It is rare for a legislative session to be remembered for a bill that did not pass, but that is a growing possibility this year as Senate leaders said last week that they did not see a path forward for their proposed public-pension reform.
That outcome – which I hope will hold true through mid-April, when the General Assembly adjourns – is a testament to the perseverance of our school and public employees and their retirees. They have exercised their constitutional right to be heard, and it has made all of the difference.
I was proud to join with them last week as they rallied on the front steps of the Capitol against Senate Bill 1, and I could not believe it when I heard Governor Bevin’s disparaging remarks during an interview the next day on a Campbellsville radio station. He used words like “selfish” and “ignorant,” which is as inaccurate as it is insulting.
While I am pleased that Senate Bill 1 appears to be dead, I worry that Senate leaders are unfairly tying it to another retirementrelated matter that does need to become law. Unless the General Assembly acts, cities, counties and our schools will face steep increases – maybe 50 percent or more – in their retirement costs after July 1.
That increase is due to the fact that the Kentucky Retirement Systems board Governor Bevin has appointed approved much more conservative investment projections last year. I support legislation in the House that would give local governments and schools five years to reach this new contribution level, and the Senate has a similar bill as well.
Now, however, Senate leaders have indicated they will not approve this plan if there is no pension reform. They are trying to make a connection that does not exist.
What they ignore is that the retirement system for local governments and classified school employees is more than half funded and is on a sustainable 30-year path thanks to bipartisan reforms the General Assembly approved in 2008 and 2013. We simply cannot stand by and let our schools and local governments bear these costs all at once, and I will do all I can to make sure that does not happen.
As we wait to see what, if any, action the Senate takes, the House spent last week approving a wide array of legislation.
On March 16, it voted overwhelmingly for a bill that sets a goal of having at least one mentalhealth professional in our schools for every 1,500 students. This is in part a response to the tragic shooting that happened two months ago at Marshall County High School, and it is designed to provide a more open and caring environment for our students, many of whom are having to cope with such things as the loss of a parent to drugs or prison.
While I was proud to support that bill, I spoke out against another that I think would have a negative impact on the growing solar industry. I see it as nothing more than a power grab by power companies.
This net-metering bill, as it is known, seeks to limit how much owners of solar systems receive when they sell back excess electricity. Such a limitation could effectively dry up the sale of these systems and the jobs they provide, since it would take much longer to recoup their initial cost. It is also important to note that this bill is part of a coordinated effort in other states, another worrisome sign.
A different bill to pass the House last week is important in one way but unfair to our region in another. It is designed to make sure the workload our judges have across the Commonwealth is roughly consistent, but the bill reduces their number in eastern Kentucky, which I think is unfair. I cannot support anything that limits our citizens’ access to their judicial system.
Only a handful of days remain in this year’s legislative session, but most major decisions are still to be finalized. That especially includes the two-year budget, which the Senate is scheduled to vote on this week, setting the stage for a compromise that both chambers will likely consider next week.
I think it is absolutely critical that the education cuts Governor Bevin proposed be restored as the House budget calls for. Just as our schools cannot take on crushing retirement costs, they also cannot weather $400 million in spending reductions. This one-two punch could devastate them.
In ending, I want to say how much I appreciate the many calls, emails and social media messages I have received since the session began. That input is essential for me to do my job representing you, and if you would like to take part, there is still time.