As difficult as it is for me to believe, this week marks the end of my first year as a state legislator.
It has been a deeply rewarding experience, one that has given me the opportunity to meet so many great people, both here at home and from across the Commonwealth. I have thoroughly enjoyed partnering with them to make Kentucky, and especially the 94th House District, an even better place in which to work and live.
My first days after being sworn into office were some of the busiest of the past year. I was appointed to committees overseeing agriculture, our judicial system and tourism and outdoor recreation, and I was one of a handful of legislators selected to ceremonially “wait upon the governor” when Governor Bevin came to the Kentucky House chamber to present the annual “State of the Commonwealth” address.
In a broader role, I was also named to the Energy and Environment Committee of the Southern Legislative Conference, which brings together legislators from the 15 southern states to review issues important to this region.
During last year’s legislative session, I worked in many ways with Governor Bevin and the other 137 House and Senate members to move Kentucky forward. That included agreeing to set aside $15 million to help Braidy Industries invest more than $1 billion to build an aluminum manufacturing mill in eastern Kentucky and to give our law enforcement more protection if they are attacked because of their profession.
I also worked with my colleagues to make it easier for those Kentuckians with a non-violent criminal record to get professional and occupational licenses, a move that gives a second chance to many who have paid their debt to society.
There were some new laws to pass that I could not support, because I do not think they will help our region or the commonwealth. That includes several efforts that I think undercut working families and public schools.
Since late summer, when discussions about specific changes to our public retirement systems began, I have been proud to stand with our local and state government and school employees and retirees to make sure their pensions remain secure. They have paid their contributions with every paycheck and deserve to have the state meet its obligations as well.
That issue promises to be the most prominent in the opening days of the current legislative session, which began on Tuesday, January 2. Governor Bevin and legislative leaders have said they would like to have a resolution before the end of this month.
These leaders appear to have backed away from some of the more controversial aspects of the governor’s original proposal, but it is too soon to say what, if anything, will pass.
Whatever is decided, I will continue to fight for solutions that are fair to public employees and the public alike. I especially do not think we need to pass anything that will cost taxpayers more than what we already owe in the years ahead.
Meeting that obligation and funding the rest of state government will be tough as we write the upcoming two-year budget, this legislative session’s other main priority. The state’s economists say we are already $150 million short this fiscal year, which ends in June, and while moderate growth is projected in the months ahead, it will not be enough to meet all of our expenses. Governor Bevin has warned of potentially steep cuts as a result.
He has indicated that legislators may also be asked to consider tax reform during the session, but nothing has been formally presented. Given the sizeable workload tied to the budget and possible retirement reforms, it will be difficult to add substantive tax changes to the mix. Something that major deserves to be reviewed by the public for weeks, if not months, to give everyone time to understand the potential changes and to have their voices heard.
As other legislators and I weigh these major policy changes, we also will be focusing on many other bills that are important in their own right.
For example, legislators will undoubtedly look for ways to better address the illegal drug epidemic that has devastated so many families. There will likely be a push again to raise the state’s minimum wage, which has not changed since 2009, and we’ll see efforts to do such other things as improve voting procedures and give voters a chance to increase victims’ rights in legal proceedings.
While no one knows for sure what will ultimately pass, we can guarantee there will be plenty to debate, and your input in that process is critical. If you have any views you would like to share, don’t hesitate to let me know in the weeks ahead. You can write to me at Room 429I, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or send me an email at Angie.Hatton@ lrc.ky.gov.
You can also leave a toll-free message for me or for any legislator at 800- 372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305. The General Assembly’s website — www.lrc.ky.gov — offers a lot of information as well, including the full text of bills.
I look forward to hearing from you and doing all I can to make my second year as a legislator as good as my first.