This year's interim joint committee meetings have come to an end, giving us a peek at the topics we will likely consider during the 2020 General Assembly. With the session just weeks away, committees spent time delving into issues like the opioid crisis, local taxation and high pension costs and changes coming to Kentuckians' driver's licenses.
One of the major good pieces of news from the week was the Health and Family Services Committee, where it was reported that drug overdose deaths in Kentucky had decreased by 15% from 2017 to 2018. Meanwhile, drug overdose deaths nationwide only declined by 5%, showing that the Commonwealth is ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying and implementing solutions to fight this epidemic. Policies enacted by the General Assembly, including expanding treatment access and reducing the prescribing of addictive opioids, played a large role in reducing overdose deaths, according to testimony presented to the committee.
While this is fantastic news for the war on opioids, it is by no means the end of this battle. Too many families still face the trauma and devastation from losing a loved one to the drug epidemic, and continuing action is needed. We need to continue further expanding access to drug treatment, cracking down on drug traffickers and taking other actions that are essential to battling this scourge.
The Local Government Committee likewise met and heard testimony from the Kentucky Association of Counties and the Kentucky League of Cities. These groups consist of local officials who are dealing with many of the same challenges state government is confronting - including pensions, infrastructure and the drug epidemic.
One of the major issues brought to us by county and city officials was their desire for more flexibility when it comes to raising local tax revenue. Local officials want the ability to raise more revenue to cover new projects and skyrocketing pension costs - including the flexibility to impose small sales tax increases to pay for local projects that they see fit. Even though this is a challenging issue that I believe should correspond with comprehensive tax reform on the state level, it was good to hear the perspective of mayors, county judge-executives and other local officials on this issue.
Those same local officials also expressed their wishes to see state action on improving Kentucky's infrastructure. While any solution should be comprehensive and include reforms to how we fund our roads and bridges, most people agree that more transportation revenue is needed. This reality exists for a variety of reasons, including the impending loss of federal road money as well as the rise of fuel-efficient vehicles that reduce the need for gas consumption. Presenters noted that they would like to see a modernizing of our funding model that would direct more revenue for roads and bridges to local governments.
Before the Transportation Committee, state officials also announced their plans to comply with a federal mandate requiring the issuance of new driver's licenses by Oct. 1, 2020. Known as Real ID licenses, these new special driver's licenses are a more secure form of identification passed by the federal government in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Recently, the state has begun issuing these licenses in Franklin and Woodford counties, and soon plans to expand their availability to state operated centers in 12 regional offices across Kentucky.
However, the state's vehicle registration commissioner also testified that they would eventually like to see 28 fully-operating regional offices. It is important to note that it will be completely optional for Kentuckians to get Real ID license. Without one, however, could come with added inconveniences. This includes being required to show a passport when flying even within the United States or when visiting military bases or federal buildings such as the White House or federal courthouses. Once these regional centers get up and going, please reach out to me with your feedback as to how the process of receiving new licenses, if you wish to get one, is going.
Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas on these and other topics we may address during the 2020 legislative session, which will begin on Jan. 7. I can be reached at home anytime or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Chris.Freeland@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at LRC.ky.gov and you can also follow me on Facebook @Freelandforky.
(Chris Freeland represents House District 6 -- Lyon, Marshall and a portion of McCracken County -- in Frankfort.)