Legislative Update - Apr 4, 2019
Legislative sessions are mostly remembered for laws that are enacted, but for some people, keeping a bill from the governor’s desk is a victory, too.
When the General Assembly wrapped up its work late last month, for example, teachers were especially pleased to see that two of the bills they strongly opposed never even came up for a vote in the House, much less the Senate.
The most significant of those would have changed how the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System’s Board of Trustees is chosen. In that case, teachers would have seen their authority to nominate seven of the 11 trustees drop to one, with another nominated by retired teachers. The others would have been nominated by several educational organizations, bankers and CPAs, even though current law already requires two trustees to have investment experience.
KTRS is one of the state’s best-funded public retirement systems and measures up well when compared to its counterparts in other states, so this proposal was simply unnecessary. We shouldn’t tinker with a formula that is working well.
The same can be said of another misguided education bill, which in this case would have provided up to $25 million in tax credits for those who donate to private-school scholarship funds that are used to help families afford tuition costs.
There is a serious legal question whether this could even be allowed under the state constitution, and at a time when the current two-year budget has no money at all for new textbooks or professional development for teachers, this bill is not something we can remotely afford. Think KERA and why all that happened..
Sometimes, bills that are popular in one legislative chamber fail to gain traction in the other. This year, there were three major ones that cleared the House with near-unanimous support but failed to move any further in the Senate.
One bill would have increased the state income-tax exemption for all retirees to $41,100, which is what had long been on the books before being dropped by a fourth as part of last year’s major tax overhaul, which I opposed.
Older Kentuckians fully affected by the 2018 change saw their income taxes go up by $500. Unfortunately, we will have to wait another year before being able to help these citizens, many of whom live on a fixed income.
Just as the Senate was hesitant to pass this bill, it also blocked legislation that would have rolled back some of the $215,000 raise – that’s right, a six-figure raise – that Governor Bevin gave a longtime friend of his last year who serves as the state’s chief information officer. This puts that official’s salary well above anyone else’s in a comparable position in other states.
A third House bill, one that I co-sponsored, the Senate chose not to act on would have improved harassment laws for the Legislative Branch. Had this bipartisan and reasonable response to two scandals over the past five years passed, those who serve in or work for or with the General Assembly would have had greater protections from harassment.
Some bills that weren’t approved this year appear to be gathering steam. Perhaps the most popular would have legalized medical marijuana, which would have added Kentucky to the 30-plus states that have already taken this or similar steps.
More than half of the 100 House members signed on as co-sponsors, and a legislative committee approved the bill overwhelmingly, and yet it still never came up for a vote in the House. This legislation was a reasonable compromise and would have given some needed relief to many citizens who suffer from such things as seizures. This could also have played an important role in fighting Kentucky’s ongoing opioid epidemic.
Sports wagering is another activity spreading to a growing number of states, following last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made this form of gaming legal outside of Nevada.
If this year’s bill had passed, it would have set aside most of state government’s portion to help pay down the long-term liabilities facing our public retirement systems.
One of the regrets I have about this legislative session is that many worthwhile bills were never even given serious consideration. One would have raised the state’s minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased since 2009, and another would have given voters a chance to restore voting rights to felons who have served their full sentence. This has garnered widespread support in the House in recent years, and it’s past due to be approved, since only one other state – Iowa – is still enforcing rules as tough as Kentucky’s.
Overall, this year’s 30-day legislative session covered quite a lot of ground, and while the time to pass new laws is over for the year, the General Assembly’s work will continue when House and Senate committees begin meeting jointly in June. During this interim, which runs through early December, other legislators and I will review issues affecting the state and prepare for the 2020 legislative session.
With that in mind, it is never too late to let me know your views about this work.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, while the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181 is available each weekday. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.
The General Assembly’s website, meanwhile, is www.legislature.ky.gov.
Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.