Kentucky Senate Passes A Top-Priority Bill To Stimulate Cutting-Edge Research At Public Universities

FILE - Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers addresses the members of the Senate at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. A top-priority bill intended to turn researchers at Kentucky's public universities into teammates collaborating on cutting-edge research won overwhelming approval in the state Senate on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
FILE - Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers addresses the members of the Senate at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, March 30, 2021. A top-priority bill intended to turn researchers at Kentucky's public universities into teammates collaborating on cutting-edge research won overwhelming approval in the state Senate on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A top-priority bill intended to turn researchers at Kentucky's public universities into teammates collaborating on cutting-edge research won overwhelming approval in the state Senate on Wednesday.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, won Senate passage on a 36-0 vote to advance to the House. Details about start-up funding for the initiative will come into focus in coming weeks. The Senate is working on its version of the next two-year state budget, but the final version will be hashed out by Senate and House negotiators. Stivers will be a key participant in those talks.

The legislation is meant to stimulate research capable of attracting lucrative federal grants and other support while lifting Kentucky’s research profile. Projects could focus on achieving medical breakthroughs and building on schools’ existing strengths in other types of research as well.

The goal is to spur research breakthroughs with lasting impacts on improving lives, Stivers said.

“That’s the hope of this bill, that we will know we made a difference,” the Senate's top leader said. "A difference in the trajectory of this state, in the lives of people here in this state and well beyond the geographic confines of the state of Kentucky.”

Sen. Gerald Neal, the Senate's top-ranking Democrat, hailed the bill as “the most visionary action that we've undertaken this session.”

The measure was designated as Senate Bill 1, signifying its top-priority status.

Seed funding from the state would help nurture the research projects, but the expectation is that the work would prove successful enough to attract outside funding.

“Pooling our resources means greater opportunity for additional federal grants or private funds by investors who want to support cutting-edge research,” Stivers said in a news release after the Senate vote.

The bill would create an endowed research fund administered by the state Council on Postsecondary Education. Supporters haven’t yet discussed any specific dollar amounts to support the research. The council would solicit and review joint funding applications submitted by two or more public universities to enhance collaboration among Kentucky schools often seen as competitors.

The council would select five research consortiums to receive funding for an initial five years. Interest earnings from the research fund would be transferred into accounts supporting each project.

Each research team's performance would be reviewed by the council to determine whether its funding support should be renewed for up to five more years. If a research team’s funding is discontinued, the council would review other applications to fill the vacancy.

The state’s research reputation got a boost last year when the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center achieved the highest level of recognition from the National Cancer Institute. That elevated status will bolster research and patient care in a state plagued by some of the nation’s highest cancer rates.