Veto Recess

Veto Recess

One of the critical functions of government at the state and federal level is the system of "checks and balances" on power held by any one branch.  The General Assembly passes legislation but the Governor has the authority to either sign the legislation into law or veto the bill.  In the event of a gubernatorial veto, the legislature has the authority to override that decision.

The GA has exercised this authority in the past, overriding Governors' vetoes.  (I have seen a split legislature overturn a Democratic Governor's veto, and a Republican-controlled legislature overturn a Republican Governor's vetoes.)  This year the General Assembly preserved its authority to override a veto on a number of the most critical (and contentious bills) by passing them prior to the start of the veto recess.  By doing this, the legislature has reserved the final two days of session, after the veto period has expired for bills passed to date, to consider any vetoes for a possible override vote.

Earlier today, Governor Bevin issued two veto letters; one for the biennial budget and one for the tax/revenue bill passed alongside it.  You can view the Governor's veto letter for each bill linked below.  The General Assembly returns to session for its final two days on Friday and Saturday of this week.  Stay tuned for updates on if or when we consider overriding the vetoes.

This Governor held a press conference explaining the veto on both bills, and sometime later in the day the Senate President and Speaker Pro Tempore of the House issued the following joint statement:

Commonwealth of Kentucky
Senate President Robert Stivers
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne
For Immediate Release
April 5, 2018

Contact: John Cox
Contact: Daisy Olivo

FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 9, 2018) – The following is a joint statement from Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) and House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne (R-Prospect) reacting to Governor Matt Bevin’s announcement to veto House Bill 200 and House Bill 366:
“We believe Governor Bevin is misguided in his interpretation of the budget and the revenue bills, as we are comfortable with LRC staff revenue projections. To our knowledge, the Governor has had no discussions with any legislators on the details of this budget and what he might consider to be a shortfall. We believe Governor Bevin would be best served to meet with legislators to understand their thoughts and rationale before making a final decision on vetoing the revenue and/or budget bills.”
# # #

NOTE: You can find links to each of the Governor's 2018 veto letters here, which is updated as new vetoes are issued.

The Final Inspection

The Final Inspection

Today I attended the funeral for Officer Phillip Meacham, a 38 year old peace officer in Hopkinsville who leaves behind a young family.  Phillip was a high school classmate of mine, a professional colleague I worked with as a prosecutor, and he was the first officer (then a Deputy Sheriff) to respond to the farming accident that claimed the life of my father.

What I witnessed this morning was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. I was in the back of a section that seemed set aside mostly for those that weren’t law enforcement.  That seat allowed me to observe most of the CCHS Colonel gym. Not long after I was seated a procession of local law enforcement officers and their spouses began.  The line seemed to just keep going. And then I started seeing badges and shoulder patches that were unfamiliar.  The officers filled the rest of the gym floor, and one whole side of the stands. There was no music. There was no talking. Just quiet footsteps and silent observance of an incredible brotherhood. According to Pastor Ron Hicks, a Chaplain for the Hopkinsville Police Department and local minister, officers came not only from across Kentucky but from across the country.

That these silent sentinels would come to pay their respects, knowing they face the same risks, is an incredible tribute to the tightly knit fraternity of peace officers and their families.

Retired HPD Lieutenant Chris Aldridge, a high school classmate of Phillip’s and fellow officer, was one of the speakers during the service. He didn’t offer prepared remarks but rather a poem I felt compelled to look up and re-read tonight. I can find no author of this poem for attribution but it was too good not to pass it along below.

Please remember the Meacham family and the brotherhood of law enforcement officers in your prayers, and thank them for their service when you next see them.

"The Final Inspection"

The policeman stood and faced his God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining.
Just as brightly as his brass.

"Step forward now, policeman.
How shall I deal with you? 
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My church have you been true?"

The policeman squared his shoulders and said,
"No, Lord, I guess I ain't,
Because those of us who carry badges
can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,
and at times my talk was rough,
and sometimes I've been violent,
Because the streets are awfully tough.

But I never took a penny,
That wasn't mine to keep....
Though I worked a lot of overtime
When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God forgive me,
I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around
Except to calm their fear.

If you've a place for me here,
Lord, It needn't be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don't.....I'll understand.

There was silence all around the throne
Where the saints had often trod.
As the policeman waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.

"Step forward now, policeman,
You've borne your burdens well.
Come walk a beat on Heaven's streets,
You've done your time in hell."

Budget & Revenue Bills

Budget & Revenue Bills

(Update – 4/3/18 – 1:12pm CST: Replaced incorrect revenue bill summary document)

Linked below are the Free Conference Committee Reports for both House Bill 366 (revenue) and House Bill 200 (executive branch budget).  Both bills have passed through the legislative process and the veto recess has begun.  Because the bills passed before midnight on Monday, before the veto period started, the legislature has retained is ability to override any vetos.

Both bills represent a compromise for me in a number of ways, but ultimately, I am willing to support both because I do not believe we can cut enough from state spending in other places to make ends meet on many critical government services affecting public safety, public education, infrastructure and social services to name a few.  Passing this tax overhaul lowers personal and corporate tax rates, and begins taking steps toward a consumption-based tax system (that still preserves exemptions vital for low income earners).  Again, I do not agree with everything in the tax reform bill (HB366) but I was willing to support the proposal as a whole.  As a result of the compromise tax plan we have been able to pass the first structurally balanced budget in more than 20 years.  In other words, we have not used any one-time funds for recurring expenses.

Some of the highlights of the budget and revenue bills:

  • The budget lowers the personal income tax for all Kentuckians to a five percent flat rate, it does NOT raise income taxes.
  • This budget does NOT raid the employee health fund for outside purposes, and will instead use some of those funds for the benefit of state employees by shoring up pensions.
  • We fully fund KTRS, KERS, and SPRS pensions as required by actuaries—over $3.4 BILLION over the biennium from General Funds.
  • There will be NO funding for legislators’ retirement systems and those funds will be redirected to the unfunded liability in the SPRS.
  • Budget Reserve Trust Fund (Kentucky's "rainy day" fund) at $304 million
  • Veterans Affairs and the Kentucky State Police will have no funding reductions.
  • KSP will receive authorization for lab updates and vehicle purchase funding.
  • Provides an additional $1 million/year for KSP forensic lab tech salary increases
  • Provides record SEEK per pupil funding levels & restores SEEK transportation funding
  • Approximately $11.5 million per year will be allocated for cancer screening and research
  • Approximately $7 million/year research and screening to be shared equally by UK and UofL
  • $500,000 per year for both ovarian and colon cancer screening
  • $2.5 million/year will be allocated for pediatric cancer research
  • Smoking cessation will be allocated $7 million
  • Funds the KY Mathematics Center, the WKU Mesonet, and provides an additional $31 million each year for performance-based funding for colleges and universities
  • Appropriates approximately $56 million in Tobacco dollars over the biennium to the Early Childhood Development Fund with funds designated for foster care, adoption, and public health
  • Adds approximately $28 million in support per year to increase reimbursement rates for private child caring agencies
  • Allocates an additional $11 million each year to increase social workers’ salaries
  • KCHIP will be fully funded with an additional $12 million allocation
  • FRYSCS funding is fully restored
  • Restores $7.5 in funding for the Preschool Partnership Grant Program

Both of those bills are lengthy so I have included summaries of the bills here below.

Pension Reform

Pension Reform

On Thursday evening, March 29, the General Assembly passed an amended version of pension reform legislation and delivered it to the Governor.  I supported the legislation to prevent a collapse of the various pension systems, to require the legislature to spend more money toward pensions annually, and to make certain Kentucky is able to provide a retirement benefit for its future hires.

Senate Bill 151 does not change, reduce, or remove cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retired teachers, and no public employee is forced into a 401(k)-style plan. Teachers are not required to stay in the classroom any longer before they can retire and their end-of-career benefit enhancements (High 3 / 3.0 factor) remain in place.
Senate Bill 151 does make one change to retirement benefits for current teachers.  In a change taken directly from the Superintendents’ Shared Responsibility Plan—a measure supported by the Kentucky Education Association (KEA)—teachers will no longer be able to use sick days earned after January 1, 2019 to enhance their final retirement calculation. But teachers can still use their existing sick days to enhance their final year of compensation when they retire. It is important to note, no teacher will ever lose a sick day and he or she will not be forced to retire to use their existing sick days for retirement. Teachers will still be able to cash-in sick days earned after January 1, 2019 at retirement and receive a check for them.
Teachers hired after January 1, 2019 will have their retirement funded by a “hybrid cash balance plan” administered by the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS or TRS), the same system that current manages teachers’ retirements.  This plan was carefully designed to provide new teachers with a retirement income equivalent to the current system’s benefits, and new teachers’ retirement contributions will be invested by TRS in the exact same way current teachers’ contributions are invested.

Many have emailed, called or texted me since the debate began, understandably asking questions.  I thought the best way to respond might be to put some of the most common questions here with answers:

  • Why didn't tax reform happen first? 
    • Because of time. They aren’t done debating what any tax package would look like, and then it has to be written and checked.  Passing this first also puts pressure on legislators to vote for a tax plan that otherwise might not be there.
  • Where was the actuarial analysis of the bill that was passed?
    • There was one. It’s linked below.
  • Why was a committee on infrastructure handed a bill about pension reform?
    • The committee was the House equivalent to the Senate’s State & Local Government committee, whose jurisdiction is perfectly appropriate.  You can read the jurisdiction of the House committee here, which specifically includes pensions.
  • Why was the bill snuck through at the last minute?
    • It wasn’t "snuck" through at all, and, in fact, has had more debate and scrutiny than any other bill of the entire session.  The language of SB151 was exactly like SB1 but with several requested deletions.  The language had been public for over a month.  Some of the legislators complaining about not having seen the bill promptly gave lengthy floor speeches about provisions in the bill.
    • The timing was also a factor because we only had four days remaining and it takes five days to move a bill from start to finish.  So they put the language into a Senate Bill that was procedurally further along.  Had there been a bunch of new language or policy that hadn’t been part of the discussion over the course of session I would’ve objected.
  • Why weren't opponents allowed to have their voices heard?
    • The opponents to this bill were heard, and sincerely listened to.  In my time in the Senate no other group has had protestors for weeks straight. No other bill has been reported on and covered by the media like this one. No other bill has undergone the substantial changes this one has as a result of hearing and listening to the voices of opposition.  Your voices changed the bill!
  • If new teachers no longer contribute to the plan, how can I expect the money to be there when I retire?
    • The bill requires the state to pay far more than what current law requires. This bill stops the digging and then requires future legislatures to pony up substantially more money every time.
  • Why no inviolable contract?
    • This is only for future hires.  It’s not wise to bind future legislatures in perpetuity to a contractual obligation when we don’t know what position the state will be in down the road — it’s part of the reason we’re in this boat.
  • The original bill was expected to save money with COLA reductions that have now been removed.  How will this save money?
    • This bill will not save nearly as much money as prior versions of the bill would have saved.   But again, the problem isn’t just about saving money, it’s stopping the unfunded liability hole from getting any bigger. This bill stops that digging, and requires us to contribute much more on an ongoing basis.

One additional question that continues to be raised is regarding retiree health insurance between retirement and Medicare eligibility.  This “gap” insurance was restored for retirees by the House and Senate versions of the budget, and I fully expect it will remain funded in the conference committee’s compromise budget document.

Below are links to the following documents, which I encourage you to read through:

We Should Ban Child Marriage

We Should Ban Child Marriage

A bill proposed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams that would provide court oversight on petitions for a marriage license for 17 year-olds (SB48), is set for a second hearing in my committee tomorrow morning, and I plan to call the bill for a vote.

After working with Donna Pollard (Survivors' Corner) and the Family Foundation we have arrived at an amendment to the bill the requires parental consent, but critically requires a court to review the petition to prevent the same kind of abuse that Donna Pollard experienced as a child.

Contrary to what was believed by so many on social media, the bill sponsor and I worked together on this amendment and the bill was never not going to be heard.  I said as much after our first hearing on the bill back in February.  I’m looking forward to seeing it pass committee in the morning and then hopefully be voted on the Senate floor soon thereafter.

For those asking, the amendment (known as a “proposed senate substitute”) is attached below.