Legislative Column: State Budget, Family Farmers, Church Protection, Marriage License Phrasing, Burning Flags
by State Representative Michael Lee Meredith
It was in 2014 when Kentucky lawmakers put together the last two-year state budget. More than three months were spent poring over budget forecasts, combing through state agency budget requests, and reaching agreement on a statewide spending package of around $20 billion.
Now it is 2016, and lawmakers are back in regular session in Frankfort working on a new $20-$21 billion budget to carry us through the next two years. Creating a state budget is never easy, and it won’t be easy this session as public pensions, education, corrections, Medicaid and more all vie for limited state dollars—with special emphasis on public pensions for state employees and teachers.
This is not the first time we lawmakers have been called to act on public pensions. In 2013, the House and Senate passed legislation designed to reduce the growing unfunded liability of the Kentucky Employees Retirement System non-hazardous plan (KERS). While pension issues are not new to those of us in the Kentucky General Assembly, the amount being requested by KERS and the separate Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS) will be a challenge—over $1 billion will likely be needed to beef up the systems over the next two years, according to 2015 committee testimony from KERS and KTRS officials. The funding is needed to reduce unfunded liabilities (retirement benefits that have been earned but are not adequately funded) of over $25 billion based on recent figures.
Governor Matt Bevin has said he plans to address the pension crisis this session by proposing changes for new hires, and we lawmakers are eager to see his proposal. We expect it will be revealed by Jan. 26 when the Governor presents his combined State of the Commonwealth Budget Address to the General Assembly in joint session. We intend to explore all options available to make required contributions and any additional contributions to the public pension systems after we receive the Governor’s proposal.
Though the pension system and the two year budget will take up most of the time during this session, over 200 other bills have been filed. This week I filed several bills that are priorities for me as the session continues. As a member of the Agriculture and Small Business Committee I have worked over the last several years to find ways to help our family farmers make their businesses more profitable. This week, I filed House Bill 192 which would exempt pharmaceuticals used in the productions of livestock from the state sales tax. House Bill 193, which I also filed this week would exempt supplies used by beekeepers for a commericial enterprise from the sales tax.
House Bill 209 is a repeat of legislation I filed last year to protect our small churches from fines that have been issued to them for not carrying workers compensation insurance on their pastors. Several of our congregations in the district were fined because officials in enforcement with state government did not understand that these pastors are not employed by the church and do not receive regular salaries. The bill got caught up in some of the politics of last year’s session but we are hopeful to resolve the issue this session.
This week I also filed House Bill 211 which would require the Department of Libraries and Archives to offer two alternative marriage license forms. When the United States Supreme Court issued their ruling, Governor Beshear directed the department to issue new forms that denote the parties to the marriage as spouses. HB 211 would make the department also offer a form that refers to the couple as bride and groom or husband and wife like the traditional forms that had been in use before Governor Beshear’s order. Many County Clerks still had the old style forms and were using them but have been told that when they run out they will no longer be available.
In the previous year we have also seen a huge problem with disgruntled people buring and desecrating our American flag. Some have gone as far as filing criminal charges against citizens who stepped in to rescue a flag being desecrated. House Bill 212 would allow citizens to use reasonable efforts to extinguish a burning flag.
We definitely have lots of work ahead of us. It’s a good thing we still have 56 legislative days left to figure it all out!
I welcome your comments and concerns on any issues impacting our Commonwealth during the 2014 Regular Session. I can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or you can contact me via e-mail at Michael.Meredith@lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of committee meetings and potential legislation through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.