When the General Assembly returns to the Capitol on Thursday this week to wrap up its legislative session, the primary focus will be considering any vetoes Governor Bevin might issue.
It’s likely, however, that the House and Senate will also use this time to vote for bills that weren’t passed during the session’s first 29 working days. The biggest of those by far deals with steep retirement costs faced by our regional public universities and quasi-government agencies like our public health departments and mental-health organizations.
This is a complicated issue, but if the legislature does nothing, these schools and agencies will see their state-retirement payments go up dramatically on July 1, the start of a new fiscal year. That would force steep cuts in services, and some may even have to close their doors. The retirements of hundreds if not thousands of employees could be affected, too.
I don’t know what the final solution will be, but whatever we do, I want to make sure these agencies and postsecondary schools are able to continue their mission. We helped banks and nonprofits earlier this month, and we helped local governments last year facing a similar situation, so hopefully we can do something for these other agencies as well.
As we wait to see what, if anything, happens with this, there are quite a few other bills set to become law this year.
Last week, as you may recall, I wrote about the “net metering” bill that undermines our growing solar industry and efforts to reduce our too-high electricity bills. Those buying solar panels will get less money for the extra electricity they generate, meaning fewer families and businesses will be able to afford these systems to begin with. That, in turn, will mean fewer solar jobs, which is not the direction Kentucky should be heading in.
Another law I opposed this year greatly reduces the Secretary of State’s authority during elections and gives the governor sole authority to make appointments to the state Board of Elections.
That board and our county clerks do a great job of running our elections, so I want to make sure that record of success continues. I just don’t think removing power from Kentucky’s chief elections officer is a positive long-term step, because it takes away needed checks and balances and, in my opinion, oversteps the legislature’s constitutional authority.
There were quite a few other bills to pass this year that I was proud to support. We improved the expungement process, for example, so more people with a Class D felony record can get their record expunged after they pay their debt to society. This will make it easier for them to do such things as get a job and find a place to live.
We also passed a law to try to stop telemarketers from using local phone numbers to trick people into answering them, and we toughened the terroristic threatening law. These enhanced penalties will affect those who threaten churches or other public gatherings.
High school students will soon have more uses for their KEES money, the lottery-funded scholarships they earn with good grades to pay for their postsecondary education. Under this new law, that money can be used for qualified workforce-development programs as long as the programs are in the top-five high-demand work sectors.
Speaking of schools, this year’s Senate Bill 1 makes some needed changes when it comes to improving the overall safety of our students and educators. This work lays the foundation to boost the number of guidance counselors and school-resource officers and to make sure that the best safety practices are maintained across Kentucky’s schools.
There were two educational bills that drew strong opposition this year that thankfully appear to be dead. One would have reduced teachers’ input in who governs their retirement system, while the other would have set aside up to $25 million to help children from lower-income families attend private school. This is just not something we can afford.
I want to thank everyone who has called and emailed this year and encourage you to keep that discussion going. While the time to pass new laws is over, the legislative process will continue in the months ahead as other legislators and I meet during the interim to review issues affecting the state.
If you would like to contact me, my email is Angie.Hatton@lrc. ky.gov, while the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. You can call l 1-800-896-0305 if you have a hearing impairment.
Visit the General Assembly’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov.