Whitesburg KY

Explains vote on pension bill

Legislators worked late into the night on Thursday, the 30th and final day of the 153rd regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly, giving final passage to some important public policy changes before adjourning sine die.

Also before the last day, the Governor signed legislation I sponsored to strengthen safety precautions for firefighters. Senate Bill 140 will expand its Hepatitis B continuing inoculation voucher program to include Hepatitis A vaccinations. The bill will become law in June.

Sending Senate Bill 18 for the Governor’s signature was a victory for working women and Kentucky families. Known as the Kentucky Pregnant Workers’ Act, SB 18 will make Kentucky the 25th state to guarantee pregnant workers a clear right to “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace. The intent is to keep pregnant women healthy and safe on the job. This long overdue bill would outline the employer’s responsibilities when making these reasonable accommodations. This bi-partisan legislation ensures that no business undergoes hardships while making it easier for pregnant women to continue to work.

SB 18 passed the Senate in late February on a 25-7 vote. It cleared the House 87-5 Thursday. The bill has been delivered to the Governor. With 58 percent of the women in Kentucky’s labor force being of childbearing age, this is a positive step forward.

Also on the last day of session, a free conference committee, made up of Senate and House members, worked out an agreement on House Bill 358. This measure was intended to provide pension relief for the regional state universities, community colleges and “quasigovernmental” agencies such as health departments and mental health boards by allowing them to leave the Kentucky Employees Retirement System (KERS) as of June 30, 2020, by paying their actuarial required contribution to the system in a lump sum or installments. Postsecondary institutions and quasi agencies that decide to stay in KERS will have to pay the full retirement contribution rate to the system starting in July 2020.

Unfortunately, I could not support this bill — even with the changes made by the free conference committee. I voted no to HB 358 because it seems to dismantle the defined contribution plan and digs an even deeper hole in the already struggling unfunded liability.

The bill also included a new provision, which affects any group that leaves the current pension plan. If that group is ever more than 30 days late in making an installment payment, all employees of the group would stop accruing benefits under their current pension plan and begin accruing future benefits in a new 401(k)-like plan. Benefit checks to all members of the group will also be suspended until payments are current. The new provision could penalize retirees who have nothing to do with these payments. I believe giving agencies another year with a freeze would give the legislature time to make the right decision. We need to better vet the long-term impacts of this new plan before making such a rash decision. The bill passed Senate 26-11.

On a vote of 28-10, the Senate passed House Bill 11, which will ban students, employees and volunteers from using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, on school property or during school events. School districts will be allowed to “opt out” of the ban within three years after implementation of the law. The growing usage of electronic cigarettes, especially among Kentucky’s youth, was a push for passage of a tobacco-free school.

The Senate also came together to override a couple of the Governor’s vetoes. The Senate voted 20-17 to override the veto in House Bill 268 that deals with the flexibility of how the state’s Area Development Districts spend money. The Senate also voted to override the veto to House Bill 4, which gives the legislature more oversight of executive branch administrative regulations.

Other bills that passed the Senate and have been delivered to the Governor:

House Bill 256 would allow alcohol to be consumed at private events in communities that are “dry,” a term meaning alcohol sales are prohibited, or “moist,” a term meaning it can only be distributed by authorized retailers, if originally purchased in “wet” communities. The Senate gave the measure final passage with a 26-12 vote.

Senate Bill 162 is designed to increase the pool of qualified applicants to be school resource officers. This is a policy in accord with SB 1, the School Safety and Resiliency Act. SB 162 will do this, in part, by creating the Kentucky State Police school resource officer program. The Senate gave the measure final passage with a 37-0 vote.

House Bill 458 addresses changes in Kentucky’s tax code that were embodied in House Bill 354 that was signed by the governor earlier this week. The Senate gave the measure final passage with a 33-0 vote. It addresses deferred tax deductions and net operating losses incurred under the unitary reporting requirements that were passed last session. It also makes sure financial organizations established as “thrifts” in Kentucky get the same tax relief banks will receive under House Bill 354, a measure that passed earlier in the session.

And, HB 458 clarifies that local deposit taxes on banks can continue to be levied.

All the bills passed by both chambers have been delivered to the Governor’s office, where most will be signed into law. However, he may veto some or parts of some of the bills. Once the veto period is over and the dust has settled, I will share with you highlights of bills that passed this session. In the meantime, I urge you to stay in touch. You can always leave a message on the Legislative Message Line at (800) 372-7181. You can e-mail me directly at johnnyray.turner@lrc. ky.gov.

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