I hope you and your family enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year. A new year also means a new Legislative Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Tuesday, January 5 marked the beginning of a 60-day Session that will run through mid-April. In this Session, we hope to address the numerous important issues facing our state, keeping the common theme of creating Kentucky jobs and strengthening Kentucky families.
In 2016 we will be tasked with passing a comprehensive budget bill and road plan, which will be implemented from July 2016 to June 2018. Although we have seen some slight increases in general fund returns, new costs related to public employee pensions and state-implemented Medicaid will place a greater burden on our budget than in years past.
Senate Leadership rolled out 13 bills, identified as priority legislation, on Wednesday and one of the most critical was Senate Bill 2. This measure would make our state employee pension systems (KRS, KTRS, and JFRS) more transparent in their transactions, more accountable in how they contract with third parties for services, and ensure that the board of trustees of KRS and KTRS have the investment experience necessary to professionally guide these organizations.
One bill we are working on is Senate Bill 1, which would give Kentucky educators the chance to set their own standards. The bill would also shift more control to local school districts, limiting federal overreach and burdens on educators while producing college- and career-ready Kentucky graduates. We also want to save taxpayers money by repealing prevailing wage on school construction sites, eliminating an additional 10-20 percent in costs from publicly-funded school construction.
Another measure that the Senate will again focus on is that of right to work. Our right to work bill will not be aimed at punishing unions or union workers, but will give workers a choice upon employment as to whether or not they would like to pay union dues. Through this legislation, we will make Kentucky a more attractive place to do business, which will grow our overall economy.
We also will be focusing once again on the rights of the unborn. If you have followed the investigation of Planned Parenthood in 2015, you know that there is a major concern about that organization. We would like to ensure that no more state funding goes to Planned Parenthood in the 2016 Legislative Session. Likewise, we will bring an additional bill forward to better promote informed consent for women who may be considering an abortion. We value life, no matter how long it has been in a mother’s womb, which is why we believe those considering an abortion should be required to have a face-to-face meeting with a physician, rather than simply listening to a pre-recorded message.
Additionally, the Senate wants to extend the protection of religious freedoms in schools. True to both the U.S. and Kentucky Constitutions, proposed legislation would reinforce political and religious freedom of expression for students, staff, and schools and allow those expressions to be duly communicated.
Redistricting of the judicial branch has also come to the forefront of the Senate’s conversation. While the legislative branch is required to redistrict every 10 years in order to balance the ever-changing constituent landscape, judicial districts have not been updated for several decades. Having judicial redistricting on the same schedule as the legislative branch would balance population and caseloads throughout the state and make Kentuckians equally represented in the court system.
Research shows that over a million Kentuckians show up to vote in a federal election year, but only hundreds of thousands show up to vote for their future governor in odd-numbered years. A new bill proposed in the Senate would move gubernatorial elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, offering Kentuckians a much better chance of selecting their new state leader. This measure would not extend the term of the current governor and would save an estimated $20 million over each election cycle.
We have heard the voices of Kentuckians from across the state and crafted this legislation by listening to your concerns and ideas. Thank you for your support, and please do not hesitate to reach out to my office at any time. I look forward to what this New Year and new Senate session will bring to Kentucky!
If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.