FRANKFORT – The 2013 General Assembly Session finished in a whirlwind over the final two days as we worked literally til midnight. But the hard work did have its rewards as several high-profile bills passed.

Senate Bill 2, the public employee pension reform bill, is considered by many to be one of the most significant accomplishments of the session. The public employee pension system is more than $30 billion in the red. Experts predicted it would run out of cash in five years with the Commonwealth forced to go to a “pay as you go” system on pension benefits. The Senate has been ringing the alarm on this issue for several years now and I was very pleased that a bipartisan solution was finally agreed upon.

Senate Bill 2 will establish a new-style retirement plan for those entering the system next year and require pre-funding of any future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. Under the bill, pension benefits for new hires would be calculated in a hybrid ‘shared-risk’ plan similar to a 401(k) that will guarantee a 4% annual return on investment. Further, legislators and judges would be treated the same as regular state employees. The General Assembly is required to fund 100% of the actuarially required contribution (ARC). The new cash-balance plan is more predictable and sustainable than the current defined benefit plan without carrying as much risk for employees as a traditional 401(k). Besides saving the state $10 billion over 20 years, SB2 protects the retirement of current employees and retirees as well as the tax-payers’ financial exposure. The bill will have no effect on teachers’ retirement. Nor will it apply to current employees and retirees.

Another accomplishment was the final passage of Senate Bill 1, the Military and Overseas Voter Act, which modernizes and streamlines the absentee-voting process by allowing members of the armed forces, their spouses and others serving overseas to register to vote, and to request and receive a ballot, electronically. To ensure vote security and anonymity, completed ballots would still be returned via traditional postal mail.

Both the Senate and the House overrode the Governor’s veto on House Bill 279, the Religious Freedom Act. I stood up on the Senate floor to introduce the motion. This act protects religious liberty from governmental intrusion. It compels the government to prove a “compelling” interest, or crucial and direct reason, before it can substantially burden religious freedom. Without it, any law with general applicability can override religious liberty regardless of how much that liberty is burdened. If the government is going to intrude on a right so precious that the framers found it appropriate to list in the First Amendment - if it's that valuable - the standard for government ought to be pretty high.

House Bill 366 will make it easier for medical providers to get credentialed to serve the Medicaid population here. Unfortunately, this process was taking up to six months for many medical professionals and Kentucky needs all the providers we can get. We also passed House Bill 5, requiring the Managed Care Organizations across Kentucky to make prompt payments to providers like Jennie Stuart and Logan Memorial. Healthcare providers are starting to struggle under the poor implementation of managed care and that is starting to adversely affect both cost and access to care for Kentuckians. HB5 seeks to remedy at least part of the problem.

The work of the Regular Session is complete, but the work of the Commonwealth and of the legislature continues. I’ll continue working for my constituents during the interim, studying issues, meeting with individuals and groups, and monitoring the progress of our newly-enacted laws. I have also already begun meeting with staff to plan agendas for the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary and the Juvenile Code Reform Task Force, both of which I co-Chair. The interim period is critical to help legislators inform themselves on issues and to find consensus and compromise. Some of the largest and most bipartisan pieces of legislation to pass this session were the product of many months of discussion and debate before the 2013 General Assembly was ever gaveled into session. I look forward to the progress we can achieve between now and January 7, 2014.

As always, you can call me anytime at my office in Frankfort at 502-564-8100, or contact me here. To review the work of the 2013 Regular Session, you may visit the legislature’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov. Archived meetings and proceedings, as well as interim coverage, can be viewed at www.ket.org.