April 3, 2015

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – If it’s true that it takes years of preparation to be an overnight success, the same can also be said of many laws approved during a legislative session.

This year is a prime example, with several high-profile measures having been considered by the General Assembly before. That includes those addressing booster seats, dating violence and an update of the state’s telecommunications laws.

There are several reasons behind this. A bill may have to wait when competing with other priorities, for example. Often, it takes time for legislators to get comfortable with an idea or for it to gain enough public support. In some cases, what is important in one legislative chamber may not have much traction in the other.

Most agree that this year’s “short” session, lasting 29 days out of a possible 30, was a good one for Kentucky. Gov. Beshear said the new laws “will build stronger families and communities and accelerate Kentucky’s momentum.”

Those bills that did not make it to his desk, however, will almost certainly be filed and debated again when the House and Senate return to the Capitol in January. Some are well known, while others are relatively new.

Two that cleared the House earlier this year with wide, bipartisan margins would have given voters a chance to amend Kentucky’s constitution. Under House Bill 1, they would have decided whether Kentucky should join the nearly 40 other states that have a local option sales tax.

If voters approved – polls indicated more than half of Kentuckians support this concept – communities would then be able to vote on whether to add up to a penny more on their local sales tax to pay for projects that could be as large as an arena or as small as a community swimming pool. Once the project is funded, the local levy would no longer be collected.

Since constitutional amendments can only be on the ballot in November of even-numbered years, there is still time for this to pass in 2016. The same goes for another proposed constitutional amendment that has now been through the House 10 times.

House Bill 70 proposed restoring voting rights automatically to most felons after they complete all aspects of their sentence. Nearly all states already allow this, but in Kentucky, only the governor can make this happen. The amendment would benefit about 240,000 Kentuckians, but those convicted of murder, sex-based crimes and bribery in an election would remain ineligible.

One of the most talked-about pieces of legislation toward the end of the session dealt with teacher retirement. House Bill 4 would have taken advantage of extremely low interest rates to borrow several billion dollars that would be used by the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, which historically has achieved much higher rates of return on its investments.

While understandably far-reaching, this approach would have eased the system’s long-term liability while reducing the likelihood of crippling retirement costs for the state in the 2020s and 2030s. This legislation would have dovetailed with the reforms the General Assembly approved two years ago for state and local government employees and their retirees.

Another bill affecting a substantial number of people would have raised the minimum wage for the first time since 2009. House Bill 2 would have done this in a three-step process by bringing the hourly wage up from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in 2017.

Like the local-option sales tax, this proposal draws a lot of support from Kentuckians, and many other states have already increased theirs above the federal requirement. If we can join them next year, several hundred thousand workers – many who are single parents and/or over 21 – would get a much-needed raise.

Public-private partnerships is another initiative that has broad support among the states. As the P3 name implies, this legislation would have made it easier for the state to partner with private businesses to carry out a public function.

The P3 concept is already taking place within some areas of state government, but this legislation would have standardized that process while expanding it to include highway projects. A key sticking point centers on how to pay for a proposed new bridge in Northern Kentucky, but if that can be resolved, this bill should then have no problem becoming law. It is a top priority of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

There are many other bills that did not pass, of course, but they will get another chance in January. Some that did not even get a committee hearing this year may turn out to play a starring role when 2016’s accomplishments are compiled. That becomes even more likely when considering that there will be a new governor and a new two-year budget to enact.

For now, the General Assembly is starting to prepare for what legislators call the interim, which will have the various legislative committees reviewing the issues of the day each month until near the end of the year.

As always, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts during that time on any matter affecting our community or the state. You can always write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.

To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer