News Archives - 2013
Senator Damon Thayer Named One of Most Influential in U.S. Pension Reform
FRANKFORT – Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) has been named one of the 40 most influential people in the debate to decide the future of U.S. Pensions, by Institutional Investor Magazine. Sen. Thayer makes the list at number 23.
According to the publication, “The Pension 40 covers not only public pensions but corporate and multiemployer plans. After more than six months of research and reporting, we identified the people who are doing the most to tackle the pension problem, including reformers with new ideas.”
In 2013, Sen. Thayer sponsored Senate Bill 2 which overhauled the Kentucky pension system based on recommendations by the Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions. Advisors to the task force are also represented in the Pension 40 including John and Laura Arnold, third on the list, who work to solve public pension issues throughout the U.S., and the Pew Charitable Trust’s Susan Urahn, is ranked 22nd. Other prominent policy makers listed are Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, and U.S. Representative David (Phil) Roe.
Sen. Thayer’s Senate Bill 2, which was signed into law April 4, overhauls the State’s pension funding and provides safeguards for employees. The law provides the guarantee of at least 4% return of the money put in by employees. Further, any benefits accrued can be transferred if employees change careers. This hybrid cash-balance plan provides future state employees with a secure retirement income, and provides taxpayers with predictable costs that can be met without raising taxes. With the passage of Senate Bill 2, taxpayers will save $10 billion over the next 20 years.
“It is an honor to make the Pension 40 list,” said Thayer, the Senate Majority Floor Leader. “The credit, however, belongs to the members of the Senate Republican Majority, which as a group has long advocated for pension reform. I was fortunate to sponsor the bill, and pleased that it passed with bipartisan support.”
The full article can be viewed at http://www.institutionalinvestor.com/Article/3277088/The-2013-Pension-40.html
Sen. Damon Thayer Named KLC Big Hitter
FRANKFORT - State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) was honored with the 2013 Big Hitter Award by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) for “stepping up to the plate” during the 2013 legislative session and achieving passage of legislation that will have a significant impact for cities.
"Senator Thayer has led the way on pension reform for many years," said Susan Barto, KLC president and mayor of Lyndon. "By sponsoring and securing passage of Senate Bill 2 in the 2013 session, Sen. Thayer helped cities address the most pressing fiscal issue that cities have faced in the last several generations."
The Kentucky League of Cities voted pension reform as its highest priority issue for the 2013 legislative session, as it had been for the previous five years. With the passage of Senate Bill 2, cities and taxpayers will save $10 billion over the next 20 years.
“I am honored to receive the Kentucky League of Cities’ Big Hitter award,” said Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown). “I will continue to work with KLC leaders, as well as city leaders in my district, on issues benefitting citizens of our Commonwealth, like pension reform and more transparency of special taxing districts.”
Thayer was recognized during Kentucky League of Cities 2013 Conference and Expo in Covington, Kentucky, with more than 600 city officials, staff, and guests in attendance.
FRANKFORT – State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) recently received the inaugural 2013 Legislative Champions award from Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky (PCAK). Thayer was recognized by the non-profit organization for championing legislation during the 2013 Kentucky General Assembly that established the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel.
“HB290 passed during the 2013 General Assembly because our elected officials knew the importance of establishing a Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel. As Senate Majority Floor Leader, Senator Thayer’s support of this bill was crucial in moving it forward. We all “Commit to Prevent” in different ways, and we appreciate Senator Thayer’s support of the important work of child abuse prevention,” said Jill Seyfred, Executive Director, Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky.
Thayer was recognized during PCAK’s recent 17th Annual Kids Are Worth It! Conference in Lexington where more than 600 child advocates attended sessions to learn more about preventing child abuse and neglect.
“I am honored to receive this recognition from such a worthwhile organization as Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky,” said Thayer. “Working to improve the lives of children is one of the most rewarding causes all of us can be involved in and it’s certainly one of my priorities.”
FRANKFORT - State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) recently received the 2013 Distinguished Legislator Award from the Kentucky County Attorneys Association.
“Kentucky's county prosecutors are proud to recognize Senator Thayer's leadership in the General Assembly and his commitment toward public safety for the citizens of our Commonwealth,” said Bob Neace, KCAA President and Boone County Attorney.
Bill Patrick, KCAA Executive Director, echoed Neace on Thayer’s service: "Our county attorneys work hard every day in our communities to help keep our highways and neighborhoods safe and we can always count on the Senator to support laws and programs that better enable them to do their jobs. He serves for the right reasons and we are pleased to honor his service.”
Kentucky has 120 county attorneys, one for each state. The Kentucky County Attorneys Association promotes cooperation among the state’s county attorneys to ensure strong and effective prosecution in Kentucky’s justice system. In addition, the association helps county attorneys provide sound counsel to all county agencies and organizations they serve.
“I am honored to receive this recognition for the work I do on behalf of the citizens of the 17th District,” said Thayer. “The 120 county prosecutors do such a great job on the front lines every day ensuring the safety of our communities.”
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report 8-23-13
FRANKFORT – This week in Frankfort, the General Assembly passed legislation that drew new district lines. In doing so, the General Assembly fulfilled the requirement of “one person, one vote,” as required by the U.S. Constitution after each U.S. Census.
While it’s never easy to draw new districts, the Senate plan had input from both the majority and minority caucus (Republican and Democratic). Each district was treated fairly, with no incumbent having to run against the other, no precinct split, and as few counties (three) as possible divided. Due to population changes, the 17th district is now comprised of Grant and Scott Counties, as well as southern Kenton County. I no longer represent Owen County.
While I believe the Senate passed a fair plan, I cannot say the same of the House plan. According to a long-standing tradition, each chamber draws its own district lines, with an unwritten agreement to approve each other’s plan. Although the Senate passed the House plan, it was with concern that several House districts, especially in Scott County, where there will now be three representatives, as well as districts in Northern Kentucky, were not based on mathematical criteria, but rather politics as usual in the House of Representatives.
Keep in mind, the federal court still has to rule on the constitutionality of both the Senate and the House maps, but the Senate is confident its map will pass constitutional scrutiny.
Although redistricting was the priority issue this week, the time was also used to convene the Interim Joint Committee meetings for the month of August in order to offset the cost of the Special Session. It is always important we use taxpayers’ dollars wisely. Some of the issues presented to the interim joint committees include testimony on the various uses of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, including the development of weather tracking drones through the University of Kentucky NASA Kentucky Space Grant and EPSCoR Programs that may one day allow scientists to know sooner when a tornado or earthquake will strike. Additionally, we heard testimony on the impact of Kentucky’s oil and gas industry on the state’s economy.
Moving into fall, the interim committee meetings will return to their regular monthly schedule. As always, please contact me with any issues or concerns you may have at 1-800-372-7181 or via e-mail at [email protected]. You can follow the legislative proceedings at www.lrc.ky.gov.
“Governor Beshear should suspend any expansion of Medicaid and the operation of a health care exchange in light of the Obama Administration’s announcement delaying implementation of portions of the Affordable Care Act.
Kentucky already knows Obamacare is too complicated to work after we experienced the disaster of the so-called health care reforms of the 1990’s. There is much confusion over the future of Obamacare and the only prudent action for Kentucky is to wait, rather than blindly forcing an unproven nationalized health care system onto the Commonwealth that costs too much and just won’t work.”
--Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer(R-Georgetown)
Senator Damon Thayer on Independence Day
FRANKFORT – Independence Day is our country’s most patriotic of holidays, chock-full of flags, fireworks and family festivities. It is a day when we Americans proudly wear red, white and blue as an expression of our devotion for the greatest country in the world.
While many of us will display outward symbols of the holiday and feel a renewed sense of what it means to be American, without doubt we should give thought to those earliest patriots who risked their lives and livelihoods to adopt the very document that is at the heart of why we celebrate today – the Declaration of Independence.
In July 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail that stated the signing of that historic document would “…be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Today, more than just a commemoration of our country’s successful break from Great Britain, our Independence Day celebrations have expanded to honor our nation’s history, our military, and our way of life. As pops orchestras across the country entertain us with traditional favorites like “The Star Spangled Banner” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as a backdrop to the visual excitement of grand fireworks’ displays, we all take pride in our American heritage.
Although Independence Day festivities have evolved since 1776, one thing remains the same – American patriotism is the spirit that drives this uniquely American holiday and continues to keep our nation strong and free.
FRANKFORT – State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) was recently awarded the 2nd Annual Chamber MVP Award from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Sen. Thayer was selected, along with 11 other legislators, for his strong support of the business community.
“This legislative session was perhaps one of the most successful I’ve seen in years, and that was due in no small part to this group of legislators,” said Dave Adkisson, Kentucky Chamber president and CEO.
Thayer, as the sponsor of Senate Bill 2, championed comprehensive legislation to overhaul the public employee retirement system, a priority of the Kentucky Chamber since 2007. With the bill’s passage, taxpayers will save $10 billion over the next 20 years and businesses have the long-term predictability they need to create jobs and make other investments in Kentucky.
“A healthy business community is vital to our state’s economy,” said Sen. Thayer, who serves as the Senate Majority Floor Leader. “It is critical that we in the General Assembly do what we can to promote a strong business community that will in turn create jobs.”
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report 3-29-2013
FRANKFORT – After finishing my first legislative session as majority floor leader, I am proud to look back at the significant accomplishments of the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly. Most importantly, we successfully established a new spirit of bipartisan collaboration which allowed us to move the state forward in a meaningful fashion on substantive issues such as comprehensive public employee pension system reform, university bonding, a regulatory framework for hemp production, and added transparency for special taxing districts.
Without doubt, the single greatest achievement of this session was reform of the financially troubled public employee pension system. Since the Senate had introduced legislation to preserve and protect state and local employees’ retirement over the last eight sessions, it was with a renewed sense of urgency that a resolution be achieved on this looming crisis. I commend Governor Beshear for his leadership as he worked diligently with both chambers to find compromise on Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 440, measures that reflect the recommendations of the bipartisan task force that met this past year and that establish a funding mechanism to fully pay the actuarially required contribution. The bipartisan funding solution does not rely on any new taxes or any lottery revenue. These two bills will ensure Kentucky’s public employees’ retirement is protected, while saving taxpayers an estimated $10 billion over the next 20 years.
Senate Bill 2 will not affect current and retired employees, nor will it affect teachers’ retirement. It will create a hybrid cash balance plan for all new state employees, local government employees, legislators and judges who enter the system after January 1, 2014. It is not a 401K plan. The plan will be managed by the Kentucky Retirement System (KRS) as it is today, with a four percent contribution by the state and a five percent contribution by the employee. The employee is guaranteed a four percent minimum return on investment. The employee will be fully vested with contributions and returns after five years, so the benefits accrued can be taken if they switch jobs. In addition, it will require pre-funding of any future cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. Without this reform, the pension system was projected to be bankrupt in four years. Now, the extra dollars needed to pay for pension benefits are available for other worthy purposes like education and healthcare.
The General Assembly also provided a boost to economic development efforts by positioning Kentucky for hemp production. Senate Bill 50 would establish a framework for industrial hemp farming if the federal government legalizes its growth. Senator Rand Paul, Congressman Thomas Massie and Congressman John Yarmuth agreed to seek a waiver of the federal ban on hemp production as soon as the regulatory framework is established. Since Kentucky’s climate is ideal for hemp, the crop is an alternative for tobacco farmers, with the economic benefit of jobs from the production of goods made from hemp, including cars, clothes and cosmetics.
The General Assembly adopted House Bill 7, an important bill authorizing six of the state’s eight public universities to bond $363 million for 11 building projects. These include renovation and expansion of Albright Health Center at Northern Kentucky University, a new science building at the University of Kentucky, and an Honors College and International Center at Western Kentucky University, among others. The measure requires the bond indebtedness be paid by the universities, not state tax dollars, and precludes the use of tuition increases as a means of paying the debt. This legislation will help the universities with much needed classroom and housing improvements while creating more than 5,000 construction jobs.
Special taxing districts became the focus of the 2013 Session as the Senate and House worked together to pass legislation that would provide for more accountability and transparency to the general public. More than 1,200 such districts spend in excess of $2.1 billion of public money each year. House Bill 1 requires these districts to publish their financial statements online and conduct regular audits. In addition, the special taxing districts would be required to submit a budget report to their local fiscal court and hold a public hearing before imposing a new fee or increasing the rate of an existing tax. The measure enhances the degree of accountability that should always accompany the power to tax.
In addition to these major issues, the General Assembly also passed initiatives to strengthen Kentucky’s educational opportunities for high achieving, as well as at-risk students; to help the state’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, from human traffickers; to enhance Kentuckians’ Constitutional rights to bear arms; and to protect religious freedom, among other issues. Overall, the General Assembly passed legislation that will protect and improve the quality of life of every Kentuckian.
Unless called to a special session by the Governor, the General Assembly will convene for the 60-day session in January 2014 to begin work on a new budget. Between now and then, the interim joint committees will meet to hear new issues and review past ones. In addition, I will be meeting with constituents and look forward to hearing your thoughts and concerns. Please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report 03-15-2013
FRANKFORT – The General Assembly is now recessed for a ten-day veto period. During this time, the Senate is ready and open to more discussion and negotiation with the House on the top unresolved issue that is critical to moving the Commonwealth forward - public pension reform.
The Senate remains hopeful the public pension reform bill, Senate Bill 2, based on recommendations that were agreed to last fall by a task force of both houses and both parties, as well as outside expertise, can be passed before the end of session. This crisis affects not only the solvency of the public pension system, but could affect taxpayers, as well as worthy statewide services and programs if it is not addressed. By moving new employees into a hybrid cash-balance plan, current and future employees can be confident their benefits will be available for them. Under the proposed measure, current employees, as well as retirees, are not affected. Nor are teachers, since they are in a separate system. In addition, the cost-of-living adjustment for retirees could be reinstated in future years when the system is sound. The Senate maintains the full funding of the actuarial required contribution, which would include an additional $122 million per year from the General Fund over a two-year period beginning in 2015, should be addressed next year in the context of the full budget process.
On Tuesday, in the final hours of the Session, the Senate and the House worked together in a bipartisan conference committee to reach a compromise on House Bill 1 relating to the state's special taxing districts.
These taxing entities, consisting of library boards, fire districts and water and sewer districts, among others, serve a great purpose and offer valuable services to the general public. This bill will strengthen public support for these entities by adding an element of transparency to their operations. Specifically, the bill would put education and ethics rules in place for these special-purpose entities and would create an online registry to publicly disclose their annual budgets and other pertinent information. As agreed upon in the conference committee, the special taxing districts would be required to submit a budget report to their local fiscal court and hold a public hearing before imposing a new fee or increasing the rate of an existing tax. The measure enhances the degree of accountability that should always accompany the power to tax.
Last week, the Senate and House passed the Religious Freedom Act that protects a person’s or a religious organization’s deeply held religious beliefs from government overstepping its bounds. Although the Governor has not yet decided to veto this measure, known as House Bill 279, he is receiving pressure to do so. If that happens, the Senate will override the veto to ensure religious freedom is protected.
Your input is important. If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report 03-08-2013
FRANKFORT – With only four days remaining in the 2013 Session, the Senate is working overtime to ensure that action will be taken on the most important issues for moving Kentucky forward, addressing job creation and economic development, special taxing districts, education, drug abuse, and religious freedom.
The Senate unanimously passed two bills that will bring jobs and public infrastructure improvements to the Commonwealth. House Bill 260 lowers the state’s signature Tax Increment Financing (TIF) spending requirement from $200 million to $150 million, allowing ready-to-go projects that qualify under this measure to move forward. The projects, previously approved by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, include the Georgetown Events and Commerce Center, the Manhattan Harbor Project in northern Kentucky, and the CentrePointe project in Lexington. Most importantly, there is no negative fiscal impact to the state, yet these projects are estimated to create thousands of new construction jobs.
The second TIF bill, House Bill 431, promotes economic development and infrastructure improvements by giving cities flexibility as they attempt to comply with federal mandates to upgrade storm water and sanitary facilities. Both bills now await the Governor’s signature.
As the Senate continues to look for ways to use taxpayer dollars more wisely, it’s critical there is transparency and accountability across all levels of government. To that end, House Bill 1, championed by Kentucky’s state auditor, would require the more than 1,200 special taxing districts (which spend more than $2.7 billion of public money each year) to publish their financial statements online and conduct regular audits. An important addition made in the Senate would place ultimate authority for levying a tax in the hands of publicly elected officials by giving the fiscal court veto power on any tax increase. While many taxing districts act in accordance with their statutory mandate, this measure will provide disclosure, transparency, accountability and oversight to best guarantee sensible spending. This bill is now in the House for consideration.
The Senate also sought ways to strengthen Kentucky's educational opportunities, evidenced by the adoption of Senate Bill 176. This measure would allow the most troubled schools the option of converting to a charter school, through a local school board petition. Of course, this would only happen in the most extreme situations where, for example, schools are graduating only a small percentage of students. This bill gives the local school board another tool to ensure Kentucky’s kids are college or career ready.
House Bill 3 is another bipartisan bill that passed the Senate this week. The measure will help victims of human trafficking by adding that crime to the Commonwealth’s abuse and neglect statutes, in turn stiffening penalties. House Bill 3 would protect victims from prosecution for forced crimes, providing specific treatment options instead. It would also create a victim assistance fund and would make training available for law enforcement in the identification and control of these crimes.
This week the Senate struck a blow for religious freedom by passing House Bill 279, known as the Religious Freedom Act. This bill reaffirms the most basic of American principles by specifying that government shall not burden a person's or religious organization's freedom of religion and protects the right to act or refuse to act on religious grounds. In addition, the bill maintains the strict standard of scrutiny used to evaluate the legality of any infringement on religious freedom.
Although the public pension reform bill adopted by the Senate early in the session has yet to be passed by the full Assembly I remain hopeful that the House and Senate can work together to resolve this issue. The Senate’s original measure, based on recommendations by a bipartisan, bicameral task force, is a common-sense bill that is critical to saving the public pension system, not to mention the state's credit rating and taxpayers’ dollars.
Lastly, transportation ease and sound infrastructure are critical components of the daily lives of everyone across the Commonwealth. Yet, paying for road and bridge improvements with tolls is an unfair tax, in my opinion, as folks in northern Kentucky know. For this reason, I voted no on House Bill 441, a measure to improve the Indiana/Louisville bridge through collection of tolls.
Your input is important. If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report 03-01-2013
FRANKFORT – As the General Assembly moves into the final eight days of this short session, the Senate continues to direct its focus on saving taxpayers’ dollars, using a bipartisan approach to solving the Commonwealth’s most pressing and important issues.
Just as I stated in the first week of session, the top challenge facing the Commonwealth is the pension crisis. This week the House of Representatives’ leadership refused to accept Senate Bill 2, a measure adopted by the Senate that was based on the bipartisan, bicameral task force’s recommendations, with input from public employee groups, businesses, unions, retirement system officials, retirement and pension experts, as well as nationally-known independent organizations and think tanks such the PEW Center and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, to protect taxpayers, as well as current employees’ and retirees’ retirement from insolvency. (SB2 does not apply to teachers’ retirement and would not impact pensions for current employees and retirees.)
The leadership of the House of Representatives removed the recommended structural changes to the strained system and proposed to pay for it with revenues from expanded lottery sales, Keno, and Instant Racing instead of discussing it during the normal budget process of 2014.
By refusing to go into joint committee to discuss this critical issue, the House is doing a disservice to the citizens of this state. Both Chambers must continue a sober discussion about this very important issue. Senate Bill 2 was a compromise by the Senate to find a consensus measure to save and strengthen the entire fund. The Senate is hopeful the House Leadership will come to the table to discuss this issue that will affect all Kentuckians. It’s a crisis that can be avoided, but only if we act quickly and with a responsible approach.
The Senate tackled another important aspect of the state retirement system by unanimously passing Senate Bill 7. This legislation would require state lawmakers’ pension benefits to be based solely on salary earned through legislative service. This measure applies to new legislators entering the plan after July 1 of this year. It includes a provision that would allow former and current legislators the option of having their pension benefits calculated the same way. It is my hope, with the cooperation of the House of Representatives, the retirement system can be protected.
Another cost-savings measure passed this week was Senate Bill 55, which I co-sponsored. This legislation would move statewide elections to even years, the same as Presidential and federal elections, saving the state an estimated $1.4 million, with an additional $12.6 million savings for county governments in 2015 and subsequent odd-year elections. Voter participation would increase by an estimated 30%. If passed by the full legislature, Kentuckians would vote on this amendment to the Kentucky Constitution in 2014.
The Senate also took the important step of preserving the Constitutional principles embodied in the Second and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, Senate Bill 129 protects the rights of gun owners from the possibility of federal encroachment of states’ rights. Another bill passed to protect Kentuckians’ right to bear arms is Senate Bill 50. This measure would make it easier to get a concealed carry license by reducing the amount of time state police have to approve or deny an application for a license from 90 to 60 days.
This week the Senate unanimously passed the Uniform Military and Overseas Voter Act, designated as Senate Bill 1, that would allow Kentucky’s armed forces personnel, and their spouses, and other Kentuckians living abroad, to register to vote, and to request and receive an absentee ballot, electronically. Ensuring all citizens a secure and accessible means to vote is essential, most especially for those military men and women serving overseas who are protecting this fundamental aspect of the country’s democracy.
Please contact me if you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report - 02-22-2013
FRANKFORT – This week the Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly reached its halfway point, with the Senate passing legislation on education, healthcare, judicial matters and economic development.
House Bill 7, the first bill to pass both chambers and be signed into law by Governor Beshear, authorizes six of the state’s eight public universities to bond $363 million for 11 specific building projects, including renovation and expansion of Albright Health Center at Northern Kentucky University, a new science building at the University of Kentucky, and an Honors College and International Center at Western Kentucky University, among other projects. The measure requires the bonds to be paid for by the universities and not with state tax dollars. This bill will help the universities with much needed classroom and housing improvements while creating over 5,000 construction jobs. As an added measure of protection for college students, the Senate inserted a stipulation that the universities could not raise tuition in order to repay the debt. Passage of this bill is a perfect example of bipartisan governing.
In addition to helping our public universities, the Senate also focused on providing assistance to our high-school students with its passage of Senate Bills 109 and 97. Senate Bill 109 would permit high school juniors and seniors to use their Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) awards early to pay for dual credit courses. Senate Bill 97 is aimed at helping more students graduate from high school by giving local school districts the option to increase the dropout age from 16 to 18, provided they have the funds and approved alternative programs to meet the needs of these students. Today’s high school students are competing on a global scale. These types of measures give Kentucky’s children a better chance for success while preserving local control of education decisions.
The Senate passed two pieces of legislation on Friday, Senate Bill 39 and Senate Bill 40, which would allow the legislature to weigh in on the implementation of key parts of the Affordable Care Act. The implementation of this federally mandated legislation stands to have a costly, statewide impact, particularly from the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program with the addition of 400,000 new individuals. Senate Bill 39 would provide that any expansion of Medicaid must be approved by the General Assembly. Likewise, Senate Bill 40 would require the General Assembly to approve the creation of any state-run health benefits exchange. These bills are designed to ensure the best and most cost-effective policies and programs are put in place and taxpayers’ dollars are used wisely.
Senate Bill 6, legislation which would increase the penalties for those dealing in heroin, especially when those actions directly result in death, passed the Senate. This measure will help ensure heroin does not become the statewide scourge we saw with pill abuse.
Lastly, the Senate took action this week to assist one of the state’s premier industries with the passage of Senate Bill 110, a bill I sponsored. This bill will give a much needed boost to the Kentucky Standardbred horse industry by allowing all Kentucky-bred trotters and pacers to compete for purses provided by the Kentucky Standardbred Development Fund.
While no more bills will be filed in these final 13 days (the deadline has passed for new bills), the Senate will be considering many more bills. Your input is important. If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report - 02-15-2013
FRANKFORT – In a 30-day “short session” like this year, it’s difficult for both chambers of the General Assembly to fully consider all the bills that have been filed. However, over the last two weeks, the Senate has taken early action on major legislation, giving the House more time to act on those bills.
This week, the Senate passed important bills addressing the state’s General Fund debt, economic development, healthcare, and school safety.
As Kentucky continues to add more debt than it pays off, Senate Bill 10 is an effort to rein in the state’s rapidly growing debt by capping it at 6% of revenues. Hopefully, this will improve the state’s bond rating, or credit score. The measure excludes debt for the Road Fund, universities, the Kentucky Housing Authority, and other agencies not using the General Fund.
Senate Bill 50, legislation that would establish a framework for industrial hemp farming if the crop is legalized by the federal government, was approved by a 31-6 vote. Since Kentucky’s climate is ideal for hemp, the crop is an alternative for tobacco farmers, with the economic benefit of jobs from the production of goods made from hemp, including cars, clothes and cosmetics.
As the Senate continues to look for ways to boost job growth in the state, legislation was passed that would make it easier for physician’s assistants to work in Kentucky. The measure would change credentialing standards to more closely match those of surrounding states. The Senate hopes this would encourage more physician’s assistants to stay in the Commonwealth to provide much-needed health service to Kentucky’s citizens.
Another healthcare measure passed this week was Senate Bill 3, legislation that would permit religious ministries that allow members to pay one another’s medical bills to operate in Kentucky as an alternative to traditional health insurance. This Christian-based medical needs sharing program has helped hundreds of people in our state afford health insurance.
Lastly, based on recommendations from the Kentucky Center on School Safety, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would require schools to establish an emergency plan, conduct emergency drills twice per year and share the school diagram with local first-responders. Additionally, schools must submit an annual report to the Kentucky Department of Education. This measure is a low-cost approach that may go far toward keeping our children safe.
All these bills now move to the House for its consideration. If you have any questions or comments about the issues or any other public policy issue, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181. You can also review the Legislature’s work online at www.lrc.ky.gov.
By Kevin Wheatley, State-Journal, Published: February 4, 2013 10:25AM
With the 2013 legislative session set to resume Tuesday, The State Journal met with Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer on Thursday for an editorial roundtable.
During the legislative interim, the Georgetown Republican co-chaired a bipartisan public pension task force, which recommended numerous changes to Kentucky’s pension systems for future state and municipal employees, legislators and judges.
The task force also proposed fully paying actuarially required contributions to the Kentucky Retirement Systems, which faces unfunded pension liabilities totaling $18.1 billion.
Thayer plans to file the task force proposals Tuesday as Senate Bill 2, which is expected to reach the Senate floor for a vote about a week after it’s filed.
Here are edited responses Thayer gave to questions from The State Journal during the interview:
The State Journal: Do you think the issue of tax reform should be resolved before the General Assembly tackles pension reform?
Sen. Damon Thayer: I think it’s actually the other way around, because we have on the table a bipartisan consensus compromise solution on the pension issue, and I think we’ve laid the groundwork … with the members of the Senate and even starting in the House.
I think the big issue with pension reform is we can’t really afford to wait any longer. Frankly, we’ve waited long enough.… I think the reason you’re suggesting we do tax reform first is because you think there is a revenue shortfall — that we need to fill the gap in the unfunded liability that we’ve recommended we do by immediately fully funding the actuarially required contribution.
The truth is that is a funding decision that we will and should make during the normal course of the budget, which we will not take up until the biennial budget in 2014.
Our position is we need to pass all these other reforms, including the language that is the intent for thGeneral Assembly to fully fund the ARC (actuarially required contribution).
Q: Are you getting a lot of pushback on the proposal to move from a defined benefit pension program to a hybrid cash balance plan?
A: No, not really. There seems to be a little bit of pushback on the (cost-of-living adjustments), but what I’m getting from most state employees … is, “Save my retirement.”
And I think most state employees understand that not having a COLA (cost of living adjustment) for a while is pretty likely, and I think they understand that we can’t keep having a defined benefit pensionplan if we wan to stop digging the hole.
… Because of the situation with the pension unfunded liability and the fact that we’re still in a rough
economy, it’s pretty unlikely that we can afford COLAs for the near future. What’s more important is that we try to get as much cash into the pension system as possible.
So our choice with the COLA is every two years we take the negative action of suspending the COLA for that biennium, or we strike the COLA language from the statues altogether once when we do overall pension reform, and then somewhere in the future, a future General Assembly, when thingsare better, can take the positive action of reinstating the COLA.
Q: How has the atmosphere been in the Senate since the 2013 session began?
A: The atmosphere is really good and very different. It feels less tense, and I think our efforts to work with the Democratic minority in the Senate have been well received on both sides.
We had an unprecedented luncheon where all members of the Senate and both the Democrat staff and the Republican staff got in a room, and we had lunch and we cracked jokes at each other’s expense.
… The governor came over with some of his staff and stayed around for about half an hour, and then that night the governor invited the 16 members of leadership – House, Senate, Democrat, Republican – for a dinner.
… I think it’s bred an atmosphere of cordiality and more civility than we’ve seen in the past couple of years, and look, at the end of the day, we’re going to have our disagreements. But hopefully we can be more agreeable about them and not get into this personal “gotcha” politics that we’ve seen pervade the Capitol over the past few years.
Q: What are your feelings on the recommendations by Gov. Steve Beshear’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform?
A: In general I’m not going to be for the redistribution of $700 million of wealth that creates a larger tax burden on the citizens of Kentucky. Now, in fairness, I have been spending most of my time on pension reform, but I have looked at the recommendations.
There are some that I like, and there are several that I don’t. I think the tax reform commission shouldbe given a lot of credit. I think they’ve done great work. I think the fact that we’re discussing it now, having a conversation that hasn’t occurred since the (Gov. Ernie) Fletcher reforms passed in 2005, I think that’s a good thing.
But there is not consensus on what to do. There’s a feeling in our caucus that we don’t have a revenue problem, that we don’t want to raise taxes and that there still are areas in state government here we think there is a lot of waste.
Q: Is there any movement on a constitutional amendment for casino gambling?
A: There’s not as much urgency because it can’t go on the ballot until 2014, and so many legislators would like to maybe just wait. But it is one of those big issues lurking out there.
There is broad public support for putting it on the ballot, and according to the new Courier-Journal poll, there is increased support for passing it if it does get on the ballot.
… I’ve publicly said I’m not going to sponsor the bill this year. I took my crack at it last year, but I’m certainly willing to work with anyone, including the governor, on the issue if he decides to move it forward. Ultimately I think it’ll be his decision. I don’t see the legislature moving forward unless he decides to do so, and even then it’s a heavy lift.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report
FRANKFORT – The General Assembly reconvened on Tuesday, February 5, to a full agenda of committee meetings, the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address and the passage of several important pieces of legislation, including Senate Bill 2, the public employee pension reform bill.
As a result of the intensive work over the summer by a bipartisan task force made up of members from both chambers, as well as nationally known independent experts, the Senate was able to work quickly to take the first step to address the huge unfunded liability in our public employee pension system. The passage of SB 2, the first bill to be passed this session, creates a sustainable retirement benefit for the more than 325,000 current and former state employees by requiring full funding of the actuarially required contribution to the retirement system beginning in 2015. In addition, it creates a new hybrid cash-balance plan for future employees that guarantees at least a 4% return on contributions. The bill makes no changes to the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System, nor does it affect those currently employed. While the annual cost-of-living adjustment for retirees has been suspended to give immediate relief to the system, it can be reinstated in future budgets if finances improve. With rising costs of worthy services and programs across the Commonwealth, SB 2 protects the taxpayer and puts the state employee retirement system on the path to solvency.
With the Right to Life Day in the Capital on Wednesday focusing a light on the sanctity of life, it’s appropriate the Senate passed two pieces of legislation this week that would change the informed consent process for abortion procedure. SB 4 requires 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. SB 5 directs the medical provider to offer a woman, prior to an abortion, the ultrasound image of her baby.
Lastly, we heard from the Governor this week on his legislative priorities. As the Governor said, the non-election year will take politics out of the picture and allow us to focus on finding solutions to meet the needs of all Kentuckians.
With a few short weeks to go in this session, we’ll be busy again next week with a planned vote on SB8, a school safety bill, and SB 10 that places a ceiling on the state’s debt, among other bills. I will keep you updated on the issues, but you can always contact me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181
Pension Reform Protects Present and Future
FRANKFORT – On Tuesday, the Senate will gavel in for the second part of the 2013 General Assembly Session. I will be filing Senate Bill 2, the public employee pension reform bill. It will mark the eighth session that the Senate has presented ways to preserve and protect the retirement of state employees. It is my hope that with the cooperation of the House of Representatives and the Governor, this will be the last. SB 2 will make no changes to the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System. It will also not create a new tax on the pension income of former public and private sector employees.
Senate Bill 2 reflects the recommendations of the bipartisan Task Force on Kentucky Public Pensions. This task force consisting of senators and representatives, Republicans and Democrats, held of six intensive meetings last summer. The task force heard from public employee groups, businesses, unions, retirement system officials, retirement and pension experts, as well as nationally-known independent organizations and think tanks such the PEW Center and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Here are the cold facts: Kentucky’s state employee pension system teeters on a fiscal cliff facing $30 billion in unfunded liabilities. This means state employees have been promised $30 billion more in benefits that the retirement system currently has in assets. How does this big problem affect you? If you’re a public employee, your retirement is safe because of the “inviolable contract.” But if you are a college-student nervous of tuition increases, a grandmother needing public transit, a small-business owner trying to meet pay-roll, or if you just need to get to work on a state road; then you should have some concerns. Because every extra dollar needed to pay for pension benefits is a dollar unavailable for another worthy purpose.
SB 2 protects taxpayers while creating a sustainable retirement benefit for state employees by recommending full funding of the actuarially-required contribution to the retirement system and creating a new hybrid cash-balance plan for future employees. The legislation provides the guarantee of at least 4% return of the money put in but also allows the state employee, if they wish, to leverage their contributions for higher gains. Further, any benefits accrued could be taken with them if they switch jobs. This hybrid cash-balance plan will provide future state employees with a secure retirement income and provide taxpayers with predictable costs that can be met without raising taxes.
President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address said, “We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.” There are no easy answers but the Senate looks forward to a candid and robust debate on this important issue.
Senator Damon Thayer’s Frankfort Report
FRANKFORT – The first week of the 2013 Regular Session of the General Assembly is now complete. The legislature is now recessed for three weeks to give members time to organize, review bills, and draft others. We will reconvene February 5 for the remaining 26 days of session.
The number one challenge facing us on return is the crisis with the public employee pension system. During the recess, Senate members will be briefed on the issue by experts from The Pew Center on the States, as well as members of the pension reform task force that met this summer. On the first day back in session, I intend to introduce a bill that will be based on the task force’s recommendations. It is critical we address this issue to protect current and future employees’ benefits.
There are other serious issues that might be addressed this session, including issues surrounding the implementation of Medicaid managed care, overseas military voting online via a secure internet site, and others. As Majority Floor Leader, I will continue to meet daily with the Senate President and other members of the Senate Leadership team as we study the issues and weigh our priorities.
I will continue to write to you each week and keep you as informed as possible as the session progresses. Please feel free to contact me in Frankfort toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 as your input is important to me.
There are other ways to stay informed, too. You can visit the Kentucky Legislature Home page atwww.lrc.ky.us for more information on pending legislation, committee assignments, meeting schedules and more. And, by going to our eNews page, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/listserv.htm, you can subscribe to frequent e-mail updates on what’s happening at the Capitol. In addition, the General Assembly has its own blog, Capitol Notes, www.lrc.ky.gov/pubinfo/capitol_notes.htm, that will allow you to receive legislative updates at your leisure.
You can also follow legislative action in the following ways:
- A taped message containing information on legislative committee meetings is updated daily at 1-800-633-9650.
- To check the status of a bill, you may call the toll-free Bill Status Line at 1-866-840-2835.
- To leave a message for any legislator, call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. People with hearing difficulties may leave messages for lawmakers by calling the TTY Message Line at 1-800-896-0305.
- You may write any legislator by sending a letter with the lawmaker’s name to: Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, Kentucky 40601.
Senator Damon Thayer: 2013 Session Overview
FRANKFORT – The 2013 session of the Kentucky General Assembly began this week on Tuesday, January 8. This is the beginning of the “short” session, which lasts 30 days. During the first week, both caucuses are traditionally busy choosing their respective leaders and making committee assignments.
I was pleased to have been chosen by my fellow caucus members as Senate Majority Leader, and I look forward to working with the members of the Senate on behalf of all Kentuckians. I will also serve as a member of the Agriculture Committee, the Committee on Committees, the Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, the Legislative Research Commission, the Rules Committee and the State and Local Government Committee.
As you know, we face serious issues this session, with public employee pension reform at the top of the list. Over the summer, I co-chaired a bipartisan Senate and House task force that heard from a diverse group of advocates and experts including state employees, business groups, and the Pew Center on the States. After hearing these reports, what became clear is the retirement system is in dire need of reform and, if not addressed, will be insolvent in a few short years. Currently, the system is only about 26% funded which represents a $33 billion unfunded liability. (Teachers’ retirement is entirely different and on a relatively sound footing.) The first step the tax force is recommending is to fully fund the actuarial recommended contribution (ARC). While difficult at best, it’s important to know taking steps now to reform the system will ensure a faster recovery and ease the strain on other needs like education and human services.
In addition to pension reform, the implementation of Medicaid managed care is another serious issue. We’ve heard many complaints about denial of care to patients and about slow payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers. Medicaid provides a valuable service to over 800,000 Kentuckians and it is a huge cost driver to the state budget. I want to make sure every tax dollar used to fund Medicaid is used wisely.
Since we’re talking about the importance of protecting your hard-earned income, let me point out the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. Recently, the group suggested raising both household and business utility rates, raising the cigarette tax, taxing retiree pensions, and eliminating certain deductions among other items. I don’t see much sentiment in the Senate for raising taxes, as we want a tax policy that creates jobs and expands the economy.
I feel it’s important to ensure our children are work-ready and career-ready. We will continue to monitor the implementation of SB 1 from 2009 that puts Kentucky at the national forefront using common-core standards and fair teacher evaluations. It’s likely you’ll see rewarding students for advanced placement classes and the teachers who teach them on the Senate agenda once again, as well as a bill making it easier for high school students to graduate early. I will also carefully evaluate any school safety proposals considered during the next session.
There are many other important issues. Pro-life legislation, financial transparency of special taxing districts, and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on Kentucky could all be addressed in some form.
I hope this provides you with a sense of the upcoming session. If I can be of any assistance or if you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please call me toll-free at 1-800-372-7181 or visit us at www.lrc.ky.gov to learn more about our work.
Senator Thayer Reappointed by Governor Beshear to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council
Advises Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on policy, research, testing
FRANKFORT – State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) has been reappointed by Governor Beshear to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council (EDRC). The council, created by state law, advises the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on medication policy, research and testing of equine drugs conducted at the University of Kentucky or elsewhere with state funds.
Thayer, originally appointed to the EDRC by Governor Ernie Fletcher in 2004, said he is grateful to the Governor for the reappointment: “I look forward to continuing to play a role to positively impact Kentucky horse racing. It is important we protect the integrity of the sport, as we continue to advance one of the Commonwealth’s signature industries.”
In addition to being the legislative representative to the council, Thayer brings his wealth of experience in the horse racing industry having been employed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and Breeders’ Cup Ltd., among others. Recently elected Senate Majority Floor Leader, Thayer was the chairman of the Interim Joint Subcommittee on Horse Farming.
Senator Thayer serves the 17th Senate District, representing Grant, southern Kenton, Owen and Scott Counties. He welcomes your concerns or comments at (800) 372-7181 or on the web athttp://www.lrc.ky.gov .
FRANKFORT – State Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) was elected by his peers Tuesday afternoon as Senate Majority Floor Leader. The term runs through the 2014 Session. The Majority Floor Leader is one of five Republican leadership positions in the Kentucky State Senate and acts on behalf of his party during the proceedings on the Senate floor. The Majority Floor Leader helps guide bills through the legislative process on the Senate floor and helps set the policy agenda.
“I thank the Republican Caucus for their support,” Thayer said, “I look forward to working with all the members of the State Senate on behalf of all Kentuckians.”
Senator Damon Thayer was first elected to the Kentucky Senate in 2003. As a member of Senate Leadership, he will serve on the Legislative Research Commission. Senator Thayer represents the 17th District of Grant, Kenton, Owen, and Scott counties.
Senator Thayer welcomes questions or comments toll-free at 800-372-7181. For more information about legislation and the legislative process, please visit www.lrc.ky.gov .