Whitesburg KY

Significant bills okayed in final days of session

Historically, the last day or two of a legislative session has been dedicated just to deciding whether to override any vetoes a governor might issue.

In recent years, however, this time has also been set aside to approve a few extra bills that didn’t make it through the House and Senate before the veto recess, a roughly 10-day period the state constitution gives a governor to approve or reject legislation. The governor has much more control over these last-day bills, since he or she can reject them without the legislature having a chance to respond.

This year, the General Assembly approved a handful of bills on the session’s last day, with three being particularly significant.

The most prominent will help regional public universities like Morehead State and our quasigovernment agencies, which include public health departments and other locally or regionally based agencies that contribute to the state retirement system.

They were facing a sizeable increase in their retirement payments later this summer, if the General Assembly did not act. That could have severely limited their services, and some might not have survived.

This is not an easy issue to explain, and I regret that the legislation was presented so late and voted on so quickly. It was unfortunate that the majority party chose to package a helpful provision — a one-year freeze on these payments — with a harmful one that is now poised to have a negative long-term impact on the state retirement system. I hope we can improve this portion of the bill when the General Assembly meets again next year.

I voted for this, however, because it was the only option before us that would give our universities, health departments, mental-health agencies and others the short-term relief they simply have to have to continue doing their job. I do not want to see them slashing services our people desperately need.

These universities and quasi-government agencies still face some difficult choices about their relationship with the state retirement system, and I think it is vital that we make sure long-time employees do not lose benefits they’re counting on when they retire. Any move that takes them out of the system without their approval almost certainly wouldn’t survive a legal challenge.

Lastly, I want to add that this bill does not have a direct impact on teachers, local government employees and those in hazardous duty positions and who work directly for state government. However, as I mentioned, there is worry about the long-term impact this will have on the state retirement system and the precedent this bill sets. If it is enacted, we will need to monitor this situation even more closely than before.

In addition to that bill, two others to clear the legislature late last month are important in their own right. One will make the workplace more accommodating for new mothers, while the other expands tobacco-free policies so they are uniform statewide.

Most schools have already taken this step, but as vaping becomes much more prevalent among teenagers, legislators feel it is important to counter its growing use. School districts do have the ability to opt out of these rules, should they choose.

This year’s legislative session may have lasted for just 30 working days, but it felt much longer at times. There were some good things to pass — from enhanced school safety measures to restoring tax exemptions to our nonprofits — and some things I wish had not become law, including a harmful solar-energy bill.

I also wish the legislature had considered my legislation to restore the longtime rules governing black-lung workers comp claims. Last year’s changes to the workers’ comp system significantly limited the number of doctors certified by the state to make these diagnoses, meaning many of our miners are having to wait far too long for benefits they deserve. I will try to get my bill passed next year, because these newer rules are not fair.

Many think the legislative process is over for the year because we’re done passing new laws, but that’s not the case. House and Senate committees will begin meeting jointly later this spring, reviewing the implementation of what we just approved and any other issues we may need to address in 2020.

I appreciate everyone who has reached out to me this year with their comments, and encourage you keep that going in the months ahead. You can email me at Angie.Hatton@ lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372- 7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.

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