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COLUMN: 110 bills introduced in first session day after break

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by Brad Montell | State Representative

After a three-week break, members of the General Assembly returned to Frankfort this week for part two of the 2013 Legislative Session. For the next five weeks the House and Senate will debate numerous proposals.
Lawmakers in the House alone hurried to introduce over 110 bills for consideration on Tuesday, our first day back in session after a scheduled three-week break. Down the hall in the Senate, around 80 bills were introduced that day. With Tuesday being the 5th day of this 30-day “short session,” it seems everyone wanted to make sure their proposal was filed as early as possible to give it the best chance for passage before the session’s end in late March.
On Wednesday the Governor delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint session of the House and Senate.  Typically the address focuses on the accomplishments made for the betterment of Kentucky, but this year’s address focused on the serious fiscal challenges our Commonwealth faces.  According to the Governor, the projected revenue won’t cover current and prior commitments, including areas of education and our public pension system.
While we in the General Assembly know there are financial problems in Kentucky, Gov. Beshear offered up few specifics toward reforming our public pension system or funding our educational system.  And, as far as comprehensive tax reform, it appears the Governor will push for a special session to address this issue. It is time to stop putting off the issues and topics that are vital to the future of Kentucky and our people.  The time for bold leadership is now, not six months or one year down the road.
Also this week, several major pieces of legislation were placed on the fast track.  House Bill 7 was approved in committee and passed out of the House this week. This legislation authorizes funding for 11 projects at our public universities, including the expansion of the Gatton School of Business at the University of Kentucky, and construction of new dorms or renovation of existing dorms at Morehead State University, Murray State University, and Northern Kentucky University. The legislation would allow these schools to issue their own bonds to pay for their respective projects, with the cost covered by the universities.
In addition, House Bill 1 was also approved in committee and given passage in the House.  House Bill 1 deals with the various special taxing districts that generate billions of dollars throughout the Commonwealth, and sets up greater oversight on their operation.  While the bill did pass and creates more transparency, I have concerns about a fee system set up specifically to hire more employees at the Auditor’s Office for the purpose of monitoring these districts.
On redistricting of state legislative seats, a holdover from last year’s regular session and one of the most contentious issues a legislature faces, Speaker Stumbo has said his chamber will try to have a plan ready sometime this session. Another possibility this session is that the House and Senate may “tweak” the so-called “pill mill bill”, known formally as HB 1, which was passed and signed into law last April.
We also anticipate beginning debate soon on a proposal for reform of Kentucky’s public pension system.  Senate Bill 2 was approved by that chamber this past week, and is based on recommendations by a bi-partisan task force that studied our public pension system this past year.  Our current pension system is woefully underfunded and is running an unfunded liability of more than $33 billion, and we must address the system now to avoid worse financial problems later.
I welcome your comments and concerns for the upcoming 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 brad.montell @lrc.ky.gov. You can keep track of legislation for the 2013 session through the Kentucky Legislature Home Page at www.lrc.ky.gov.