(OpEd: By Regina Petrey Huff, State Representative-82nd District)
I hope everyone is doing well. I am praying daily for COVID-19 to be a memory, and for a vaccine to be available sooner than anticipated. During the quarantine, I have been busy trying to assist with unemployment applications. This issue has been one of the most frustrating issues I have addressed since being your representative. Some of you have endured two months without receipt of funds for your household and to feed your children. This is unacceptable! I understand the burden to process an unprecedented amount of applications is a monumental task. However, you are not working due to no fault of your own. The application overload should have been addressed prior to removing Kentuckians from their ability to earn a living. I am getting a few emails and messages where we are starting to see some success in assisting. I will continue to request assistance, and advocate for the families of those I represent.
I have been trying to give you an update by categories regarding our actions during the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly. In this update I am focusing on our military heroes. Within the past few years, Kentucky has become one of the most military-friendly states in the nation. A big part of this is that we are without a doubt a patriotic people with communities that welcome active duty and retired military members. We have also earned this reputation by enacting smart policies on the state and local levels. With Memorial Day right around the corner, I think this week’s update is a great opportunity to share with you what we did in this area during the 2020 Regular Session.
At a time when the health of our seniors is of paramount concern, caring for our aging veterans goes a long way in honoring those who sacrificed so much for our freedom. One of the first bills passed this session, HB 24, provides a $2.5 million grant for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA), funding the design and preconstruction costs of the much-anticipated Bowling Green Veterans Center. The funding is in addition to $10.5 million approved by the General Assembly in 2017. The proposed 90-bed facility would be Kentucky’s fifth veterans’ nursing home and the first in Southcentral Kentucky. This measure is even more critical as additional funding has been allocated by the Trump Administration to fast track construction on projects like this. We are already beginning to plan for the sixth skilled nursing facility, which we expect will be in Eastern Kentucky to accommodate our veterans in that region. KDVA nursing homes are also the topic of SB 149, which allows the Kentucky Department of Veteran’s Affairs to use personal service contracts to hire nurses. This should help ease the ongoing staff shortages at KDVA nursing homes.
We also approved HB 357, which allows those trained as a medic as part of their military service to use that training to qualify as a paramedic. We should always look to utilize the specialized training that members of our armed forces receive. Incidentally, the same reciprocity would apply to those who have been certified in other states where training and certifications are required for service as a first responder. HB 357 will help us increase the pool of those trained to serve as paramedics and open the door for those looking to a second career after leaving the armed forces.
The next measure, HB 266, is a simple, common sense bill that allows military personnel to count a home they are buying or building as a residence for public school enrollment purposes. The home must be “under contract,” but this will make a tremendous difference for families transitioning to retirement or a new post. HB 266 builds on legislation we passed last session that allows active duty military personnel to pre-enroll in school districts once they receive their reassignments, rather than waiting until they actually move. Once again, this will ease their transition and it will help school districts in planning.
We also passed HB 276, which allows the surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces to be eligible for a special military license plate and sticker. My colleagues in the House and Senate also approved an update to the membership of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs that will better reflect the current commands, battalions, and military installations. This is a housekeeping measure, but important to ensuring we are accounting for an accurate representation of our armed forces.
The importance of legislation like this becomes much clearer when I share that the U.S. Army will locate their Fifth Corps (V Corps) at Fort Knox. The V Corps Headquarters will consist of approximately 635 soldiers, of which approximately 200 will support an operational command post in Europe on a rotational basis. The Corps Headquarters is projected to be operational by this fall, with new troops beginning in July. These men and women will call our state home, bringing their families and establishing themselves in our communities. They will buy houses and rent apartments here, spend money in our stores, and invest in our communities. V Corps will help the region tremendously at a time when we need it most as we all work to kickstart our economy.
Thank you for reading this week’s legislative update. More importantly, thank you to every man and woman that has served, past and present. I am humbled and grateful to each of you and your families. Freedom isn’t free, and it is by your sacrifices that we have opportunities and freedoms across this Commonwealth and nation.
As always, I hope you will contact me with any questions or concerns you might have. I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, visit the legislature’s website www.lrc.ky.gov or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please feel free to reach me on my personal cell 606-524-0227. I also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter where I provide information I think might be of interest to you. It is a pleasure to serve you. Be blessed.