FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Gavels pounded in the House and Senate at noon Tuesday signaling the start of the 2018 legislative session in which lawmakers are expected to tackle a number of crucial issues ranging from passage of a two-year, $22 billion budget to the reformation of the state’s adoption and foster system to allow children faster paths to forever homes.
Gov. Matt Bevin also is urging lawmakers to pass legislation to shore the financially troubled pension systems for government employees and retirees. The state has eight separate systems that have combined unfunded liabilities of between $33 billion and $84 billion.
The legislative session is scheduled to run into mid-April.
Bevin and legislative leaders had worked on fixes for the pension systems over the past year with the intention of passing legislation in a special session last fall. But, because they couldn’t reach agreement, the special session was never called.
With tax revenue’s running $156 million below expectations, the State Budget Office issued a spending reduction plan in December for the final six months of the current fiscal year. Economists don’t see a turnaround coming in the near term, meaning lawmakers will have to either make deeper spending cuts or raise tax revenue.
Bevin’s administration has been working on a proposal to improve the state’s adoption and foster care system. Bevin appointed Dan Dumas as the state’s adoption czar to study the child placement process and make recommendations to improve it. Meanwhile, House lawmakers are also working on a proposal of their own.
A House taskforce, created to look into adoption and foster care, made more than a dozen recommendations in December.
Lawmakers will also consider a proposed constitutional amendment to ensure the rights of crime victims, including requiring that they be informed when offenders are being released from custody. Lawmakers are considering a measure called Marsy’s Law, which is named after a murder victim whose mother saw her daughter’s accused killer in the grocery store a week after her death.
Similar measures have already been passed in Ohio, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and efforts have been launched in at least nine more states.
“This is necessary, commonsense legislation with widespread support from all across Kentucky,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville. “Just as the accused have important, protected rights, victims also deserve to be given consideration and dignity in the judicial process. Our northern neighbors in Ohio overwhelmingly supported and passed Marsy’s Law this year, and it’s time we do the same.”