Jobs, energy big issues for legislators

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A guest column by Sen. Jimmy Higdon

The past couple of weeks have been busy in and around Frankfort with joint committee meetings on a wide range of issues, including the DOD's planned forced brigade reduction at Ft. Knox, the possible ways to help SNAP recipients better balance their food budgets and the impact of impending federal regulations on coal.

Military activity in the Commonwealth has long been a major source of employment for Kentucky residents, of sales for Kentucky companies and tax revenues for state and local governments. So, it was with grave concern this week that members of the Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection heard about the Department of Defense's plan to cut 43 percent of the active combat population at Ft. Knox - an anticipated loss of 10,000 soldiers and their dependents - by October 2014.

According to the head of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, Col. David Thompson, this will be a significant impact to the area, as well as to the state, as tax revenue is estimated to decrease between $10 and $16.3 million. All of the committee members are committed to working to protect Kentucky's military interest and capabilities. I will continue to keep you updated on our progress.

On a positive note, committee members received an update on Kentucky's Technical Search and Rescue Initiative. The program integrates specially trained firefighters and first responders from across the Commonwealth to be a multi-discipline rapid response unit for regionally and statewide disasters like tornados, floods and earthquakes.

Following the presentation, specialized firefighters and first responders demonstrated their heavy search and rescue skills for committee members. I appreciate the hard work of these folks and am glad to know our communities and state are well prepared for an emergency.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee heard from Dr. Len Peters, secretary for the Energy and Environment Cabinet, on the impending EPA regulations governing coal-fired power plants and other energy producers.

Coal plants are expected to be the hardest hit by the rule, which will in turn hurt Kentucky's coal industry and coal-reliant manufacturing industries. Between 200,000 and 215,000 Kentuckians are employed in the manufacturing industry, according to Dr. Peters.

It is because of coal that our state has such a competitive advantage for manufacturing jobs and we cannot lose sight of that.

Finally, last week, the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee heard from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

Currently, Kentucky SNAP recipients now receive their distribution assistance on a monthly basis, so they often buy non-perishable foods that will make it through the entire month.

The distribution schedule is governed by the federal government, according to Cabinet officials, but they will look into whether Kentucky can offer more frequent distributions.

Perhaps changing to a twice-monthly distribution system would give these families more of an opportunity to buy perishable items like fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as milk.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to call me at (800) 372-7181 or my home at (270) 692-6945. I will keep you updated on what's happening in Frankfort.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, represents the 14th District, which includes Taylor, Marion, Mercer, Nelson and Washington counties