As we officially gavel in the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2022 Regular Session, your representatives will tackle key issues most important to you that enhance the quality of life of Kentuckians.
The Interim Joint Committees met in the summer and fall and listened to the thoughts and concerns of districts across the Commonwealth. The discussions and ideas from the interim committee meetings will form the basis of much of the legislation passed during the 60-day budgetary session currently underway.
Perhaps the most important task of the 2022 General Assembly will be the redrawing of the legislative, congressional and Kentucky appellate court districts to reflect the current population trends seen in the 2020 U.S. Census. A many of you might recall, the data from the 2020 Census was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, the General Assembly was not able to tackle this important task in the 2021 Session. Despite repeated appeals to Governor Beshear to call a Special Session to accomplish this task, the governor failed to act. As a result, that important legislation was introduced Tuesday, the first day of the session.
The constitutional process of redistricting occurs every 10 years and is the sole responsibility of the state legislature. The 2020 census revealed significant population shifts in Kentucky with Eastern and Western Kentucky losing population and Central Kentucky and Northern Kentucky gaining population. Due to the mandates in the state and federal constitutions regarding equal representation and the division of counties, the boundaries of the 31st Senate District will be changing although – thankfully – not as much as some other Senate districts.
The new 31st Senate District will include Pike, Martin, Johnson, Lawrence and Elliott counties. I will unfortunately no longer be the state Senator for Morgan County, a place which I have grown to know and love during my three years as their state Senator. Ultimately, the General Assembly’s efforts will ensure that each Kentuckian will have an equal voice in Frankfort for state issues and appropriate representation at the national level in Washington, D.C.
Even numbered years are known as “budget sessions” and take place over 60 session days. After passing single-year budgets in the previous two years, the General Assembly will get back on track in 2022 by passing a two-year budget. Because of COVID-19 and the natural disasters that tore through western Kentucky in 2021, vast sums of federal dollars have poured into the state from Washington and unnaturally inflated our economy. Know that we will ensure we do not use these one-time relief dollars to create recurring expenses in following years. You can trust the state budget our caucus is committed to crafting will be fiscally conservative, protect Kentucky’s resources, reflect Kentucky’s values, and maintain full funding for obligations like pensions. This assembly remains committed to improving the status of the Budget Reserve Trust Fund, also known as the “rainy day fund.”
Labor challenges in the Commonwealth cut across almost all industries and are most evident in our local healthcare system where we are experiencing a nursing shortage like the state has never seen before. The physical and emotional fatigue our medical professionals are experiencing is legitimate and we have to protect the health care systems our communities rely upon. It’s important we audit our state workforce programs holistically to evaluate what is working, where funds are being spent, and how we can repurpose dollars to be used most effectively.
Boosting education in the skilled trades and providing a mechanism for students to access training willposition them with industries which need an expanded workforce, as well as entice new commerce to our state. Considering best practices of other successful neighboring states like Indiana and Virginia will help guide the Commonwealth in building a vibrant workforce and healthy economy.
Likely the most important topic the legislature will address is the improvement of our state’s K-12 educational system. One of the most significant ways we’ll tackle this is through reforming site-based decision making (SBDM) councils, anchoring curriculum development and accountability with superintendents, principals, and elected school boards, and giving parents a greater voice and choice in their children’s learning environment. Improving literacy standards has to be a priority. The evidence is clear that children who can read at or above grade level by the third grade are more likely to be successful in life. A report by the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Kentucky-based public policy think tank, points to a need for literacy reform and significant improvements in student outcomes across the Commonwealth. Providing teachers with the professional development they need to improve reading achievement among students will be a goal of the Senate this session.
A robust and well-rounded education is critical to a better Kentucky. Because of the impact of COVID-19—and the unintended consequences of executive branch responses to it—our state has significant ground to make up. This legislature recognizes that and will continue to lead on this issue, returning choice to parents.
Finally, an issue that unites us all is protecting our most vulnerable population: children. Sadly, Kentucky ranks among the worst in the nation in child abuse and neglect. Stabilizing the child welfare workforce must remain a top priority if we intend to protect high-risk children who live in unsafe environments.As COVID-19 led to school and daycare closures, abuse and neglect moved into the darkness, away from educators and caregivers who are trained to identify the signs. Much like the cooperative efforts we witnessed in helping western Kentucky after it was ravaged by tornadoes last month, protecting our children is a unifying issue. Now is the time to pass bipartisan legislation to protect our state’s most precious treasure.
Much can be accomplished when we have open, honest dialogue and work together to the benefit of Kentucky residents. We will carry that sentiment with us as we progress through the 2022 Regular Session.
Follow the exciting changes taking place by visiting legislature.ky.gov. Live coverage is available through ket.org/legislature; if you miss live committee meetings or legislative action in the Senate and House chambers, archived footage is also available at ket.org/legislature/archives. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Note: Senator Phillip Wheeler (R-Pikeville) represents Kentucky’s 31st State Senate District, which includes Elliott, Lawrence, Martin, Johnson, and Pike Counties. Senator Wheeler is vice-chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor. He also serves as a member of the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation, Natural Resources and Energy, Judiciary, and State and Local Government. Additionally, he is a member of the Capital Planning and Bond Oversight Committee and the County Clerk Office Modernization Task Force. For a high-resolution .jpeg of Senator Wheeler, please visit:https://legislature.ky.gov/Legislators%20Full%20Res%20Images/senate131.jpg