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Veterans nursing home financing heads to state Senate

Daily News - 2/24/2017

Long-sought Kentucky bond financing for a proposed 90-bed Bowling Green Veterans Center nursing home planned for the Kentucky Transpark sailed through the state House of Representatives on Thursday and now heads to the state Senate.

The House overwhelmingly voted 99-0 for House Bill 13 to authorize $10.5 million in bonds for the project expected to support some of the 40,000 military veterans in southcentral Kentucky.

Lawmakers dissolved one freshman legislator's approach that could have funded two veterans nursing homes in the state, cutting the number of beds allocated for the Bowling Green project.

The House-passed bill did include one of two amendments sought by the new Eastern Kentucky lawmaker, state Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville.

His eventual approved amendment states, "It is the desire of the General Assembly that any future beds allocated from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs or reallocated from the Kentucky Department of Veterans' Affairs be dedicated to a state veterans nursing home in Magoffin County to serve that area."

However, Blanton's other amendment, which didn't get included in the House committee substitute advanced to the House floor, wanted to fund two nursing homes and cut beds in Bowling Green.

The rejected amendment directed the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans' Affairs to withdraw the application for matching funds provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the 90-bed facility for the Bowling Green veterans nursing home and then directed that same commissioner re-submit an application for matching federal funds for a 60-bed facility for the Bowling Green and a 77-bed facility for Magoffin County which would utilize the 137-bed total allotment for the commonwealth, according to the Legislative Research Commission website.

Commitment of state support will improve chances that the proposed 90-bed facility becomes a reality. The facility has the support on the federal level of both U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green.

The $10.5 million in bonds would be used to match $19.5 million in federal funding that is needed but not yet allocated. State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green; state Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville; state Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, and other area lawmakers are all on board with the project.

The donated land for the nursing home is just off the new Interstate 65 interchange currently under construction. The new road will link I-65 to U.S. Highway 31-W and provide even more highway access to the Kentucky Transpark.

Meredith saw the House bill approved in the House Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection by a wide margin on Feb. 15 and then the quick passage through the entire House on Thursday.

"We are very proud of the overwhelming bipartisan effort to move this worthy project forward," Meredith said in a text message on Thursday to the Daily News.

"Our local legislators have worked with our local veterans and veterans organizations for several years to get to where we are today, and I'm thankful for the hard work our veterans did," Meredith said.

"There is a very similar companion bill (sponsored by Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green) that has passed the Senate A&R committee and I am hopeful and feel confident that we will be able to get this legislation to the Governor's desk for his signature this session," Meredith said.

There are currently four state veterans homes in Kentucky, including the Radcliff Veterans Center, which is in the final phase of completion.

"It's a great day for the veterans of South Central Kentucky," DeCesare said in a text message on Thursday to the paper.

"Years of hard work has finally paid off," he said.

DeCesare lauded Meredith for his work on the House measure.

"I want to applaud Rep. Meredith for taking the lead on this issue and shepherding it through the House committee process. He worked with legislators of both parties to reach a consensus with no dissenting votes. We're halfway through the process and still have more work to do," DeCesare said.

The state veterans affairs department authorized Public Consulting Group to review available data to determine which area of the state has the most need of veterans nursing home services, with each of the state's eight Medicaid Managed Care Organized Regions ranked on a number of criteria, including projected population growth of veterans through 2043.

Accounting for all criteria, Region 4, a 20-county area that includes Warren and all its surrounding counties, had the highest demand for veterans nursing home services, according to the study.

The proposed veterans nursing home is ranked 109th on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' list of priority projects.

Richards was also pleased Thursday to see the measure advance to the Senate.

"I am pleased that the Kentucky House overwhelmingly voted to allocate $10.5 million in state funds to move forward the Bowling Green Veterans Center nursing home," he said in a Thursday text message. "I was pleased to be a co-sponsor of this bill and to speak in favor of it. It is a very good day for Kentucky veterans and I urge the State Senate to pass HB 13."

Last year, the Office of Kentucky Veterans Centers' five-year capital projects budget sent to Gov. Matt Bevin's office included the Bowling Green facility, but Bevin did not include the funding in his state budget that he sent to legislators.

A House budget amendment restored the funding, but a subsequent Senate version of the budget did not, nor did the compromise version ultimately approved in April last year.


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