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By the time this column goes into print, the final hours of the 2008 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly will have passed.During the 10-day recess that preceded the General Assembly’s adjourning sine die, the governor had the opportunity to review all legislation that had been approved by both the House and the Senate and either sign the bill into law or exercise his veto power.The free conference committee on House Bill 406, the Executive Branch budget, met for five long days before reaching a compromise between the House and Senate versions. As our Commonwealth is faced with a budget shortfall, we were forced to tighten our fiscal belts. Let me assure you though, I stood firm in my commitment to limit spending instead of raising taxes in order to balance the budget. While the budget is lean, it identifies and eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars in inefficiencies.The final version of the $19 billion budget, which passed the House 74-21, adds approximately $150 million each year beyond what Gov. Beshear first outlined in his budget address and does not include any new taxes. Rather, the additional funding is derived from government efficiencies, state lottery proceeds, restructuring of debt, and new accounting measures.Education, as always, is a crucial part of the spending plan. Please keep in mind that each biennium our Commonwealth invests between 60 and 62 percent of all general fund dollars in education. Members of the free conference committee agreed to a one percent raise for teachers in each fiscal year with the pledge that if revenues exceed expectations by just one percent, the additional funding will first be directed to increasing this raise. The spending plan also includes $12.6 million in each fiscal year for textbooks and an additional $400,000 to support the Safe Schools program.The Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship program is provided full funding that totals almost $167 million over the biennium. This will allow the program to function at current levels and also takes into account projected enrollment increases. The Bucks for Brains program will receive $60 million and, with matching funds, will generate a total of $120 million to support research and academic excellence at our public universities.The ever-growing demand of Medicaid continues to put unbelievable stress on our budget. While many will not deal with the effects of Medicaid on a daily basis, there are now more Kentuckians on the Medicaid rolls than are enrolled in the public school system. Since this is a federally mandated program, we have little flexibility in controlling costs. The 722,000 Kentuckians eligible for Medicaid will continue to receive benefits thanks to more than $10 billion appropriated to this health care assistance program. 52,000 children will continue to receive health insurance coverage through the $214 million directed to the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program and $2.9 million is provided each fiscal year for Meals on Wheels, Adult Day Care, Personal Care, and other vital public services.In the area of justice, non-violent offenders serving five years or less will be moved out of prison and into community programs and save the state approximately $31 million....Along with the important passage of the 2008-2010 budget, the House also took action on House Bill 410, a supplemental appropriations bill. Approved 83-10, this legislation includes $150 million for water and sewer projects and $231 million in Federal Grant Anticipation Vehicle Bond funding for the Louisville bridges project. Coal counties received program funding for youth football equipment, sidewalk improvements, and equipment for local fire departments.In other House floor action, after five previous attempts, legislation aimed to curtail bullying successfully passed the House 91-4 thanks to a bi-partisan compromise reached by a free conference committee. House Bill 91 will require the Department of Education to craft discipline guidelines and local school authorities to alert law enforcement when school harassment involves a potential felony.Annual reports on school harassment will also be required to the Department of Education as well as the legislature. Another provision requires schools to write codes of conduct that prohibit “harassment” and“intimidation.”We also passed Senate Bill 157 by a vote of 87-3. School districts would be given extra time to work through budget constraints which would provide the opportunity for the districts to retain their full teaching staff instead of terminating employment due to the lack of funding.With the 2008 General Assembly adjourned, the next Regular Session will convene in January 2009. It is my continued pleasure to serve as your State Representative and I thank you for the honor and privilege to represent you in Frankfort.During the next few weeks, I will continue to update you on additional legislation that becomes law.The phone calls, emails and letters we receive throughout the year help give us a better idea of your priorities. I am available through a message line at (800) 372-7181 or you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column may not necessarily represent the views of The Oldham Era.