The 2018 General Assembly was incredibly productive and even took positive steps to shore up the state pension system, but incessant negative news reports by major media outlets implying Republicans were sticking it to protesting teachers and unfortunate comments by our Governor left many with another impression.
It's funny how high drama and a few entertaining if not painful moments receive the most attention and easily overshadow the bigger picture. Such was the case of the last legislative session.
Altogether, 887 Bills were introduced between the House and Senate and much was done to improve the foster care and streamline adoption. HB 1, a priority bill that reduced the number of days acceptable for kids to be in foster care made it a priority to reconnect children to forever families. It also expedited the process to terminate the parental rights of deadbeat dads whom have no interest in their offspring. The budget bill allocated an additional $60 million to hire more social workers to streamline the process.
HB 200 addressed the budget and cut most state agency budgets by 6.25 percent. An estimated $500 million in new revenue will be raised through new taxes. Cigarettes will be taxed at an additional 50 cents per pack and a total of 17 service industries including veterinarians, auto mechanics and dry cleaners will now be taxed at six percent. Critics called this unfair since other service industries like accountants and attorneys received a pass.
On the brighter side, the average Kentucky family will pay nearly $800 less in taxes next year due to changes to the state tax code coupled with changes at the federal level. According to the Tax Foundation, the changes moved Kentucky up the ladder in terms of competitiveness from 33rd to 18th.
State funding for K-12 public schools was at a record high of $4,000 per student. And a significant step was implemented to strengthen the state pension system, primarily that future state hires will join a new hybrid retirement plan. Altogether, the pension fund received $1 billion this year.
Crime was also addressed. Marsy's law (SB 3) established basic rights for crime victims, including the right to be notified of changes in a convicted criminal's status. This constitutional amendment will be on the ballot this November. HB 169 imposed penalties for criminal gang-related activity.
There were even more dramatic changes to social policy. HB 71 criminalizes revenge porn and imposes penalties for posting sexually explicit images online without the consent of the person depicted. HB 152 strengthens human trafficking laws by requiring training helping holders of Commercial drivers licenses to identify victims of trafficking.
Two pro-life bills were enacted. SB 112 restricts abortionists from counseling for abortion or advice regarding abortion-inducing drugs over the phone. HB 454 bans dismemberment abortions and all other abortions after 11-weeks. The law has since been challenged by the ACLU but if it's upheld, Kentucky will have one of the strongest abortion restrictions in the nation.
Another major change that could eventually contribute to fewer abortions is SB 71 which raises standards for public school students and requires teaching of abstinence until marriage wherever sex-ed is taught.
Even though some called for legalizing casinos to create a new revenue stream to fund the nation's worst funded pension system, it failed. So did efforts to legalize recreational marijuana legislation. Overall, it was a positive session and it appears that Kentucky is moving in a better direction.