Bill granting funding for Bowling Green veterans nursing home passed House budget committee
02/21/2017 09:18 PM
FRANKFORT — A bill that would authorize $10.5 million in bonds for a new veterans nursing home in Bowling Green cleared the House budget committee on Tuesday.
Supporters say bonding authority granted under House Bill 13 is necessary to improve the 90-bed project’s chances of becoming a reality and that bonds are needed to match $19.5 million in federal funding.
While some opposed HB 13 in favor of another proposed veterans facility in Magoffin County, the bill ultimately passed the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on a 23-3 vote. House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Reps. Tim Couch, R-Hyden, and David Hale, R-Wellington, voted against it.
Regional differences emerged at times during testimony on the bill. A similar discord doomed the project’s placement in the biennial budget last year, prompting the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a feasibility study.
Rep. Michael Meredith, a Brownsville Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said that review found Bowling Green had the highest need for a veterans nursing home.
“Bowling Green was, based on that feasibility study looking at the need today and the need into the future, decided to be the number one facility,” he said, noting that the area has some 40,000 veterans there.
The Bowling Green center is currently 99th on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of priority projects, and a state funding component would push it upward, Meredith said.
But some eastern Kentucky lawmakers on the panel said they would rather see a veterans nursing home in Magoffin County instead.
Couch said the region’s mountainous terrain makes traveling to the nearest veterans center in Hazard, which is near capacity, difficult and that the proposed Magoffin County location would provide about 50 more beds than the planned Bowling Green center.
He also said the new construction would help a county that has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 13.5 percent as of December.
“We want the center in Kentucky,” Couch said. “It’s not that we’re debating against it, it’s just to fulfill the need that we have in east Kentucky with the loss of jobs and what’s happened over the past eight years. I can’t see how the study could be correct and lose those 47 or 48 beds.”
Tuesday marked the second committee hurdle for HB 13, which first passed the House Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee on Wednesday. The bill now heads to the House floor.
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