The 2013 legislative session is less than a month away.
As in any odd-numbered year, we will be meeting for 30 working days. In the first week, we will elect leaders in both chambers and assign lawmakers to various committees that align with their expertise and interests and the needs of their districts. Then we’ll settle in for a winter of work.
Typically the longer 60-day sessions in even-numbered years are known for their focus on finances. That’s when we determine the state’s biennial budget. However, this year’s session will have its fair share of finance-related bills on its own.
One of the biggest might be tax reform. The National Tax Foundation has ranked both Kentucky’s business tax climate and its growth rate for new jobs as the 19th best in the country. We know we can do better. We can’t settle for having 18 states more attractive than us. That’s thousands of jobs we don’t get.
Our tax system has remained mostly unchanged since the 1950s despite vast changes in the fundamentals of our economy -- and our revenue needs – in that half century-plus. Folks have called for updates to our tax code for years, but the inevitable complexities have prevented anything but nibbling around the edges.
The governor appointed a Blue Ribbon Tax Commission earlier this year made up of 23 experts in both taxes and governance, to study our current system and suggest possible reforms. While it is much too early to predict how the tax system might change -- or even if it will -- it’s a safe bet talk of tax reform will generate some headlines (and some heat) in Frankfort next year.
Another financial issue we’re dealing with now is funding for Kentucky’s public pension systems. Some estimates say we face a more than $30 billion dollar unfunded liability in our state employee retirement systems.
It’s a serious problem that needs a solid solution. I updated you a few weeks ago on the work of the Public Pension Task Force. We’ll most likely be considering the final recommendations of the group during the session.
Another issue we’ve been tracking through the interim is Kentucky’s prescription drug-abuse problem. You may recall some of my previous columns updating you on the work of the oversight committee tracking implementation of the measure passed this year to curb prescription drug abuse.
The measure that gained final approval in April imposed regulations on pain management clinics and beefed up KASPER – the controlled-substances monitoring system currently in place, which tracks usage patterns for all ‘scheduled’ drugs. In some ways we see that it is working. According to reliable media reports, some questionable clinics are shutting their doors.
But there may still be room for improvement with this bill. In fact, there have been complaints that law-abiding patients in clear pain with clear medical need, dealing with long-established, reputable clinicians, are finding it hard – or at least very inconvenient -- to get the medicine they need to get through the day. That was never our intent. We are working with professionals now to get feedback and could likely discuss tweaks in the coming months.
One huge issue issue left unresolved in the 2012 session was legislative redistricting. We’re required to re-draw district lines every 10 years based on the latest census data. This ensures districts remain balanced in population.
The plan we agreed upon earlier this year was challenged in court and struck down. Their main objection was that too many counties were split in the process of drawing equal-population districts. We still have to draw new legislative district lines. And if it doesn’t happen during the 2013 session, it most definitely will have to happen soon.
No preview of a legislative session in recent history would be complete without mentioning what is quite possibly the most widely talked-about perennial issue in Kentucky: Expanded gambling.
Touted by supporters as a way to increase state revenues and help our ailing economy, but criticized by opponents as a sure means of draining the state morally and socially, expanded gambling, including full-blown casinos, has been at least talked about in every legislative session in recent years. As always, it’ll be an issue to watch.
This is just a sampling of some of the major issues likely to be discussed during the 2013 legislative session. There will most certainly be plenty of other topics considered before the final gavel falls in March.
If you would like to share your thoughts or concerns with me during the session, you may call the legislative message line at 800-372-7181. Or, you can reach me anytime at 270-692-6945.