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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kentucky General Assembly Avoids Certain Annual "Special" Session, Passes Pension, Hemp, And Other Bills, Overrides Governor's Veto.

Pension, hemp bills are OK'd

Legislators came to agreements on several contentious issues Tuesday night in the final hours of the General Assembly session.
The House of Representatives and the Senate passed a compromise of two bills addressing the state’s ailing pension system, which currently has a $33 billion unfunded liability, approved legislation to set up a framework for growing industrial hemp in the state and voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill dealing with religious freedom.

Pension reform legislation would provide nearly $100 million annually to go toward the state’s actuarial required contribution to pension systems through changes to the state tax code and other sources. It also sets up a 401(k)-like retirement plan for new employees.
Dealing with the pension issue now puts the legislature “two steps ahead,” when going into the 2014 legislative session, where they will have to approve a new biennial budget, according to Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg.
The legislation will be a benefit for people within the system and have a lasting impact on state, county and municipal budgets, he said.

The pension deal was the most significant legislation passed during the session, said Givens, who added its passage caps a successful legislative session that indicates things are headed in the right direction.
“A lot of that credit goes to our new leadership and the work they’ve done on building relationships,” he said.
Republican senators were kept well informed of negotiations over funding of the actuarial required contribution to the pension systems, said Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
“Fully funding the ARC is the main thing to continue to move forward insustaining the current pension system,” he said.
The plan will help secure state pension plans at a time when public and private plans are struggling, said Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green.
The plan set up for new employees would guarantee 4 percent growth of money put into the system, he said.
“They’re getting a pretty good deal,” DeCesare said.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D- Scottsville, said he would have preferred a defined-benefit system like retirees have now for future employees, but that setting up the new 401(k)-like system was a compromise so all retirees know their pension plans are secure.
“That was the compromise it took to get the pension reform pieces put in place,” he said.
Stone said he learned details of plans to fund the state’s required pension contribution Monday. He would have liked to have had more time to review the more than 200-page bill laying out those details.
Still, negotiations about the pension reform plan were not any more hectic than those for many other pieces of legislation, he said

Legislators also voted Tuesday to override Gov. Steve Beshear’s veto of House Bill 279. The bill states that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion.”
Beshear vetoed the bill during a break in the legislative session, stating that it could potentially threaten public safety and individual civil rights, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
The bill restores the strict scrutiny once in place in the state when government wants to restrict a religiously motivated action, Wilson said.
That kind of scrutiny was eroded in a recent case where the Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring Amish individuals to use orange triangles on their horse-drawn buggies, even though it was against their religious beliefs, he said.

The new bill states that the government needs a “compelling interest” in order to infringe such beliefs, Wilson said.
DeCesare said it was a stretch to think that the bill will threaten civil rights.
“That bill is important to many, many people,” he said.
Stone, who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said he doesn’t think it opens the door for civil rights violations.
“I think people read a lot more into this sort of legislation maybe than is actually in there,” he said.

Under the industrial hemp bill passed Tuesday, the Industrial Hemp Commission is to oversee a research program that includes licensing select growers of industrial hemp. The process would require a background check from the Kentucky State Police and consent to allow KSP to conduct two inspections per year.
While Stone supported the hemp legislation, he said it’s important for farmers not to think that the option of growing hemp will be immediately available to them because federal regulations that prevent hemp cultivation are still in place.
“This discussion is not going to result in any crop being grown any time this year or maybe next year and who knows when,” he said.
If the state is able to get a federal waiver to grow hemp, it could allow Kentucky to grow a crop that no other state in the nation is growing – one which has many uses, DeCesare said.

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