The final two days of the 2013 Regular Session are upon us, and despite the good work that has been accomplished over the course of the 30-day "short" session, pension help looms large. The debate continues between whether the pension payment can be made within the context of the budget we have or the budget we'll write next year without raising taxes or expanding gaming revenue, or whether some combination of new tax and gaming revenue will be needed. While I certainly believe the former, time will tell whether the General Assembly as a whole can reach that conclusion. I will continue to fight for public pension solvency and for the funds to be fully paid their due, without raising taxes or expanding gaming. The days of robbing from Peter to pay Paul must come to an end. I do not expect any significant pieces of legislation to crop up that haven't already been on the radar for some time. Most recently, HB279, the Kentucky Religious Freedom Act, which was vetoed last Friday by the Governor is back in the hands of the General Assembly for a possible veto override. The Senate leadership has already pledged to override the veto and I will certainly add my own YES vote to the tally that was 29-strong when we passed it the first time. However, as the bill originated in the House, the action to override the veto must also begin in the House. 82 Representatives voted for the measure a few weeks ago - more than enough to override the veto. I hope that all 82 demonstrate their desire for the bill to become law and move for the veto override vote to be taken.
As we wind down I have already begun to prepare for a busy interim period (the months between legislative sessions). The work of the General Assembly continues as joint committees begin studying issues to be taken up during the next legislative session. While I have not yet participated in interim committee work, its clear that the meetings are of immense value. Much of learning, studying and compromise that happens in Frankfort takes place during the interim. Senators and Representatives can hear from folks about various topics, ask questions, take meetings with stakeholders (on any or all sides of an issue) and hammer out compromise legislation. Several of the landmark pieces passed this session are the product of such teamwork and study over the interim, including HB7, the university bonding bill, HB3, the human trafficking bill with a "safe harbor" provision, and HB217, the adjustments to 2012's "pill mill" bill. All three were enormous pieces of legislation that needed many months of discussion and debate to get just right. All three also passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the lower and upper chamber. If issues were left from last year's adjournment and the General Assembly took them back up when we gaveled in a year later there would be little hope for achieving as much progress.
In the 2013 interim I plan on focusing my effort toward the Juvenile Code Reform task force, which I co-chair with my friend and hometown colleague Rep. John Tilley. John and I have already begun preparing for the task force's work, including meeting with an outside nonprofit foundation who has assisted other jurisdictions in updating their juvenile code. The work of this task force is critical in shaping the legislation that directly impacts Kentucky's children. We have a chance to create a system that punishes when necessary, but also saves and redirects young lives on a path that hopefully doesn't lead to incarceration as an adult.
The Joint Committee on Judiciary will also be meeting during the interim and the schedule for those meetings is being finalized as I type. The agenda has not been finalized but may cover topics from the death penalty and expungements to penal code reforms, and will also benefit from the work of the Juvenile Code Task Force. I look forward to this work, but certainly not because I enjoy being away from home. What I look forward to is the idea of meaningful progress in policy areas where much work is needed for the benefit for all Kentuckians.
I want to accomplish as much as possible over the interim so that we can hit the ground running in January when the Senate resumes its work for the 2014 Regular Session. The value of our interim work is underscored further by the reminder that we'll have a budget to pass in 2014 and (barring an unforeseen change of plans in the Senate in these last two days) redistricting - two issues that are almost certainly going to monopolize our time. I don't want the marquee troubles to drown out the good work we can be getting done.