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The Senate Majority gathered on Dec. 9-10 to discuss the upcoming session and lay out legislative priorities. The session will only be a 30-day one; we have only a brief time so we have to make the most of it and respond to the issues we heard from voters in the fall.
What I heard was a resounding rejection of government overreach. People demand transparent government that acts in an efficient manner to create a positive environment for job growth. With this is mind, the Senate Majority announced an Agenda for Prosperity that ranges from government transparency to pension reform to modernizing the tax code to protecting state sovereignty.
We must do what we can to make Kentucky job friendly. Government cannot create jobs but government can certainly encourage job growth by promoting our families and communities. This means setting high educational standards and ensuring that our tax code does not discourage businesses from relocating here and existing ones from growing.
Businesses in Kentucky are forced to interact with many state and local governmental departments with their own websites, forms, and red tape. A “Business One-Stop” will provide a single web based portal for businesses to incorporate, renew permits, pay taxes and file reports – in short, meet all of their state requirements on a single site. That’s time, aggravation, and money saved.
Most everyone is in agreement that our tax code is antiquated. The Senate Majority proposes creating a commission of experts including economists, CPAs, and business leaders among others who will draft a modern tax code geared toward increasing our competitiveness, creating jobs and prosperity for all Kentuckians. If passed, the proposal will be voted on without amendments driven by special interests in the House and the Senate during the 2012 General Assembly Session.
With our Advanced Placement and ACT legislation, our emphasis on early math and reading skills, and eliminating the CATS test in favor of an exam that actually lets parents and teachers know how individual students are learning, the Senate Majority is committed to continually improving our children’s education. Unfortunately, Kentucky lost out this year on millions of grant dollars because current law does not allow for charter schools. New legislation will create voluntary charter schools that will be under the authority of local school districts and give parents more options when deciding how best to educate their children.
A Neighborhood Schools bill will allow parents to enroll their children for attendance at a neighborhood school.
Transparent and Responsive Government
Families and employers should know that their tax dollars are being used as efficiently as possible. People should be confident that their money is being used for a clear purpose and hold legislators responsible for their vote. Currently, the filing deadline to run for office is in January. In order to increase legislative accountability, legislation will be filed to move the filing deadline to after the session is over in April so that the voters can judge legislators by what bills they support or block.
The Taxpayer Transparency Act requires that all three branches of government and state universities create Web sites where all financial transactions may be viewed by the public.
Establishing a strict schedule for enacting the budget will ensure sufficient public notice of how taxes are raised and tax dollars are spent by requiring any appropriations bill to be made available to the public for 48 hours prior to a vote. This legislation will reform the budget process.
Reforming the public employee pension system helps put Kentucky on sounder financial footing with a move toward a 401(k)-style plan for future state employees and legislators. This helps us keep our commitment to both current workers and retirees. (The bill would not affect teachers.)
Medicaid Fraud legislation (“false claims”) will allow Kentucky to aggressively pursue and penalize health care providers and individuals who attempt to defraud the state’s Medicaid program.
Quality of Life
The 21st Century Bill of Rights showcases a variety of measures that will protect Kentucky’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution. The proposed legislation would prevent citizens from being forced into an Obamacare federal health plan, prevent healthcare providers from being forced to perform abortions, protect the right to hunt, require any expansion of gambling be done so through a vote of the people, prevent environmental extremists from ending coal mining, and affirm the free practice of religion, such as posting the 10 Commandments.
Informed consent legislation will ensure face-to-face meetings between a woman considering an abortion and her doctor (as opposed to a recorded message) and require doctors to make available ultrasound images of the unborn baby to the mothers.
Immigration reform legislation will help ensure not only that local governments uphold federal immigration laws but also that law enforcement make attempts to verify citizenship or immigration status where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien.
As you can see, we have an aggressive agenda planned. If you have any questions about this or any other legislative concern I can be of assistance on, I can be reached toll-free feel at 1-800-372-7181 or TTY 1-800-896-0305. You can also keep up with committee meetings and other legislative business online at www.lrc.state.ky.us.
Senator Ernie Harris (R-Crestwood) is the Chairman of the Transportation Committee and the Vice-Chair of the Appropriations and Revenue Committee. He also serves on the Agriculture Committee and the State and Local Government Committee. He represents the 26th District including Carroll, Henry, Oldham, Trimble counties as well as a portion of Jefferson County.