Ky. Lawmakers Pass Last-Minute Surge Of Bills As 2019 Session Ends

Mar 28, 2019

On the final day of Kentucky’s legislative session, lawmakers passed major financial legislation dealing with pensions and taxes, and a host of other measures like a statewide ban on tobacco in schools and a requirement that workplaces accommodate pregnant employees.

The Republican-led legislature also overrode the two bills that Gov. Matt Bevin had vetoed earlier this week.

Bevin still has the opportunity strike down any of the legislation that passed on the last day, but lawmakers will not be able to override any more of his vetoes.

The legislature is now finished passing bills for the year, unless the governor calls lawmakers back to Frankfort for a special session, which he says he won’t do.

Next year, the legislature will return to pass a new two-year state budget and tax plan.

Here’s a rundown of what happened on the last day.

Regional University, Quasi Agency Pension Exit

Instead of paying massive increases into the pension systems starting this July, Kentucky’s regional state universities and state agencies like local health departments, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters will be allowed to exit the system and pay the state a discounted rate of their share of the state’s pension debt.

If agencies elect to exit the pension system, the bill would reduce the retirement benefits of their employees hired in the last five years. It would also allow the state to suspend benefits of retirees if the agency they worked for is 30 days late on its payment to the state.

Because agencies will be allowed to exit the system and pay a fraction of their share of the state’s pension debt, the legislation will further hurt solvency of the pension fund for most of Kentucky’s state workers, which is only 13 percent funded.

Kentucky is struggling with a $37 billion pension debt and the state is already expected to be short about $22 million of initial projections when the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Tax ‘Cleanup’/ More Tax Breaks

Lawmakers passed a bill that allows multi-state and multi-national companies to not pay taxes on more of their income. The bill tweaks the “combined reporting” corporate tax policy that passed the legislature last year, which was supposed to prevent multi-state companies from shifting income to states with lower taxes.

Lawmakers estimate the total cost to be about $3.5 million per year, adding on to the $106 million in tax breaks that passed into law earlier this session.

Vetoes

The Republican-led legislature again voted to override Bevin’s vetoes, the third year in a row they have done so.

Bevin attempted to strike down a bill that gives the legislature more power over how the governor’s administration interprets laws they pass and issue line-item vetoes that would have deleted parts of a budget bill dealing with how area development districts spend money and how universities handle property.

The legislature easily overrode both of Bevin’s actions.

Pregnant Workers’ Rights

Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 18, requiring employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers like more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth and temporary transfer to less strenuous duties.

ACLU of Kentucky Advocacy Director Kate Miller called the bill’s passage a “great victory.”

“Senate Bill 18 provides much-needed clarity for employers and reasonable protections for pregnant workers to prevent problems before they start,” Miller said in a statement.

Smoke-Free Schools

Lawmakers passed House Bill 11, banning students, employees and volunteers from using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, on school property or during school events.

The measure allows local school districts to opt-out of the measure.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, applauded the passage of the bill.

“Tobacco conversations in Kentucky are complex and bring lots of pressures on our elected leaders, and that is why House Bill 11 is such a profound win for Kentucky’s kids,” Brooks said.

“Every Kentucky student deserves to grow and learn in a healthy school environment, and our state leaders affirmed that value by supporting passage of this important legislation.”

Reporter Access To House Floor Restricted

Republican staff of the Kentucky House of Representatives imposed a new rule for the last day of the legislative session — only reporters from the Associated Press, Louisville Courier Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader Frankfort State-Journal and Paducah Sun were allowed to sit in desks reserved for reporters on the House Floor.

Staff said that the rule was imposed to prevent congestion on the House Floor.

Door keepers were instructed to turn away reporters who didn’t work for the five outlets.

Jon Fleischaker, an attorney specializing in media law, said that staff isn’t allowed to “pick and choose” who occupies the desks.

“If they are making that choice because of particular things that you all published or WDRB published, there are I think some serious constitutional problems,” Fleischaker said. “They are violating your First Amendment rights and punishing you for something constitutionally protected – that is, your right to write about the legislature and legislators.