The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce held a bipartisan Legislative Preview Conference Monday, bringing business leaders together with top policy makers to discuss what could and should get done in the upcoming 2015 session of the General Assembly.
Consensus on need for heroin bill
The political analysts and media on panels at the Chamber’s Legislative Preview Conference expressed a pessimistic outlook on what will get done in the 2015 session but many pointed to the heroin bill as a specific need for the state that could see movement.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told the conference he believes the following bills needed to be passed and signed:
- Legislation dealing with the heroin epidemic
- Telecommunications bill
- Agreement on dating violence legislation
Thayer went on to argue there are many other issues that need to be taken up which he said the House will not agree to pass.
However, state Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, listed many bills that overlapped with Thayer’s priorities. Thompson said the House will be focused on many issues including:
- Heroin legislation
- Telecommunications reform
- Legislation to enable public-private partnerships (P3)
- Local option sales tax—also known as LIFT
Each lawmaker expressed the need for other issues they feel need to be tackled but said it is unlikely they will get done in the short session.
Members of the pension panel told the attendees of the conference they had confidence that the pension fix legislation passed in the 2013 session would help improve the Kentucky Retirement System.
As for the pension problems on the horizon, legislators said funding the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System (KTRS) had to be tackled next—hopefully within the next session.
In response to remarks from Beau Barnes from KTRS about additional funding being the only way to shore up their system, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said it is part of the solution but will not solve the problem.
“Frankly, Beau could all but hire magicians at this point and they could not return the kinds of rates of return they need to get out of this. This is going to have to be a comprehensive reform,” McDaniel said.
You can see clips of the discussion on pensions in the video below:
Smoke-Free back in 2015
State Sen.-elect Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Democratic state Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington told attendees at the Chamber Legislative Preview Monday that the legislation to eliminate smoking in bars, restaurants and workplaces across the state will again be filed and discussed in the 2015 session.
Smoke-free legislation, an issue the Kentucky Chamber has been a strong advocate of in past years, has been discussed in the previous five sessions of the General Assembly but failed to pass due to property rights concerns.
However, Adams said Monday that most businesses are in favor of the ban because of the ways allowing smoking in their establishments hurts business. Read more coverage of the smoke-free panel on cn|2 Pure Politics.
Education and Workforce
In order to meet future workforce needs, state Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, suggested Monday the state should be focusing on education and technology in order to address the gaps that will exist.
Givens cited a study by Georgetown University which finds the United States will have a shortfall of qualified workers for the 55 million openings that will be available by the year 2020.
Givens stressed the need for computer science to be a particular focus of these future jobs. To demonstrate the lack of qualified workers that will exist in the field by 2020, Givens laid out ten jars and filled just over two and a half of them with candy to illustrate the number of individuals that will graduate with the qualifications for an opening versus the number of positions that will exist.
To solve this issue, Givens suggested to the conference attendees there will not be a simple answer to the problem. However, he said raising awareness and creating room in curriculum for the type of training needed to learn things like computer coding will be necessary steps to addressing the workforce issue.
In a phone interview with the Chamber, Givens also said he will be working to figure out what role government should play in this training—pointing to volunteer programs implemented in Tennessee and Texas to help students.
Givens also said the idea of performance-based funding for post-secondary education could be a piece of the puzzle to solving the issue by focusing state and federal dollars in education with added accountability.
State Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, stressed she would like to work together with Givens on this effort in a collaborative manner.
In her remarks to the Legislative Preview Conference, Flood discussed the importance of early childhood education and expressed a desire to see universal kindergarten passed through the General Assembly.
During their panel discussion at the event Monday, both legislators were vocal about the need for a stronger education system as it continues to be so closely tied to work force issues. Education has been and will remain the top priority of the Chamber to create the workforce needed for growth and prosperity in the Commonwealth.