Legislative Update – 3/23/18

Rapidly nearing the last days of the 2018 Regular Session, the Senate passed our version of the state budget that contained no new taxes during the 12th week. The Executive Branch Budget, contained in House Bill 200, put an emphasis on public safety by investing in law enforcement, the state crime lab, frontline social workers, and foster and adoption services.

The Senate budget also placed a commitment on education by investing record amounts in per-pupil funding for schools, known as Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK), and funding school transportation at historical records. We are also providing performance-based funding for the state’s eight public universities while ensuring funding for Western Kentucky University and Northern Kentucky University is on par with the state’s other six universities.

The fiscally prudent budget was the result of directing additional money to Kentucky’s drastically underfunded public pensions. Although only a few days remain in the 2018 Session, there is still time to pass some sort of pension reform measure. In the Senate’s version of the budget bill, we made a commitment to fully fund KTRS at the statutory required level—$1.27 billion—while focusing on investing in the pension systems that need it the most. The Senate plan added another $100 million per fiscal year for the State Police Retirement System.

The three lowest-funded pension systems in Kentucky are KERS (non-hazardous), funded at 13.6 percent; SPRS (State Police), currently funded at 27 percent; and KTRS (teachers), currently funded at 57 percent.

Actuaries have reported that, with a major stock market correction, the KTRS system would survive but the KERS and SPRS would not. For this reason, we made a priority in our Senate budget to allocate approximately $1.8 billion to KERS and $241 million to State Police. We simply cannot allow these systems to fail, and the funding need is greatest in KERS and SPRS. Thus the Senate dedicates a record $3.31 billion to pensions, which is approximately 14 percent of our General Fund budget.

The Senate plan added language to direct $8.5 million for local school districts that are impacted by the loss of tax revenue on unmined mineral assessments, also known as coal severance dollars. That is in addition to $1.75 million in each fiscal year for school technology in coal counties and $137,000 each fiscal year for food service programs.

The Senate plan also contained language intended to make it more affordable for school districts to hire resource officers and implement other security measures.

Our Senate budget proposal contains nearly $11 million for cancer prevention and research, including $500,000 for colon cancer screening, $2.5 million each fiscal year for the pediatric cancer trust fund, and $1.5 million in 2019 and $1.3 million in 2020 for smoking cessation.

Our proposal also includes $1.3 million each fiscal year for the Save the Children program, $100,000 each fiscal year for the Heuser Hearing and Language Academy in Louisville, and $100,000 each fiscal year for the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center. There would also be funding for brain injury patients, the Kentucky Poison Control Center at Norton Hospital in Louisville, the Kentucky Mesonet (a network of weather stations across Kentucky monitored in Bowling Green), and the Kentucky Center for Mathematics.

To clear up some misconceptions, I want to reemphasize what this bill does not do. This bill does not fund legislators’ pensions. This bill does not raise state employees’ health care rates. This bill does not have language funding charter schools, but it does allow some education dollars to follow the students if their families choose to enroll them in a charter school. Lastly, this bill does not raise taxes, instead, keeps our commitment to Kentucky taxpayers by crafting a fiscally-responsible plan.

The Senate’s version of the budget bill now goes back to the House for consideration and a conference committee will be formed to craft a final bill to be approved by both chambers.

Other bills that passed the Senate this week include:

House Bill (HB) 132 would require a financial literacy course as a high school graduation requirement. The Kentucky Board of Education would be responsible for establishing the standards and graduation requirements for financial literacy according to HB 132. Completion of courses or programs that meet financial literacy standards would become a graduation requirement beginning with students entering ninth grade in 2020-21. The state education department is working to provide funding for those schools that do not have the resources available.

House Bill 68 would provide mental health and wellness support for law enforcement officials who encounter tragic and horrific events while on the job. At the center of the measure is a post-critical incident seminar, or PCIS. It is a program established by the FBI in the 1980s and first adopted by South Carolina. Kentucky would be about the tenth state to adopt it. The initiative would be paid with donations, grants, and money from the state Department of Criminal Justice Training budget.

House Bill 71 would criminalize “revenge porn,” a phrase used to describe sexually explicit images or videos posted online without the consent of the subject. Under the measure, the first offense would be a misdemeanor and any subsequent offense would be a Class-D felony. House Bill 71 would also pave the way for victims of revenge porn to file lawsuits against the person who posted the images.

House Bill 128 would require public middle and high schools to teach their students about the Holocaust and other internationally-recognized acts of genocide. House Bill 128 includes a provision that would cite the legislation as the “Ann Klein and Fred Gross Holocaust Education Act” in honor of Gross, who survived the Holocaust as a child to go on to teach about it, and Klein, a survivor of Auschwitz and a Holocaust educator who died in 2012.

House Bill 290 would allow homeschool teams to participate in state-sponsored interscholastic sports, in some instances. The bill would not allow homeschool students to participate in sanctioned conferences or tournaments or be eligible for championship titles or other recognition sponsored by the state.

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