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Top legislative issues for Ky.: pensions, taxes, marijuana, schools

By DANIEL ELLIOTT

State Represenative

FRANKFORT – The election of a new House Speaker and swearing-in of 32 newly-elected House members was celebrated in the 100-member Kentucky House of Representatives on Tuesday as lawmakers convened for the first day of the 2019 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Hearty applause was heard throughout the chamber as former Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, was elected and sworn in as Speaker of the House. Both the House Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore—who fills in for the Speaker when he cannot perform official duties—are elected by the entire House membership. Joining Speaker Osborne as second-in-command is Rep. David Meade, R-Stanford, who served previously as House Majority Caucus Chair.

All other House leadership positions are decided at the party level. In the House Majority Caucus, Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville, was elected Majority Floor Leader. He is joined by Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, who was elected Majority Caucus Chair, and Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, who was elected Majority Whip.

In the House Minority Caucus, Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, was reelected House Minority Floor Leader. Rep. Adkins was first elected Minority Floor Leader in 2017 after serving 15 years as House Majority Floor Leader. Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, was elected Minority Caucus Chair, while Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, was elected Minority Whip.

We lawmakers spent the rest of the week receiving committee assignments, adopting House rules of procedures, attending training seminars, and addressing an election contest involving one district seat. We also got down to the people’s business—filing bills and resolutions on issues affecting the Commonwealth.

A few legislative leaders have said that public pension reform is likely this session.  Should a new pension bill be considered, it remains to be seen whether that legislation will be a new pension fix or will look similar to 2018 Senate Bill 151, passed into law in early 2018. SB 151, in short, would have changed retirement options for future public employees and teachers to help reduce the state’s estimated $40-plus billion in unfunded public pension liabilities. Many lawmakers have expected to revisit the pension issue since late last year when SB 151 was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court on largely procedural grounds.

Tax changes could also be considered in the days ahead. House proposals to exempt certain taxes placed on educational, charitable or religious nonprofit institutions and to increase the state income tax exclusion for pensions to $41,110 have been filed. It is uncertain whether or not more comprehensive tax reform will be taken up in the weeks ahead.

A House proposal to legalize medical marijuana made it into the official session record this week after a bipartisan group of State Representatives filed a bill that would legalize the use of state-regulated medicinal marijuana by qualified patients. A proposal to legalize the possession, use and purchase of state-regulated cannabis, or marijuana, has also been filed this session in the Senate—yet both of these bills face some obstacles.

The fact that medical marijuana is still outlawed at the federal level regardless of its legalization in some form in at least 33 states is a concern to some lawmakers. What’s more, a House resolution has been filed this session asking the federal government to set standards for “the safety and efficacy of the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.” It will be worth watching to see how much momentum the medical marijuana issue gains as this session moves along.

School safety is also on our minds as we start off 2019. Bills related to school safety have surfaced in both chambers, with legislation introduced this week in the House that would change current law to allow persons with a carry concealed deadly weapon (CCDW) license to carry concealed on the grounds of an elementary or secondary school or a college or university. The Senate, meanwhile, has made school safety its top priority this session by naming comprehensive school safety legislation as Senate Bill 1.  

This is just a sampling of the more than 200 bills filed so far this session. More legislation will be filed in coming days, with many bills and resolutions moving from committee on to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote in the weeks ahead. Legislative action is scheduled to resume the second week of February when we lawmakers return to the Capitol from our planned post-organizational break.   

You are invited to stay informed of legislative action on bills of interest to you this session by logging onto the Legislative Research Commission website at www.lrc.ky.gov or by calling the LRC toll-free Bill Status Line at 866-840-2835. To find out when a committee meeting is scheduled, you can call the LRC toll-free Meeting Information Line at 800-633-9650. If you would like to share your comments or concerns with me or another legislator about a particular bill under consideration this session, you can call the toll-free Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Kentucky House of Representatives and to work together to improve life both in our district and throughout Kentucky.

Daniel Elliott (R-Danville) represents the 54th District in the Kentucky House of Representatives, which includes Boyle and Casey counties.