Frankfort – It just takes two words to sum up this year’s legislative session through the end of last week: “Stay tuned.”
I say that because, with only four working days remaining, the General Assembly has a long list of bills still awaiting a final decision.
I am no fan of this approach, because it makes it much more difficult for legislators, and especially the public, to keep track of and offer meaningful input on laws that would have an impact on Kentucky for years to come. We must re-commit ourselves to finding a better way.
Until then, my hope is that this scorecard of some of the more prominent bills in play will help.
Several generating the most headlines are focused on education, which explains why teachers have been at the Capitol in force in recent days. Most of their opposition is focused on four bills in particular.
The first, House Bill 525, would significantly alter how the board of trustees is selected for the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS). Teachers have long had the authority to nominate seven of the 11 trustees, but that would effectively drop to two under this bill. Most of the remaining nominations would be made by education-oriented organizations.
KTRS is an outstanding retirement system that stands alongside some of the best in the country, so I see no need to change what is working well. This legislation had yet to clear the House by last week, much less the Senate, so its chances of becoming law are increasingly unlikely.
The same can be said of House Bill 205, which also has not been considered yet by the entire House. It would authorize up to $25 million in tax credits annually for those who donate to private elementary and secondary schools to boost scholarships for those who otherwise cannot afford tuition. That credit would likely grow in future years.
There are significant constitutional concerns about this legislation, and I question whether we can afford it at a time when the current two-year budget does not contain even a single dollar for new textbooks or professional development for teachers. This year’s bipartisan, but unfunded, school-safety bill would also better benefit from this money.
Senate Bill 250 is an educational bill that only applies to Jefferson County Public Schools. It has several provisions, but the one drawing the most scrutiny would give the district’s superintendent much more authority should he or she not agree with the principal hired by a school-based decision-making school council. Opponents argue this bill undermines a practice that has served us well for nearly 30 years, and it could lay the foundation to extend this new power to every superintendent.
Those three bills are still pending, but the fourth affecting educators – Senate Bill 8 – was sent to the governor on Thursday.. This changes who serves on the tribunal system that handles the appeal process when a teacher is fired. I believe this legislation goes too far and, like Senate Bill 250 and House Bill 525, fixes something that isn’t broken.
At the postsecondary level, House Bill 358 would give our public regional universities a chance to “cash” out of the Kentucky Employee Retirement System and pay off their liabilities over the next 25 years. Current employees can remain in the state retirement system, but newly hired ones would not have that option. It is worth noting that this has no impact on university employees paying into the state’s hazardous-duty and teacher retirement systems.
Although odd-year legislative sessions are not traditionally focused on the budget, two bills being written by legislative leaders deal directly with state spending.
House Bill 354 would, among other things, fix last year’s tax overhaul so that non-profit organizations would get back many if not all of the exemptions they lost last year. I did not support the 2018 tax changes, but do believe we must help our non-profits, which do so much for our communities. We must be vigilant, however, by keeping a close eye on other tax “sweeteners” that could be added to this bill that only benefit a connected few and not the state as a whole.
In the end, this and the related House Bill 268 – which opens the budget for other projects – could turn out to be quite consequential.
As the House, but not the Senate, passed it, House Bill 268 would authorize a needed round of renovations at our state parks and give our quasi-government agencies and regional public universities another year’s reprieve from having to pay a steep increase in their public-retirement costs.
Two other bills before the General Assembly this year that have cleared a House committee face a more difficult road in becoming law, but their debate has nonetheless helped raise needed awareness.
On Wednesday, for example, the House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 136, which seeks to legalize medical marijuana, putting us in line with more than 30 other states that have taken similar or more far-reaching steps.
On Thursday, both House Speaker David Osborne and House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins advocated for House Bill 522, which would call for automatic, state-funded recounts in extremely close elections involving candidates running for Congress, constitutional offices like governor and the General Assembly. This would help us avoid situations like we saw early this year in the close race won by state Rep. Jim Glenn of Owensboro. The election contest his opponent requested dominated much of the House’s time during the session’s first days.
If you would like to know more about these or other bills, please visit the General Assembly’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov. If you would like to add your voice to those supporting or opposing these measures, meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or those I serve with.
My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and the toll-free message line is 1-800-372-7181. If you have a hearing impairment, the number is 1-800-896-0305.