Rep. Tom Burch, ousted as House Health and Welfare chair by Republican takeover, gives the gavel to Rep. Addia Wuchner

Rep. Tom Burch

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. – After 30 years as chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville is out, due to Republicans’ takeover of the House in last month’s election. His successor is Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence.

Burch presided over his last meeting Dec. 14, but not before he was honored with a formal citation, a standing ovation from a packed committee room and kind words from members of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare, which also has senators.

“He has led this committee very diligently, very thoughtfully,” said Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Addressing Burch, she said, “I can’t express to you what I know so many in Kentucky feel toward you, because you committed yourself to bettering the lives of families and children and countless others.”

Democratic Sen. Julian Carroll of Frankfort, governor in 1974-79, said, “I have known Tom Burch for all the years that he’s been in Kentucky state government and I’ve not known any individual that is more committed to public service, and particularly to the health and welfare of Kentuckians than is Tom Burch.”

Burch graciously thanked his committee members and said he had the “highest respect” for all of them, even though they occasionally disagreed, recognizing they were all there for one purpose: “to serve” their constituents.

“It’s been a real honor to serve 30 years as chairman of this committee,” Burch said, adding later, “We’ve passed a lot of good legislation out of here, a lot of good legislation that people in Kentucky are better off for.”

Burch is the longest serving House member, at 43 years, and was recently elected to serve another two. He said he had served on the Health and Welfare Committee for about 38 years and been its chairman for three decades.

“It hurts to give up this committee, but I believe to the victor go the spoils and I’ve enjoyed that for the 43 years I’ve been here,” he said.

Rep. Addia Wuchner

Burch welcomed Wuchner to his chair: “This committee has always had a chairman who had a heart. . . . And now, we have a new chairwoman, Addia Wuchner, who also has a heart and I think she will do a good job on this committee.”

Wuchner said in a telephone interview after the meeting that she had called Burch that morning, and stressed that his last day as chairman was a day to honor his service.

“He has been very dedicated all across the gamut of health-care issues and especially those that impact the lives of children and some of our most vulnerable citizens,” she said.

Wuchner has served in the House since 2005, and been on the Health and Welfare Committee the whole time. She is a registered nurse and a former hospital administrator. Her website says she has worked in health care for 26 years.

Asked if her medical background qualified her for the chair, Wuchner said she recognized the benefits, but said the most important strength that members of this committee have in common is a “passion for serving.”

Wuchner said she did not have an agenda set for the short legislative session that begins Jan. 3. However, she said the committee would consider some “very good legislation” that hadn’t been heard before because of partisan differences. That is expected to include anti-abortion bills, which Burch has largely refused to hear.

“My hope for the committee,” Wuchner said, “is that we will take up the challenges that we are given and the scope and the body of what we have to do so that we will improve the health outcomes for the citizens of Kentucky.”

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