FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Kentucky lawmakers have a full plate of issues to address when they return to Frankfort to convene the 2018 regular session on Tuesday.
At the top of the list is reforming the state’s eight public pension systems, which have a total unfunded liability of between $33 billion and $84 billion, depending on whose figures you use. Gov. Matt Bevin, accompanied by legislative leaders, rolled out a plan in October, ahead of a planned special session, which never materialized.
Those affected most by changes to the pension plans, particularly teachers and state employees, plan to hold rallies on the opening day of the session.
The Kentucky Association of State Employees sent out an advisory on their event, scheduled for the steps of the Capitol at 6 p.m. Tuesday, describing it as a “Torches and pitchforks ‘We are angry and we have had enough’ protest.” State, city and county workers, along with retirees, are expected to attend.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” said David Smith, executive director of KASE. “The legislators and the governor have a moral obligation to come out of the darkness with viable funding source solutions that will benefit workers and not Wall Street.”
He says KASE will be presenting, “radical solutions proposed by workers never heard before.”
Another daunting task facing lawmakers will be enacting a state budget for the next two fiscal years, starting on July 1, 2018. The State Budget Office issued a spending reduction plan late last week to resolve an anticipated $156 million shortfall during the current fiscal year. It includes a 1.3% cut by all state agencies in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government and the outlook does not get rosier in the near term.
“It won’t be pretty,” Bevin told reporters during a year-end press conference at the Capitol on Dec. 21. “Things that have been exempt are not necessarily going to remain exempt, because we can’t afford it. There are going to be cuts spread across things people think are sacrosanct.”
Potential new revenue sources could include expanded gaming or marijuana legalization, but the governor and legislative leaders have repeatedly said both are non-starters.
Kentucky’s adoption and foster care programs are also expected to get some attention from lawmakers in the 2018 session.
Bevin named Dan Dumas as the state’s adoption czar and he began his work in June, trying to reform the state’s process for adoptions and foster care.
The House also created a special task force on the issue, which made over a dozen recommendations in December. Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, co-chair of the panel said, “These recommendations will be presented to Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, and out of that we will begin to draft a bill.”
The state’s financial situation could affect how much goes up for consideration. “We’ve got some budget constraints,” said Osborne, R-Prospect. “So, I’m not sure what we’re going to be able to do. We’ll look into it and see what we can do.”
Sen. Dennis Parrett, D-Elizabethtown, has proposed legislation to permanently establish and fund a kinship care program in Kentucky.
A proposed constitutional amendment on crime victims’ rights may also be addressed during the session. Marsy’s Law, as it is known, is named after a California murder victim, whose mother saw her daughter’s accused killer in the grocery store a week after her death.
In addition to California, the measure has also been approved by voters in Ohio, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, and efforts have been launched in at least nine more states.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, was primary sponsor of Marsy’s Law legislation in 2017, but SB 15 did not reach the Senate floor. Still, he plans to sponsor it again in 2018, although nothing has been proposed at this point.
“This is necessary, commonsense legislation with widespread support from all across Kentucky,” Westerfield said. “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.”
The messengers at the Kentucky Baptist Convention gave an endorsement to Marsy’s Law at its annual meeting in November.
Westerfield says concerns expressed in other states, including fears of becoming an unfunded mandate for local governments, “Have been addressed in our own draft during a couple years of stakeholder review and scrutiny.”
The 2018 session also has one big unknown, at least in the early days: the effect of a sexual harassment scandal in the House where this fall four members settled allegations by a former staffer. It led to the resignation of Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, as Speaker, and the ascension of Osborne to the top position in the chamber.
Leadership of the House Republican caucus said earlier this month there will not be an election to replace Hoover as Speaker when lawmakers convene.
A statement was issued by Osborne; Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster; Majority Whip Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville; and Majority Caucus Chair David Meade, R-Stanford: "After meeting as a Republican caucus and consulting with attorneys regarding the Kentucky Constitution and the Rules of the Kentucky House of Representatives, we have determined as a caucus that the House will operate as is when the General Assembly next gavels into session," the statement read.
"As such, David Osborne will remain acting speaker of the House, and the rest of the Republican leadership team will remain in their positions. We believe this is what the Constitution and Rules of the House provide as a remedy for the situation in which we find ourselves.”
The 2018 General Assembly will meet for 60 legislative days, not counting holidays and weekends, and is scheduled to adjourn on April 13.