- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to reopening the state’s two-year budget to supply taxpayer money for a new medical research building at the University of Kentucky, with the goal of increasing efforts to combat high disease rates plaguing Kentuckians.

The bill cleared the Republican-led Senate, 36-1. It already passed the Democratic-run House.

Gov. Steve Beshear praised lawmakers for sending him the legislation and said he will be pleased to sign it into law. The center will attract talented researchers striving for “rapid improvements in Kentucky’s collective health,” the governor said in a written statement.

“Kentuckians have suffered from poor health and early deaths for decades, and sadly, many of these diseases are preventable or manageable with proper health care,” Beshear said. “Combating these entrenched health problems requires big changes and big investments.”

Lawmakers are typically wary of delving into a current budget to make changes, but they were won over by arguments that the proposal amounts to an investment to improve the state’s miserable health statistics.

Kentucky has some of the nation’s highest rates of cancers and heart disease.

“The life expectancy of our citizens is lower than that of citizens in other states,” said Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington. “We know that that is unacceptable and we have to do something about that.”

The measure authorizes a $132.5 million bond to pay for half the research building. UK says it would pay for the other half through research contracts and private fundraising.

The bill also appropriates about $5.4 million for debt payments in the upcoming fiscal year.

UK said it hopes to start work on the project this year. The school said it plans to use the new building to bring together research teams from multiple disciplines on campus to combat diseases.

The bonding seeks to build on the momentum from the National Cancer Institute designation won by the UK Markey Cancer Center.

“Our goal is to make death a beggar in Kentucky,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in a statement Tuesday. “Our legislators, through their vision and farsightedness, have decided that an investment today in UK and its world-class faculty and staff will pay off for our state for generations to come.”

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The legislation is House Bill 298.

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