The Richmond Register


April 1, 2013

Basketball tournaments not the only March Madness

FRANKFORT — All over Kentucky, March Madness is a well-known descriptor of the annual and highly anticipated college basketball tournament.

But in Frankfort, some would say March Madness took over the last week of the legislative session as we raced the clock to find solutions to the public pension problem and a host of other important issues facing Kentucky.

That madness turned to gladness as the House passed House Bill 440 and Senate Bill 2 which will generate revenue, protect retirement benefits for current employees and stabilize the system for the future.

Under House Bill 440, $100 million will be generated to help pay down the liability facing Kentucky’s retirement system for state and local government employees.

The money will come from reducing the state personal income tax credit by $10; enhancing revenue collection by the state Department of Revenue; and reducing the cap on total reimbursement for vendors who collect the state’s sales tax.

There is also a reduction in taxes by offering a trade-in credit for new car purchases as of July 1. House Bill 440 was given final approval by a vote of 82-17 in the House and 35-3 in the Senate.

Going forward, new state and local government employees will participate in a cash-balance plan rather than the existing defined-benefit plan. This will apply to judges and legislators as well. These changes are estimated to save more than $10 billion over the next 20 years.

Senate Bill 2 implements a hybrid plan featuring elements of both defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans. The participants do not own these accounts or make investment decisions, but during their working years, employees will contribute 5 percent of their salary and employers will contribute 4 percent.

Their account balance is guaranteed to grow by at least 4 percent annually. Growth above that will mostly go to the worker, with the state receiving the rest.

Workers will be able to move the retirement funds they have earned and accumulated more easily if they leave public service. The average state worker’s career, for example, is nine years. At retirement, employees can annuitize their account balance and receive it as a lifetime monthly payment.

In addition, the General Assembly will have the ability to offer cost-of-living allowances (COLA) to retirees if money is available and the actuarial cost of the COLA is paid. Senate Bill 2 received final passage by a 32-6 vote in the Senate and a 70-28 vote in the House.

While all of us did not agree on every aspect of the pension legislation, the reality is we had to do something to protect current and future employees and provide a stable, dependable funding mechanism. It is not a perfect plan but after years of analysis, discussion and financial review, I believe we passed the best piece of legislation possible.

We tackled several other issues with great results of which the Kentucky General Assembly and the citizens of the Commonwealth can be proud.

House Bill 290 establishes an independent review panel to investigate cases of child deaths and near-fatal injuries and make records from cabinet and law enforcement officials more accessible.

House Bill 3 strengthens human trafficking laws while protecting victims from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit. The bill creates a human trafficking victims fund supported by service fees paid by convicted traffickers, proceeds from their seized and forfeited assets, and any grants, contributions or other funds that may become available.

Senate Bill 1 will make the absentee voting process easier for Kentuckians serving overseas in the military. The legislation will allow members of the armed forces, their spouses and others out-of-country to register to vote and request and receive absentee ballots electronically.

House Bill 217 makes adjustments to last year’s Pill Mill Bill by easing reporting requirements for pain medications dispensed for clear and legitimate need; lifts mandatory reporting for hospitals and long-term care facilities, post-surgery patients, end-of-life situations and other patients with undeniable medical need for increased pain management.

Senate Bill 97 allows school districts to increase the compulsory attendance age to 18 beginning in the 2015 school year. Districts are required to have programs and resources for students at-risk of not graduating. The increased attendance age will become mandatory statewide four years after 55 percent of Kentucky school districts adopt it.

Senate Bill 50 creates an administrative framework for farming industrial hemp in Kentucky if the crop is legalized by the federal government or we are granted an exemption. It also increases a research component with Kentucky’s universities and strengthens the role of Kentucky State Police and other law enforcement.

House Bill 1 boosts transparency and accountability for 1,200 special taxing districts by putting rules in place for entities that collect fees for special services such as local water, sewer, and libraries. It creates an online central registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets; requires taxing districts to submit budget reports to fiscal courts; and requires special districts hold a public hearing in conjunction with a fiscal court meeting when considering a new fee or an increase in the existing tax rate.

Senate Bill 13 will allow the sale of alcoholic beverages while polls are open on Election Day.

House Bill 5 creates a process to resolve payment disputes between Medicaid providers and managed care organizations more promptly.

Senate Bill 8 and House Bill 35 requires new school safety laws which includes emergency responders being involved in developing school safety plans.

House Bill 7 gives six Kentucky universities authorization to bond more than $360 million in construction projects; creates thousands of construction jobs; and almost $400 million in economic development.

Most new laws – those that don’t come from legislation with emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in 90 days.

Considering the magnitude of the issues we had to consider during this 30 “short” session, I believe we were able to work in a bipartisan manner to achieve good results.

Like the NCAA’s March Madness, the 2013 legislative session was full of upsets, slam dunks, fast breaks, rebounds and flops. We witnessed the joy of victory and the agony of defeat as legislators poured their heart and souls into bills that they truly believed would benefit Kentucky citizens.

So as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, March 26, we stood tall, shook hands and headed back to our home courts knowing we’d be back in this arena soon.

Your input has been invaluable this session so please continue to contact me with your concerns and questions.

We will hold committee meetings throughout this interim period and you can check that schedule by calling 800-633-9650. If you would to contact me, please call 1-800-372-7181.

I will be holding town hall meetings this spring to hear your concerns and suggestions for improving our district.

Text Only
  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Education a priority? Don’t believe it

    They did it – more or less.

    They got a budget, they got a road plan and they got out of town on time.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Don McNay.jpg Did you miss small business health-care tax credit?

    A Kentucky professional who owns his own business found that he missed getting the health-care tax credit.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg Compromise is not that simple

    It’s tempting for a casual onlooker to wonder why the Democratic House and Republican Senate can’t make what on the surface looks like the obvious compromise on pension reform.
    The Senate passed a measure based on recommendations of a task force to move new employees into a hybrid, cash-balance plan but maintain existing defined benefits for current employees and retirees.

    March 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Frankfort plays ping-pong with public pension transparency

    Legislation that would make the Kentucky Retirement Systems transparent for those paying its bills has danced into the spotlight during the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
    Passage of transparency bills filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Latonia, and Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, would make the “names, status, projected or actual benefit payments” subject to our commonwealth’s superlative Open Records Act.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jack Strauss-BW.jpg The case of the ghostly neighbor

    Wilbur lived in a world of fears. Everything frightened him. The full extent of his courage was to admit that he had none.
    Noises in the middle of the night, his own shadow creeping up on him and, most of all, black cats scared the wits out of him.
    So, picture his chagrin, one day, when he came home from vacation only to discover that a mausoleum had been erected on property adjacent to his home.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • Provisional concealed-carry law passes Senate unanimously

    Things are staying busy in Frankfort. Many bills are making their way onto the Senate floor from various committees. This past week several important pieces of legislation were debated and passed.
    I am particularly proud of the success we had in advocating for Kentuckians’ Second Amendment rights.
    I introduced Senate Bill 106 to allow anyone who has been granted an emergency protective or domestic violence order to receive a provisional CCDW permit from the Kentucky State Police in one business day. In some of these cases, victims need this type of protection as quickly as possible.

    March 8, 2014

  • Ronnie-Ellis.jpg 50 years makes a world of difference

    I wasn’t in Frankfort on March 5, 1964, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson led 10,000 on a march to the state Capitol in support of a public accommodations law.
    But a few months later, I stood in front of the “Music Hall,” site of the Glasgow Junior High School located on a street named Liberty, and watched black kids “walk up the hill” of College Street on the first day of integrated schools in Glasgow.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 02.23 Mike Duncan mug.jpg Coal has kept Kentuckians warm this winter

    This winter, temperatures across the country dipped to historic lows. Here in our home state of Kentucky, the near-arctic climate caused increased power demand which resulted in an incredible strain on the electric grid and rising energy costs.

    March 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Waters.JPG Protecting citizens’ data is a no-brainer

    Target Corp. is learning the hard way: The price is steep for retailers who don’t protect customers’ sensitive financial information.
    Target’s profits fell a whopping 50 percent during its fourth quarter of 2013 as the result of a massive security breach involving as many as 110 million of its customers’ credit- and debit-card accounts, which began the day before Thanksgiving and extended throughout much of the holiday shopping season.

    March 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ike Adams Making plans for spring planting

    My brother Keith (Keeter) probably planted peas on one of those warm days last week, and I would not be at all surprised to find out that brother Steve did likewise to try to be the first two fellows in Letcher County to actually be digging the soil in their 2014 gardens.
    Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, used to get my brother to drive him a 50-mile round trip to get pea seeds and potting soil for early February planting. Dock raised mammoth melting sugar snow peas and sugar snaps around every fence on the place. 

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

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