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Damon Thayer: Senate moves to protect voting rights

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As tthe 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 percent. 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.