Amid record low temperatures, work in Frankfort resumed this week to pass a two-year budget plan, address the pension crisis, and introduce legislation aimed at continuing Kentucky’s ascent as a leader in business. The Governor announced a record year of business investment in the state. These investments were made possible due to the passage of priority legislation last year finally improving Kentucky’s stagnant business climate. The Kentucky Senate majority is motivated to continue its great work this year with a number of bills that will enact sound fiscal policy and allow businesses to come to Kentucky and bring more jobs and more opportunities for our citizens.
Pension reform remains a major priority for all of us lawmakers. Along with passing a two-year budget and two-year road fund, pension reform must occur in order to put Kentucky’s poorly funded pension systems on the right path to solvency. We have listened to feedback from our constituents and believe we are close to having a better draft of a pension reform bill to release to the public.
On the very first day of session we were pleased to welcome the 100th Army Band from Fort Knox to kick things off with the playing of the National Anthem and My Old Kentucky Home. We also had some procedural measures to officially swear in my good friend, Senator Jimmy Higdon (R-Lebanon), as the new Senate President Pro Tempore.
The Senate majority has several priority bills that we would like to see passed this session. Three of those bills are constitutional amendments: Senate Bill (SB) 2, would allow the General Assembly to establish thresholds on jury-awarded non-economic damages. There is no current limit on these claims in the state and an entire parasitic industry has sprung up to syphon money away from businesses and employers and into the pockets of greedy, out-of-state lawyers. Ultimately, employees and consumers bear the burden of that cost. As the primary sponsor of this bill, I plan to work tirelessly toward its passage; Senate Bill 3, known as Marsy’s Law, outlines a crime victim’s “bill of rights” that ensures equal representation in the judicial system; and Senate Bill 4 would move statewide constitutional office elections to even-numbered years to increase voter participation and save taxpayer dollars. Finally, Senate Bill 5 will help independent pharmacists remain competitive by regulating pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). I am either a primary or cosponsor of all of these important pieces of legislation.
We will also likely examine legislation to increase the cigarette tax as a revenue-raising measure as well as a way to discourage unhealthy habits among Kentuckians, who continue to lead the nation in cancer and smoking rates. Furthermore, with SB 51, I continue to advocate for tobacco-free schools. In addition to the constitutional amendment on healthcare reform and the tobacco-free schools bill, I also filed bills extending scholarship tax credits so that families can have greater choice in the education of their children, medical tax credits to grow and attract more physicians to the healthcare field, and a bill to strengthen the accountability of physicians through their peer review process. However, our main focus and priority will continue to be passing a fiscally responsible budget and pension reform.