FRANKFORT – As we move rapidly into the final 8 days of this short session, the General Assembly has come to a major turning point.
As many of you know, 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 taxpayers, as well as current employees’ and retirees’ retirement from insolvency passed the Senate in an overwhelming bipartisan vote. (SB2 does not apply to teachers’ retirement and would not impact pensions for current employees and retirees.)
The leadership of 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 it during the normal budget process of 2014. It is unfortunate the House refuses to go into joint committee to discuss this critical issue. Both Chambers must continue a sober discussion about this very important issue in order to save and strengthen the entire fund.
The Senate continued its effort to protect and strengthen the retirement system by unanimously passing Senate Bill 7 that would require state lawmakers’ pension benefits to be based solely on salary earned through legislative service. This measure applies to new legislators entering the plan after July 1 of this year. It includes a provision that would allow former and current legislators the option of having their pension benefits calculated the same way.
The Senate passed legislation this week that would give Kentucky citizens the opportunity to vote in 2014 on whether to change the Kentucky Constitution to hold statewide elections in the same year as Presidential and other federal elections. This bill, Senate Bill 55, which I co-sponsored, would save the state an estimated $1.4 million, with an additional $12.6 million savings for county governments, by eliminating the costs associated with odd year elections. This measure would likely increase voter participation, as well. This is a common sense measure that will allow existing state and county revenue to be used for more productive purposes, like education and healthcare.
On the education front, Senate Bills 61 and 64 will work together to provide an option for Kentucky high school students to graduate early, but not be penalized by the loss of scholarship dollars. Senate Bill 61 establishes criteria for a public high school student to complete an early graduation program and qualify for an Early Graduation Scholarship Certificate beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The measure also alters the method for calculating the Kentucky Educational Excellent Scholarship (KEES) award for students who graduate early. As an added incentive for early graduation, Senate Bill 64 protects the KEES scholarships that students can earn by ensuring that there’s no reduction penalty for early graduation. Taken together, these measures will help give our brightest students a head start on their college careers.
In addition, the Senate took the important step of preserving the constitutional principles embodied in the Second and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, Senate Bill 129 protects the rights of gun owners from the possibility of federal encroachment on individual and states’ rights by declaring any federal law restricting the rights of gun owners unenforceable within the State of Kentucky. Senate Bill 150 would make it easier to get a concealed carry license by reducing the amount of time state police have to approve or deny an application for a license from 90 to 60 days.
Protecting the voting rights of the men and women serving in the military overseas has been a top priority of the Senate this year. Senate Bill 1, adopted by unanimous vote, will make it easier for military personnel and other Kentuckians living abroad to apply for and receive an absentee ballot. It is important to preserve the rights of servicemen and women to have their vote counted while they work to protect these rights for all of us.
Lastly, I will be working with Commissioner Comer and other supporters of Senate Bill 50 to determine the next step. We continue to work to pass this legislation that would put Kentucky in a position create additional jobs, if the federal ban for growing industrial hemp is lifted.
If you have any questions or comments about the issues above or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) represents the 20th District including Bullitt, Shelby, and Spencer Counties. He is the Chair of the Agriculture Committee and Co-Chair of the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee. He is a member of the Government Contract Review Committee, the Transportation Committee, and as a liaison member of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.