Lawmakers hoping to settle veterans' center funding, location in legislative session

01/26/2017 05:43 PM

Lawmakers in and around Bowling Green are renewing their push for a new 90-bed veterans’ nursing home in Warren County, filing bills that would authorize $10.5 million in bond sales if the project gets federal approval.

Three pieces of legislation – House Bill 13, House Bill 32 and Senate Bill 13 – have been filed so far by area lawmakers hoping to make the proposed Bowling Green veterans’ center a reality.

The Bowling Green project was tacked onto the House’s version of the biennial budget in last year’s legislative session by a narrow floor amendment vote, but it ultimately didn’t make the final two-year spending plan crafted by a conference committee.

Some eastern Kentucky lawmakers pushed back, preferring a Magoffin County location for the state’s fifth veterans’ nursing home that would include 147 beds rather than a smaller Warren County facility.

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, is the sponsor of HB 32 and a co-sponsor of HB 13, and he’s not sure how the bills will fare in the General Assembly, especially since they’ll need three-fifths majorities in both chambers to pass during the 30-day session as appropriation measures.

But he says the thousands of military veterans living in and around Bowling Green need such a facility and that passing a funding source will advance the project on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of priority projects. The bills introduced this year also stipulate $19.5 million in federal funding for the project.

“We need to show our state commitment to it, and I think that’s the important thing, that we show our state commitment and move it up the list and not let it drop down the list,” Richards said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think it is very important.”

While not everyone supports the idea of Warren County getting a veterans’ nursing home over Magoffin County, Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, says he’s planning to speak with stakeholders from both areas to pitch his idea of splitting the number of beds between the two proposed sites.

That would help serve the “dense population” of military veterans living in and around his district, which includes Magoffin County, he said.

He said he would like to see a 50-50 or 60-40 split in beds between them. Such an idea would “present the opportunity to accommodate both regions,” he said, calling it “the best pathway forward.”

“It shouldn’t be, as many cases are, one region at the expense of another,” Smith said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think there’s plenty of room to go around. … Representatives in those areas say they’re only wanting to do it for the veterans, so if that’s the case, surely there’s enough room there to be able to come together to make that happen where we can cover vets in both areas.”

However, Richards says he cannot support such a proposal.

“The problem is that the need is just not there in that part of the state as it is here,” he said. “We have so many more veterans, and that does not comply, as I understand it, with federal regulations because it’s too close to the Hazard center.”

The veterans’ centers nearest Bowling Green are about 90-mile drives away in Radcliff and Hanson while the Hazard veterans’ center is about 70 miles away by car from Salyersville.

Rep. Michael Meredith, a Brownsville Republican and sponsor of HB 13, and Sen. Mike Wilson, a Bowling Green Republican and sponsor of SB 13, could not be reached for comment Thursday.


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