A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Dorsey Ridley: A perspective on what happened in legislature last week, overturning vetoes and more

Legislators returned to Frankfort on Friday and Saturday for the final two days of session — and we were not alone. Teachers and retirees were back at the Capitol, dressed in their red shirts, rallying for public education.

As with all my sessions in Frankfort, I was a strong advocate for our public schools and for all those in education who have dedicated their careers and lives to our students. I stood with teachers and retirees as they fought for their pension benefits. I supported funding for transportation, SEEK and other fundamental needs. And, I applauded their participation in the democratic process as they continued to come to Frankfort to have their voices heard. On Friday, in particular, they came from all regions of the state – in great numbers.

Sadly, the Governor used this occasion to spew his latest insult to teachers. In previous weeks, he has referred to them as thugs, ignorant, selfish, unsophisticated, and the list goes on. Still, I was greatly dismayed — and frankly shocked — to hear the latest slurs hurled at our educators. As a caucus, we released a statement condemning his demeaning and degrading accusations, insinuating that Kentucky teachers were somehow responsible for child sexual assault, drug addiction, and neglect. The Governor’s comments were unfitting for anyone who holds the title of Governor of Kentucky.

On Sunday, he offered what he called an apology: “I know a tremendous number of people didn’t fully appreciate what I was communicating.” I am one of those people, and that simply is not good enough. 

The Governor needs to extend a sincere apology that shows some regret for the comments he made.  But to do that, he would have to sincerely regret his comments.  It does not appear that he does.

Sen. Dorsey Ridley

Meanwhile on the Senate floor, we took votes to override the Governor’s vetoes to the revenue package and two-year budget. I voted against the overrides to both because neither are good for Kentucky.
I voted no to the tax bill, House Bill 366, when it initially passed and I voted no to the override on Friday for the same reasons. It was a bad proposal then and it is a bad proposal now. This bill was hammered out in secret with no public hearings and no input from the Democrat legislators or stakeholders. The tax plan creates a flat 5 percent rate for personal and corporate income taxes, expands the 6 percent sales tax to some services and increases the cigarette tax 50 cents to $1.10 per pack. It is a regressive tax that disproportionally effects working families and people on fixed incomes. According to a Herald Leader report, if you make less than $175,000 a year, your taxes are going up. And, the cigarette tax depends on a revenue stream that will likely decrease with a reduction in the use of tobacco products.

Even though the Governor has repeatedly said that, “we have to stop kicking the can down the road” that is exactly what this bill does. It robs Peter to pay Paul by taking millions out of the employees’ Health Fund. This budget is balanced on the backs of working Kentucky taxpayers, retirees and people who cannot afford additional tax burdens. While taxes are increased on working families, it gives large corporate tax breaks — and not one of those corporations had asked for lower taxes.

The executive budget, known as House Bill 200, restored many cuts included in the Governor’s proposed spending plan. HB 200 will boost base per-pupil funding for K-12 education to $4,000 per student in each fiscal year, but that is still 16 percent below the 2008 funding level, and it provides money for school buses. HB 200 also includes more than $60 million in new revenue to help implement proposed adoption and foster care reforms and adds additional money for social workers and prosecutors. However, the budget under values funding for school safety, higher education, and other needed allocations.

The budget still includes 6.25 percent baseline cuts for most state agencies, but a few agencies are spared. Areas that will avoid cuts include the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Kentucky State Police, adoption and foster care services, social workers and prosecutors. However, we are still eliminating the Early Childhood Development scholarships, the Commission on Women, and numerous education initiatives.

The veto of HB 200 was overturned by a 26-12 vote. The vetoes of HB 366 and HB 200 were also overturned in the House – paving the way for the implementation of the state’s 24-month spending plan at the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.

Saturday was déjà vu. That morning — the final day of the legislative session — we were handed another bill conceived in secret without input from stakeholders. House Bill 487, as was amended, modifies language in the revenue bill that will put even more of a burden on working Kentuckians and offer more tax cuts for corporations. I opposed this measure.

We also voted on an amended House Bill 265, which does restore some money to health departments, child advocacy centers and the Local Government Economic Development Fund Single-County Accounts, which is especially important in the coal counties. However, we will not have an opportunity to override a veto by the Governor.

A bill intended to enhance the penalty for gang recruitment and activities was awarded final passage this week after the Senate passed it by a 21-17 vote and the House concurred with a Senate amendment. House Bill 169 – which will make gang recruitment a felony instead of a misdemeanor for adults, and allow minors involved in such activity to face felony charges in certain cases – was amended to lessen penalties for most juvenile offenders, even if they are being treated as an adult by the courts. I could not support this bill because it is far too broad and may have unintended consequences by wrongly labeling people as gang members, disproportionately affecting African Americans and Hispanics. Under this bill, the definition of a gang is three people who share at least three characteristics such as a name, colors, geographic area, symbols and identifying hand signals.

The Governor has the power to veto any of those bills sent to him on Friday and Saturday without any override ability from the legislature.

Committee meetings will begin in June and our focus will turn to the 2019 Legislative Session.

Senator Dorsey Ridley is Minority Caucus Chair and Senator from District 4 43p43w3n5ing Caldwell, Crittenden, Henderson, Livingston, Union and Webster counties. Call him at the LRC message line at 800-372-7181 or by emailing directly at Dorsey.Ridley@LRC.KY.GOV.

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