FRANKFORT – Since each has generated countless news stories and social media posts, it’s certainly understandable if the public thinks this year’s legislative session is just about the state budget and possible reforms of our public retirement systems.
While the fate of those bills is what will ultimately be remembered most from the General Assembly’s time in the Capitol this year, that shouldn’t overshadow the many other issues that the House and Senate are also considering. They may not be as far-reaching, but they will have an impact just the same.
So far, relatively few bills have completed their legislative journey and become law. Those that have would do such things as better ensure the wishes of organ donors and keep in-house reviews of medical professionals from being used in malpractice cases. I have some concern about that one, because it could make it more difficult for victims to prove the cause of their injury.
Several other bills that are now awaiting a final decision by the governor would make it easier for microbrewers to sell more of their product on-site and at such places as festivals; set more guidelines for use of drones, whose numbers have ballooned in recent years; and establish clearer labor laws for those who work for internet-based companies like Uber.
The General Assembly has also passed a constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law. This will be on the ballot in November, and if voters approve, crime victims will have more protections built into the legal process so they are better informed of the proceedings in their case.
Beyond that, dozens of other bills have cleared one chamber and are still awaiting action in the other. As is usually the case during legislative sessions, a prominent portion is centered on education.
Two bills clearing the House would make financial literacy a requirement for high school graduation starting in the 2020s and re-inforce essential skills designed to make students more accountable and better suited for a job when they enter the workforce.
Other bills affecting schools would require more training for seizure disorders, suicide prevention and dyslexia, and another would set aside $7 million in no-interest loans to help school districts having the most difficult time meeting their budgets.
A few other bills clearing the House have more of an economic focus. The most troubling of those would set unnecessary limits on workers comp medical benefits needed by those with a partial but permanent disability. With the overall program seeing premiums declining during the last dozen years, this legislation is just not needed.
On Wednesday last week, the House voted for a bill that I am afraid would have a negative impact on the solar industry. It would do that by potentially limiting how much customers could receive when they sell their excess electricity back on the grid, meaning it would take longer to pay off their investment. That, in turn, would make these systems less attractive financially and hurt a growing alternative-energy trend and the jobs it provides.
With only a handful of days remaining in the legislative session, we will soon know the fate of all of these and other bills, and that includes the two-year budget and pension reform.
Senate leaders have said they expect their version of the budget to be voted on this week, setting the stage for legislative leaders to work on a compromise that could be ready for a final vote next week.
Senate leaders have also said their pension-reform legislation, Senate Bill 1, is unlikely to move forward. That would be great news, because there is no need for this bill as long as we maintain and fund the bipartisan reforms of 2008 and 2013.
I want to praise the vigilance of teachers, public employees and their retirees, who have held rallies and been a strong and steady presence at the Capitol throughout the session. Their unified voice has made a difference, and is certainly appreciated. With that in mind, I was appalled by Governor Bevin’s remarks on a radio show early last week that disparaged those who are doing nothing more than fighting for what is rightfully theirs.
The House and Senate are scheduled to meet for only four days this week and two next week before leaving for a veto recess. After giving the governor time to consider the bills sent to him, the General Assembly will return for two final days in mid-April. Unless they have an emergency clause or a specific enactment date, all new laws and the budget will take effect this summer.
I appreciate those who have reached out to me this year. I have heard from and talked to thousands of constituents and truly appreciate everyone’s input. It is the only way my fellow legislators and I can do our jobs.
If you would like to be part of that process, 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.