FRANKFORT – When it comes to getting from points A to B, few states do as good a job as Kentucky.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that our central location puts us closer to more Americans than any other state, and only three states have more miles of navigable waterways. We’ve added to that by having not one but two of the country’s busiest cargo airports, and we’re also among the top 10 states when counting the number of railcars originating here, a statistic that sheds light on the true size of our manufacturing and coal industries.
Our roads are also well-regarded, with U.S. News & World Report ranking them eighth-best last summer among the states.
That particular statistic is worth noting because it is tied closely to the state’s two-year highway plan, the latest version of which was approved by the Kentucky House last Wednesday.
While it contains a significant number of needed projects – including the repair or replacement of many of the 1,000 bridges that the Transportation Cabinet has determined are inadequate – there is considerable concern that it does too little in too many areas, especially in our House district.
In the relatively few days remaining in this legislation session, I will do all I can to make sure we receive our fair share in what ultimately becomes law. If that cannot be accomplished in the two-year plan that is funded, then at the very least these projects need to be in what the legislature calls the four “out years.” Although there is no guarantee that any in that preliminary outlook will be approved, it nonetheless is important because those not included will have little chance to move forward in a reasonable amount of time.
As we wait to see what changes the Senate might make, the House moved another transportation-related bill forward last week that seeks to make some sensible changes to how disability parking placards are issued.
Their number has grown significantly since the legislature removed the fee for them a decade ago. In just a year’s time – from 2008 to 2009 – the number of placards issued jumped from 32,000 to 209,000. We’re now nearing 300,000.
Under this bill, the primary placard would remain free, but duplicates and most replacements would have a nominal fee. At the same time, renewals for those with a permanent disability would rise from the current two years to six, and parents or guardians would have authority to obtain one on behalf of someone in their care. The hope is that this legislation will make it easier for the disabled to find parking spaces set aside for them.
Two other bills approved last week are also designed to help others. House Bill 147 establishes clearer guidelines for schools when it comes to the care of students who have a seizure disorder, while House Bill 93 would make it possible for financial institutions to report instances where they think certain individuals – those 65 and older or adults who are incapable of handling their own affairs – are being exploited financially. By setting up a process to resolve these concerns, this bill would hopefully slow if not stop thieves from stealing millions of dollars from vulnerable Kentuckians.
The Attorney General’s office reported just last week that scammers and identity thieves stole $6 million last year from Kentucky families.
This week, it is possible the House will begin its review of Senate Bill 1, the long-promised public-pension bill. It cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday, but stalled in that chamber on Friday, raising doubt whether the House will even receive it.
In case there is any doubt, let me be clear: I oppose this legislation. It would take away a significant portion of cost-of-living allowances that retired teachers count on and that they pre-pay while working. It also would create an inferior retirement plan for future teachers and for those local and state government workers and classified school employees hired since 2014.
Senate Bill 1 is a “solution” in search of a problem that does not exist as long as we maintain and fund the reforms that became law in 2008 and 2013. Indeed, Senate Bill 1 adds billions of dollars to the liabilities by re-setting the 30-year timeline to pay down what we owe. It also sets up a potentially disastrous string of budget cycles in the 2020s by calling on the state and our schools to pay substantially more upfront to bring down the liability in the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.
I will focus more next week on that bill’s progress and any other legislation that also would have an impact on Kentucky. Since this week is the last full one in which the House and Senate meet, there will be a considerable amount to cover.
If you would like to contact me in the time we have left, my address is Room 432F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or you can send me an email at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
Our toll-free message line is 800-372-7181, and if you have a hearing impairment, it is 800-896-0305.
There is also a lot of information on the General Assembly’s website: www.lrc.ky.gov. If you are on Twitter, our caucus account is @KYHouseDems. We are on Facebook as well.