I joined my fellow lawmakers back in Frankfort this week as we reconvened the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly after a near month-long break following our brief, but rushed, organizational session in early January.
During that first week, we witnessed the House Majority use their newfound power to erode labor laws that supported a living wage for working and middle class families across the Commonwealth. The governor’s signing of “right-to-work-for less” legislation and the repeal of prevailing wage in public construction projects remains a bitter pill for many of us interested in raising, not lowering, Kentucky’s standard of living.
Our concerns for working families were raised again this week when the governor indicated during this State of the Commonwealth address that he will be offering a tax plan later this year that will not be revenue neutral. In other words, taxes are going up if the governor has his way, and if his proposal places a greater burden on low income and working families to the benefit of the wealthy, you can count me out.
Candidly, for many years, our state has been in need of a comprehensive tax reform plan that reflects our modern economy, and clearly, the state has many pressing needs that demand new revenue, including more money for education, infrastructure, and a long-term plan to tackle the state’s unfunded liability in its pension plans for teachers and state employees.
Yet when I heard the governor’s comment that Kentucky “needs ultimately to move from a production-based tax economy to a consumption-based tax economy,” it was a signal that his final plan may be a regressive one that includes an increase in the sales tax. To me, that’s a sure-fire way to worsen the wealth and income gap by targeting middle-class and lower-income Kentuckians, who bear a higher share of the tax burden if we shift away from progressive income taxes to more and higher consumption taxes. I want to make it abundantly clear that I will not support any tax proposal that takes money from the pockets of any of our fellow citizens who already struggle to pay their bills and raise their families.
In contrast, I joined my fellow Democrats in the House this week in unveiling a legislative agenda calling for a “United Kentucky” to support rural and urban job creation, strengthen public education and increase access to health care. Our agenda seeks to bring Kentuckians together by focusing on legislation that will improve the lives of middle class and working families throughout the Commonwealth. It’s a plan that I believe will not only improve the lives of our constituents, but also bring Democrats and Republicans together to solve some of our state’s toughest issues.
The House Democratic initiatives center on the health, wealth, and safety of Kentuckians through the sponsoring of more than a dozen bills and resolutions, a rural jobs initiative to increase capital access for businesses and entrepreneurs; a Brownfields redevelopment tax credit to create urban jobs; a legislative directive to maintain operations at Education and Workforce Cabinet Career Centers recently closed by the Bevin administration; a restoration of budget funding for colon, cervical and breast cancer screening; a reauthorization of last year’s effort to expand eligibility for preschool children, a new effort to raise the minimum wage; and a resolution urging Congress to pass Congressman Hal Rogers’ bill to return abandoned mine lands money to coal counties, among others.
The “United Kentucky” agenda also includes a bill I sponsored — House Bill 264 — which seeks to place the “Work Ready” scholarship program originally approved by both the House and Senate in 2016 into state statute. At first, Gov. Bevin vetoed the Work Ready program, but eventually established it through an executive order, though he greatly limited the number of fields that could be pursued. HB 264 would expand the number of students eligible for the program to its original intent and ensure the successful program our caucus sponsored well past the present administration.
Additionally, House Bill 182, sponsored by Rep. Chris Harris of Forest Hills, would establish a tax credit to promote investments for businesses in rural communities still struggling with the downturn in the coal economy and the lingering aftereffects of the economic recession. As Rep. Harris explained, “Too many of our community banks have been forced to close because of a one-size-fits-all regulatory system that has placed tremendous stress on smaller lending institutions. Our goal is to take action at the state level to increase access to capital in rural areas so our entrepreneurs can have access to the resources necessary for economic revitalization in these communities.”
Other bills include:
House Concurrent Resolution 49, sponsored by Rep. James Kay of Versailles, which reaffirms the Kentucky General Assembly’s commitment to maintaining pension benefits for state and local government retirees, employees and teachers.
House Bill 113, sponsored by Rep. Jody Richards of Bowling Green, an initiative that would allow the experience and training gained in military service to help qualify honorably discharged veterans for state-issued occupational licenses.
House Bill 62, sponsored by Rep. Dean Schamore of Hardinsburg, would allow KEES funds to be used for apprenticeship programs.
House Bill 52, sponsored by Rep. Russ Meyer of Nicholasville, seeks to address the trafficking of the deadly drug fentanyl.
House Bill 197, sponsored by Rep. Overly, would require the Council on Postsecondary Education to develop a uniform standard for the award of academic credit earned by virtue of military service.
House Bill 179, also sponsored by Rep. Overly, would require pay equity and non-discrimination as to gender, race, and national origin among employees performing equivalent jobs. Rep. Overly’s House Bill 196 targets the misclassification of employees as independent contractors, especially in the construction business, which hurts those employers who abide by laws relating to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. An additional bill sponsored by Rep. Overly, House Bill 178, would increase the state’s minimum wage gradually over a period of four years.
Finally, Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville is working on legislation to broaden felony expungement. The bill would make pre-1975 convictions for low-level felonies eligible for expungement. These were not previously included because they are not in the current criminal code. It would also make expungement more attainable by lowering the fee from $500 to $200.
Ours is an ambitious agenda based on the premise that Kentuckians deserve our best, bipartisan efforts to create good-paying jobs, strengthen our public schools, and improve the overall health of our middle class and working families throughout the Commonwealth.
If you have questions or concerns about legislation in the week ahead, please email me at [email protected] or call the Legislative Message Line toll-free at 1-800-372-7181.
State Rep. Rick Rand represents the state’s 47th House District in Carroll, Gallatin, Henry and Trimble counties.