With several pieces of pending legislation having a direct impact on their jobs, teachers were out in large numbers at the Capitol last week, and their unified voice was more than just heard through the marbled halls; it was making a difference.
It is not uncommon for educational bills to dominate a legislative session, but over the last couple of years, there have unfortunately been several filed that would make it tougher, not easier, for those who dedicate their careers to teaching our children. I’m afraid we’re heading in the wrong direction at a time when many states, and other countries as well, are speeding ahead.
Last year’s dominant bill, which was later thrown out by the Kentucky Supreme Court, was about a reduction in teacher retirement benefits, especially for those who would have been hired under the proposed new system.
This year, there are bills that limit teachers’ input on how their retirement system is run and another set to become law that will tilt the table away from teachers who are fired but appeal that decision.
A bill just affecting Jefferson County, meanwhile, would give that county’s school superintendent final authority over the hiring of principals. If this becomes law, this practice will almost certainly be proposed for every superintendent, which would upend the local control that for nearly 30 years now has been in the hands of our school-based decision-making councils.
The good news is that the bill reducing the teachers’ input in who oversees their retirement system faces long odds. The same can tentatively be said of another bill that would initially set aside up to $25 million – and even more in future years – to award tax credits to those who donate to private K-12 scholarship funds designed to help those who cannot afford tuition. This would have the state subsidize these costs at the expense of public education, which is why I oppose it. There are major constitutional questions on top of that.
As the General Assembly largely wraps up its work this week, there are quite a few other bills that are still awaiting resolution.
I was proud to vote for a significant one last Wednesday (March 6) that moves us another step closer to allowing medical marijuana in Kentucky. This bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee almost unanimously and could come before the entire House. If it happens early this week, there would be a brief window for it to be voted on by the Senate.
I think it is time for Kentucky to take this step now. More than 30 states have already legalized marijuana in some form, and in those places where it is used medically, the results show clear and positive results. It is being used to treat such things as difficult cancer treatments, epilepsy, chronic pain and PTSD, and as I said in committee, it could be a critical “off-ramp” for those fighting opioid addiction.
This legislation would be strict if enacted. Smoking marijuana would not be allowed, but other forms of this medicine would. It would also have to be dispensed; home-growing would not be permitted.
There is not enough space to cover every other bill that could be sent to the governor this week, but some of the more noteworthy ones would:
• Fix 2018’s tax changes that unfairly hurt our non-profit organizations. I was against the tax overhaul last year, but certainly want to see our non-profits get back the longtime tax exemptions they had and still deserve.
• Limit energy credits that new customers of solar panels receive. This “net-metering” bill, as it’s called, would undercut solar jobs our region is starting to see and erode a viable option to lower our electricity costs.
• Provide short-term relief from high public-retirement costs for quasi-government agencies like public health departments. A related bill would give our public regional universities a chance to leave one of the public-retirement systems altogether.
The General Assembly is only meeting for three days this week, and will return on March 28 to consider possible vetoes. That means we have little time to do a lot of work.
I wish there weren’t so many bills still up in the air, but I will do my best to keep you informed. At the same time, please continue calling, emailing and especially visiting, both here at home and, if you can, at the Capitol.
My email is Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line for all legislators is 1-800-372-7181. For the hearing impaired, it is 1-800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.