LRC News Releases

Legislative committee discusses housing issues

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, asks a question about the types of housing included in the presenter’s research during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians have long commutes and struggle to find an affordable place to live, according to data shared with lawmakers Thursday.

Patrick Bowen, president of Bowen National Research, told the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment that housing issues across the commonwealth are a concern for employers as well.

Bowen’s research looked at worker commutes, wages and housing affordability and availability in five Kentucky counties — Daviess, Fayette, Kenton, Rowan and Warren. Each county had a large population of workers who travel at least 50 miles day for work, Bowen said.

Most people have long commutes because they either cannot afford to live where they work, cannot find a place to live where they work, or both, he said.

“When we ask them, ‘Would you live in that area (where they work) if housing was available and affordable?’ 40% say, ‘yes,’” Bowen said.

Looking at the top 30 occupations for each county, the majority of workers in those occupations cannot afford to rent or buy housing in those communities on a single income, according to Bowen’s research.

From the employer side, more than half of 456 employers surveyed nationally over a multi-year period said local housing issues have impacted their business, particularly their ability to attract and retain workers, Bowen said.

“Nearly two-thirds of employers indicate they are more likely to hire workers if housing issues are resolved,” Bowen added.

During discussion, Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, asked Bowen what the definition of housing is in his research.

“The reason I ask is in our Affordable Housing Caucus, we talk about housing issues, but that means a wide variety of things,” King said. “… Are you including single houses on a single plot of land, duplexes, quads, all the way up to major apartment buildings?”

Bowen said it was the “entire spectrum,” including mobile homes, condominiums, apartments and more.

“The challenges are universal,” Bowen said. “The lack of available housing is really across the whole spectrum of affordability, and it’s both rentals and it’s for sale housing as well.”

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, questioned whether the lack of senior care facilities due to certificate of need requirements is having an impact on the housing market.

“I wonder if there’s a correlation with much of our senior housing population actually staying in their home, but in fact they would be better suited in a transitional care or something that has a lot of levels of care,” she said.

Bowen said senior care housing is a section of the market that not a lot of people think about, but should. While many seniors would like to downsize or transition into a senior care facility, there’s a lack of availability there that results in seniors staying in homes they would prefer to sell, he said.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2

Commission studies possible amendment to state constitution

Senate President Pro-Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, speaks on the importance of keeping proposed constitutional amendment language simple during Monday’s Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity meeting A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Teens and adults spoke to lawmakers on Monday about changing what the state constitution says about slavery.

The Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity discussed a constitutional amendment for Section 25, which currently prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in Kentucky, except as a punishment for a crime. The proposed amendment would remove the punishment for a crime exception.

Commission co-chair Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said he was inspired to research the issue of Section 25 further after a conversation with a constituent at a basketball game last winter.

David Childs, a history and Black studies professor at Northern Kentucky University, gave a presentation to the commission on the history of Section 25. The language used in Kentucky’s constitution comes from the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which also allowed for slavery as a punishment for a crime.

Childs said convict leasing, a form of legal slavery, was widespread in the South during Reconstruction.

“During the Reconstruction period, farmers and businessmen needed to find replacements for the labor force once their slaves had been freed,” Childs said. “Some southern legislatures passed Black Codes to restrict free movement of Black people and force them into employment.”

Childs said the new laws would often lead to Black people being incarcerated for minor offenses.

“States began to lease convict labor to plantations and other facilities,” Childs added.

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, said he’s filed similar legislation to amend Section 25 in the past.

Timoney asked whether or not removing the “except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” language would impact work programs for incarcerated individuals.

Senate President Pro-Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, said Section 253 of the Kentucky Constitution addresses work of penitentiary prisoners and may cover the issue.

Givens, who is also one of the commission’s co-chairs, spoke on the importance of keeping the amendment’s language simple to avoid confusing voters. Any amendments made to the state constitution must be approved through a ballot measure.

“If we don’t make our proposed constitutional amendment change simple, we end up bogging down the electorate in ways we don’t intend to,” Givens said.

Givens suggested the proposed amendment should say something simple like: “Are you in favor of amending Section 25 of the constitution to prohibit slavery in all circumstances?”

To read a working draft of the amendment proposal, click here.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take action on any legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

Lawmakers hear about legislation designed to reduce maternal mortality

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, testifies on legislation regarding maternal mortality during Monday’s Interim Joint Committee on Health Services meeting. She also serves as the committee’s co-chair. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Legislators heard from one of their own on Monday about proposals to shore up maternal health in Kentucky – a state described during testimony as having the second highest maternal mortality rate in the United States.

“I am very happy to be with you today to discuss a bill draft that I have worked on throughout the summer with a very nice bipartisan, bicameral, informal workgroup discussing maternal health,” said Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, also co-chair of the committee.

Moser said those working on the legislation are targeting ways to improve the state’s situation.

“We’ve really tried to pull all of the stakeholders together to take a deep dive and hard look at what is affecting maternal mortality in Kentucky. We know that new Kentucky mothers die at a higher rate in Kentucky than 48 other states,” she said.

Moser said the legislation will most likely undergo changes before the legislative session that begins on Jan. 2, but it calls for establishment of the Kentucky maternal psychiatry access program, also known as the Kentucky Lifeline for Moms.

A dedicated hotline number would be available for health care practitioners to obtain information about referrals, continuing professional education and other issues regarding mental health services.

“I can say definitively that maternal health, as in saving mothers and babies, is a priority, especially for our caucus, and we want to make sure we are supporting moms and babies. And that’s really what this seeks to do,” she said.

The legislation would also cover a special enrollment period when women find out they’re pregnant, Moser said.

One area of major concern is the high rate of substance use disorder, which is the top cause of death for mothers in the year following a birth, she said.

The legislation also addresses a lack of insurance coverage, access to prenatal care, mental health treatment, education and service referrals, including treatment support and follow-up care, Moser said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, said he’s aware of crisis pregnancy clients who struggle with costs of housing, transportation and other needs. He’s working on legislation with some overlapping issues, and he commended Moser for her “leadership” and legislation to help mothers.

“Kentucky needs to invest in moms and children before they’re born, when they’re in the womb, after they’re born, and as they’re starting to grow in their early childhood development,” he said. “We’ve done some things that are good, but we need to do a whole lot more.”

Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, said he’s a father who supports the “momnibus” bill before broaching depression.

“And the question I have, and it’s very personal to me because my eldest daughter gave birth to her second child, and she went into deep postpartum depression. And you referenced the mental health aspect. Does this deal with postpartum depression because I know how bad it got for her,” he said.

Those concerns, Moser said, are integral to the bill. She pointed to components of the legislation that help identify women struggling with postpartum depression and improve their access to psychiatric care.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, said legislators had to ask several questions to understand the directions they need to take to tackle maternal mortality.

“The process started with, ‘What do we know about the data in our communities and our state? What do the experts say are the best solutions for those problems?’ and ‘How can we craft something that makes sense in our current policy landscape?’”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, also committee co-chair, asked Moser about urban vs. rural rates of maternal mortality.

Moser said the Kentucky Perinatal Quality Collaborative and the Maternal Mortality Review Panel have good information about the issue.

“Obviously, only the moms who need this insurance coverage would access it. So we don’t anticipate that this is going to be a large number. So regardless of whether you’re rural or you’re urban, if you need insurance, you should have access to that,” she said.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, thanked Moser, and said in Kentucky, 48% of births were covered by Medicaid. In 2022, 45% of the births in the state were covered by Medicaid. He urged the committee to “keep our eyes also on the big picture in the Medicaid area,” adding there is no free money.

“So anyone who wants to argue that we are not putting money into this area needs to go back and look at some of the data. I want to make sure that we’re looking at this in a pragmatic way, an objective way and not just an emotional way,” he said.

Moser said she agrees that more people are accessing Medicaid, but having healthier citizens will benefit the state’s economy and fewer people will access Medicaid.

“We are looking at this issue because this is a crisis, and we need to get our hands around it. But I think you’re right. We need to ultimately look at how to make Kentucky a healthier place, and I think we’re doing that,” she said.

Lawmakers share plan to extend off-highway vehicle pilot program

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, speaks to the committee about a pilot program for off-highway vehicle trails in Eastern Kentucky during Wednesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Transportation meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Two Eastern Kentucky lawmakers are hoping to extend a pilot program that allows off-highway vehicles, or ATVs, to use state highways to get from one portion of a trail to another.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, and Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, worked on adding the pilot program to an omnibus transportation measure, Senate Bill 215, during the 2021 legislative session.

The program is set to expire on July 1, 2024, Wheeler and Fugate told the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation on Wednesday. Wheeler said they hope to extend the program another 36 months with new legislation in 2024.

“We’re really just now getting to the point to be able to adopt state roads and certain county roads into the ATV trail system,” Wheeler said.

SB 215 in 2021 gave local governments the ability to petition the state for permission to use a state highway to connect one portion of an ATV recreation trail to another.

Jason Siwula, deputy state highway engineer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the administrative regulations took some time to promulgate, but they officially went into effect on March 1, 2023. He said no petitions have been submitted yet.

Jerry Adkins, director for the Pike County Hillbilly Trail System, said ATV recreation trail tourism is already off to a great start, and they hope to file a petition soon.

“We will soon be approaching to ask the Transportation Department to consider having the off-highway vehicles on State Route 197, which will allow us to access Elkhorn City, Kentucky, a few miles down Route 197, which is a trail friendly town,” Adkins said.

Adkins said Pike County’s trail system officially opened Sept. 30 and permit sales with 15 local retailers have been going well.

Fugate said the ATV recreation trail system is more than just tourism for Eastern Kentucky.

“We’ve got 18 counties all working together to make this trail system happen, but it’s more of an economic development thing than it is tourism,” he said.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, asked the panel what other states, like Tennessee and West Virginia, are doing to make ATV tourism a success. Higdon said research on other states played a large role in the 2021 legislation.

Fugate said Kentucky has essentially copied what West Virginia has done for the last 15 to 20 years.

Rep. Tom Smith, R-Corbin, said he was contacted by a constituent who was concerned about the lack of a kill-switch on ATVs after a child died when one was left running.

Wheeler said he’s not sure if there’s anything Kentucky can do at a state-level to mandate a kill-switch component on ATVs. Smith suggested the legislature consider passing a resolution asking the federal government to improve the safety of ATVs.

Wheeler agreed safety is a huge concern when it comes to ATV use.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

Legislators receive results of annual ‘school report card’

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, speaks on the Kentucky Department of Education’s School Report Card for the 2022-23 academic year. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Interim Joint Committee on Education reviewed results Wednesday from the annual ‘school report card,’ a much-anticipated snapshot of public education and student performance in Kentucky schools.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released the new report – required by state and federal law – on Tuesday night. Overall, it shows that during the 2022-23 academic year, fewer than half of public schools scored at proficient or above in major content areas, including reading, math, science and social studies.

The report also showed that the state’s composite ACT score has climbed since the 2020-21 academic year, but remains below the level measured in 2019-20.

Rhonda Sims, associate commissioner of KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability, summed up the year-over-year results, saying that elementary schools have consistently moved forward, middle schools have seen slight improvement in most areas, and high schools have stayed the same or declined.

“We do have improvement efforts that we need to put into place. Some things we are already doing with your assistance,” said Robin Kinney, interim commissioner of KDE.

Kinney said the department is focused on providing high-quality instructional resources, access to highly qualified teachers and administrators, and professional learning and grant opportunities. However, she pointed to teacher shortages, absenteeism and truancy as continued challenges.

“Our goal is to have every student engaged every single day,” Kinney said. “That’s the way that we have the best opportunity to make our test scores go up.”

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, agreed that varying issues may have impacted the scores in the report – such as chronic absenteeism and the lingering effects of COVID-19. But he also warned that the scores overall indicate that Kentucky is failing to provide students with the tools they need to succeed in life.

“Parents play a vital role. We’ve got to have parents getting these kids back in school. But we’ve got to make school relevant for these kids. We’ve got to make it matter. We’ve got to make them want to be there, and we’ve got to make them know that our future depends on them,” he said. “So, for all the celebrations that we’re enjoying in some districts with these results, we have some districts that have failed our kids. And whatever we need to do to help them, we stand ready.”

Another concern was raised by Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville and co-chair of the committee.

“One of the alarming statistics I did see is we’re still seeing significant gaps between white and Black students. Have those numbers increased over last year? I mean we’re talking 30 points or better in these gaps,” he said.

Sims answered they would gather further information.

“There certainly are gaps,” she said. “I’ve not looked at the state data enough to tell you with great certainty if that gap is now increasing statewide, is it increasing in certain areas, but we’ll be happy to pull that information for you.”.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, and a co-chair of the committee, also asked about how to find additional data on achievement gaps, and Sims said the department has a 63-page briefing packet on its website that shows how different demographic groups are performing.

Some lawmakers also said they want to see the report card data sooner next year, including Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, a school principal.

“I love the data. I want to thank you for, in my opinion, probably having the best accountability system that I’ve seen as principal,” he said.

Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Pendleton, had a similar request.

“I’m hearing from a lot of the superintendents that I represent in my district saying if they only had that data sooner, they could be better prepared to make sure that each student comes in and they’re able to meet their needs based on the data that they’re receiving,” she said.

Legislators hear about challenges facing small business owners

House Minority Whip Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, speaks during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology meeting A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Lawmakers heard from national and state business advocates Thursday about the challenge of workforce shortages and the role of immigration in Kentucky’s economy.

Charles Aull, executive director of the Kentucky Chamber Center for Policy and Research, testified that 80% of Kentucky’s employers say there isn’t an ample supply of workers in their perspective areas, but 79% of them expect to still be in the state 10 years from now.

His comments were part of a presentation to the Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology.

In addition to Aull, John Cox, director of public affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, testified about the current business climate.

“We asked them (small business owners) what they thought state policy makers in particular should be most focused on. A pretty resounding response was an emphasis on workforce, and you all have done great work in this area,” Aull said. “I think a good way to interpret this is to understand the need for just continued pressure on the issue of workforce development.”

According to his presentation, 64% of employers reported trouble finding skilled workers, and 36% reported trouble finding non-skilled workers. Around 79% of employers have increased wages to retain employees. At the same time, 51% said state government is doing an excellent or good job creating a strong business climate.

Cox said the legislators’ supportive stances are appreciated.

“We just want to thank you all for your continued work to support small businesses across the state by backing important measures to support workforce development, reduce or streamline government regulations and improve our tax code. You’re actively making Kentucky a better place and a more competitive environment for small businesses,” he said.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said access to capital for small businesses is vital, and he asked about ways to get important information out to the public.

Sullivan said peer-to-peer learning through business associations is a good way to get the word out, but chambers of commerce use any way possible to disseminate information about available loans and challenges to obtaining them, ways to deal with inflation, and a plethora of other topics.

House Minority Whip Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, expressed concern about the cost of joining some chambers of commerce and closures of small businesses.

“So I own a small business, and one of my biggest challenges…is that so many small businesses can’t actually access their chambers because the price point for a small business to enter the chamber can be really cumbersome. In my region, it’s almost $400 for any business to join the chamber, even if that’s a sole proprietor business,” she said.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, asked about the outsourcing of jobs, border security, immigration and patriotism.

Sullivan said his organization is doubling down on the need for additional “legal workers” in the United States, combined with additional border protections that allow for the economy to grow responsibly.

“We are now actually committed to not only have immigration reform that brings in workers that will help our economy grow, we also are committed to making sure that we have border security. We believe that those things go hand in hand. They are not separate and distinct issues and priorities that have to work against each other,” he said.

Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, co-chair of the committee and president and owner of a lawn and landscaping business in Georgetown, asked Sullivan to comment on the H-2B program for guest workers.

“This program is a political football in D.C. They cap it, they uncap it, then they uncap it again,” Pratt said. “What can we do to straighten this program out? These are the guys that actually pay all the taxes, and if they have committed a crime in Mexico or in the United States – a misdemeanor – they cannot come across the border.”

Sullivan said this is a perfect example of the need for certainty for small businesses to flourish. He pointed out the program operates through a lottery system, and chambers of commerce need to work with federal partners to improve the situation.

“It does not add to certainty when a small business owner has to gamble on whether or not they’re going to have enough workers to meet what they would like to see as demand for increased revenues and growth in their business and growth in their community,” he said.

Legislators hear from, question health care loan relief program representatives

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, speaks during Wednesday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health Services. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Lawmakers heard Wednesday from groups in Kentucky that are working to recruit and retain badly needed physicians and other medical professionals using specialized loan relief opportunities.

Matt Coleman, director of the Kentucky Office of Rural Health, and Frances Feltner, director of the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health, both testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Health Services. Coleman called attention to two repayment efforts in particular.

The Healthcare Worker Loan Relief Program of the Commonwealth, is administered by the UK Center of Excellence in Rural Health using state funds. It was established through House Bill 573 in 2022.

That effort works in alignment with the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program, which has been handled by the Kentucky Office of Rural Health for the last 20 years and utilizes federal funds and dollars from public organizations and nonprofits.

“We will designate funds to those providers, but also there’s a match by the organization that is employing the provider in order to keep recruitment and retention in those areas,” Coleman said.

According to testimony, the KSLRP provides up to $40,000 in loan repayment assistance each year, for a total of two years. Borrowers must commit to two years of full-time service.

The pair also presented some statistics on health care workers in Kentucky.

The highest number of physicians are located in urban Kentucky, followed by rural areas and Appalachian and Delta regions. Eight counties do not have a practicing physician. And between 2020 and 2022, Kentucky lost 258 physicians and only gained 30 back, Feltner said.

Feltner said five counties in Kentucky have no practicing dentists, and making the loan application process easier is a priority.

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, also committee co-chair, said she has concerns about the primary care physicians Kentucky is losing in underserved areas each year.

“In 2020, we lost 38 primary care physicians, and in 2022, we lost eight. Does that indicate a slowing of the loss? Are we making a difference in identifying those underserved areas and plugging those in with physicians,” she asked.

Feltner said the numbers hopefully show improved retention. “If we can use this program to keep people in place, that’s what’s so important.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, also committee co-chair, asked why there is such a disparity between rural and urban areas concerning primary care physicians.

“I think a lot of that has to do with pay. You know you come to a rural area and the pay is not the same for a physician,” Feltner said, also citing the possible lack of amenities – such as housing, day care, schools, and other things in rural areas.

Rep. Rachel Roarx, D-Louisville, asked what outreach would help attract more interest in the programs.

“It’s a teamwork kind of deal. Part of that is driving those direct contacts, especially in those areas that we have zero, anything, talking to the counties around them even to see where we can expand this and expand the work for this program,” Coleman said.

Feltner said reaching out to high school students could be beneficial.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, a physician himself, said doctors should be asked why they are leaving Kentucky to practice elsewhere.

Rep. Jacob Justice, R-Elkhorn City, a dentist, said serving patients using Medicaid might mean a 5% profit margin.

“If you do a thousand dollars’ worth of work on your patients, you make 50 bucks. So if you have a post-operative complication or even if it just takes a longer procedure than it should have, you end up paying money to see these patients,” he said. “And just from a business standpoint, no matter how passionate you are about your community, you just can’t do that. You can’t survive.”

Legislators learn about veterinarian shortages, mitigation efforts

Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, speaks during Thursday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Whether you’re a cat parent, race horses or raise cattle for food, you’re bound to need a veterinarian.

On Thursday, legislators on the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture heard testimony about a shortage of veterinarians in Kentucky and ways to mitigate the problem.

Representatives from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, longtime collaborators at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, and those interested in establishing a veterinary medicine school in Kentucky all spoke to the committee.

Keith L. Rogers, chief of staff for the KDA, said addressing the shortage of veterinarians in the state has been a priority. The department launched stakeholder meetings in 2022 concerning large animal vets. This led to working group that was appointed this year, he said.

The 22 members come from a wide range of agriculture, veterinary industries, and higher education disciplines. They are focused on developing a stronger pipeline for Kentucky’s students to pursue careers as veterinarians.

Efforts include working with students who participate in FFA and 4-H and collaborating with high school counselors to find ways to prepare them for veterinary medicine school, he said.

Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris, said there’s no doubt more veterinarians are needed in rural Kentucky, but students often graduate from veterinary school saddled with debt. That makes it difficult to practice in rural communities, he said.

Rep. Chad Aull, D-Lexington, asked Rogers about other ways to attract and retain veterinarians.

“When you’re talking to other states – I’m assuming that other states are having the same problems – are they having any kind of out-of-the box unique ideas when it comes to retention and recruiting in this space that maybe are not just economically focused, like maybe forgiveness of debt and tuition and loans,” he said.

For 72 years, Kentucky and Auburn University in Alabama have had a regional contract for veterinary education. Through the arrangement, qualified students can pursue specific health degrees at out-of-state institutions and pay in-state tuition. Private schools offer reduced tuition.

Dr. Calvin M. Johnson and Dr. Melinda S. Camus, both of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, testified at length about how the arrangement works.

Johnson said Kentucky will pay the regional board $5.24 million this fiscal year for 152 seats at Auburn.

Rep. Shawn McPherson, R-Scottsville, said he has spoken with veterinarians who said they wish they had more training on how to run a business.

Camus replied that the students learn about inventory management, salaries, hiring and other business-related topics. Some students elect to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree during the summers while enrolled at Auburn.

Dr. Brian Parr, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murry State University, said the school is well positioned to boost the number of veterinarians in Kentucky.

“(It’s) not the first time that this has been looked at. This was looked at at least one time 50 years ago and about three times in between that,” he said.

Parr said the shortage in veterinarians is compounded by some younger veterinarians who don’t want to work 40-hours a week, according to a national statistic.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, said she was haunted by some of the veterinarians who aim to work less than 40 hours a week.

“I can’t even fathom how they expect to have a business model and have their own practice. I can assure them that they will put in three times that amount of work and hours every week,” she said.

Parr described it as a “delicate issue,” and said the whole profile of what new veterinarians look like has changed tremendously over the last 20 years – with the average pre-veterinarian student at Murray State being a female from a suburban or urban environment.

He also said the corporatization of veterinary offices across the United States causes challenges.

“But often times in those contracts, it cuts out any large animal practice. And there’s two main factors that cause that. No. 1, the money is not there to go pregnancy check dairy cows as opposed to giving cancer treatments to Chihuahuas. It doesn’t compare,” he said.

Task force continues to study certificate of need law in Kentucky

Rep. Marianne Proctor, R-Union, listens to Northern Kentucky doctor Mark Schroer speak on the impact of the certificate of need law on his patients during Thursday’s Certificate of Need Task Force meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Certificate of Need Task Force heard from health care workers Thursday on the impact of the state’s certificate of need law on patient care.

The task force is a special committee charged with reviewing Kentucky’s CON program, including the state health plan and related statutes.

Rep. Marianne Proctor, R-Union, testified alongside Northern Kentucky doctor Mark Schroer and registered nurse Carol Dwyer.

Proctor told the task force her constituents would like to see the CON law repealed in Kentucky. She said research shows CON is not meeting its intended goals of accessibility, affordability and quality.

“The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice have both submitted testimony in support of certificate of need repeal across both Republican and Democrat administrations,” Proctor said. “This is not a red or blue issue. This is a health care issue.”

Proctor said the state’s CON law might be hurting rural hospitals by limiting beds. Additionally, she said the research shows CON contributes to monopolies in health care, one of the driving factors of high health care costs.

“We’re seeing over and over certificate of need is protecting our hospitals, but is it protecting our patients? Is it giving them choices? Is it controlling costs? And the data is saying no,” Proctor said.

Schroer described how CON is negatively impacting his patients’ access to care. Due to CON, some patients have to travel to other facilities for certain tests or treatments that are not offered close to home. This often causes a financial burden.

“What does (the certificate of need law) say? It’s going to improve quality, increase access and regulate health system expenditures,” he said. “Now anyone who thinks that we have achieved that simply is not involved in patient care.”

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, said the biggest issue is urban vs. rural.

“People have to understand that urban and rural truly are two different worlds,” Meredith said. “With 40 years of health care experience, I will tell you that repeal of certificate of need will hurt rural hospitals because it does give us a monopoly. To a lot of people that’s a nasty word, but to me it’s not. It protects a market share.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said the CON discussion is important to his constituents, and he thanked Proctor for her work on the issue.

“I can tell you that in Northern Kentucky this issue has probably replaced the Brent Spence Bridge as the biggest issue we have, Schickel said. “I hear about it every day from constituents, especially senior citizens.”

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

The next Certificate of Need Task Force meeting is currently scheduled for Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit

Legislators learn about virtual academies during committee meeting

A photo from Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting may be found here. It shows Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, discussing virtual academies.

FRANKFORT — Legislators on the Interim Joint Committee on Education learned about virtual academies during Tuesday’s meeting at the Capitol Annex.

Representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Kentucky Virtual Academy of the Cloverport Independent School District were on hand to explain how the academy operates and answer questions from legislators.

Sallie Johnson, principal of the academy, said a school with virtual instruction fills a need some students and parents seek. Cloverport is the second largest town in Breckenridge County.

“This is my third year participating in a virtual school, and I love that we have options for students,” she said. “I was a past special education teacher, and what I found is a comprehensive, in-person school is not always the right fit for our children. And it is just exciting that there is this new innovative process for school students to access school through virtual learning.”

Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, said there is no statewide virtual academy now, but they would be well received.

Marty Park, chief digital officer for the Office of Education Technology, said Timoney is correct about the statewide virtual academy, though virtual learning has been offered in schools for several years.

“Virtual options became necessary and expanded through the pandemic. A lot of times our programs in our school districts were designed around an emergency strategy of online virtual learning,” he said. “What we’re talking about today is very much not emergency based design. It’s very much around intentional design for high quality teaching and learning.”

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, and co-chair of the committee, asked the KDE about the number of districts that design their own program in-house vs. districts that hire a third party contractor.

Park said officials are working through the data this year, and that it’s important to track those numbers as the program matures.

“Most of our school districts across the state of Kentucky, whether it’s in-person learning or online and virtual learning, engage in partnerships with external parties,” he said. “I think what you’re referring to is, what we would call nationally, a managed school approach. Currently today, we only have one school district who’s engaged in the managed school approach.”

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, said Kentucky doesn’t have a state virtual sponsored program, but with House Bill 563, effectively any virtual school could become statewide. She asked how that impacts Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) money. SEEK funds are formula-driven allocations of state funds for local school districts.

Matt Ross, executive adviser for the Office of Finance and Operations, said students become pupils of the district where they’re located. For instance, if a student moved to the Cloverport district, that district would receive the SEEK funds for that student during the next funding cycle.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, asked what percentage of students are learning virtually. West is also co-chair of the committee.

“From fulltime enrollment status, at end of last school year, it was about 1.8%,” Park said. Projections indicate it could be up to 3% in the next five years, he added.

Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, said she supports virtual academy learning, but also has concerns.

“I do want to emphasize a lot of what my colleagues have said. I think this is a great opportunity,” she said. “It does put back into the hands of parents some different learning environments for their kids. And so I think this is absolutely wonderful, and I appreciate the details. I do also share concerns about safety of the kids and the extracurricular activities.”

The next committee meeting is scheduled Nov. 1 at 11 a.m.

Legislative committee discusses vaping issue, potential solutions

Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe, R-Lexington, speaks on the severity of vaping among Kentucky youth during Monday’s Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — State and federal law prohibits tobacco sales to people under the age of 21, but student advocates say this isn’t enough.

Two student advocates and an internal medicine doctor testified on the issue before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations on Monday. Information provided to lawmakers claims 23.6% of Kentucky kids reported buying nicotine products directly from stores.

Sydney Shaffer is an American Lung Association student advocate from Scott County. She and her co-presenters asked the committee to consider legislation to provide stricter enforcement of Kentucky’s tobacco laws pertaining to underage sales.

“We are here to ask you just for enforcement of the law that already exists to keep these kinds of products out of kids’ hands and have thorough, regular store checks and penalties for illegal sales practices, just like we have for alcohol,” Shaffer said.

She said vaping and e-cigarette marketing continues to target children.

“They are enticed with cool looking devices, cool sounding flavors and clever marketing – that is the bottom line – and they’re being fed high levels of nicotine,” Shaffer said, adding children and teens are getting addicted to these products quickly.

Griffin Nemeth told the committee Kentucky youth e-cigarette usage is getting higher. He is the youth advisory board coordinator for #iCANendthetrend at the University of Kentucky.

“This past year, the youth e-cigarette usage rate among Kentucky high schoolers has surpassed that of the national rate of adult cigarette usage,” Nemeth said.

Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, who is an educator, said vaping is “wildly out of control.” He asked what research says about parents’ knowledge of vaping.

Nemeth said many parents understand and are concerned when their child starts using e-cigarette products, but they struggle to help their children.

Sen. Amanda Mays Bledsoe, R-Lexington, said she’s seen the severity of the vaping issue firsthand as a mother. As co-chair of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee, Mays Bledsoe said there’s data showing peer-to-peer enforcement has been effective and asked if the advocates would like to see an expansion of those programs.

Expansion of anti-vaping advocates in schools is difficult, Nemeth said, but they would still like to see more advocates.

“We understand that there are advocates in the schools, like Sydney, but it’s hard to find adults who are willing to stand up to this issue or feel like they’ve seen it among youth or feel that youth are the problem,” Nemeth said. “We understand that youth are not the problem. It is the marketing they’ve been subjected to.”

In closing, committee co-chair Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said he does believe that youth do have a choice when it comes to vaping.

“We need to realize that we all have a choice, kids and adults both, to choose what we want to participate in, and we have to take responsibility for those choices, not put them on other people to take responsibility for ourselves,” Schickel said.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations meeting is currently scheduled for Nov. 9 at 11 a.m. For more information, visit

Lawmakers receive update on mental health initiative for farmers, families

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, speaks during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Farmers can face many challenges that affect their mental wellbeing – land development pressure, workforce shortages, weather disasters and many more.

On Thursday, lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture heard testimony that mental health advocates are reaching out to farmers who struggle with mental health through the Raising Hope initiative.

Dave Morris, deputy director of the Office of Agricultural Marketing at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said the holistic health of the state’s farmers and their families is paramount.

“Many of you have observed the development of this coalition, which was initiated in 2020. We came together with a common mission among agriculturally interested academic and governmental and mental health institutions in establishing Raising Hope, our brand name, in 2021,” he said. “Our goal is to promote the health and safety of Kentucky farmers who are at elevated risk for suicide and accidents.”

Several committee members offered comments regarding mental health, and asked initiative advocates questions.

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, acknowledged that mental health is a crisis in the farming community.

“What I think is important is for us to ask ourselves the question ‘Are we identifying what the root causes are that are leading our farmers to have mental health crises that are leading to sometimes suicide?’” she said.

Morris named many causes of stress the state’s farmers experience.

“(There are) too many unknowns. The weather, the markets, just conditions, profitability, input costs, all the above,” he said.

Stalker asked what legislators can do to better support farmers.

“One of the biggest things that we’re focusing on is to reduce the stigma of talking about the stressors and just making them feel appreciated. Let them get it off their chest, talk about it,” Morris said.

Dale Dobson, safety administrator of KDA’s Education and Outreach Division, said it’s vital that farmers know they are cared for and there is someone they can speak with one-on-one.

“We are opening the door for them to have the chance to let something out. They don’t have to come to us. We go visit them. And it’s unreal where the stories go,” he said.

Meeting farmers where they are is at the heart of Raising Hope, Dobson said.

“We’re seeing people start to have communications. When you shake a hand, and it ain’t just shaking hands, it’s talking to somebody that knows you appreciate them and you sit there and you get starting talking and over the past few years we have got people we call, we talk, we share the good days and bad days,” he said.

Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, said those efforts are going to help Kentucky’s youth.

“As you can see yesterday by the way they communicate, by the way they present themselves, and I’d like to see it certainly expanded throughout Kentucky in a big way. I think that’s the best thing we can do to help,” she said, referring to Farmers’ Appreciation and Awards Day, which was held Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Rep. Brandon Reed, R-Hodgenville, also thanked the advocates.

“When my constituent Dale Dobson came with me with his vision back in 2019, we established Farmer Suicide Prevention Day on the Wednesday of Farmer Ag Safety Week, and in 2020, 2021, 2022, we’ve seen significant investments by the General Assembly. So if you’re in this room and you voted on the 2021 and 2022 budgets, thank you so much. You’ve seen the fruit of this labor,” he said.

Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, who serves as co-chair of the committee, said he comes from a farm family, and he’s grateful the initiative exists today.

“I was just sitting smiling to myself as you all were talking about this. You couldn’t have put a gun to my grandfather’s head or any of his friends and gotten them to talk about anything that was going inside their mind. But they had great therapy sessions at John Brown Service Station when it was just them, and they would sit and work through a lot of these issues.”

Lawmakers receive inaugural statewide domestic violence report

Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, asks a question about education for family court judges on domestic violence during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Last year, the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation to collect statewide data on domestic violence.

The Criminal Justice Statistical Analysis Center’s (CJSAC) inaugural report was released a few months ago. On Thursday, the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary discussed the report for the first time.

The CJSAC Domestic Violence Report is the product of Senate Bill 271 from the 2022 Regular Session. Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, sponsored the legislation.

SB 271 requires the CJSAC to collect information on domestic violence fatalities, domestic violence and abuse, and dating violence and abuse from Kentucky State Police, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Law Information Network of Kentucky, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office and county coroner’s offices.

In return, the CJSAC is required to produce an annual report by July 1 to the legislature, the governor’s office, the health cabinet, and ZeroV, which was formerly known as the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Representatives from ZeroV and The Ion Center for Violence Prevention testified before lawmakers on Thursday on the report’s findings and what can be done to prevent domestic violence and better help victims.

Meg Savage, chief legal officer of ZeroV, said the report shows a serious domestic violence issue in Kentucky.

“What does this report tell us about the state of domestic violence in Kentucky? There’s too much of it. It affects children … We need to somehow determine why domestic violence remains so underreported,” she said.

Kentucky State Police data shows more than 38,000 forms related to suspected domestic violence were filed in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

KSP data also shows there were up to 27 homicides, 880 cases of strangulation, 18 cases of stalking and more than 16,000 emergency protective orders served in Kentucky last year. AOC data showed more than 27,000 emergency and interpersonal protective orders were filed across the state.

“This report doesn’t give us context or causation, and keep in mind, this is only the first year of baseline data,” Savage said.

Christy Burch, CEO of The Ion Center, asked lawmakers to consider more funding for anti-domestic violence programs who are struggling to help clients due to staffing issues. Victims could also use more support when it comes to accessing affordable housing, reliable transportation, childcare, employment and mental and substance abuse services.

Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, is an attorney with a background in social work. She said she has talked to 18 stalking victims so far this year, so she’s concerned about KSP’s low number and worries about stalking being an underreported crime.

“I’m sure I didn’t talk to everyone in the state,” Burke said. “So what do you think we can do to get better numbers? Should we make proposals to KSP about how they can track the numbers?”

Savage said there are a lot of reasons why domestic violence as a whole is underreported, but stalking cases are difficult to bring to court and get a conviction. There’s a huge education component at play.

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, asked if Kentucky has harsh enough penalties for domestic violence perpetrators.

Savage said a perpetrator who is charged with assault related to domestic violence three times within five years is supposed to be charged with a felony, but the law is underutilized. She also mentioned that violation of a protection order is always charged as a misdemeanor on every offense.

“I think we need more enforcement,” Nemes said. “We certainly need more education, but for the repeat offender, the best education are metal bars.”

Rep. Stephanie Dietz, R-Edgewood, who is a family law attorney, asked what can be done to educate family court judges about how intimate partner violence doesn’t always start out with physical or sexual violence, but with coercive control and isolation.

“They don’t see it,” she said. “So what are we doing to help our family court judges identify (domestic violence) on the front end?”

Burch said the Ion Center would welcome the opportunity for more education.

“I think this is a perfect way that we can utilize our local programs,” she said.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting is currently scheduled for Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. For more information, visit

Interim committee examines potential tax exemption for diapers

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, holds up a receipt that demonstrates how much diapers cost in Kentucky during Wednesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Diapers are in high demand across Kentucky, and some families struggle to pay the cost.

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong, D-Louisville, shared her plan with the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue to file a bill next year that would make infant and adult diapers in Kentucky tax-exempt.

“It has a simple purpose: Make diapers more affordable for families in Kentucky,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting.

In Kentucky, families can spend up to $2,000 a year on diapers, Chambers Armstrong said. A current draft of her proposed legislation would make diapers exempt from the state’s sales and use tax beginning Aug. 1, 2024. A fiscal impact statement estimates the bill would decrease the general fund by $6.1 million.

Families struggling to afford diapers sometimes have to visit diaper banks or find ways to make their current supply last for as long as it can, Chambers Armstrong said. Nationwide, 1 in 2 families struggle to afford diapers.

“Some families resort to washing and reusing disposable diapers, turning them inside out or leaving their child in the same diaper all day hoping that child won’t develop a severe enough diaper rash that they will need to go to the hospital,” she said.

Currently, 18 other states and Washington D.C. have made diapers sales tax-exempt.

“The results are remarkable,” Chambers Armstrong said. “We see families in low-income neighborhoods buy 6% more diapers, and we see the purchase of children’s pain medications in those same neighborhoods decrease by 6.2%.

Babies are healthier, they aren’t getting severe diaper rash, and families are better able to meet their needs.”

This bill would also help adults and caregivers of adults with disabilities and other health-issues that require the use of an adult diaper.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, asked if Chambers Armstrong’s bill would include or exclude families already receiving public assistance.

Chambers Armstrong said the bill would include everyone in Kentucky.

“One of the things about diaper need is that there are no public assistance programs that cover it,” she said. “So a family that can’t afford diapers can’t go to Medicaid or WIC for that need.”

Rep. Ken Fleming, R-Louisville, asked if the $6.1 million general fund impact would be higher.

Chambers Armstrong reasoned that it wouldn’t be because families will take their savings on diapers and spend it on other things the child needs.

“We know that families, whenever they are undergoing the financial strain of having a new child, every dollar you put into their pocket they reinvest into buying things for that child,” she said.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue meeting is currently scheduled for Oct. 18 at 1 p.m. For more information, visit

A draft of Chambers Armstrong’s bill is available here

Advocates urge lawmakers to continue advancing computer science in schools

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, speaks during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting. Thomas said students should be exposed to computer science long before they reach high school A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Interim Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday heard from computer science advocates about ways this multi-faceted discipline could be expanded in Kentucky’s schools.

The meeting coincided with Coding at the Capitol, a full-day event in which students shared robots, displays and experiments with state legislators.

“Why is computer science needed in the state of Kentucky? To further attract employers and large scale economic development projects, Kentucky would need to produce a workforce pipeline that keeps up with the workforce demand,” said Codeye J. Woody, director of State Government Affairs for nonprofit

The state has 3,432 open computing jobs with an average salary of $74,833 per year, he said.

“And when we think about computer science, I kind of want to let you know we’re not just preparing students just for a tech job or just going to a tech company,” he said.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he thinks he knows why there’s a shortage of computer science teachers.

“I’m really interested in the teacher preparation aspect of this, because I suspect one of the reasons why we have schools who do not offer the courses is the availability of teachers qualified to offer that,” he said.

Tipton, who co-chairs the education committee, asked those who testified about the implications of artificial intelligence and where they see it going.

Cameron Wilson, president of, said artificial intelligence could be helpful to train people and offer new tools to generate code, among other things. He said there are still many unknowns regarding industries.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) developed a computer science state plan for K-12 in 2022 as required by Senate Bill 193 in 2020, Woody said.

Kentucky also adopted computer science standards in 2019 for K-12 students. Funding for Senate Bill 193 in 2022 included $800,000 for the state’s Computer Science/IT Academy for computer science learning, Woody said.

“What we would need to do is require all high schools to offer computer science as part of their K-12 curriculum,” he said.

Another speaker, Monique M. Rice, computer science initiatives director for AdvanceKentucky, said pathways for those who study computer science should be modernized in an age of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, asked about how educators could also teach computer science classes.

Rice said AdvanceKentucky already has a program for that subject, and teachers would basically just have to sign up to get started.

“The program runs all year. It consists of a five-day summer institute with support throughout the school year for those teaching the courses. And the two courses that we’re supporting are computer science principles and AP Computer Science A, which is programming in Java,” she said.

Rep. Bobby McCool, R-Van Lear, said he supports computer science education, but KDE might be best suited to actually oversee it. He cited flexibility to address this rapidly changing field.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said computer science education should be available for K-8 students.

“My focus is on exposure. And I’m in firm agreement that computer science should be offered in our high schools. This is 2023 now, and learning has changed since I was in high school,” he said.

Sen. Gex Williams, R-Verona, said he has a friend with a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in computer science who also ran a computer company and developed software he marketed all over the world. However, that friend couldn’t get a teaching certificate.

Williams asked how long it might take him today to be able to teach high school computer science.

“We have occupation based certification tracks now that – as long as he does some sort of mentorship program and monitoring with a mentor teacher – he can qualify to teach in a Kentucky high school in the industry area he had,” said Sean Jackson, K-12 computer science lead for KDE.

Birthing centers discussed at Certificate of Need Task Force meeting

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, speaks on removing the certificate of need requirement for freestanding birthing centers during Monday’s Certificate of Need Task Force meeting A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Removing the certificate of need (CON) requirement for freestanding birthing centers in Kentucky is still being studied following the 2023 Regular Session.

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, and other stakeholders spoke to the Certificate of Need Task Force about the issue on Monday. The new task force is a special committee charged with reviewing Kentucky’s CON program, including the state health plan and related statutes.

Earlier this year, Funke Frommeyer’s Senate Bill 67 would have modernized birthing center statutes in several areas and removed the CON requirement for birthing centers with no more than four beds. The bipartisan bill did not make it to a Senate floor vote.

SB 67 defined freestanding birthing centers as any health facility or institution that is not part of a hospital but provides care during labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period. This care is usually provided by midwives and reserved for healthy patients with healthy pregnancies who are at a low risk of complications during birth.

A common concern when it comes to birthing centers is safety. Mary Kathryn DeLodder with the Kentucky Birth Coalition told the task force safety is already addressed by existing administrative regulations for licensure requirements.

“The Kentucky Birth Coalition holds the position that freestanding birth centers should not be subject to the certificate of need requirement,” DeLodder said. “Birth centers are different than hospitals and do not provide the same service.”

Funke Frommeyer said birthing centers would address a great maternal health care need in Kentucky.

“The 2023 March of Dimes report (says) 45.8% of the counties in Kentucky are maternity care deserts,” she said, adding that 31.3% of women in Kentucky live more than a 30-minute drive from a birthing hospital.

DeLodder said 110 women opted to drive out of state to give birth at a birthing center in Indiana last year. Home births are also on the rise. Funke Frommeyer said 901 home births took place in Kentucky in 2021.

Although birthing centers are not prohibited under Kentucky law, the state’s CON process creates a barrier for providers looking to open a center, DeLodder said.

Funke Frommeyer said most of the opposition to birthing centers comes from hospitals that have safety concerns and contend midwifery services are already being provided.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, who is also a physician, expressed concerns about patient safety at freestanding birthing centers.

“How do your providers assure that they have enough malpractice coverage to cover an absolute horrendous mishap in one of your facilities and what does that cost them?” she asked.

Victoria Burslem, a midwife who has worked a birthing center in Georgia, said malpractice insurance cost about $50,000 per year as an example. An exact amount for Kentucky providers was not available during the meeting.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, also shared concerns about safety at birthing centers and the need for them to be within a short drive to a hospital in case the mother or baby faces a life-threatening complication.

“I’m truly not trying to be argumentative, but you can’t convince me there’s never going to be a situation or crisis that develops in a birthing center that’s going to have to be addressed,” Meredith said. “You may not be able to within a reasonable timeframe for mother or the baby.”

DeLodder said statistics show that since birthing centers are for patients with a low risk of complications, negative outcomes are rare.

Funke Frommeyer’s 2023 legislation called for birthing centers to have a hospital transport plan in place in case of an emergency. Requiring birthing centers to be located within 30 minutes of a hospital has also been suggested by at least one hospital representative.

Funke Frommeyer said their goal is not to minimize the importance of obstetricians.

“That’s part of this need that we recognize isn’t currently being met, thus the maternity care deserts,” she said.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2. Funke Frommeyer would have to refile her birthing center legislation in order for the legislature to consider it.

The next Certificate of Need Task Force is currently scheduled for Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. For more information, visit

Juvenile Justice Oversight Council examines alternatives to detention

Juvenile Justice Oversight Council co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, asks a question about alternatives to juvenile detention. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Traditional detention isn’t the only option for children in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.

Margo Figg, director for the Division of Classification and Placement for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, gave a presentation on the alternatives to detention during Friday’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Council meeting.

“The alternatives are short-term, less restrictive programs than detention,” Figg said. “We try to keep the kids no longer than 30-45 days. However, it is up to the judge.”

The different types of alternative detention programs include home incarceration with electronic monitoring, home supervision, group homes, foster care, private child care, community programs and in-home wrap-around services.

Ensuring the public remains safe, the youth does not reoffend, and that the youth doesn’t miss court appearances is important, Figg said.

“The goals are to divert the youth from secure detention in order to serve them more appropriately and assure that detention beds are for the offenders who present public safety issues,” Figg added.

Council co-chair Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, asked if alternatives to detention happen pre-adjudication. Figg said yes.

“Which means that they’re in front of the judge pretrial agreement … we work with them until their cases are disposed,” she added.

Detention alternative coordinators (DACs) are available to help youth find an alternative program and navigate the system. Once several open positions are filled, the state Department of Juvenile Justice will employ 17 DACs and three supervisors across the state, Figg said. Each one is assigned to a geographical area, so all 120 Kentucky counties are served.

“We want these youth to be successful,” she said. From January to August of this year, 726 youth have been served with an 83% success rate in alternative detention.

Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, asked if DACs are successful in Jefferson County.

“They’re doing an amazing job,” Figg said, while noting one challenge: The number of youth who qualify for alternative detention exceeds the number of open placements in group homes and other facilities.

Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, asked Figg for a list of where children are being referred to in Jefferson County and how much the state is spending on alternative detention.

“I think we need to also have an understanding of how funding is being utilized for alternatives and other things, so we can have understanding if we need to be putting more money into those things,” Herron said.

Figg said it is an “exorbitant” amount, but the exact figure will have to be sent to the council later. Currently, the state spends $50 per day on home incarceration and $78 to $150 per day on private or foster care.

Westerfield also had a request. He asked Figg for data on how alternative detention is being used per county.

“If possible, I’d like to identify by map, by chart, spreadsheet – however you all can compile – I’d like to identify counties where you had eligible kids that didn’t utilize the program,” Westerfield said.

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed said they will try to gather some data for the council. Reed is also an ex-officio non-legislator member of the council.

“I’ll just tell you that (alternative detention) is very popular with most judges,” Reed said, adding that some judges prefer traditional detention.

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Council is a statutory committee tasked with providing an independent review of the state’s juvenile justice system. The council’s next meeting is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sept. 15.

For more information, visit

Legislators vow to fight fentanyl during committee meeting

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, speaks on fentanyl during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection heard impassioned testimony Tuesday from those who lost loved ones to fentanyl, and some lawmakers vowed to continue fighting the drug through legislation.

Three women involved with The Never Alone Nick Rucker Foundation – a nonprofit group formed to warn the public about the dangers of fentanyl, end stigma and change laws – told legislators about the devastating impact of fentanyl on their families.

One legislator who accompanied the women, Rep. Candy Massaroni, R-Bardstown, described fentanyl as a ticking time bomb in Kentucky’s neighborhoods, school and workplaces.

“Today, we just want to address an issue. It’s a heart-wrenching issue that’s affecting every community across the nation and especially Kentucky. It’s the deadly impact of the drug cartels who are peddling not only illegal narcotics, but a hidden danger – fentanyl,” she said.

Tami Boblitt said she struggled to find treatment for her son, Chase, who died from an overdose in June 2021. Boblitt said they went to six treatment facilities in one day and were turned away for a multitude of reasons.

“The stigma is terrible. I was treated poorly. Chase was treated poorly. Even the places where we were going to for help, we were treated very poorly,” she said. “So we’re just trying to raise awareness. We want people to understand we’re normal people. These things happen to lots of families.”

Boblitt is supporting a proposal called Chase’s Law, which seeks to reduce stigma and provide people with a safe place to recover after they receive Narcan, an anti-overdose drug.

While she said jail is not the answer, a 72-hour hold or similar intervention would help prevent deaths that can occur even after someone becomes alert and seems to be much better, she argued.

Another mother, Ashley Green, testified about her 3-year old son’s fentanyl-related death and her own struggles with drug use.

Green said her son was exposed while in a house with four people, one of whom had fentanyl. Nobody has admitted they had the drug, and laws are too weak to provide justice, she added.

“He did not do fentanyl. He did not come across this, you know, on his own. An adult in that house had it, and nobody’s going to be prosecuted for that. That’s not fair to him or his life, nor his purpose. He came to save me from addiction,” she said.

Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, who served with the Kentucky State Police for 22 years, said the legislature had a “great opportunity” to be more stringent regarding fentanyl dealers two years ago, but legislation didn’t pass.

“They ought to have to serve jail time. We’ve become so soft in this country on people who are killing our people,” he said.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who also worked for KSP, said those who sell drugs to support their habit are still dealers. He said he’s working with Rep. Deanna Frazier Gordon, R-Richmond, on legislation that would toughen drug-related penalties.

“If you provide drugs to somebody and they lose their life, then you ought to be charged with murder, period, because you’re responsible for their death,” he said.

Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, said he encourages committee members to support state funding for the 11 drug task forces in Kentucky. He said not funding them amply is costing lives and this should be addressed during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

“You would think all of them have their own radios to operate within a drug task force. They do not. You would think that every one of the 11 drug force task teams have the technology necessary to survey, monitor and protect their communities. They do not,” he said.

Nail tech industry asks legislative committee to update testing, regulations

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, discusses a potential bill on nail tech certification and regulations during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — A bipartisan bill in the works for the 2024 legislative session would update nail tech certification testing and nail salon regulations.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, is one of the primary sponsors of the potential legislation. He and Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, have been working together on the bill.

“I really hope that we can come to some consensus about this bill,” Thomas told the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations. He invited several representatives from the nail tech industry to testify on the issue during the committee’s meeting Tuesday.

Kentucky nail technician Molida Soth said most nail techs in the U.S. are in the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and many of them are not native English speakers. Currently, the nail tech certification exam is only offered in English.

Soth said the exam needs to be offered in multiple languages, including Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese. Failing the exam more than three times requires the applicant to wait six months and take an 80-hour brush up course before retaking the exam. If they fail two more times, the applicant is banned from retaking the exam for three years, she added.

“Examination disfavors those who do not speak English as their first language,” Soth said. “So this is not because of their lack of skill, but simply due to the fact they do not read English … This causes a great financial burden.”

When otherwise skilled nail techs cannot get board certified, it makes it difficult for them to find a job and it hurts the high-in-demand nail tech industry that needs workers, Soth said.

Additionally, Soth said nail salons have faced strict regulations by the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology that have led to shut downs and excessive fines with little chance to correct any issues beforehand.

Ultimately, the industry would like to see a nail tech representative added to the state cosmetology board and a written warning before punitive action is taken against a salon. Soth said they are also requesting the board certification exam be offered in multiple languages with unlimited opportunities to retake the exam.

“Asian immigrants are known for their strong work ethic,” Soth said. “We work long hours. We dedicate ourselves to our craft. We pay taxes on our earnings, and we firmly believe in the American dream.”

Schickel, who co-chairs the committee, said he’s “very excited” about Thomas’s bill. Schickel said he’s spent some time this summer visiting nail salons in his district, and he’s been impressed.

“It’s been my observation that you are hardworking people, and that the citizens, at least in my community, utilize your services,” he added.

Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, who is a first-generation American, said he thinks the issues facing the nail tech industry are getting in the way of people working.

“I think this is one of those cases where we have overregulated something that we need to take a look at finding a way where we can get people to work that want to work and encourage them and make sure red tape is not in the way,” he said.

Sen. Michael J. Nemes, R-Shepherdsville, said an update to the Kentucky Board of Cosmetology is needed.

“I thank you all for adapting to what you’ve had to adapt to and thank you for being a great asset to Kentucky,” Nemes said. “I look forward to backing this bill.”

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations is currently scheduled for Sept. 28 at 11 a.m.

Questions abound from legislators during energy-related meeting

Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., R-Providence, also committee co-chair, speaks on Thursday during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Questions abounded on Thursday from legislators on the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Energy as a representative from one of Kentucky’s power grid operators offered predictions about the future of energy in the commonwealth.

Asim Z. Haque serves as vice president of state and member services for the Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection. The organization coordinates the electrical transmission grid for parts or all of 13 states, including about half of Kentucky.

Haque said East Kentucky Power Cooperative, Duke Energy Kentucky and Kentucky Power all operate within the PJM’s footprint. His organization’s primary focus is making sure that power is generated and transmitted reliably, while also maintaining affordability for consumers, he testified.

However, Haque expressed concerns that the energy supply will not keep pace with growing demand over the next decade as operators retire more power generating units. He said new types of energy production – such as solar and wind – are not making up for the retirements.

“Later on into this decade, we are concerned about a supply crunch – concerned about resources leaving the system too quickly and new resources not finding their way onto the system at a rate to replace those resources leaving the system,” he said.

Haque explained that energy resources offer different degrees of reliability, and that thermal resources – nuclear, coal and gas – provide a certain amount of essential reliability to the power grid.

Several lawmakers expressed apprehension about the trends and asked about the risk of rising costs and future blackouts, especially as electric vehicles and other types of equipment create more demand for power.

Rep. Jim Gooch Jr., R-Providence, and a committee co-chair, said he’s concerned about replacement of efficient power sources with those that aren’t as productive. He said 700 megawatts generated from wind and solar does not equate to 700 megawatts from fossil fuels because wind and solar are not always available.

“That’s one of the problems I’ve been trying to convey – that it’s not the same,” he said.

Haque agreed that there’s a difference between varying types of resources and said certain resources can’t be replaced without affecting reliability.

“One message to convey is, you can’t simply shut down all thermal resources and replace them with non-thermal resources because those thermal resources provide, again, essential reliability services,” Haque said.

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, said some states have been reckless in their efforts to close fossil fuel power plants and asked if shortages in other states will cause energy to be rationed in Kentucky to keep the lights on elsewhere.

“These policies are destroying our grid …every time they shut down one of these fossil fuel plants,” he said. “Those of us who are awakened and see through the smog, we understand that it is an attempt to shut down all of our fossil fuels that provide the most reliable, cheapest form of energy.”

Haque said PJM tries to educate policy makers to create reliability “safety valves.” If removing a unit will create challenges, the organization can ask units to remain operable until additional infrastructure is ready. He also encouraged states to remain “open for business” as operators look to expand renewables.

One issue, according to Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson, is which communities and demographics in Kentucky might be affected first in the event of an energy shortage. She asked if PJM has any models to predict who would experience the biggest impact from certain scenarios.

“I’ve got a lot of poor rural people, and I’ve got some major users like a refinery in my district,” she said.

Haque said any response to shortages would be based on the grid engineering and what’s necessary to keep the bulk of the grid viable, not on the types of customers.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said one of the promises made by people supporting renewables is that they are going to reduce costs, make the environment cleaner and be a benefit to consumers. He asked when consumers will see the benefits of the new resources.

“I’ve done a little bit of research, and in 2004, the average Kentucky Power customer was paying about $74 a month. Now they’re paying about $187.50, which is about a 250% increase, which I understand there’s some inflation in there, but that far outpaces inflation,” he said.

Haque said in the PJM footprint, Kentucky generally uses 50%-plus coal resources and 40%-plus natural gas resources.

“So I have not, at least in the PJM footprint, we have not seen many renewables find their way into the system, again, at least in the PJM footprint in Kentucky,” he said.

Omnibus electronic privacy protection bill in the works for 2024 legislative session

Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, speaks on an electronic privacy protection bill for the 2024 legislative session alongside co-sponsors Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, (left) and Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville during Thursday’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Technology once seen only in science fiction is now becoming reality. Some members of the Kentucky General Assembly want to make sure it’s used for good, not evil.

Bill Request 26 would aim to regulate the use of automated license plate readers, drones, artificial intelligence and microchip technology. The bipartisan initiative is led by Rep. John Hodgson, R-Fisherville, Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, and Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville.

All three lawmakers testified before the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary on Thursday. Hodgson called the potential bill for the 2024 legislative session a “team effort.”

“It’s widely supported by the public,” Hodgson said. “Nobody really wants the government or their neighbor spying on them, and that’s the genesis of this bill.”

Hodgson said he the co-sponsors want a draft of the bill available to the public early to create a dialogue and make sure the legislation won’t have any unintended consequences.

The first section of BR 26 covers automated license plate readers. An entity could retain collected data for only 90 days unless it’s evidence in a felony case, the subject of a subpoena or being used to collect tolls. The bill would also prohibit the sale of license plate data.

The second section of the bill would apply to unmanned aircraft or drones, Blanton said. BR 26 would prohibit the use of drones with an imaging device on private property without the owner’s written consent. Some exceptions would apply for law enforcement with a search warrant, for example. Civil action may be taken against violators, according to the draft of the legislation.

Other portions of the bill would protect Kentuckians from the unlawful transmission of a deep fake, Grossberg said.

“A deep fake is a fabricated video or audio clip made with machine learning to imitate a real person,” he said. “Since the term was coined in 2017, the emerging technology has advanced rapidly. Anyone with a cheap program can create a deep fake visually indistinguishable from reality with less than a minute of audio and a handful of pictures.”

Grossberg said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have already issued warnings against the technology.

“Fraudsters can now mimic reality at a level once thought impossible,” he added. “Online predators can lure children with realistic young avatars. Deep fake pornography can be used to harass women who post on social media.

“In fact, according to a deep fake detection agency, Sensity AI, 95% of deep fake videos posted online are non-consensual pornography.”

BR 26 would prohibit the dissemination of a deep fake without the depicted individual’s written consent. Violators would be subject to civil action and possible criminal charges.

Distributing a deep fake with the intent to harm, harass, annoy, threaten, alarm or cause harm to the reputation or finances of the depicted individual would be a class D felony under the bill.

Additional language in BR 26 would protect individuals from being required or coerced into the implantation of an identification device or a microchip.

Although the current version of the bill only covers four areas of electronic privacy, Hodgson said more provisions may be added as he and others learn more about AI technology.

During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2024 legislative session begins Jan. 2.

A draft of BR 26 is available here.

State education committee hears from Kentucky math center

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, speaks on the Alabama Numeracy Act during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting. He said similar legislation could benefit Kentucky’s students. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — The Interim Joint Committee on Education heard from supporters of the Kentucky Center for Mathematics on Tuesday about efforts to improve numeracy throughout the commonwealth.

The center was established at Northern Kentucky University through state funding in 2006, and it provides services for teachers and anyone else interested in mathematics. It also receives grant money, according to the organization’s executive director, Kelly Stone DeLong.

“We really focus on that math intervention. We focus on diagnostic assessment, coaching, and mentoring is really an important part of what we’re doing. And that’s becoming more and more of what we’re working on and other instructional strategies to address students’ needs,” she said.

Over the past three years, nearly 2,200 teachers have participated in 2,293 hours of professional learning through KCM.

Amanda Holbrook, a math teacher at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School in Letcher County, testified that KCM helped teachers and students get back to learning following flooding that destroyed the school in 2022.

“She brought in truckloads of brand new, hands-on math materials and calculators for our students. She fully equipped our teachers with the materials they need to teach mathematics. With the help of Kelly and the Kentucky Center for Mathematics, our students began the year with good, quality math instruction,” she said.

KCM provided lawmakers with statistics from 2022, compiled by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Among Kentucky fourth graders, 75% performed at or above the NAEP basic level in math. That’s down from 81% in 2019.

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, raised concerns about the downward trend, and DeLong said she’s interested in studying the issue more.

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, asked about teaching mathematics to children before they begin school and how KCM supports early educators.

“We have a pre-K curriculum and course that we did that’s very popular, grounded in the research. So we would love to scale that to more places with those preschool teachers,” DeLong said.

She also suggested that KCM’s intent is to work with Kentucky Educational Television to benefit the state’s young children.

Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, and co-chair of the committee, said one trend he’s noticed on test scores is they tend to drop from elementary school to middle school to high school. He asked DeLong what causes the decline.

DeLong hypothesized that while students work diligently, they may not have secured math fluencies in the earlier grades. Then the subject becomes more complicated at the middle and the high school levels.

“The other thing is we want to have the math identity, and maybe by the time they get to middle school, then they have decided that math is not their identity,” she said.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he recently learned about the Alabama Numeracy Act, which is designed to boost students’ math skills. He said those skills are as important as literacy.

“When someone comes up and says they can’t read, we’re appalled by that. We can’t understand that,” he said. “And yet we readily accept, Ms. DeLong, when someone says, ‘I can’t just get math. It’s too hard for me. It’s something that I just can’t comprehend.’’’

Committee receives overview of AI positives, negatives

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, speaks about artificial intelligence at Monday’s meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Advocates for the commonwealth’s use of artificial intelligence offered legislators an overview of new technology – some of it already in use – during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology.

Ben Kaner and Alicia Schollaert of Gartner, an international consulting firm, testified to the legislators Monday about ways that state agencies could implement and benefit from AI while also reducing some of the risks.

Kaner outlined many potential uses, such as data management, developing user guides, and providing multilingual resources to Kentuckians. However, he also warned that AI can provide misleading information and reflect bias in data. It also gives malign users smarter tools to attack government networks.

He recommended that lawmakers view AI as an opportunity and provide a safe space for experimentation. But governments must look to mitigate risks by keeping humans in the loop and scaling automation appropriately and in stages, he said.

“It is an opportunity to set up Kentucky to advance significantly in a way to provide services and the service it provides to its citizens,” Kaner said.

Legislators expressed a myriad of concerns over the technology during Monday’s hearing. Some questioned whether AI systems could take jobs, maliciously mine data or grow smart enough to hijack government networks. Others appeared more focused on upside potential.

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, asked if AI could provide some practical tools for teaching math and reading.

“Your presentation is incredibly timely because we’re grappling with so many education issues, and Kentucky continues to have some challenges, and we have fantastic teachers, but perhaps not enough teachers,” she said.

Schollaert said 51% of teachers are already using AI to cut down on administrative tasks and spend more time with students. AI can help teachers come up with lesson plans and even provide one-on-one tutoring for students, she said.

Rep. Candy Massaroni, R-Bardstown, asked about data mining, noting that many parents have concerns that popular devices are already collecting data on their children.

But Kaner said if a system is set up correctly, it would prevent mining of data.

Rep. Daniel Grossberg, D-Louisville, said AI should not be banned or dismissed, and he envisions AI as a support tool, not a complete replacement for human work.

“AI is going to revolutionize the world the way that the invention of the electric generator and the electric motor did. And if you think back 120 years ago, no one could conceive what electricity did to humankind,” he said. “We are just scratching the surface in this conversation.”

However, Grossberg added that it’s absolutely essential for lawmakers to develop protocols and guardrails. While AI is not sentient, it could be programmed for “great evil,” he warned.

“That’s what we need to be focused on, making sure we have oversight on who has access to the technology, what the trainings are, and have serious repercussions if someone goes off the rails with it,” he said.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, a co-chair of the committee, said AI issues have been on her mind for months, and she expressed concern about “bad actors.”

“This is a very heavy weight of responsibility that we are taking on here,” she said. “So one thing that keeps coming to mind is the fiduciary responsibility we have given to professions. The ones that come to mind are lawyers, financial institutions, insurance, probably even real estate comes to mind. They have to have the best interest of the client or the people that they’re representing in mind, and that’s how they make decisions,” she said.

Rep. Ryan Dotson, R-Winchester, said he fears AI will become “self-learning” as technology evolves and that fear is high among the general public.

“I see all the benefits of AI. It’s a very powerful tool. It’s going to replace industries. It’s going to enhance industries. And even though it may be a powerful tool, it can also be a powerful force for us to contend with in the future,” he said.

Legislators hear workforce and labor market policy recommendations

Rep. Kevin Jackson, R-Bowling Green, asks a question about workforce participation during Monday’s Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — Jobs are plentiful in Kentucky, but the state’s low workforce participation rate leaves many positions open.

Charles Aull spoke to the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment on Monday about Kentucky’s workforce and labor market. Aull, who is the executive director at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Center for Policy and Research, also provided some policy recommendations.

Kentucky’s unemployment rate may be at a record low for the state, but the workforce participation rate has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, Aull said. An aging workforce, lack of affordable child care and substance use disorder are three of the biggest factors behind low workforce participation rates.

“There are absolutely things that state policy can do, that federal policy can do and that the private sector can do to alleviate these challenges,” Aull said.

Rep. Kim King, R-Harrodsburg, asked if there’s something about this region of the U.S. that attracts more workers.

“What can Kentucky do to get up there with our neighbors?”

A warmer climate and competitive tax rates in states like Tennessee and Florida are two of the biggest factors that attract workers to the southeast and the southwest, Aull said.

Policy wise, Kentucky should focus on attracting more workers, optimizing the homegrown workforce, continuing to make Kentucky more tax competitive and reducing opioid use disorder, Aull said.

He also recommended increasing re-entry support for previously incarcerated Kentuckians and developing a statewide strategy to optimize underutilized talent in certain populations. That includes refugee and immigrant populations along with individuals with disabilities.

Some research estimates that 55,000 adult Kentuckians are not participating in the workforce due to opioid use disorder, Aull said.

“The good news is, I think this general assembly is already doing a lot,” Aull added. “What I would want to impart though to you all is not to let your foot off the gas on these issues. This will require extreme amounts of focus and dedication.”

Rep. Kevin Jackson, R-Bowling Green, said his district competes with Tennessee for employees.

“Could you give me your explanation of why Tennessee grew at a rate four times of Kentucky as far as workforce levels?” he asked.

Aull said Tennessee is more tax competitive since the state doesn’t have an income tax. Tennessee also has a large tourism industry.

On the issue of wages, Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said he thinks raising the minimum wage would increase workforce participation.

“If you look at the top 10 states that have a higher workforce, you will find that most of them, not all of them but most of them, have a higher minimum wage than $7.25 an hour,” he said.

Aull said he omitted increasing the minimum wage from his list of policy recommendations because most employers have already increased wages due to market demand. Changing state law to increase the minimum wage could inadvertently hurt child care and long term care facilities, he added.

Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, asked Aull if there is anything states can do to address the birth rate issue.

“Have you seen any states doing anything creative around birth rates like tax incentives?” he said.

Aull said birth rates are a global challenge as more couples start families later in life and financial issues cause people to have fewer children. But Kentucky tends to do better than other states when it comes to the birth rate.

“If you can make it I guess less expensive for families to have children, I think there’s a good chance that we would see some increase in those fertility rates,” Aull said.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment is scheduled for Aug. 23 at 9 a.m. in Frankfort. For more information, visit

Legislative committee discusses future of child care funding

Committee co-chair Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, speaks on the future of sustainability payments for child care centers during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Families and Children meeting. A high-res photo can be found here.

FRANKFORT — It is no secret Kentucky’s child care industry struggled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding came to the rescue, but a major portion of those funds will run out in September.

The Interim Joint Committee on Families and Children met Tuesday to discuss the future of child care funding in the state. Committee co-chair Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, said the Kentucky General Assembly has a lot of consider going into the next budget cycle, which begins in 2024.

“You all know how crucial child care is coming into this next session,’ Carroll said. “I don’t know that there’s any one topic that is more important than that … There’s a lot of uncertainty on what the investment will need to be and how we can continue to grow centers throughout the commonwealth and sustain what we got.”

Ensuring quality child care is available across the commonwealth impacts the workforce and economy, Carroll said.

Andrea Day, who testified before the committee on Tuesday, said about 60% of Kentucky is considered a child care desert. Day is the division of child care director in the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS).

In 2021, Kentucky began receiving $470 million in ARPA funds to use as sustainability payments and $293 million for one-time child care and development block grants, Day said. By September, the sustainability payments will end. The block-grant funding will remain through September 2024.

Day said the ARPA funds have helped child care centers in Kentucky remain open and keep rates low for low-income Kentuckians. The block grant funding has been used to provide start-up grants, tuition support, facility updates and more.

Committee co-chair Rep. Samara Heavrin, R-Leitchfield, asked Day if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services planned to fund the sustainability payments once they run out. The General Assembly could possibly allocate funding in the next biennial budget, Heavrin said, even though she’s not sold on the idea.

“I think a lot of us here in the General Assembly are trying to figure out if it’s the government’s place to help with those sustainability payments. Because if it’s a broken system, how do we need to revamp that to help child care owners to be able to fix that?” Heavrin said.

Day said the cabinet has not made a decision.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said she’s aware of child care providers who are “very concerned” about the end of the sustainability payments.

Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville, also said she’s aware of child care centers with rate-increase letters ready to go out just in case the cabinet does not take over. She said the General Assembly is going to have to invest in subsidizing the child care industry moving forward.

“Do we want women between the ages of 20 and 40 to be in the workforce? Yeah, if we do, we need to subsidize starting with an additional stabilization in September,” Raymond added.

Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, asked Day if DCBS has any legislative proposals outside of budget recommendations prepared. Day said she was not aware of any.

Adams said sometimes issues can be fixed through non-monetary solutions.

“We do it through legislative fixes, and so I would encourage you all in the cabinet to look at possible legislative proposals that you can bring to the General Assembly for us to consider,” Adams said.

After a lengthy discussion, Carroll, who works in the child care industry, said the industry is not looking for a bail out.

“These are ‘mom and pop’ child care centers that are just trying to help raise and educate kids so parents can go to work,” he said.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Families and Children meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.

For more information, visit