State Representative Kenneth Upchurch answers questions during Chamber meeting
By Eugenia Jones
Earlier this month, McCreary County’s State Representative, Kenneth Upchurch, spoke to members of the McCreary County Chamber of Commerce and fielded questions from his audience.
Upchurch gave an update on the last legislative session which he said was quite different from previous sessions due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“COVID made a difference in that people such as lobbyists and the general public weren’t allowed in during the session,” Upchurch noted. “We’re accustomed to seeing lots of different people during that time.”
Upchurch explained the state’s revenue is in better shape than expected.
“We were able to put away $460 million in a rainy day fund,” Upchurch remarked. “But you’ve got to remember, we have an $11 billion budget. That rainy day fund will only last two to three weeks in an emergency.”
Upchurch said the state received 2.4 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Some of that funding was spent on infrastructure (including expansion of rural broadband) and renovation of school facilities. The state legislature also fully funded all-day Kindergarten for all Kentucky students. In the past, funding for all day kindergarten was split equally (1/2-1/2) between the state and local school districts.
“With the state picking up total cost of kindergarten, it should free up money in the local school districts,” Upchurch said.
Upchurch smiled when he adamantly told the audience he wanted to put one McCreary County rumor to rest.
“I’ve been asked so many times, and I want to put this one to bed,” Upchurch commented. “State HWY 92 from Pine Knot to Williamsburg will be totally completed. The money has been appropriated, passed, and will be spent on that project. Hopefully, the new road will be completed by this fall. Since blacktopping can’t be completed in winter months, the worst case scenario is completion of HWY 92 early next spring.”
In response to a question from a member of the audience who was dissatisfied with the experience he had in renewing his driver’s license at a regional office, Upchurch explained why licensing of drivers went to the regional model.
“After 911, the feds wanted real IDs to become reality,” Upchurch observed. “Unfortunately, there were a lot of computer glitches and problems for circuit court clerks when they first started piloting the real ID program. As a result, the Circuit Court Clerk Association voted not to process real IDs through their offices. KY had to move to a regional model because all licensing of drivers (regular and real ID) must go through the same agency. The Department of Transportation is now that agency.”
Upchurch acknowledged that some of the regional motor vehicle offices have struggled with implementation; however, Upchurch feels time will alleviate kinks in the system.
“Mobile units will eventually be going to counties to renew licenses for those who can’t drive to a regional office,” Upchurch explained. “People will also be able to go online to renew licenses.”
Upchurch also reassured McCreary County residents that a project for the Mount Pleasant railroad crossing is in Kentucky’s six year road plan and design work is in process.
“It will take time on this project, but it is in the six year plan,” Upchurch commented.
The railroad crossing has been of great concern to local residents due to trains blocking the crossing for extended periods of time. At times, McCreary County EMS been forced to reroute to a more dangerous and longer route due to train blockages.
Upchurch also addressed a question from the audience expressing concern over the legislature’s passage of HB 312 which places some restrictions on Open Records requests.
“312 sought to limit what is actually falls under an open records request and grants authority to the Legislative Research Commission to determine if an open records request is legal and if open records laws actually apply to the request,” Upchurch stated. “This was done particularly in regard to Open Records requests for all emails to state legislatures. Some of those emails may have information a constituent, in regard to getting assistance, has shared confidentially.”
When the questioner noted sensitive emails could always legally be redacted, Upchurch responded,
“312 put the Legislative Research Commission in charge and over those emails.”
Upchurch said legislators received feedback from individuals concerned about perceived overreach by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Upchurch explained Kentucky’s governor is granted certain powers by the Commonwealth’s constitution and some powers are granted by the state legislature.
“We did pass legislation limiting a governor’s emergency orders to thirty days,” Upchurch stated. “There has to be legislative approval after thirty days.”