A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Dennis Keene: A consequential legislative session, with some regrettable outcomes and some successes

When the General Assembly returned to the Capitol last Thursday to complete this year’s legislative session, one unresolved issue towered over the rest. Regrettably, the solution now set to become law is not the one we need, and the very way it was approved – late at night before the bill could even be read – was a near-repeat of last year’s controversial and ultimately unconstitutional public-pension bill.

The legislature gave universities and quasi-government agencies a 12-month reprieve last year, and in the House, at least, there was broad, bipartisan support to extend that freeze for another 12 months. That would give the legislature’s new public-pension working group time to come up with a permanent solution that could then be addressed as part of the next two-year budget.

The Senate, however, did not want to go that route, leaving us in search of another way, which is what passed in the session’s final hours on Thursday. It was another 11th-hour mistake that was made with legislation that to some, sounds good on the surface, but could have dire consequences for elderly retirees by allowing cuts to existing pensions.

It is important to emphasize that this bill only affects those agencies I mentioned that are paying into what is called the Kentucky Employee Retirement System. This bill has no impact on teachers, local government employees and those who work in hazardous-duty jobs like police officers and firefighters.

Rep. Dennis Keene

Although this bill was the most controversial issue the House and Senate considered on Thursday, some other worthwhile bills did pass that day. 

One will ensure many businesses make reasonable accommodations for its employees who are pregnant or are new mothers, while the other will make our elementary and secondary schools tobacco-free unless they decide to opt out. Most schools have already adopted this policy, but this will ensure it applies more uniformly.

I am proud to have helped shepherd new DUI legislation through the General Assembly that was signed into law by the Governor. The law dictates the use of DUI interlock devices, a type of breathalyzer that keeps a vehicle from starting if the driver is intoxicated. Starting in July 2020, this law is expanded to apply to every first-time DUI offender, and he or she will have to use it for four months.
There are some new laws that I opposed. One, for example, will almost certainly undermine our growing solar industry by making it tougher for new residential customers to get full credit for the excess electricity they return to the grid. A viable compromise originally passed the House, but that was unfortunately removed in the session’s final hours.

Another new law takes away much of the Secretary of State’s election responsibilities by removing that office’s vote on the state Board of Elections, meaning this board is now governed entirely by gubernatorial appointees. The Secretary of State is our chief elections officer, so this change removes some key constitutional checks and balances.

Other changes affecting the way the state governs itself are not as controversial. That includes changing the filing deadline for elected office to the first part of January rather than at the end of that month; keeping elected officials from gaming the retirement system, and establishing clearer rules for de-certifying peace officers who break the law or falsify information about their qualifications.

Several new laws will help veterans and those still serving our country.  It will soon be easier for those in the service to maintain in-state college tuition costs and stop select utilities without penalty if they are based out-of-state.  They and their spouses will also have an easier time getting interviewed when applying for state-government jobs.

At-risk veterans suffering from such things as PTSD, meanwhile, will now be eligible for a “green” alert, which is similar to our Amber and Golden alerts that quickly notify the public if someone is missing.

Overall, this was a consequential legislative session, and I want to thank everyone who let me know their thoughts and concerns. It made a difference. Looking ahead, I encourage you to keep reaching out if there is an issue you think needs to be addressed.

Rep. Keene serves on the House Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations Committee, Banking & Insurance, Natural Resources & Energy along with the Appropriations & Revenue Committees.
Representative Dennis Keene has served the citizens of the 67th District (Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, Silver Grove, Melbourne, Highland Heights, Southgate, and Wilder) in Campbell County since 2005. Keene is an economic development advisor for EGC Construction.  For more information, visit: www.DennisKeene.com.

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