After finishing my first session in leadership as majority whip, I am proud of all that was accomplished in this short, 30-day session of the General Assembly. One of the most important achievements was the new bipartisan tone, set from the beginning, which allowed us to move meaningful legislation forward for the good of all Kentuckians. Like all legislative sessions, I went to Frankfort with my family and constituents ever on my mind and in my prayers, knowing great decisions lay ahead. I can honestly say that this was one of the most successful sessions in recent history, but it sure is good to be home!
First and foremost, this General Assembly passed significant and long overdue legislation to protect the public employee retirement system, and ultimately save the taxpayer. Using recommendations from a bipartisan task force which met last summer, both chambers, working closely with Governor Beshear, persistently worked on two bills to address the problem. The passage of Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 440 staved off imminent financial doom and the need for an extraordinary special session.
Senate Bill 2 will establish a hybrid, cash balance plan for all new state employee hires, local government employees, legislators and judges who enter the system after January 1, 2014. Please rest assured, it will not affect current and retired employees, nor will it affect teachers’ retirement. It will require the full actuarially required contribution (ARC) to be paid to the pension system starting in fiscal year 2015. Any future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees are to be pre-funded. The state will contribute four percent and the employee five percent, with the plan to be managed by the Kentucky Retirement System (KRS). The plan will guarantee employees a four percent return on investment. Employees will be fully vested with contributions and returns after five years and can take the accrued dollars with them should they change jobs. The funding solution for Senate Bill 2 was passed in House Bill 440, through bipartisan collaboration. It is important to note no new taxes or lottery revenue will be used for the funds to pay the ARC. Instead, the funding will come from an adjustment to the personal tax credit, tax loophole closings and enhanced tax collection efforts. With the passage of these bills, state and local government employees’ retirement will be protected and the state will save an estimated $10 billion over the next 20 years. Now, the extra dollars needed to pay for pension benefits are available for other worthy purposes like education and healthcare. This was an extremely difficult, but vital, decision that I feel responsibly protects employees and feasibly enables a future for new hires. Our state employees are oftentimes the backbone of many communities and it was our duty to solve this crisis now.
As the General Assembly strengthened the pension system, it also enacted measures to strengthen Kentucky’s educational opportunities. Senate Bill 61 will give motivated and prepared students the ability to graduate from high school early. Funds normally used for the student’s senior year in high school can be used to pay toward their first year of college. Continuing in that mindset, Senate Bill 64 will provide a student who graduates in three years with Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) award for their fourth year of high school. Senate Bill 97 will allow local school districts to adopt a policy requiring students to stay in school until age 18 or graduation, whichever comes first, with a stipulation that schools offer an approved alternative education program for at-risk students.
As a father, our children’s safety while at school is always a top priority. Senate Bill 8, passed unanimously through both chambers, requires schools to adopt a comprehensive safety plan, have twice-yearly emergency drills, and share school diagrams with local first-responders. A bill especially close to my heart, and our community, was Senate Bill 141, a safe custody exchange bill which establishes protected environments for hostile custody exchanges, also passed both chambers.
The passage of House Bill 7 represents a bipartisan commitment to the state’s six public universities by granting them $363 million in bonding authority for 11 specific building projects, including a new science building and football stadium at the University of Kentucky, creating more than 5,000 jobs. The universities will pay for the debt out of their own funds, with no tax dollars being used for the projects. The Senate inserted a measure to protect students by forbidding the use of tuition increases to pay the debt.
I heard from many of you praising last year’s “pill mill” bill, noting the necessary fight against this drug epidemic in our state, but I have also heard of unintended consequences. In a bipartisan effort to improve this legislation, House Bill 217 adjusts treatment protocols to allow medical professionals the flexibility needed to adequately treat patients, including those who are terminally ill or who have recently undergone surgery. Another anti-drug bill, House Bill 8, was also adopted as a means to combat to growing presence of synthetic drugs, which look harmless, but in fact are life threatening. Our laws must evolve as well to keep up the fight against these dangerous substances.
Lastly, both the Senate and the House overrode the Governor’s veto on House Bill 279, the Religious Freedom Act. This bill reaffirms the most basic of American principles by specifying that government shall not burden a person’s or a religious organization’s freedom of religion and protects the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds. In addition, the bill maintains the strict standard of scrutiny used to evaluate the legality of any infringement on religious freedom.
I am proud of the passage of my sponsored legislation Senate Bill 46 and Senate Bill 150. Senate Bill 46, the bio-mass bill, is an exciting measure which will bring thousands of high-tech jobs to our district. Senate Bill 150, focusing on concealed carry licenses, further supports 2nd Amendment rights. Other important bills were passed in a bipartisan, collaborative fashion, such as measures to protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens from human trafficking, to streamline the voting process for the state’s overseas military, to provide accountability and transparency for the state’s special taxing districts, to name a few. As always, my goal was to represent the needs of the 30th District, as well as all Kentuckians, by passing legislation that would protect and enhance your lives, with limited government intervention.
The legislature will continue its work during the interim through joint committee meetings to learn more about new issues and to review past ones. Between now and the 60-day session which begins January 2014, please contact me about any issues by calling me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. More information on legislationis available online at www.lrc.ky.gov.