Halfway there? Weekly Update: February 25

We’re now more than halfway through the 2013 Regular Session, but we aren’t halfway through what needs to be done.

Last Thursday the House State Government Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 2, which is the bill addressing our public pension systems.  Sadly the committee only discussed the proposal, and didn’t vote on whether or not to pass it out of committee and on to the full House.

As I’ve noted in the past, the system has an unfunded liability of more than $33 billion and continues to grow.  We must focus on passing legislation that will get the Commonwealth out of the hole we’re in.  I hope that the House State Government Committee will put aside partisan bickering and do right by Kentucky.  Kicking the proverbial can down the road once again would be a terrible disservice to the citizens of our great state.

In addition to pension reform, the other big issue we face is  comprehensive tax reform.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it will be addressed during this session.  It is troubling that some continue to allow these problems to grow and fester in our Commonwealth because of a lack of leadership.  We must stop this tactic of delay and deny.  You deserve better.

Despite those setbacks, we did get several bills passed over the week.  The first bill to gain approval from both the House and Senate was House Bill 7, which authorizes the issuance of bonds to pay for construction and renovation projects at most of Kentucky’s public universities.  The universities will issue their own bonds and be responsible for paying them off.  There will be no charge to taxpayers as a result of this legislation.  I was pleased to see that one change to the original bill was made; it bans the schools from raising tuition to pay for construction and renovation of the 11 authorized projects.  Among these projects are a major renovation of Commonwealth Stadium at the University of Kentucky, and academic buildings and dorms at other colleges.  I voted for the bill.

House Bill 361 also passed.  This bill changed the way taxes are levied on certain tobacco products.  It would replace the tax imposed on wholesalers of moist snuff and other tobacco products with an excise tax on distributors.  The bill’s sponsor said that he thought it would actually lower the tax, but the only study I saw indicated that it was unknown what the change would do.  I initially voted for the bill but changed to voting against it because I was concerned that the sponsor was overly optimistic and I felt no change was a better vote.

Another bill that gained approval this past week is one that will be beneficial to Kentucky’s agricultural industry.  House Bill 273 would allow the operation of mini-trucks on Kentucky’s public highways.  The proposal treats mini-trucks the same as ATV’s, and would allow farmers to drive on roadways for short distances to transport supplies from one farm to another.  I voted for the bill.

With two weeks to go, bills dealing with allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp in Kentucky,  religious freedom and abortion remain to be addressed.  It appears the end of the 2013 Regular Session may not be the only time the legislature is called to Frankfort this year.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you; your input is most welcome.  I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 800-372-7181, directly at 502-564-8100 ext 665, or by visiting the Kentucky Legislature Home page at www.lrc.ky.gov  and clicking on the “Email Your Legislator” link.  You can also keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page and clicking on the “2013RS Record” link