Legislative update on public assistance, tourism, economic development

Published 7:57 am Friday, July 29, 2022

STATE REP. DANIEL ELLIOTT

Kentucky House District 54

Almost two full months into this year’s legislative interim, lawmakers continue to work on issues that will dominate the 2023 Regular Session agenda. Last week was particularly busy in Frankfort, with 16 committees, task forces and working groups meeting to work on the issues facing our state. While information about all the meetings is available on the General Assembly’s website, below is a review of a handful of the discussions.

Task Force on Public Assistance Benefits Cliff

Lawmakers began diving into issues and looking for solutions to the public assistance benefits cliff in Kentucky. The cliff effect refers to the sudden and often unexpected decrease in public benefits like childcare or health coverage that can occur with a slight wage increase or employment. Members received a briefing on where the commonwealth currently stands, with a few startling statistics sticking out. Over the last three years, Kentucky’s poverty rate remained a full three percentage points higher than the national rate. Since expanding Medicaid eligibility in 2000, the state has had more than a million new enrollees—an increase of 153% —while our labor participation rate dropped by 11%. Lawmakers also evaluated successful policy options other states have implemented, hearing directly from a nonpartisan, national legislative research organization.

IJC on Health, Welfare and Family Services

Members discussed a number of issues, including a proposed pilot program that serves as a 24/7 mental health resource for students. The proposal would test an app called SafeKY that would, at no cost, connect those in need with certified mental health therapists and crisis counselors. It is based on a similar program with a proven track record in Utah. Also, legislators received an update on health care workforce shortages statewide. According to industry representatives, health care workers are retiring in large numbers, and not enough students are entering the professions. Hospital leaders shared they expect 18% of nurses to retire within the next year. To meet growing demands, hospitals continue using traveling nurses and offering employees premium pay. In 2019, hospitals spent $88 million on nursing contract labor. Through the first six months of this year, that number has skyrocketed to $489 million. Nursing premium pay has also escalated from $50 million to $185 million over the same time period.

IJC on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations

Members heard testimony on several key issues surrounding the commonwealth currently. The topics discussed were veterinarian licensing, real estate wholesaling, and charitable gaming. Despite being one of Kentucky’s premier industries, like most of the nation our state is suffering from a shortage of thoroughbred and large animal veterinarians. To combat the issue, the legislature will take a closer look at modernizing the 1942 Kentucky Practice Act that sets the parameters for veterinarian practice in the Commonwealth. Additionally, real estate wholesaling has been a prevalent issue in Kentucky for decades but has gone without regulation since its inception. From committee testimony, I expect we will see a proposal to add a fiduciary mandate for real estate wholesalers in order to provide protection to consumers. Essentially, this would place wholesalers on a level playing field with realtors. Finally, current laws mandate that charitable gaming deposits are made roughly every other day regardless of the amount collected. This may have been helpful when the law was enacted, but today most charitable gaming facilities collect a small amount daily. We may consider legislation next session would update the timeline.

IJC on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology

Lawmakers received an update on the Broadband Deployment Fund, as well as hearing about Tennessee’s approach to increasing broadband access. Broadband service provides a higher speed of data transmission and access to the highest quality internet services, such as videoconferencing for telehealth, that require large amounts of data transmission. Access to service plays an important role in economic development and paves the way for rural community growth and sustainability. Increasing broadband access and usage in rural areas will lead to higher property values, increased economic growth, higher rates of new business emergence, and lower unemployment rates. Broadband expansion can also improve health and life outcomes, offering access to telework, remote healthcare, entertainment, and educational opportunities.

IJC on Economic Development and Workforce Investment

Legislators delved into the Registered Apprenticeship Program, which works to help employers with the recruitment, training, and retention of talented employees. There are currently 623 registered apprenticeship programs aimed at growing our state’s workforce and preparing the next generation of worker. The committee also heard from Kentucky’s Secondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) System. During the 2021-2022 school year, 70% of Kentucky’s high school students were enrolled in CTE career pathways and for many students it represented a third of their high school experience. CTE programs range from a focus on careers in agriculture and medicine to finance and law enforcement.

With the 2023 Regular Session nearing, I am excited to continue our work and prepare legislation that makes Kentucky the best place to live, work, and grow a family. In the meantime, I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email at Daniel.Elliott@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information, please visit the LRC website legislature.ky.gov.

State Rep. Daniel Elliott represents Kentucky House District 54 that includes Boyle and Casey counties.