LANCASTER — From taxing districts, to Medicaid and affordable health-care reform, to industrial hemp production, to the Grand Theater, a variety of topics were discussed during Tuesday’s town hall meeting in Lancaster with state Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster; state Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville; and Mark Lord, district director for U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-2nd District, present.
For Shell, who began his term in January, elected to fill the shoes left by retiring representative Lonnie Napier, the evening was his first experience at such a meeting. He said it went well, especially with the participation of Sen. Buford.
“Anytime that you’re in the room with Sen. Buford, he’s so knowledgeable about the issues, he’s so well-rounded about everything going on,” said Shell, who added that he tried to feed off of Buford.
Being an outgoing person, Shell said he enjoys events like Tuesday’s town hall forum because of the opportunity to meet people
“This has been my cup of tea since I got into the campaign,” said Shell, adding that he has learned a great deal from the experience.
“There’s a lot of issues that were brought up, and we got to talk about some good things. I got educated on what the PVA was talking about, Kay Hall, and what she brought up. Hopefully I said some things that educated them. I’m pleased.”
The event allowed community members the opportunity to not only meet their senators and representatives, but also to share concerns. It began with a meet and greet with community members, followed by a question-and-answer session.
One such individual was Garrard County Property Valuation Administrator Kay Hall. She addressed the men regarding the financial struggles faced by the PVA.
“My employees haven’t had a raise in six years,” she said.
Hall explained that every year, she has to tell the employees that the money isn’t available for the raise, and “it’s hard to stand there,” she said.
Buford expressed his understanding at her predicament, explaining that the Senate passed a bill that would have enabled some of the funding that is so desperately needed. However, he said, the bill was examined and critiqued so heavily by media organizations that members of the House of Representatives felt they were unable to touch the issue, ultimately killing the bill.
He told Hall, “Perhaps we could try again” and encouraged contact be made with news organizations in Lexington and Louisville before that happens, as to prevent the possibility of a repeat with the bill.
Hall said afterward that some help is definitely needed.
“It has been terribly hard on us,” she said.
Hall explained that with cuts, she has recently lost a part-time employee. “I just worry that any day, I could lose one of my full-time employees.”
Part of the issue, she explained, is that she is expected to send a certain amount of money to the state and that sometimes has to be done at the expense of her employees.
“You get a paper asking you how you are going to do it. Your choices are: pay by check; demote some of them to lesser money, this is after they haven’t had a raise for six years; or pink slip someone,” she said.
Linda Wardlow, representing the Central Kentucky Regional Humane Society, said she is also a banker by trade. She expressed various concerns during the question-and-answer session, one being that of animal well-being and another about the foreclosure crisis. She asked the elected officials if they know of any proposed bills that would strengthen punishment for domestic animal abuse.
In 2008, a bill dubbed “Romeo’s Law” that had been introduced by Buford and Rep. Stan Lee, was signed into law.
While neither Buford nor Shell could recall any new domestic animal abuse bills coming before the chambers, they did share news of a bill involving the questionable methods that are sometimes used to make Tennessee Walking Horses have the signature prance. Buford stated that a state senator is under investigation for mistreating horses in such ways.
Also discussed was privatization and possible expansion of Medicaid. According to Shell and Buford, many of their fellow officials dislike the idea of expanding the program, simply because of the added strain the state will be under after the federal government stops supporting the system in about three years.
Buford added the state was given a grant of $183 million last week, which many states did not receive, to help cover the costs. He suspects some of that funding came because many of his fellow senators and representatives are not backing expansion.
He also posed the idea to those in attendance that the governor had issued an executive order adding a fee to help cover the costs, a move that he suspects could be considered a tax and therefore would be illegal.
“It’s a very honorable position (to expand Medicaid). But it comes at an expense,” Buford said.
Judge-Executive John Wilson emceed the event, and Magistrate Fred Simpson spoke, reminding the legislators of the working middle class that he believes is getting “cut on both ends.”
“They’re losing some of the benefits, and their taxes are going up and their job offers are going down,” Simpson said. “It’s becoming increasingly important that you do consider those people.”
Former representative Lonnie Napier also attended the event, showing support for the men sitting behind the table.
He shared with a smile that he knew “what they’re going through.”
“They don’t have an easy job ahead of them. It’s hard to please everyone, but I’m sure they’ll do the best they can,” he said.
SO YOU KNOW
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican who represents Kentucky’s 2nd District, was unable to attend Tuesday’s town hall meeting. However, he will be in Lancaster from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 31 at the First Southern National Bank Community Room to meet with constituents.