General Assembly Sixth Week March 4 through March 7

Teacher Protests, Frankfort, Kentucky March 7, 2019.

Teacher Protests, Frankfort, Kentucky March 7, 2019.

 House Bill 525—TRS Trustees

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 there is little 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.

House Bill 205—Back Door Vouchers

House Bill 205 provides for scholarship tax credits. 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 grow in future years up to $50 million.

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, professional development for teachers or school safety. All of Kentucky’s 173 superintendents oppose the legislation. Keep in mind that when adjusted for inflation, Kentucky’s public education funds have decreased by 15% since the 2008 recession and are now the 4th worst in the nation.

House Bill 358—University Escape Hatch

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 current 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.

House Bill 354—Non-Profit Revenue Fix

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. A Courier Journal story warns that a new tax break could be added by the “powerful Kentucky Bankers Association – scrapping the current “bank franchise tax” and letting banks pay the corporation income tax instead.”

House Bill 268—State Park Renovations

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. It would allow for Kentucky to borrow $50 million of a planned $150 million to renovate Kentucky’s parks. In a list furnished after the floor debate, Audubon Park was noted to receive some of the funds.

House Bill 136—Medical Marijuana

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. While Jason Nemes and John Sims have sponsored the legislation in the house, it was Louisville Democrat Al Gentry who forced the issue this week. Using a procedural move called a “discharge petition”, Rep. Gentry forced the Judiciary Committee to move or have the matter referred back to the Rules Committee. The Judiciary chair opted for a hearing which resulted in a vote 16-1 in favor of the legislation.

House Bill 522—Automatic Recounts

On Thursday, both House Speaker David Osborne and House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins advocated for House Bill 522, which would call for automatic 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 weeks.

Conclusion

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 rob.wiederstein@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.