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Higdon: A review of the 2018 General Assembly’s accomplisments

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 — Overriding gubernatorial vetoes of the Commonwealth’s state budget and revenue plans, the Kentucky General Assembly completed its 60-day Legislative Session Saturday, April 14. Several new laws were passed that we believe will have a positive impact on Kentucky for years to come. Most new laws – those that come from legislation that does not contain emergency clauses or different specified effective dates – will go into effect in mid-July.

Some of the more notable bills that passed:

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

House Bill (HB) 200, known as the state’s budget plan, will guide state spending for the next two fiscal years. The plan fully funds the state’s main public pension systems at the levels recommended by actuarial analysis. Agencies that will avoid budget cuts include the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Kentucky State Police, and local school-based Kentucky Family Resource and Youth Services Centers. The budget plan will boost base per-pupil funding for K-12 education to $4,000 per student in each fiscal year.

We also passed tax reform via the state’s revenue bill, HB 366. The plan includes a cigarette tax increase of 50 cents per pack and an expansion of the state sales tax to some services, such as landscaping, janitorial, laundry, and small-animal veterinary services. It will also create a flat 5 percent tax for personal and corporate income taxes in Kentucky. The inventory tax would also be phased out over a four-year period. Under the plan, the only itemized deductions allowed would be for Social Security income, mortgage income, and charitable giving. It would also remove the $10 state personal income tax credit.

The revenue package, contained in HB 366, will generate about $400 million in new revenue according to a nonpartisan report. House Bill 366 will move Kentucky from the 29th most competitive state for individual income tax rates to 17th most competitive state. For the corporate rate, Kentucky would go from 27th to 22nd in competitiveness. It does this by, among other things, shifting Kentucky toward a consumption-based taxation system that lessens the burden of individuals’ income taxes.

Senate Bill (SB) 151 will make changes aimed at stabilizing public pension systems that face more than $40 billion in unfunded liabilities. Changes proposed by the pension reform legislation include placing future teachers in a hybrid “cash balance” plan rather than a traditional benefits plan and limiting the impact of accrued sick leave on retirement benefit calculations.

According to Brent McKim of the Jefferson County Teacher’s Association (JCTA), “Our own study, commissioned by the Kentucky Public Pension Coalition and the Kentucky Retired Teachers Association, indicates that if TRS averages anything close to the system’s projected 7.5% rate of return for the next 30 years, the Cash Balance retirement benefit would be better than our current Defined Benefit pension benefit for a 30-year employee.” We in the Senate believe this update, SB 151, to the pension system for new teachers will give them equitable, if not better, benefits than our current teachers have, and JCTA is in agreement.

We also passed the state’s road plan. House Bill 202 will authorize over $2.4 billion for bridges, repaving, and other highway needs throughout Kentucky over the next two fiscal years.

House Bill 1 reforms the state’s foster care and adoption system to ensure that a child’s time in foster care is limited and that children are returned to family whenever possible. It would expand the definition of blood relative for child placement and ensure that children in foster care are reunited with family or placed in another permanent home in a timely manner.

Senate Bill 5 is aimed at ensuring that independent pharmacists are fairly reimbursed for filling prescriptions of Medicaid recipients. This measure will place the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services in charge of setting the reimbursement rates for a pharmacist. The rate is currently set by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) hired by the state’s Medicaid managed-care organizations.

Senate Bill 6 will require a pharmacist to provide information about the safe disposal of certain prescription medicines, such as opiates and amphetamines.

House Bill 454 will prohibit a certain type of abortion procedure, known as a D & E, if a woman is more than 11 weeks pregnant. The legislation does not ban other types of abortion procedures; this particular procedure was targeted because of the inhumane dismemberment that takes place.

House Bill 33 will require drivers to keep vehicles at least three feet away from bicyclists during an attempt to pass. If that much space isn’t available, the driver must use “reasonable caution” when passing cyclists.

House Bill 136 will increase what breweries can sell onsite to three cases and two kegs per customer. Another provision will allow breweries to sell one case per customer at fairs and festivals in wet jurisdictions.

House Bill 187 will require the state Department of Education to make a “dyslexia toolkit” available to school districts to help them identify and instruct students who display characteristics of dyslexia, while House Bill 132 will require Kentucky high school students to pass a financial literacy course before graduating.

House Bill 169 will establish penalties for criminal gang-related crimes, especially those involving gang recruitment. The legislation will make gang recruitment a felony instead of misdemeanor for adults and make minors involved in such activity face felony charges in certain cases.

House Bill 84 will require coroners or medical examiners to release identifying and other relevant information about a deceased person to Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates if the person’s wish to be an organ donor is known and the body is suitable for medical transplant or therapy.

Senate Bill 160 will clarify laws aimed at preventing price gouging during emergencies. The bill specifies that fines could be imposed if a retailer suddenly increases the price of goods more than 10 percent when the governor declares a state of emergency.

House Bill 71 will increase penalties for posting sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted, also known as “revenge porn.” The crime would be misdemeanor for the first offence and felony for subsequent offences. Penalties would be even more severe if the images were posted for profit.

Senate Bill 71 will require the inclusion of abstinence education in any human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases curriculum in Kentucky high schools.

Senate Bill 48, outlawing child marriage, will prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from getting married. It would also require a district judge to approve the marriage of any 17-year-old. While current law states 16- and 17-year-olds can be married with parental consent, a district judge can approve the marriage of a child below the age of 16 if the girl is pregnant.

Although the 2018 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly has come to an end, our work does not. Interim joint committees will begin meeting in June and discussing various policy topics that affect our Commonwealth, and I look forward to continuing those conversations in these upcoming months.

It is an honor to represent you and our district in Frankfort, and I thank you for engaging in the legislative process. If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181, on my home phone at 270-692-6945, or email me at Jimmy.Higdon@LRC.ky.gov. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.

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