When the Speaker’s gavel fell shortly before midnight on Thursday, March 28, the General Assembly adjourned the 2019 Regular Session sine die. Odd-year sessions are considered “short” because at 30 legislative days they are half the length of even-year sessions. However, there was no shortage of issues as we passed 194 bills and resolutions into law. Anything passed on the final day of session would be subject to a veto by the Governor without an opportunity to override.
We were able to reach an agreement with the Senate on relief legislation for quasi-governmental agencies and regional universities struggling to make the employer contribution in the Kentucky Employee Retirement System (KERS). Those costs have risen dramatically and were temporarily locked in at 49 percent by the 2018 General Assembly. Without this bill pension costs increase to 84 percent of payroll as of July 1. The 118 agencies covered by HB 358 employ an estimated 9,000 Kentuckians. They include regional universities and quasi-governmental agencies, including local health departments, mental health centers, rape crisis agencies and spousal abuse shelters. According to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, health departments that serve 42 counties – more than a third of our state - would have to close within a year if they are forced to pay the higher contribution rate. Regional universities also shared that they would be forced to increase tuition, lay off employees or cut programs. Under the provisions of the bill, these agencies would have the opportunity to opt out of the Kentucky Employee Retirement System (KERS).
Agencies that opt out will be required to pay a set amount to do so, money that would provide an influx of money directly to the retirement fund. The contribution rate for employers who choose to remain in the KERS would be frozen for FY 2020 and an annual increase of 1.5 percent would be put into place.
The General Assembly also exercised its legislative independence in the final hours of session by overriding the Governor’s line-item veto of House Bill 268. Governor Bevin vetoed a provision that clarifies the intent of the General Assembly regarding funding language for Area Development Districts. I voted in favor of upholding the Governor’s veto because of the negative funding effect on Eastern Kentucky ADDs. However, the veto was ultimately overridden 53-38.
Among those bills was HB 11, legislation aimed at cutting back on the use of tobacco products by school-aged children. The House passed this bill earlier this month and the Senate gave their approval on the last night of session. The measure, unless vetoed by the Governor, would prohibit the use of tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, on school property. Health advocates and the medical community supported this measure, which will hopefully make an impact on the number of children who begin using tobacco products and grow to become addicted adults. There has been a dramatic increase in the use of e-cigarette products, which many do not realize are extremely addictive. HB 11 would give school districts the option of opting out after three years and the ban would apply only to use, not possession, and enforcement will be up to local school boards.
The day before we reconvened, the Governor and economic development officials delivered evidence that the pro-jobs policies enacted by the legislature are paying off for our commonwealth. A new steel plate manufacturing mill in Meade County will mean an immediate investment of $1.35 billion in planning and construction costs, with a long term impact of 400 new full-time jobs. With the 2019 Regular Session behind us, members of the House have already begun looking towards next year’s session when we will consider the budget, road plan and more legislation that makes our state an attractive place to create jobs, raise a family and build a future.
Before closing, I would like to thank the citizens of the 87th District for allowing me the honor of representing you in Frankfort. It is a responsibility which I take very seriously and promise to continue to work hard for you. I hope to provide a review of the bills we passed this session over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature's website at www.legislature.ky.gov.