Legislative Update from State Rep. Cluster Howard

As your newly elected state representative, I want to report on my first week serving in the Kentucky General Assembly.

My first four days in Frankfort have been exciting, rewarding, challenging and busy.  We began Tuesday by being sworn in by Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton at the speaker’s desk on the floor of the House of Representatives.  It was a very emotional and proud moment and I was delighted to have my family in attendance.

Cluster Howard swearing in - Photo submitted
Cluster Howard swearing in – Photo submitted

We then conducted leadership races.  Every two years leaders of both the majority and minority party are elected and this year the House Majority Caucus voted to keep three incumbents and elect two new leaders.  Speaker Greg Stumbo, Majority Leader Rocky Adkins and Caucus Chair Sannie Overly will continue in their positions; Rep. Jody Richards will serve as the new speaker pro tem and Rep. Johnny Bell is our new caucus whip.  I look forward to working with each of these fine individuals as they chart our legislative course.

 

The rest of the week was spent attending training, organizing my office, getting to know staff, meeting with my legislative colleagues and members of Governor Beshear’s administration, and concentrating on my legislative priorities and thinking about which bills to file and support.

 

We received our committee assignments on Friday. These are decided upon by House Leadership, and our experience, background and districts are taken into consideration.

I am proud that I have been appointed to these committees:  Economic Development, Education, Local Government, and Natural Resources & Environment.

Several major issues have emerged that we will address this session and we have much to contemplate in seeking legislative solutions.

Heroin continues to wreak havoc on Kentucky families and communities and lawmakers are committed to finding real solutions that stem the tide of addiction through public education, law enforcement, legislation and greater access to treatment.  At least seven bills have been filed regarding heroin and I expect this issue will dominate our discussions throughout the session.

 

A bill that has been named House Bill 1 would allow voters to decide if they want to pay for new community projects by giving them the right to vote on those projects and their costs.  LIFT, which stands for Local Investments for Transformation, would give communities the ability to add a temporary local sales tax – up to a penny in Kentucky’s proposal.  Funds are entirely dedicated to specific projects which could include parks, arenas, convention centers, firehouses or new infrastructure.  Once the project is complete the additional one penny in sales tax goes away.  This could be an exciting economic development tool for both urban and rural communities.

 

Other bills that will no doubt take turns on our legislative center stage this session include restoring voting rights of former felons, raising the minimum wage, establishing a statewide smoking ban, addressing the public pension systems, creating domestic violence protections for dating partners and approving medical marijuana.

 

One of the first votes I cast this week was in support of House Resolution 31 which honored C.D. Noland, Jr., who passed away in December.  C.D. was a former state representative, tireless community advocate and great friend to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  I was proud to support the resolution honoring his extraordinary life.

 

With more than 140 bills filed already I will keep you informed of their progress and how they will affect Kentuckians and our district in particular.

 

Governor Beshear gave his last State of the Commonwealth address focusing on his administration’s accomplishments and outlining his legislative priorities.  It was gratifying to hear of the outstanding progress he has achieved in his two terms, during Kentucky’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

 

We will return to Frankfort next month to begin Part II of the 2015 legislative session but in the interim I will concentrate on constituent concerns and study upcoming legislative issues.

 

My first week has been exhilarating and I am very much looking forward to the work that lies ahead.  Beginning in February, I will keep you informed with these weekly legislative updates so check back in a few weeks for my next column.

 

If you’d like to contact me please call the Legislative Research Commission 502-564-8100.  You can also plan to stay informed of legislative action by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state representative.

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