The4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, October 2, 2008, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Elizabeth Tori, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Elizabeth Tori, Co-Chair; Representative Tanya Pullin, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Joey Pendleton, Dick Roeding, Dan Seum, and Katie Stine; Representatives Sheldon E. Baugh, Tom Burch, Dwight D. Butler, Mike Cherry, Larry Clark, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Bill Farmer, David Floyd, Jeff Greer, Jimmie Lee, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Fred Nesler, Steve Riggs, Tom Riner, Carl Rollins II, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Charles Siler, Dottie Sims, John Tilley, and Alecia Webb-Edgington.
Guests: Trey Grayson, Secretary of State; Major General Edward W. Tonini, Adjutant General, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs; Thomas L. Preston, Executive Director, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, CSA, Mustapha Jammeh, Andrew Coyle, and Rhonda Schierer.
Co-Chair Tori asked committee members to review minutes from the September committee meeting for approval, which were approved by unanimous voice vote upon a motion and a second.
Co-Chair Tori welcomed members and called on Rep. Siler to read a resolution for a fallen soldier, Sergeant David Keith Cooper, who lost his life in the global war on terrorism. She asked the committee to stand in a moment of silence in honor of the fallen soldier. The resolution was unanimously adopted by voice vote.
Co-Chair Tori welcomed Secretary of State, Trey Grayson, to the meeting. Sec. Grayson discussed voting programs for military and overseas voters for the 2008 general election. Sec. Grayson briefed the committee on the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP); the special federal voter registration and request for absentee ballot form (FPCA form); the special federal write-in absentee ballot (FWAB) for federal races only; and the 2006 general election data compiled from post-election reports. He discussed delivery options for absentee ballots, including U.S. mail, secure faxing, or secure email. Secretary Grayson concluded with a discussion on the state board of elections (SBE) website tools for military, their dependents, and overseas voters.
Co-Chair Pullin asked about the Voting in Honor of a Veteran Program (VHVP) and what counties are not set up for the VHVP program. Sec. Grayson stated that 4 counties were not participating in FVAP and he would send that information to committee members. He stated that the VHVP program was designed 2 years ago and that it encourages voting by reminding citizens that it is a right soldiers fight to uphold.
Rep. Farmer asked how a county clerk knows when they have an emailed absentee ballot request. Sec. Grayson stated that the county clerks offices are asked to go online several times a day to look for requests.
Sen. Gibson asked how long absentee ballots are kept at the county clerk’s office. Sec. Grayson stated that they are kept for about 2 years.
Rep. Rudy expressed his concern with the FWAB as voters may not realize that they are denied their vote for state and local races. Sec. Grayson stated that a write-in should be viewed as a last resort and it is not extended to state and local races for concerns of voter fraud.
Co-Chair Tori called on Major General Edward W. Tonini and Col. (Ret.) Mike Jones, Executive Director, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs to give an update on the KY Department of Military Affairs. Gen. Tonini also introduced Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Steve Collins, Director of the Bluegrass Station Effort, Rick Flynn, Budget Analyst, Military Affairs, and John Heltzel, Director of Emergency Management in Kentucky. Gen. Tonini stated that there has been a 92% reduction of violence in Iraq and spoke on the bravery and dedication of all troops and specifically the 450 KY soldiers of the 201st who serve in Afghanistan to clear roads of landmines. He added that out of 450, 38 soldiers have received the Purple Heart awards.
Gen. Tonini gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Kentucky Guard in action in Iraq and Afghanistan; hurricane support in Gustav and Ike; and current Kentucky National Guard (KYNG) personnel deployed.
Gen. Tonini then spoke on the KY Yellow Ribbon Program and gave specifics of the before, during, and after program procedures and trainings for soldiers and their families. Gen. Tonini stated that although they rely heavily on volunteers to run the program they now have full-time federally paid individuals who manage the program.
Gen. Tonini briefed the committee on the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund; stating that it is a safety net of last resort for Kentucky’s military families. He stated that the balance of the Trust Fund as of June 30, 2008, was $520,660 and that the Board’s next meeting is scheduled for October 15th.
Gen. Tonini stated that the Northern Kentucky Readiness Center site has been selected in Boone County and construction is to begin October 1, 2010.
Gen. Tonini gave an update on the Armed Forces Reserve Centers. The Paducah Airport site is 80% complete with a final inspection scheduled for mid-December 2008; and the Bluegrass Army Depot site is 20% complete with final completion estimated for May 2009.
Gen. Tonini stated that under the KYNG Tuition Assistance Program; tuition is paid up to or equal to the in-state “full- or part-time” tuition rate in support of a member of the KYNG to attend an in-state public or private postsecondary educational institution. He added that the FY 09 budget is $4,744,500 with $2,738,051 obligated to date which includes only the fall semester. He stated that they could possibly be out of money for FY 10.
Gen. Tonini stated that the Bluegrass Challenge program was established in 1999 and has a wonderful track record for getting people their GED’s and getting them into productive service.
Rep. Webb-Edgington asked about the current FEMA relief for the recent windstorm in Kentucky and the current status. John Heltzel, Director of Emergency Management, stated they closed out with FEMA and have documented with them $17.1 million in damages. He added that all counties that declared emergencies met the requirement except for Hardin and LaRue. Rep. Webb-Edgington asked when uniform soldiers were added to assist with the program and who coordinated them in their efforts. Mr. Heltzel stated that this year was the first time and they felt training guardsmen would be the fastest way to assist people. The guardsmen assisted in paperwork for damage assessment and they worked as guard teams with the local emergency manager in conjunction with the County Judge Executive.
Sen. Roeding asked about the state threshold for FEMA relief. Mr. Heltzel stated that the state threshold for public assistance in Kentucky is $5,011,000.
Co-Chair Tori asked how many guardsmen have lost their lives in roadside bombs. Gen. Tonini stated that there have been 16 national guardsmen that have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. He stated that he did not know how many have died specifically from roadside bombs but would provide that information.
Co-Chair Tori introduced Thomas L. Preston, Executive Director, KY Office of Homeland Security (KOHS) and asked him to give an update on KOHS. Mr. Preston gave a PowerPoint presentation on KOHS missions. Mr. Preston discussed the responsibilities to include: counter-terrorism assessments and preparedness, grant management, public information/education, intelligence analysis support, community readiness, and first responder training and support. Mr. Preston stated that other directions and tasks of the KOHS included: fusion center operations and coordination with essential partners, communications interoperability, cooperative ventures with federal and state agencies and first responders, critical infrastructure issues involving the DHS, and multiple administrative responsibilities including verification of equipment purchases and recipient capabilities for KOHS funded projects. Mr. Preston discussed the Buffer Zone Protection Program and stated that it assesses certain critical infrastructure and key resource sites in KY.
Mr. Preston stated that the KOHS only administers flow through grants such as the Urban Areas Security Initiative, Emergency Management Performance Grant, and Metropolitan Medical Response System. He stated that on one time only grants, the largest part of the Public Safety Interoperable Communications goes to Kentucky State Police for badly needed communication towers and related equipment. Mr. Preston stated that KOHS received 244 applications from 95 counties which totaled nearly $66 million and KOHS was able to provide partial funding to 84 counties. Co-Chair Pullin asked Mr. Preston if she could get a list of the grants awarded by KOHS for the past year by county. Mr. Preston stated that he would get the list to her.
Rep. Webb-Edgington expressed her concern and reservation in regards to the fact that there were no homeland dollars awarded to state agencies as we currently have 4 areas that are currently certified by the FBI which have bomb squad authority in Louisville, Lexington, Owensboro, and the KY State Police and she felt it would benefit our state to continue to fund these instead of new agencies looking to build additional bomb squads. Mr. Preston stated they will not make any awards unless a new agency is certified by the FBI and at this point there has been no further certification.
Sen. Roeding asked about the grant process and stated that in the past first responders could only request communications equipment. He asked if this focus has changed and will there be other things that can be requested besides that type of equipment. Mr. Preston stated that every local government and local agency has a list of what is available and what can be requested from the KOHS and in addition to that they are going to increase the number of seminars to help improve grant applications and grant requests. He stated that there is a wide range of items that can be purchased. Sen. Roeding asked how the Fusion Center is being staffed and if Mr. Preston could explain the partnership between the Fusion Center staff and the FBI. Mr. Preston stated that the Fusion Center has Transportation Department employees monitoring very specific areas using 450 cameras on highways and bridges.
Sen. McGaha asked what method the KOHS is using to determine grant funding. Mr. Preston stated that all grants are reviewed first by an independent volunteer group of professionals for consideration and the KOHS is currently looking at revising the current numerical system in place. Sen. McGaha asked how many FBI agents are stationed at the Fusion Center. Mr. Preston stated that there is 1 FBI full-time Intelligence Analyst. Mr. McGaha asked if the 19 employees at the Fusion Center included both merit and non-merit positions. Mr. Preston said yes.
Co-Chair Tori thanked Mr. Preston for his presentation and with there being no further business, the meeting adjourned.