As the day’s legislative session began on March 9, all eyes may have been on the Senate as it prepared to consider the publicpension bill, but what we heard in the halls of the Capitol was much more powerful.
The united voice of hundreds of teachers, state employees and their retirees was loud and clear — and highly effective. Instead of votes taking place, Senate leaders backed down that afternoon and re-committed Senate Bill 1 to committee. With only about a dozen working days left in the legislative session, its fate is more uncertain than ever.
And that’s a good thing, because this legislation is not needed. As I have said for months, we passed reforms in 2008 and 2013 that are working, as long we maintain the funding. We did that in the 2014 and 2016 budget cycles and are on track to keep that promise again in the two-year budget that will be finalized in the days ahead.
Many in our House caucus and I were proud to join the rally last Friday morning, and we have been united from the start in our opposition to what Governor Bevin and House and Senate leaders are attempting to do.
Senate Bill 1 may not be as farreaching as what they originally proposed last fall, but the bill is still the wrong approach to take on many levels. It is highly questionable legally – the Attorney General’s office cited more than 20 different examples – and most of its savings come from taking a sizable portion of the cost-of-living allowances that retired teachers receive each year and that they pre-pay while they are working.
Even so, the bill would still add billions of dollars to the retirement systems’ long-term liability by resetting the 30-year timeline to pay down what is owed.
Senate Bill 1 is also bad policy because it would put new teachers in a retirement plan far different from – and inferior to – the one that has served their profession well for 80 years. State and local government and classified school employees hired since 2014, meanwhile, would see their guaranteed benefits reduced, too. Such a move would make it tougher to attract the type of workforce our schools and governments need in the years ahead.
While the fate of the publicpension bill was the main topic of discussion last week in the Capitol, it wasn’t the only one. In the House, the most important set of bills to pass would guide highway spending for the next two years and recommend what should be approved in the four years that follow.
This is not an easy plan to write, since there are more needs than funding. Our area saw an example of that last week with the collapse of a bridge on Highway 7 in Letcher County.
Although I wish the plan could do even more, I voted for it in part because it sets aside $14 million to help the EnerBlu project in Pike County move forward, and it includes money for repairing quite a few bridges in both counties I serve. When you add up the six-year road plan for both of them – noting that only the first two years are recommended for funding – the total tops $130 million overall.
There were several other bills moving through the House last week that I also supported. One, for example, would make some sensible changes to how the state issues parking placards for those who are disabled.
The number of placards issued has grown substantially since the General Assembly removed the fee a decade ago. The primary placard will still be free if this becomes law, but there would be a small cost additional ones. Hopefully this change will make it easier for those who are disabled to find more open parking spaces.
Two other bills now on their way to the Senate would make schools safer for students with a seizure disorder and make it possible for financial institutions to report instances when they think senior citizens or other vulnerable adults are being taken advantage of financially. That particular bill sets out rules that would help the authorities or concerned family take appropriate action.
As I mentioned earlier, there is not much time remaining before this year’s legislative session is complete. In fact, this week is the last full one the House and Senate will meet.