FRANKFORT – With only eight legislative days left, the 2013 General Assembly Session has come to a major turning point. As I have reported in the past, Kentucky faces an immense unfunded liability in our public employee pension system. Senate Bill 2, a product of a bipartisan, bicameral task force that heard from stakeholders, retirement experts, and independent researchers, was drafted to protect tax-payers as well as current employees’ and retirees’ retirement from insolvency, passed the Senate in an overwhelming bipartisan vote. (SB 2 does not apply to teachers’ retirement and would not impact pensions for current employees and retirees.) The House of Representatives removed any structural changes to the strained system and proposed to pay for it with revenues from expanded lottery sales, Keno, and Instant Racing instead of discussing this part during the normal budget process of 2014. They refuse to discuss the bill with us in conference committee if we don’t accept their flawed financial plan. The time for gotcha politics is over; we must have a sober discussion about this very important issue. Bipartisan task forces have worked before on unemployment insurance and corrections reform. The Senate is still working and we want bipartisan consensus. Structural changes can be made now to the pension system that will strengthen the entire fund. We are hopeful that the House Leadership will come to the table on this issue that affects all Kentuckians.
The Senate is also doing what we can to put our own house in order. Senate Bill 7 seeks to close the loophole in the state retirement system that had allowed some legislators to significantly increase their state pensions. Incidentally, Senate Bill 2 directs that any new legislators must be in the regular state employee system. Both these bills together work to make sure that state employees are treated similarly whether you work in the Senate or on a state road.
In other news, the Senate continued working on other bills involving elections, gun rights, and education. Voting is at the foundation of our democracy. Candidates come and go, but the process by which we elect our leaders lives on and must be protected. While each vote cast is equal, those cast by America's bravest seem to be more sacred. Generations of men and women serving on battle lines across the globe have protected our freedom to vote, yet their own votes are delayed and possibly uncounted. Senate Bill 1, which I co-sponsored, takes a substantial step toward making the voting process easier for military and those Kentuckians living abroad. Electronically transmitting the ballot gets the ballot in the hands of those voters earlier so it can be filled out and returned on a timely basis. The bill also establishes a group to study the feasibility and security of electronically returning the ballots, which is a goal I hope we can achieve soon. Right now, the county clerks are concerned that the integrity of the ballot and the anonymity of the voter may be compromised if transmitted via email, fax or the web.
Senate Bill 55 will move the election date of constitutional officers to presidential election years. This has two benefits: it greatly increases voter participation because more people vote in presidential years and it has the bonus attribute of saving both local and state governments millions statewide by not having to hold off-year elections.
We also passed two bills protecting the right to bear arms. Senate Bill 129 protects our Second Amendment rights by clarifying that the federal government cannot encroach on Kentuckians’ right to bear arms by limiting the reach of new federal regulations. This bill also takes a stand for our rights under the Tenth Amendment which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Senate Bill 150 makes it easier to obtain a concealed-carry license by eliminating the residency requirement. Applicants seeking the license must still go thought the required training course on firearm safety and related statutes.
We have several programs in place to help kids who may not necessarily learn in the traditional manner or need more help than their peers to understand their lessons. But there are also students who are motivated and prepared enough to want to continue pushing themselves and these children need our support too. Senate Bill 61 would allow for early graduation for qualified students who meet set requirements. Senate Bill 64, sponsored by Sen. Stan Humphries, rewards students who work to graduate early by allowing them to access their full KEES funding.
Finally, I passed House Bill 8 and House Bill 9 from my Judiciary Committee this week. Both bills, sponsored by Rep. Tilley, are good pieces of legislation I was glad to advance. HB 9 provides legal protections to people trying to escape from violent relationships; HB 8 continues Kentucky's great work toward fighting synthetic drugs which continue to plague our communities.
We are entering the time period in Session when the House and the Senate will start discussing differences on bills that have passed both chambers. There is still time to contact me with any concerns or questions or comments. You can do so by leaving a message for me or any legislator toll free at 1-800-372-7181, by calling my Frankfort office directly at (502) 564-8100, or by emailing me here. By logging on the General Assembly's website you can read the bills and see our schedules. I also encourage you to bookmark this site and follow me on Twitter @KyWhitney!