First off, I am very happy to tell you the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, last week, moved an important piece of legislation one step closer to passage with its approval of SB 46. This week, it was unanimously passed by the full Senate. As the primary sponsor of SB 46, I am proud of the potential to create more than 500 direct and indirect jobs in eastern Kentucky by setting up a framework to allow companies to locate in eastern Kentucky to produce biomass fuel using waste wood product. With a projected economic impact of more than $300 million during the initial 20 years, this will make a tremendous difference to our district giving the deserving folks in our community an opportunity to get back to work!
I was thrilled to meet with many constituents from home last week, including Marty Millins, who came from Hazard to Frankfort representing physician’s assistants. Danny Jones, from Cumberland River Comprehensive Care Center, updated me on the wonderful services they provide Bell and Harlan counties, among others. Jamie Cody from LKLP Compassionate Hearts Adult Day Care stopped by to touch base about the issues affecting the providers and those serviced by adult day cares. I also had the great honor of speaking before the Kentucky Association of Coal Counties, an extremely knowledgeable group that included many of our county judge-executives; including Judge Joe Grishop, of Harlan County, and Judge Albey Brock, of Bell County. I appreciate their commitment to our region and really value their input.
On the floor last week, Senate Bill 2, which mirrors the recommendations of the bipartisan task force of Senate and House members that met throughout the summer and fall, was passed by a bipartisan 33 – 5 vote. The bill would protect state employees’ retirement by requiring the full funding of the actuarially required contribution to the retirement system by 2015. In addition, it would create a hybrid cash-balance plan for new employees with a guarantee of a 4 percent return on contributions. It is important to note, this bill does not make any changes to the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System, nor does it change benefits to any current employees. While it does temporarily suspend the cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, this could be reinstated in future budgets if the system’s finances improve. This is a sensitive subject, what could be more sensitive than people’s hard earned livings? But the reality of our current economic state meant we could not put this off any longer. Tough decisions had to be made and although no piece of legislation is perfect, I feel confident that this was the best step toward protecting our current employees and guaranteeing a safe structure for future employees.
Continuing in our Caucus’ tradition of protecting the sanctity of life, Senate Bills 4 and 5, both pro-life measures, were also passed last week. Senate Bill 4 would require a doctor to meet face-to-face with a woman who is considering an abortion to provide her with information directly, rather than through a recorded phone message. Senate Bill 5 would direct the medical provider to offer a woman, prior to an abortion, the ultrasound image of her baby. It was fitting these bills were passed this week, as a large crowd gathered in the Capitol for the annual Right to Life Day rally.
On Wednesday evening we heard from the governor as he gave his State of the Commonwealth Address. I agree with him that it is our responsibility to make sure we solve problems to move the state forward. It is my hope that we continue to put partisan politics aside to find the best solutions for the deserving people in our Commonwealth.
With only a limited amount of time in this “short” session, we will continue to stay busy as committees begin to hear more legislation and bills move through the committee, floor, and chamber process. As always, I welcome your comments and concerns about the issues. During the session, you may contact me by calling toll-free at 800-372-7181.