Frankfort – We may be in the final third of the 2019 legislative session, but the arrival of hundreds of teachers at the Capitol last Thursday made it feel like 2018 all over again.
They came to Frankfort to oppose yet another unfair and unnecessary bill directly affecting the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. Last year’s rallies were focused on current and future benefits, while this year’s is about the very governance of KTRS itself.
In fact, some say the bill making its way through the legislature now could have a bigger impact than the public-pension bill that was unanimously struck down in December by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The main reason why this year’s House Bill 525 is wrong for Kentucky is because it is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. KTRS has served the teaching profession well for nearly 80 years and has more than half of every pension dollar it currently owes for the next 30 years. Its investment returns routinely rank among the best retirement systems in the country.
Teachers are opposed to this legislation because it significantly diminishes their role in determining the 11-member KTRS Board of Trustees. Teachers would see their current authority to nominate seven trustees reduced to two, with most of the remaining nominations coming from an array of educational organizations. Certified public accountants, who say they are not backing this approach, would have a seat as well on what would become a larger board, even though current law already requires two trustees to have investment experience.
Despite opposition from many, a House committee approved this bill on Thursday, meaning the full chamber will likely vote on it this week. Its final fate is still uncertain, given the relatively few remaining days left in this year’s legislative session, but as we saw with last year’s public-pension bill, proposals like this unfortunately have a way of clearing numerous hurdles quickly.
While we wait to see what happens, the House and Senate did come together in a bipartisan way last week to approve what is destined to be one of the most significant new laws this year.
Senate Bill 1 builds on months of work by a dedicated group of legislators and other stakeholders who were brought together in the wake of the tragic shooting at Marshall County High School in January 2018. Two students lost their lives, and many others were injured.
Senate Bill 1 takes a two-pronged approach to make schools safer. It standardizes and strengthens security measures at the local and state level and lays the groundwork to hire more school resource officers; and it also seeks to expand both the number of school counselors and the time they spend addressing mental-health needs of their students.
I wish we lived in a world where laws like this aren’t necessary, but until that day arrives, we must be vigilant in making sure our schools are protected. This bill is an important, but not final, step in that effort. We must now find a way to both fund and build on these goals.
Although these two bills dominated most of the news last week, they weren’t the only noteworthy ones to make it through the House.
On Thursday, for example, my colleagues and I unanimously voted for stronger harassment policies governing the Legislative Branch. House Bill 60 sets clearer lines of authority and improves how these cases are both reported and then handled. Annual reports will give us a better idea of our progress moving ahead.
House Bill 358, meanwhile, would make it possible for our regional public universities to voluntarily leave the Kentucky Employment Retirement System, as long as they pay for their portion of the current liabilities.
Current employees at these universities could choose to remain in the state retirement system, but new ones would not have that option. This legislation does not affect university employees classified as hazardous duty or who contribute to the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System.
Supporters say this approach is needed to give these schools a better handle on these fast-growing payments and to make them more like the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, both of which have their own retirement plans. Opponents say this would likely put a much heavier burden on those remaining in KERS, which is the most underfunded of the state-run retirement plans.
Two other bills to pass the House last week would go a long way toward increasing public safety. House Bill 238 would do that by expanding the number of facilities in which trespassing would be a more serious crime. Those new locations would include TV/radio tower sites, natural gas and petroleum pipelines and state and federal dams. Those who vandalize any of these facilities could be convicted of a Class D felony.
House Bill 130 builds on that legislation by broadening the places where terroristic threatening would carry a more serious charge. Schools are currently the only ones in this category, but that would be expanded to include places of worship and any other public gathering. Those guilty of threatening these places would face a Class D felony, and if those charged are found to have gathered weapons, that could be raised to a Class C felony.
So far, only a relatively small number of bills has been sent to the governor, but that is set to change this week and next. As we make our final decisions on what should become law and what should wait another year, I hope you will continue letting me know your views. We are scheduled to wrap up our work by the end of this month.
If you would like to write, my email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and you can also call to leave a message each weekday. That number is 1-800-372-7181, but if you have a hearing impairment, it’s 1-800-896-0305.
The legislature’s website also has a lot of information and can be found online at www.legislature.ky.gov.