The 60-day session opened on Tuesday with the Senate announcing that they will unveil their top bills on Wednesday, and education will be among the main legislative priorities of both chambers in the General Assembly.
Senate President Robert Stivers said the decision of what bills will be the main focus will be finalized in private caucus discussions Tuesday evening. The Manchester Republican would not disclose what the top priority would be, but gave a hint that it is related to education.
“We’re going back to meet with our caucus just to finalize that and inform them of what we have taken in in the way of discussions within our caucus, and input from our members as to what those bills would be,” Stivers said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo told reporters he will again introduce legislation authorizing $3.3 billion in pension obligation bonds for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System, this time as House Bill 1.
“Everybody says they want to solve it,” he said. “I’m waiting for somebody else to come up with a plan. I’ve got a plan.”
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said that this year’s priority bills will have a familiar theme from Senate Republicans.
“You’re going to see right to work, repeal of the prevailing wage, you’re going to see our pro-life bill, you’re going to see education reform, you’re going to see religious freedom bills,” Thayer said.
While Stivers admits that Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Kentucky, may share many of the beliefs of the Republican-controlled Senate, he also wants to remain independent of the executive branch when proposing legislation.
“We’re not going to give up our legislative independence,” Stivers told reporters. “We have our priorities. We’re going to move with our priorities. We’re going to inform the governor of what they are. Many of them are, in essence, similar to his priorities.”
Stivers believes that the current makeup of the House may cause Democratic members to be more receptive to Senate bills than they have in the past.
“I would think that there is a better chance of that because the numbers are slightly closer and by the time this process works through in the Senate, and they start considering bills in the House, the numbers may be even closer than they are today,” Stivers said.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said it was too early to speculate on how certain bills would fare once they pass the Senate.
“I haven’t talked with the committee members about that,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Stivers believes pensions would be a big part of the discussion when it comes to discussing the $20 billion two-year state budget.
The Senate president expressed concerns as to whether all of the internal costs and workings of the KERS and the KTRS are known, and whether there are any other fees or costs which aren’t visible.
“We may not be able to do all that we want to do,” Stivers said. “It may be necessary to get a full blown audit on how this is working, but I know we need to put additional monies into both systems to stabilize them.”