Weekly Update: Will we finish?

This week is the last full week of the 2013 Regular Session, but because of the lack of progress on either Pension Reform or Tax Reform I’m afraid that the Governor will call us back to Frankfort for an Extraordinary (Special) Session later this year.

As I reported in one of my earlier updates, a pension reform bill, SB 2,  passed out of the Senate and was sent to the House.  The bill took the results of the Governor’s Pension Reform Task Force as is and put them into language required for law.  After getting to the House, however, the bill languished in the State Government Committee for over two weeks until finally being scheduled for a hearing.

During the committee meeting a committee substitute was presented.  The committee substitute for this important issue, 53 pages long, was presented to committee members a half-hour before the start of the committee meeting.  The substitute was so new that when  questioned by committee members, the legislator presenting the substitute had problems finding some of the data in the bill.

It is important to note that the Governor’s Task Force was comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and the findings were approved by a vote of 11 – 1.  This task force spent nearly all of last year hearing testimony and reviewing thousands of pages of information and data to draft a plan to deal with what one national publication said is the worst public pension system in the nation.  Unbelievably, the committee substitute which drastically changed the intent of the bill and gutted most of the Task Force’s recommendations was approved along party lines by the full House on a vote of 55-45 the day after the substitute was presented in committee.  I voted no.

More troubling to some was a plan, HB 416,  offered by the Speaker of the House to expand gaming through the Kentucky Lottery Commission in order to make up the pension shortfall.  The Speaker explained that he plan would not begin providing any funds to offset the shortfall until 2014, and even then the plan would generate less than one third of what is needed to fund the Public Employees Pension Plan.  The bill passed the House by a 52 – 47 margin, far shy of the 60 votes required for a revenue bill in a non-budget session.  Since the required 60 votes weren’t attained, the Senate will not consider the bill.  I, along with all the other Republicans and several Democrats, voted no to this expanded gambling initiative.

A similar situation took place with SB 50, a bill dealing with industrial hemp; a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate.  Seven days before he planned on taking up the bill, however, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Small Business Committee told the press that he planned on filing a committee substitute to the bill.  For some unknown reason, though, he waited until the night before the committee meeting to submit copies of his substitute to members of the committee of which I am one.  The thrust of his substitute was to require yet another study.  I was looking forward to hearing testimony – both pro and con – and then casting a vote.  The Committee Chairman did allow testimony, but refused to allow a vote to be taken.  It was obvious to all who took part in or watched the proceedings that the bill had broad support among the committee members and would have easily passed.    The chairman’s actions unfortunately are quite possibly the death knell for legislation on industrial hemp this session.

On a more positive note, HB 279 the Religious Freedom Act, passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 82 – 7.  I proudly cast a yes vote for this piece of legislation.

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