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Bill before Beshear would change Ky. state symbols, correcting decades-old mix-up

Three objects are pictured. They are different rocks and minerals.
Courtesy
/
CleanPNG, Wikimedia Commons, and University Of Kentucky
A bill that's before the Kentucky governor would redesignate a trio of state symbols to correct a more than 25-year-old geological gaffe. It would make coal (left), formerly the state mineral, the state rock, and name calcite (center) the state mineral. It would also name chalcedony agate (more commonly known as Kentucky agate, which is currently the state rock) the state gemstone. The current state gemstone, the freshwater pearl, would be stripped of its status due to its rarity in Kentucky.

A geologist-turned-lawmaker is the driving force behind a bill that would change the Kentucky state rock, mineral and gemstone.

House Bill 378, sponsored by Louisville Democrat Rep. Al Gentry, seeks to correct scientific mislabelings and recognize a prominent Kentucky resource previously not recognized as a state symbol. Under the bill – which is now before the governor – coal would be identified as the state rock, calcite as the state mineral and chalcedony agate as the state gemstone.

Coal was named Kentucky’s state mineral in 1998 and chalcedony agate was recognized as the state rock in 2000 (under the name Kentucky agate). Unfortunately, coal is geologically considered a rock and chalcedony agate – the colorful variety of quartz found inside rocks across the state – is scientifically classified as a mineral.

Gentry’s original draft of the bill merely swapped the two but – after hearing from experts in the field – he authored the committee substitute to bring it to its current form.

“I know it's not big on a lot of people's radars, but I think … if we're going to have state symbols and things like that, it's important that we are accurate, scientifically accurate,” Gentry said.

Geologists and other experts in the earth science field have praised the decision. William Andrews is the acting director of the Kentucky Geological Survey and Kentucky’s current State Geologist. He said he’s happy to see the state correct the record.

“I understood the reasoning behind the original designations. Even if they weren't precisely scientific, they were still legal and popular terminologies that they were consistent with,” Andrews said. “(The new bill) wasn't something that I necessarily feel is critical for the function of our society, but … it's always nice to see the vocabularies fall in line with each other.”

Gentry feels this trio of proposed state symbols is now both more scientifically correct and more representative of Kentucky.

Coal has been an important resource in the state for centuries. The fossil fuel has been a staple of Kentucky’s economy and baseload power supply since its discovery in the state more than 250 years ago.

Gentry felt it appropriate to swap chalcedony agate from its colloquial name and identify it as a gemstone because of its use for personal adornment, display or as an object of art. This meant Gentry would need to strip the current state gemstone, the freshwater pearl, of its status.

“What I was told by the mineral specialists is freshwater pearls are actually very rare and very rarely found in Kentucky and the hotbed of freshwater water pearls was actually just south of Land Between The Lakes in Tennessee,” he said. “Although you can find some in Kentucky … they're more of a Tennessee thing.”

The freshwater pearl is recognized as the state gemstone of Tennessee.

The biggest change with that committee substitute was the designation of calcite – a primary component of limestone – as the state mineral. Gentry said it seemed like the clear choice for a mineral to represent the state.

“There was nothing more Kentucky than the mineral calcite,” Gentry said. “Caves are formed in limestone. So [here] you have the largest cave system in the world in the Mammoth Cave system. Weathered limestone also creates the soils that create bluegrass in the inner Bluegrass region of central Kentucky, which is also very important for thoroughbred breeding … as well as the making of bourbon because the waters that flow through the limestone are very identical to the creation and distilling of bourbon.”

Similar measures have been sponsored by Lexington Democrat Cherlynn Stevenson and Gentry before, once in 2019 and again in 2022. Neither previous proposal received a committee vote.

The incorrect identification of coal and agate has been called “a laughing point” in some scientific circles around the country, and Gentry said that getting the bill to the governor’s desk feels like an accomplishment.

“It was a big relief, more than anything, to finally push it through,” Gentry said. “I never imagined in a million years I would get so many people contacting me on this bill when it started moving and most of the people were geologists saying, ‘Thank you so much for finally getting this correct.’”

Gov. Andy Beshear has two weeks to either sign or veto the bills, or let them become law without his signature. The legislature will return to Frankfort on April 12 for the final two days of the session. Then they’ll have the ability to override Beshear’s vetoes and pass new legislation that can’t be protected by a veto override.
Copyright 2024 WKMS. To see more, visit WKMS.

Derek Operle