For those veterans, we are going to care for them acutely and make sure they are safe,” Willis-Nichols said. “We are then going to talk to them about community resources, whether it is their comp care, whether it is contacting their health insurance to get them access that way, or looking at free resources.”

Sen. Perry B. Clark, D-Louisville, asked what percent of veterans utilize VA health care. Henry said it was only 9 percent.

“Unfortunately, there are going to be a percentage that do not want to use the VA,” she said. “There might still be a misperception that it is a second-rate health care system. But I will tell you, as one whose dad gets excellent health care at the VA, it is a top-rate health care institution – the only national health care system we got. They do extremely great research and health care work.”

Rep. Jim DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown, asked the officials testifying if they had insight on why female veterans are two-and-half times more likely to kill themselves than female civilians.

Henry said she is working hard to make her department less male centric so women get proper recognition and care. Willis-Nichols added that VA health care had historically been such a male-dominated system that women simply didn’t get the support they needed.

Stinsky theorized that it was because female veterans are more likely to have access to a gun then female civilians. She added that female civilians are more likely to use pills or other methods that are less lethal than firearms.

“I really just want to emphasize that time and distance between someone in crisis and the means in which they can kill themselves makes all the difference,” Stinsky said. “That time and distance is a protecting factor.”

She added that VA health care offers gunlocks to all its patients with no questions asked.

“We don’t put your name on a list,” Stinsky said. “We give them free of charge.”

 

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August 14, 2018

 

Step right up: LRC fair booth informs citizens

FRANKFORT –  As part of an ongoing commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky, the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) will unveil an expanded Kentucky State Fair booth on Thursday. 

New components of the fair booth include a virtual reality experience delivering a bird's-eye view of the legislative process, information about LRC's various social media channels and a demo of LegislaTV. That is an expanding digital signage system at the Capitol Annex, which displays legislative committee meeting schedules and a stream of hundreds of informational slides and videos about the legislative process. 

Visitors will also have the opportunity to receive a complimentary souvenir photograph of themselves in or around the state Capitol, using green-screen technology. 

"The Mission Statement for LRC's nonpartisan staff includes our commitment to encourage participatory democracy for the citizens of Kentucky," said LRC Director David Byerman. "LRC's annual presence at the Kentucky State Fair is an exciting part of our public engagement strategy. Through this exhibit, we hope to connect Kentucky residents more closely to their legislators and the legislative process." 

This year marks the sixth consecutive year that the LRC has operated a booth in the Main Street section of the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. This annual outreach program of the LRC gives citizens of the Commonwealth opportunities to learn about the operations of the legislative branch of Kentucky state government. 

Each year the booth averages personal interactions with over 10,000 people. These interactions help citizens discover who their legislators are through an interactive find-your-legislator program. Citizens also become familiar with the legislative process through publications made available to fairgoers.

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A photo of Legislative Research Commission (LRC) Inventory Control and Maintenance staff members 
assembling the agency's state fair booth on Monday in Louisville can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 7, 2018

 

Panel looks at improvement plans for state's bridges

FRANKFORT – Kentucky transportation officials plan to spend $700 million to repair or replace 1,000 bridges in six years despite forecasting stagnant growth in the road fund – the pot of money used to pay for transportation projects.

“It is one of the most aggressive bridge rehab and replacement programs in the country,” said Royce Meredith, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet official who testified about the initiative during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation. “These are critical structures that affect every Kentuckian.”

Named Bridging Kentucky, the initiative will allow transportation officials to tackle more than three times as many bridge projects as years past. There is $340 million earmarked for nearly 350 bridges in the state’s current biennium, or two-year, budget that started on July 1.

“This program is large and broad,” Meredith said. “It includes structures in all of Kentucky’s 120 counties with a mix of bridges in rural and urban areas. This is a program that affects all parts of the state and impacts almost every driver that uses our roads.”

State transportation officials, highway engineers and consultants are currently screening Kentucky’s more than 14,000 bridges using detailed analytics and calculations for the life-cycle costs of rehabilitation verse replacement. Meredith said the evaluations should be completed this month. It will be followed by a series of industry forums this fall with bridge builders.

“We’re not going to rehab a bridge that should be replaced, and we’re not going to replace a bridge that should be rehabbed,” Meredith said. “Right now it appears about 30 percent of these bridges can be rehabbed.”

He said the bridge construction projects are being prioritized based on budget, construction of structure and project challenges.

Rep. Steve Riggs, D-Louisville, asked why the number of vehicles that cross each bridge isn’t being considered in the prioritization process if the cabinet is using a data-driven system.

“If there are 130 vehicles a day using the structure verse 13 vehicles a day, the one with 130 should be prioritized,” he said, “but you don’t list the number of vehicles that use the bridge as a factor.”

Meredith said the number of vehicles is among the multitude of factors being considered that was not highlighted in the slide presentation shown to the committee.

Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said there are bridges in eastern Kentucky that cannot handle the weight of a loaded school bus. He said the children literally have to get off school buses and walk across some bridges before the buses can cross the spans. He added that those bridges should be prioritized even if they have a low number of vehicles that cross them.

“That’s just good common sense,” Smith said.

Sen. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown, echoed Smith’s comment. He said his district has a substandard bridge that provides access to four homes.

“They need that bridge available, not only to get out, but so emergency vehicles can get to them,” Embry said. “The traffic on that bridge will always be very low but it is still important that bridge is fixed – even if the traffic count isn’t very high.”

Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, asked where one could find a complete list of bridges that are being repaired or replaced. Meredith said a list is being maintained on the website bridgingkentucky.com. He said that list would be updated in the next couple of weeks.

Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, urged the transportation department to expedite bridge inspections to avoid lane closures and traffic jams. He said there have been lane closures on the Interstate 24 bridge over the Tennessee River in Calvert City for about three months.

During the last half of the meeting, Robin Brewer of the Transportation Cabinet testified that the state road fund ended the fiscal year $7.7 million above the official revised revenue estimate of $1.5 billion.

Brewer estimates the road fund revenue through fiscal year 2020 to remain $1.5 billion per year.

“We are not really estimating any additional growth through the biennium,” she said. “It’s pretty much on autopilot at this point.”

The committee’s next meeting will be on Sept 12 at the Wayne County Public Library in Monticello.

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August 7, 2018


Water needs discussed by state legislative panel

FRANKFORT—Kentucky has billions of dollars in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure needs, and some state lawmakers are eager to find solutions.

Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy co-chair Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, told Energy and Environment Cabinet officials testifying before the committee yesterday that there is still local water infrastructure in the state dating to the Works Progress Administration of the late 1930s.

“Most cities don’t have the money to make those kinds of investments anymore,” said Gooch, even though water lines regularly break and need repair. “Those kinds of things are problems that we need to address, and they need help.”

He agreed with Deputy Cabinet Secretary Bruce Scott and Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann that local governments need funding to meet their water infrastructure needs. The source of the funding, said Gooch, is “something we definitely ought to look at.”

Investment in Kentucky’s drinking water infrastructure would be the most costly according to Goodmann, who estimated the cost of needed statewide investment at $8.2 billion over the next 20 years. Wastewater infrastructure investment runs a close second at $6.2 billion over the next 20 years, he said.

Also needed is $100 million for work on the state’s dams “in the near-term” based on the state’s 2014 Dam Safety Mitigation Plan, Goodmann told the committee. He was backed up by Scott, who told the committee that water and sewer infrastructure cannot be overlooked indefinitely.

“We have to make an investment. We can’t not make an investment in water and sewer,” said Scott. The outcome would be to be “reactive”—or wait until a major infrastructure failure occurs before some action is taken.

Possible funding options for infrastructure, Scott said, include federal sources like Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loans, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Appalachian Regional Commission grants and Abandoned Mine Land grants. State sources may include state general funds, tobacco settlement funds, or coal severance funds. Local funding and private funding—through a P3 partnership, perhaps—are other possibilities, Bruce said.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, asked Scott and Goodmann about the Cabinet’s view of Louisville Metro’s sewer company, the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which he said has had some “serious issues.” 

“It is in our interest that the small communities be served, period,” Meeks said, but the state’s view of MSD, he said, is also of interest.

Scott said the state has the authority to deal with an issue if “demonstrative progress” is not being made. “The question becomes what constitutes demonstrative progress?” he said.

Two unforeseen sewer collapses in Louisville have raised the question of whether the collapses “negatively impact Jefferson County’s ability to manage its sewage, stormwater or not,” said Scott. “That’s something we have to talk with them about and see whether or not that’s something we have to get involved in in terms of mandates.”

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July 19, 2018

 

Experts view youth violence as public health crisis

 

FRANKFORT – A legislative panel explored the issue of violence, mental health and guns among Kentucky’s youth during a recent gathering 

“This is a topic that we talk about amongst each other ... but it’s something we haven’t really talked about publicly yet,” Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said during yesterday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services. “I think it deserves a forum.”

Dr. Brit Anderson, who practices pediatric emergency medicine in Louisville, testified that she realized discussions about firearm injuries can be a divisive topic, but firearm injuries among children is a public health problem. She said recognizing that can allow society to change the conversation and its approach to these injuries.

“Many people read about children killed or seriously injured in the newspaper,” Anderson said, “but before that story is written, I meet that child. I’m sorry to be graphic but it is a reality. I know what it is like to lead a team to save a life. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we do not. I know how hard it is to watch a child bleed, cry, or worse yet, not respond at all 

“I have choked back tears trying to remain professional as I call a time of death and look down at a tiny body. And I know the horrible, chilling, heart-wrenching wail of a parent who has just lost a child. 

Anderson was among a group of doctors and health professionals who testified. She said the group included gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats brought together because they all treat children impacted by firearm injuries.

Dr. Cynthia Downard, a pediatric surgeon in Louisville, said suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years of age in the United States. But in Kentucky, it is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in this age group. And 58 percent of those deaths are suicides.

“I think this is, again, a significant public health problem we need to pay attention to,” Downard said. “As Dr. Anderson said, the sound of a mother losing her child is something you never forget and I would never want to hear again.”

Dr. Christopher Peters, an adolescent psychiatrist in Louisville, said policymakers need to think of suicide as a preventable death. He said the most common way someone takes their own life is by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“The CDC recently reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of suicide for this country since 1999,” Peters said. “Kentucky has its own increase within that average of 30 percent. 

He said teenagers who live in homes with a loaded, unlocked gun are at four times greater risk of killing themselves than if it was unloaded and locked away.

Adams said the group’s presentation was not a referendum on gun ownership or non-gun ownership. She said it just reflected the violence occurring across the nation.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked what could be done. 

Peters said increasing access to health care, improving identification of children who need mental health treatment and limiting children’s access to guns would make a difference.

“It is as simple as locking it up,” he said. “Keep guns locked and safe.”

Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, asked whether mental-health professionals had identified the contributing factors to the increase of anxiety and mental-health issues among the nation’s youth.

“It is a difficult question to answer,” Peters said. “People spend their lives really studying this issue of suicidology.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked the group for their presentation.

“This is a critical conversation we need to have,” she said. “It is in the news quite a bit. We need to look at this as a big-picture problem.”

She added that there seems to be a lack of coping skills among the nation’s youth.

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July 6, 2018

  

New state laws go into effect July 14

FRANKFORT – Most new laws approved during the Kentucky General Assembly's 2018 session will go into effect on Saturday, July 14.

That means drivers will soon be required to leave at least three feet of space between their vehicles and cyclists they pass. Children under the age of 17 will not be allowed to get married. And penalties will get tougher for those who post sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. 

The Kentucky Constitution specifies that new laws take effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature unless they have a special effective date, are general appropriations measures, or include an emergency clause that makes them effective immediately upon becoming law. Final adjournment of the 2018 Regular Session was on April 14, making July 14 the effective date for most bills.

Laws taking effect that day include measures on the following topics:

Abstinence Education. Senate Bill 71 will require the inclusion of abstinence education in any human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases curriculum in Kentucky high schools.

Bicycle safety. House Bill 33 will require drivers to keep their vehicles at least three feet away from bicyclists during an attempt to pass. If that much space isn’t available, drivers must use reasonable caution when passing cyclists.

Breweries. House Bill 136 will increase what breweries can sell onsite to three cases and two kegs per customer. The new law will also allow breweries to sell one case per customer at fairs and festivals in wet jurisdictions.

Dyslexia. House Bill 187 will require the state Department of Education to make a “dyslexia toolkit” available to school districts to help them identify and instruct students who display characteristics of dyslexia.

Financial literacy. House Bill 132 will require Kentucky high school students to pass a financial literacy course before graduating.

Foster Care and Adoption. House Bill 1 will take steps to reform the state’s foster care and adoption system to ensure that a child’s time in foster care is limited and that children are returned to family whenever possible. It will expand the definition of blood relative for child placement and ensure that children in foster care are reunified with family or placed in another permanent home in a timely manner.

Organ donation. House Bill 84 will require coroners or medical examiners to release identifying and other relevant information about a deceased person to Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates if the person’s wish to be an organ donor is known and the body is suitable for medical transplant or therapy.

Police cameras. House Bill 373 will exempt some police body camera footage from being publicly released. It will exempt the footage from certain situations being released if it shows the interior of private homes, medical facilities, women’s shelters and jails or shows a dead body, evidence of sexual assault, nude bodies and children.

Prescription medicines. Senate Bill 6 will require pharmacists to provide information about safely disposing of certain prescription medicines, such as opiates and amphetamines.

Price gouging. Senate Bill 160 will clarify laws that prevent price gouging during emergencies. The bill specifies that fines could be imposed if retailers abruptly increase the price of goods more than 10 percent when the governor declares a state of emergency.

Revenge porn. House Bill 71 will increase penalties for posting sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. The crime would be a misdemeanor for the first offense and felony for subsequent offenses. Penalties would be even more severe if the images were posted for profit.

Teen marriage. Senate Bill 48 will prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from marrying. It will also require a district judge to approve the marriage of any 17-year-old.

Terrorism. Senate Bill 57 will allow a person injured by an act of terrorism to file a claim for damages against the terrorist in state court. 

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