Sen. Brandon Smith and Rep. Bobby McCool are Johnson County’s legislative delegation in Frankfort, and after a productive session of the General Assembly, both came back to the Ramada Inn and Conference Center for a breakfast with the Paintsville/Johnson County Chamber of Commerce to offer updates.

Smith talks gas wells, solar, youth vaping and litter

When asked about bills affecting his district, Sen. Smith first brought up a bill to curtail unmarked gas wells in the region.

“I really didn’t know it was such a problem,” Smith said. “There are literally thousands of these across our district, in streams and creeks and a lot of them are drilled illegally and they’re left. We have a map, and they can show us, but there’s no funds to get them capped or find out if they’re contaminated. So we worked with the Department of Natural Resources and came up with a bill that’s got some funding in it for them. They can collect off of people who have already gotten a fine, and put that money in to clean this up. Apparently, they’ve been trying to do this for 50 years, but they’ve never been able to get the vote out of there, so that was a controversial vote that took place over two hours in the House last week. That was a bill that they brought to me.”

Smith also caught controversy over the so-called “net-metering” bill, which opponents argued would harm the development of solar energy in the state. Smith disagrees.

“It’s crazy, because I’m pro-solar. In 2004, we got those guys started, in 2008 we tweaked it to make sure the utility companies were purchasing this power, and so we’re at a point now where those costs are coming down, it’s just simply 3.0. This will actually put in place the most productive cycle of solar in Kentucky for probably the next 10 years. And then in 10 years, we’ll probably have to tweak it. I saw these stories about it, and it just floored me, because I have always been and state clearly, as chairman of energy, I’m for all options that we’ve got in Kentucky. We’re going to keep our hand on the pulse of what’s going on and should anything happen, we’ll be there to react quickly because solar is going to play a role.”

Smith was also grateful to the work of Johnson County Middle School’s Community Problem Solving team, “Juul Breakers,” and Johnson Central High School’s HOSA Club, “Team Truth,” for their joint work to curb youth nicotine use in vaping products, though his Senate Bill 218 died in the House.

“The Juuls bill we’ve got, that’s going to be very important, and I give credit to those children. They’re the ones who came up with it, they’ve worked very, very hard, and now these kids will have a voice. And the cool thing about their bill is, it ties into the anti-bullying line we’ve got, so we’ve got more outreach to kids. And it brings the parents in, because a lot of times, we’re finding out parents don’t even know that their 12-year-old daughter got caught with a $150 (electronic vaping) device. So first off, where’d she get the money? So I really like that about the bill that the kids put in.”

Smith was most vocal about his efforts behind Senate Bill 236, an anti-littering bill.

“My anti-littering bill will become the toughest littering bill in the United States of America. It absolutely is exactly what we need. It’s the first help that the people who get up and clean up the stuff and adopt a highway and all these different groups out there, this is the first help they’ve received. It’s modeled after the ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ program, but ours is much more stringent. People look at their cell phones a hundred times an hour, so this is a tremendous tool to use for good or bad, and in this case, being able to catch litter, being able to identify it, scan it, send it in. If their name comes up once, they’re not going to harass them because it could be an accident. Second time, you get notified. Third time, you get a fine and your face goes up. We put you on Litterbutt, because we want to know who those four percent of people are. They’ll come to all my groups and hang out and then be out there throwing trash out into one of the oldest cemeteries in Kentucky. I just caught a guy that was doing that, and turned him in to the state police last Thursday, but he’s the biggest talker for all this stuff. That’s the number one thing industry talks about, when they start coming to Eastern Kentucky is, ‘Man, we just don’t want to live down there with this trash, so nasty all the time.’ They say they love the area, we all know how pretty it is, but if we don’t respect it, how are we going to expect everybody else to? So that’s the only bill, out of all the stuff I’ve filed this year, and a lot of this stuff is big, but that is my true love, three years’ worth of work for me, a lot of moving parts to get it down where it is, it’s got money with it, it’s got a local system set up, and it brings money back on these fines to the counties. If it fails on this last veto day, what I’m going to do is ask my cities and my counties to adopt portions of this on their own, as ordinances, because nothing’s stopping them from doing it. I told (Mayor Bill Mike Runyon) and (Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie), we need to let it be known that in Johnson County, we’re a zero tolerance for littering community.”

McCool talks speed limits, school safety, concealed carry

McCool’s first ever piece of legislation to make it into law was House Bill 266, regarding speed limits on a parkway that will become Interstate 165, and the Mountain Parkway Expansion, both roads being built to specifications safely allowing 70 mile per hour speed limits.

“This allows them, in those areas currently under construction, after studies are done by the Transportation Cabinet, for those areas, they can raise speed limit up to 70 miles per hour. Otherwise, they’d have to wait on that.”

McCool said one of his proudest “yea” votes, in a session with plenty of productive legislation, was Senate Bill 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act, which aims to curb school violence with a multi-pronged approach.

“SB1 is something that we maybe should have had already, but hindsight is working all time,” McCool said. “It was prompted in part by the tragedy in Marshall County. It was one of the first bills passed this year, and it was a bipartisan effort — it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or your party, we all have to work for schools and our children. It sets goals for additional school resource officers, making sure we have someone there, ready, willing and able to protect and defend our students and teachers. It cracks down on fake threats, these pranks that are anything but funny. And it’s not just about the physical laws, it will try to reestablish a culture of care. The bill establishes goal for more school counselors, and requires local school boards to think about trauma can affect actions of students. It involves everybody, not just legislators, but parents, teachers, school boards, everyone.”

McCool voted in favor of other legislation, including Senate Bill 150, legalizing concealed carry of firearms without a permit for those legally eligible to carry a firearm. 

“I still encourage everyone to get the training, with a certified trainer,” McCool said. “You’ll learn not only how to use your firearm safely, but also how to safely clean it — I’m an old Marine, I know if you’re not cleaning your weapons, it’s not good. And you’ll still need that permit if you want to carry out into certain other states.”

McCool said he voted in favor of Senate Bill 9, a bill mandating a check for fetal heartbeats and preventing abortion if a heartbeat is detected. 

“Life, to me, is important, from conception on,” McCool said. “It also protects unborn children based on gender, race or disability.” 

McCool said he, fellow legislators and staffers in Frankfort worked long days, early mornings into late nights, to make this session positive and productive.

“I’m proud to be a servant, and people let me go down to Frankfort to do this,” McCool said. “I get up every day and ask, what can I do for Eastern Kentucky?”

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